2/22/2013 10:44 A.M. ET
Pirates, Marauders to play at renovated McKechnie
By Jim Lachimia / Special to MLB.com
Major renovations have taken place at McKechnie Field since the advanced Class A Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League concluded their season late last summer, and the Pittsburgh Pirates can't wait to show off the new and improved facility during Grapefruit League play this spring.
The vast majority of the exciting renovations were focused on providing additional fan amenities, and the most striking changes can be found out in the outfield. For instance, the ballpark now features bleachers beyond the left-field wall for the first time, which is one of reasons seating capacity has increased from 6,500 to approximately 8,500. In addition, the scoreboard -- which used to stand alone in left-center field -- is now part of the outfield wall.
The most prominent addition out that way, however, is a boardwalk that spans from the left-field line to the right-field line, transforming McKechnie Field into a 360-degree facility. Fans will now be able to walk all the way around the ballpark and view the game from additional vantage points. A 60-seat, full-service bar will be the featured attraction on the boardwalk, and fans will also be able to watch the game from tables and drink rails out in that area. In addition, fans can see the pitchers warm up from the boardwalk because the new bullpens -- for both the home team and the visitors -- are now located behind the outfield fences. Plus, the Pirates' new half field, new batting tunnels and new agility field can be seen from the opposite side of the boardwalk.
"We're always trying to make sure everyone has a great experience at the ballpark, and I'm sure the new boardwalk in the outfield is going to be an extremely popular place for our fans to congregate during games," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said. "We can now provide fans with additional options and opportunities to have a good time while catching a game and enjoying the outstanding weather we have in Bradenton."
Besides the 19,000-square-foot boardwalk that stands 12 feet off the ground, those options will also include a new two-tiered party deck down the left-field line with extensive food and beverage options for groups of up to 80 people. In addition, a patio with four-person tables and fixed seats that swivel are a new option along the left-field wall.
What's more, every seat in the ballpark was removed and replaced with new, more comfortable seats that are the traditional baseball flip-up style. Plus, permanent roofs have replaced what were formerly temporary shade coverings above infield seats along the first- and third-base lines. The new outfield bleachers are also protected from the sun.
Another major change that has taken place at McKechnie Field is in the Fan Plaza behind the seating areas on the first-base side. Specifically, the concessions stands that were underneath the grandstand have been converted into restrooms. Meanwhile, new and expanded concession stands with all new equipment will now be in operation on the opposite side of the plaza, making the entire area more spacious and free flowing.
"There are more points of sale and more options for food, and plus we now have additional restrooms for both men and women," Coonelly said. "Shorter lines make the ballpark experience more pleasant. We really want to cater to families in Bradenton just like we do at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and we want them to enjoy the fan-friendly and affordable experience that is Minor League baseball."
McKechnie Field is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, and the $10 million renovation was the most extensive it has undergone since 1993. The project was a joint effort by the City of Bradenton, Manatee County and the Pirates. Design and construction were performed by Fawley Bryant Architects and NDC Construction, both of which are Manatee County businesses.
"This could not have happened without the cooperation of all three parties -- the two local government entities and the ballclub," Coonelly said. "We have a great relationship with the city and the county, and they both saw a real opportunity to expand McKechnie Field, generate jobs during the construction project and additional longer-term jobs at the ballpark, which is now utilized more often with the Pirates' decision to bring the Marauders in three years ago."
The Pirates -- who have made McKechnie Field their Spring Training home every year since 1969 -- are scheduled to play the first of their 16 home Grapefruit League games this Sunday when the Atlanta Braves visit for a 1:05 p.m. ET contest. The Marauders' first home game will take place on Friday, April 5, when they face Fort Myers.
"We're excited to open up the gates on the brand-new McKechnie Field experience," Pirates chairman of the board Bob Nutting said on Wednesday, when the renovations were unveiled to the media. "I think we found the perfect blend of old-ballpark charm and new amenities that our fans will appreciate."
"Not only is this a professional baseball facility now, but it's the most fan-friendly ballpark anywhere in Florida," Bradenton mayor Wayne Poston added. "That was one of the goals we insisted on, and I couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out. It's great stuff."
Jim Lachimia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.