My night with the Bradenton Marauders – April 10, 2014

While in the Tampa region for a conference, I aimed to visit as many of the area Minor League Baseball stadiums.  From downtown Tampa, where I stayed for the conference, there are five Minor League teams within an hour drive.  So after committing to watching a Clearwater Threshers game (more on that visit here), I had to choose between the other ballparks to visit.

Eventually I decided to make a trip to the south end of Tampa Bay, and visit the Bradenton Marauders.  I decided to visit Bradenton for a few reasons.  1: It is near DeSoto National Memorial, and visiting NPS sites is another one of my traveling objectives.  2: The Marauders are a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate, and with my family roots in Pittsburgh it felt appropriate to visit a Bucs’ farm team.  3: I’ve read and heard stories about McKechnie Field being a great venue.

McKechnie Field has a unique history because it has hosted Spring Training games since it was built in 1923, but did not have a Minor League team for several years because the stadium lacked lights.  Lights went up in 2008, and in 2010 the Marauders came into existence.

The stadium is at the intersection of two major roads, so it lacks the parking lots that have become commonplace with ballparks.  In my case, a colleague told me that parking was limited and encouraged me to park far enough away from the stadium to avoid having my car struck by a foul ball.  As I wrapped up my visit to DeSoto National Memorial around five o’clock, I knew that I would have some time to kill before the gates opened.  Along 9th Street I unexpectedly found Motorworks Brewing, and stopped in for a couple of beers to kill the 30 minutes before the gates opened.  After asking the bartender how much further to the stadium, he said I could leave my car in the lot and walk the three blocks.  Not everybody may be as lucky, but I saw that some small lots surrounding the stadium charged $5 for parking.

Main entrance to the ballpark.

Walking up to the ballpark there are a series of banners.

Like many facilities that host Spring Training, McKechnie Field has decor that promotes its springtime residents: the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The box office reflects this with markings for the Pirates and Marauders.

The box office and main gate.

It is difficult to forget that the ballpark hosts Spring Training baseball in addition to the Minor League team.  Next to the box office a wall includes the Marauders’ schedule and the Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training schedule.

Signage near the box office shows the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Spring Training schedule alongside the Bradenton Marauders’ regular season schedule.

One of my first stops at a stadium is the gift store to get something for my friend’s 3-year-old son.  Usually I buy a soft baseball or the mascot depending upon what the store carries.  The gift store at McKechnie Field is small, so I didn’t bother taking a photo of it.  However, just outside the store was the up-to-date Florida State League standings and the night’s starting lineups.

The Florida State League standings and the game’s starting lineups for April 10.

While the Marauders don’t have a large gift shop, I had a great experience mostly due to the team’s general manager, A.J. Grant.  In addition to looking for a soft baseball and the mascot, I wanted to get a polo shirt with the Marauders logo on it.  The store didn’t have any polo shirts on display, but after I asked the workers for help A.J. quickly tracked down a selection of shirts.  I opted for a black shirt with the alternate logo, and I’m hopeful the team will introduce a shirt with the stylized B on it.

After completing my most important task, I explored the selections at the concession stands.  Due to the age of the ballpark, the concession stands are all behind the seating bowl in separate facilities.

As I hadn’t found any really unique food, I continued exploring the ballpark and ventured out to the Kona Bar built by NDC Construction in right field.  However, before I got there I encounter the Marauders’ mascot, Marty.

Me with Bradenton Marauders mascot Marty.

After getting my picture taken with Marty, I made it to the Kona Bar built by NDC Construction.  It was Thirsty Thursday, so there were a lot of people already hanging out at the Kona Bar.  While I don’t consider myself a beer snob, I wasn’t excited about the prospects of $1 Bud or Bud Light so I was standing at the bar waffling before a couple in their 20s came up and the guy offered to buy me a Bud.  I wasn’t about to refuse a free drink, so it was Buds all around!

Kona Bar built by NDC Construction was a popular spot on Thirsty Thursday.

As I talked with the couple, I told them I was a geography professor at The University of Alabama, which was met with a groan from the guy.  He was a graduate of Auburn University, and was a bit dismayed about buying me a beer in hindsight.  However, he was gracious about it and the pair recommended I ask for a deep fried hot dog at the main concession stand if I wanted something unique to eat.

After finishing my beer, I continued walking around the stadium and made sure to get to my seat so I could catch the first pitch.

Bradenton Marauders right-handed pitcher Chad Kuhl prepares to deliver the first pitch of the game to Palm Beach Cardinals center fielder Charlie Tilson.

