BRADENTON, Fla. - Although the official Grapefruit League home opener will take place Sunday against the Atlanta Braves, the Pirates christened refurbished McKechnie Field on Friday with the annual Black and Gold Game.
The city of Bradenton, Manatee County and the Pirates put $10 million worth of improvements into the old ballpark, making it one of the classiest facilities in Florida. A party deck, boardwalk, tiki bar and renovated concession areas are among the updates. Some 2,000 seats have been added, too, bringing the stadium total to over 8,000 the fourth largest spring training site in Florida.
Gerrit Cole delivered the first pitch to Starling Marte - a ball - at 12:04 p.m., on a perfect Florida day, sunny and 80 degrees. Other firsts: First strikeout, Jose Tabata (by Cole); first error, Chase d'Arnaud; first base runner, Matt Hague; first hit, d'Arnaud; first extra base hit, Ivan DeJesus Jr., triple; first homer and RBIs, Starling Marte.
Marte's two-run bomb over the new leftfield bleachers was the highlight of the intra-squad scrimmage that was stopped after 5 innings with the score tied at 2-2. The crowd was listed at 2,131 for the benefit game.
Pittsburgh area media covering the Bucs include Dan Zangrilli, former broadcaster and media relations guy for the Curve. Zangrilli now works for KDKA's FM network, Sports Radio 93.7, The Fan, doing hour pre and post-game shows of every Pirate game
Altoona area folks seen around Pirate City this week included Don and Petey Beichler, Curve bleacher bum Dave Orr and Dave and Janis Loucks.
Jean and Joan continued to add to their list of Pirate autographs, landing A.J. Burnett, Brandon Inge, Jason Grilli, James McDonald, Josh Harrison, Wandy Rodriguez, Kent Tekulve, Neil Walker, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Felix Pie and Mark Melancon this week.
Away from the ballpark, it was another busy week, as usual. We enjoyed a performance by the Barbary Coast Dixieland Show Band, which was part of the Bradenton Community Fine Arts Concert Series. We also toured the Port Manatee Seaport in Palmetto, and we had time to work on our tan a couple afternoons at the condo pool.
We traveled to Siesta Key for lunch with Altoonans Chick and Pat Dillen at popular Phillippi Creek Restaurant and Oyster Bar. We also dined at Ferraro's Italian Restaurant, Red Lobster, Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island and Goodson Farms' Strawberry Patch in Balm.
Until next week
Jim Lane is a retired sports editor of the Mirror and writes from Florida in February and March.