Hear the crack of a bat to ball, smell roasted peanuts and watch pros round the bases in one of the Grapefruit League’s most favored parks all summer long.
With Bradenton’s new swashbuckling Minor League team, the Marauders, taking the field in April, there’s no better season to enjoy the thrill of baseball and explore the charms of the riverfront town.
Step into the historic Spanish-mission-style edifice of McKechnie Field and fall back in time to days when baseball was less commercial and fans could sometimes catch a homerun in their front yard.
Since 1923, some of baseball’s greats – Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Roberto Clemente – have stepped up to the plate of the open-air stadium named after Pittsburgh native, former Bradenton resident and Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie.
Long a jewel of the Grapefruit League’s spring training, the stadium has been the pre-season field of the Pittsburgh Pirates since 1969. Last year the Pirates acquired the Florida State League team from the Cincinnati Reds, moved it to McKechnie Field and renamed it the Bradenton Marauders.
Modernized and revamped with new lights, the park still holds to a bygone era. The hotdogs, hamburgers and regional specialties are sold by local restaurants, not chains. The stadium is surrounded by residences and small businesses rather than paved parking lots.
Even though the stadium has been enlarged since early days, it still seats just more than 6,600, small by Grapefruit League standards. The layout puts fans closer to players than most pro fields. There is also the luxury of shade, as roofs cover the three grandstands.
Because the historic park is nestled in a neighborhood, some good local mom-and-pop restaurants are just steps away. Right next door, Popi’s Place I is a local institution serving home-cooked goodness. Nearby, the Ball Park Deli & Sub Shop and the 9th Street Grill are great casual spots to grab a sandwich before and after the game.
If you’re craving a big juicy burger and local color, Council’s Bradenton Recreation in the heart of downtown is heralded for both. Pizza and spaghetti lovers enjoy the cooking at the family-casual Fav’s Italian Cucina, also about one mile away in downtown.
For something more gourmet and a waterfront view, try Mattison’s Riverside where a local celebrity chef serves a varied menu of seafood, steaks and sushi overlooking the Manatee River.
After the victory celebrations, discover the cultural side of downtown, one where you can glimpse prehistoric Florida, sip English tea and talk with local artists. The South Florida Museum has an impressive collection of archeological finds, as well as the Parker Manatee Aquarium, home to Snooty, a world-famous manatee.
Afternoons are for tea at the Londoner Inn Bed & Breakfast and Tea Rooms. Each guest room is themed for a different station of the London Underground.
Coffee is more apropos at the state’s largest artist community, the Village of the Arts. The neighborhood of 1920s and 1930s bungalows serves as home and studio for more than 35 artists, independent bookstores, restaurants and coffeehouses. You can shop for everything from fine art to gourmet dog treats.
Of course, no trip to the area is complete without dipping your toes in the soft white sand of the beaches on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. A trip across one of the scenic causeways is a visual treat in itself.
This article is brought to you by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau. For more information about the Bradenton area, visit www.annamariaisland-longboatkey.com.