Before hunting down the deep fried hot dog, I watched a few innings from my seat right behind home plate.  And when you’re literally sitting behind home plate you get some great action photos.

Palm Beach Cardinals designated hitter Alex Mejia takes a few sings in the on-deck circle.

When I got to the stadium, I asked workers what they considered the most unique food item that I should eat and all of them said that there wasn’t anything unique or special that I had to eat.  The menu choices were not bad, but just the standard ballpark fare.  When I went back to Pirates Cove Grill, I asked for the manager and requested a deep fried hot dog with nacho cheese.

Deep fried hot dog topped with macho cheese and pickled jalapeños.

The hot dog was good, but not great.  I would have it again though.  I later found A.J. Grant and asked him about why the stadium didn’t have Primanti Brothers sandwiches, which are a famous Pittsburgh food item and available at PNC Park.  Grant said that Primanti Brothers would only open a location if they could get the bread specifically used for their sandwiches, so until Mancini’s Bakery makes their bread available in the Tampa Bay area there will be no Primanti Brothers available at McKechnie Field.

Moving along from food, I took a few shots of game action to capture a fuller sense of the ballpark.  So as I walked around a bit during the game, I snapped shots from the first base side and the third base line.

Along the exterior of the seating bowl, a variety of banners promote the Pirates, Marauders, and their sponsors.

Banners on the back of the seating bowl.

While McKechnie Field may not have a signature food item, it certainly has a variety of unique beers.  In addition to Yuengling being served at the stadium, a concession stand called The Pitt-Stop had a wide variety of beers.

The Pitt-Stop and its diverse beer selection.

The selection at The Pitt-Stop was great.  The stand had a wide variety of imported beers, domestic craft beers, but most importantly it had some Pittsburgh staples like Iron City and I.C. Light.  As a good son of Pittsburghers, I had an Iron City Beer while enjoying the game.  Even if fans don’t want an Iron City there are lots of options for beer connoisseurs.

Like many Minor League games I have attended, the Marauders conclude the night’s festivities with launch-a-ball.  I’m used to hearing it called tennis ball toss, but regardless of the moniker the result is the same.  Fans get an opportunity to throw tennis balls onto the field aiming for a selection of targets to win prizes.

Marty checking the tire to see if anybody won the launch-a-ball contest.

There were no winners from the launch-a-ball contest, but I certainly came away a winner after my experience in Bradenton.  Yes, I was disappointed that there were no unique food items that I “had” to eat.  No, the lack of a marquee food item did not deter from my enjoyment at McKechnie Field.

Yes, the stadium has a wide selection of quality beers.  What the Marauders lack in the food department, the beer offerings more than make-up for it.

Most importantly, the hospitality of the staff stands out.  Every staffer that I spoke with about food or while perusing the Clubhouse Store was extremely helpful, and made sure that I found anything I wanted.  It was great that someone attending the game as a fan, and not a member of the media was able to talk with the team’s general manager when running into him on the concourse or while getting help looking for a polo shirt.

Final: Palm Beach Cardinals 6, Bradenton Marauders 0
Box Score

Richard Nixon Burial Place in Yorba Linda, Calif.

Following his departure from the presidency in 1974, Richard Nixon struggled to rebuild his reputation.  Nixon initially retired to San Clemente, Calif., and focused on writing his memoirs.  After the publication and positive reception of his memoirs, Nixon and his wife Pat moved to New York City before relocating to Saddle River, N.J.  He maintained an active public speaking schedule and wrote nine more books besides his memoirs.

Following his wife Pat’s death from emphysema and lung cancer in 1993, Nixon suffered a stroke in April 1994 at his New Jersey home.  After a brief hospitalization that saw him enter a coma, he died on April 22, 1994, in New York City.  He was buried on April 27 on the grounds of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum with five U.S. presidents and their wives (Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford) in attendance.

Final resting place of Richard and Pat Nixon.
Richard Nixon’s tombstone.
Pat Nixon’s tombstone.

My night with the Clearwater Threshers – April 8, 2014

Since 2010, the start of spring means that I am traveling to a new city to attend the AAG Annual Meeting.  The 2014 conference was in Tampa, Fla., which was a slight letdown because Tampa doesn’t scream “tourist destination” to me.  However, I was optimistic that I could see the Tampa Bay Rays play at Tropicana Field and maybe catch a few minor league games.

As it turns out, MLB’s schedule makers had the Rays on the road during my conference.  However, with five teams within an hour drive of downtown Tampa I had the opportunity to visit my choice of minor league ballparks.  The first stop was Clearwater because I had a New Year’s resolution to get my photo taken with the Threshers‘ mascot, Phinley, after casting many ballots for him during the 2013 Mascot Mania contest.

