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Pirates treasure Bradenton

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  • | 11:00 a.m. November 10, 2017
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Spring training in Florida can be a transient game, where Major League Baseball teams move around, often seeking to extract the best deals with local governments and communities.

The Cincinnati Reds, for example, left Sarasota in 2009 for Goodyear, Ariz. Sarasota, in turn, lured the Baltimore Orioles to town to replace the Reds. The Orioles had held spring training in Fort Lauderdale from 1996 to 2009. More recently, the Atlanta Braves announced plans to leave the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World for a new spring training complex in south Sarasota County, in North Port.

Consider, then, the Pittsburgh Pirates the anomaly among teams of Florida's Grapefruit League.

The Pirates will celebrate 50 years of having its southern home in Bradenton in 2018 — the third-longest spring training-municipality relationship in baseball. And including all major league ballparks, the only teams to have a longer relationship with the same stadium are the Boston Red Sox with Fenway Park and the Chicago Cubs with Wrigley Field.

That's some iconic company, noted Pirates President Frank Coonelly, speaking recently in front of some 350 business leaders and officials at the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. annual update luncheon. “The business community has supported the Pittsburgh Pirates like no other,” Coonelly told the crowd. “We plan to stay here for a long, long time.”

The current lease the Pirates have with LECOM Park, formerly McKechnie Field, lasts through 2037. The stadium, having undergone more than $35 million in renovations and upgrades since 2008, was voted the best ballpark in the Grapefruit League in 2016 and 2017.

It's not only the business community that supports the Pirates. Total spring training attendance for Pirates games has increased 51.7% since 2010, from 70,053 people to 106,291 last year. Seven out of 10 attendees, 71.3%, according to Pirates data, are from outside of Florida — a big victory for area tourism officials.


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