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Perrotto: Spring Training Always Fun Trip, So Come On Along

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Lecom Park

BRADENTON, Fla. — Spring training workouts begin.

That is always a welcome phrase for baseball fans. It is also usually a more reliable harbinger of spring than Punxsutawney Phil and the whole shadow deal.

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitchers and catchers will have their first spring training workout on Wednesday morning at Pirate City. I arrived in town last night to cover the first week of camp.

It will be my 36th consecutive spring training to cover in some shape or form. It will also be my first one working for Pittsburgh Baseball Now and I couldn’t be more excited.

Spring training is one of my favorite assignments for many reasons. I will get into that more in a moment.

First, I want to say this trip to the Gulf Coast is another sign of the commitment Pittsburgh Baseball Now is making to covering the Pirates and baseball. This will be our site’s first time covering spring training and comes on the heels of covering the Winter Meetings for the first time in December in San Diego.

We want to be a first-class operation and a site every Pirates fan will be compelled to visit regularly.

As someone who has covered Major League Baseball and the Pirates since 1988, I believe I provide a perspective unique to the Pittsburgh market. I’ve seen a lot of stuff over the past 35 years.

We also have a good group of young writers in Danny Demilio, Cody Potanko and Griffin Floyd. They love the game of baseball and take great joy in writing about it.

The best part is all three are getting better all the time as they continue to gain experience.

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Now back to spring training.

There are a lot of reasons to love it. While the weather is chief among them, it is more than sunshine that makes spring training so enticing to a baseball enthusiast.

The entire vibe of spring training is completely different than during the regular season.

Workouts at Pirate City are open to the public and free. The setup at Pirate City enables fans to get close to the action and interact with the players and coaches.

Fans can also get an up-close look at all the organization’s prospects when minor-league spring training opens.

The exhibition games are played at LECOM Park, which was known forever – and still should be – as McKechnie Field. I’ve been to each spring training stadium in both Florida and Arizona and none have the charm of McKech, er, LECOM.

The ballpark is intimate – even by spring training standards – and there is a feeling in the place that almost transports you back to the old days.

The facility has unmatched Grapefruit League history. The Murderers’ Row Yankees of the 1920s trained there as did the Gashouse Gang Cardinals of the 1930s and the Hank Aaron-led Braves of the 1950s.

The Pirates began training there in 1969 and, except for a greed-induced dalliance with Winter Haven in the early 1990s, have never shown a desire to leave. Bradenton has been the spring home of such all-time Pirates greats as Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski and Barry Bonds.

It will again be the spring training home this year for Andrew McCutchen, the five-time All-Star who signed with the Pirates last month almost five years to the day after they traded him.

Located 45 miles south of Tampa and 13 north of Sarasota, right on the Gulf Coast, Bradenton is more of a blue-collar city than a resort town. However, making a trip to Mixon’s Fruit Farm to sample the orange juice and have an orange swirl ice cream cone is worth the trip. So, too, is eating seafood at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar.

Anna Maria Island is just off the coast of Bradenton and just a short drive across the causeway. The beaches are beautiful and provide spectacular sunset views.

Of course, I’m going for baseball, not the beach. Well, maybe I’ll slip out to the beach one afternoon after baseball is over for the day. Just don’t tell the boss.

Spring training is always a good time and I invite you to follow along on Pittsburgh Baseball Now and to also consider subscribing for access to all stories on the site. A subscription also gets you access to all the stories on SteelersNow.com and PittsburghHockeyNow.com.

Subscriptions are just $4.49 a month and $34.99 a year. That is much cheaper than a trip to Florida and helps ensure we can continue providing first-rate coverage of the Pirates.

 

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