As the conference approached, I made sure to circle a Threshers’ game on the schedule.  I ended up going on the day that I arrived, and went to the game with a pair of fellow geographers.  We arrived at the stadium just as the National Anthem began, and got fantastic seats behind home plate for $10.

Main entrance to the ballpark features a statue called “The Ace,” which was created by Kevin Brady.

Although I didn’t know much about the statute before coming to the game, I learned after the fact that it was designed by a local sculptor.  Kevin Brady has done a variety of works for the Salvador Dali Museum in nearby St. Petersburg (see more of his work here).

As I attended a Tuesday night game, I didn’t get to enjoy any special giveaway item, but I did get to enjoy floridacentral Credit Union $1 Tuesday.

We didn’t make it into the stadium for first pitch, but I was able to get my customary photo from behind home plate.  Unfortunately, I just missed getting a photo with the first batter for the Tampa Yankees at the plate.

Clearwater Threshers right-handed pitcher Colin Kleven delivers a pitch to Tampa Yankees center fielder Jake Cave in the first inning.

Over the past few years my interest in getting my picture taken with baseball mascots has grown, and it’s become of a bit of an obsession when it comes to minor league games.  Thankfully one of my travel companions, knew about this interest and quickly pointed out Phinley approaching as we neared home plate.  So he encouraged me to get my photo with the landshark.  So I was quickly able to fulfill one of my MiLB resolutions.

Me with Clearwater Threshers mascot Phinley doing what he does best, trying to eat a person.

Whenever I go to a ballpark, I always try to find something unique to that stadium/city/region to eat.  My preference is to find an encased meat, such as a hot dog, bratwurst, or sausage of some kind.  However, in Clearwater that was not going to be the case.  From my online research, I knew that the stadium had Philly cheesesteaks from Delco’s Original Steaks and Hoagies, which has locations in Chadds Ford, Pa. (25 miles southwest of Philadelphia), and Dunedin, Fla.

A line gathers at Delco’s Cheesesteaks concession stand.

On dollar beer night, I opted for what one of my companions calls his “cheap beer” of choice and paired the cheesesteak with a Yuengling Lager.

My Delco’s cheesesteak that I topped with a variety of pickled hot peppers.

The cheesesteak was pre-wrapped, and adhered to the original cheesesteak recipe and used only onions.  However, these were diced onions and were not sauteed to my liking, and I wanted a bit more spice to my dinner so I topped it with a variety of hot peppers.  I’m not a cheesesteak expert, but it was a great meal and the provolone cheese was melted into the meat to offer a creamy taste.

Like many ballparks in Florida, Bright House Field also serves as a Spring Training facility.  The Philadelphia Phillies have trained in Clearwater since 1947, and moved into Bright House Field in 2004.  As a Spring Training site, the stadium has just as much Phillies branding as it does Threshers marks.

An aisle seat featuring a palm tree and a variant of the Philadelphia Phillies logo.

As a Spring Training facility, Bright House Field has a much larger seating capacity than a standard High-A stadium.  However, it also has a few more amenities than other ballparks at that level.  While many Minor League stadiums are getting newer and bigger video scoreboards, there are still some at the lower levels that do not have this feature.  I can’t say for sure whether the Threshers would or would not have such a scoreboard without playing at a Spring Training site, but they do and in addition have a nice outfield berm.

The videoboard in left field overlooking the outfield berm along with some palm trees.

While wandering down the left field line, I made sure to capture a view of the grandstand and seating bowl behind home plate, too.

An overview of the grandstand behind home plate.

Perhaps my favorite part about the ballpark’s amenities was the tiki bar in left field.  It is sponsored by Frenchy’s, which is a local chain of restaurants noted for their grouper sandwiches.

Frenchy’s Tiki Bar overlooks the left field bleachers.

In front of the tiki bar is a large seating area, and even though it was a bit chilly that night it didn’t dampen the crowd’s spirits.  The crowd wasn’t too raucous, even though Phinley was fraternizing with the locals.

After the three geographers bellied up to the bar, I asked the people in front of us to take a picture of the trio together.  I got my camera back, although it seemed like I may have harshed the woman’s buzz.

Fred, Jonathan, and myself enjoying the ballgame at Frenchy’s.

Not far from the tiki bar, we found an advertisement promoting the upcoming summer concert schedule.  While I understand it’s minor league baseball, I got a laugh that Jamie Lynn Spears was promoted as “(Sister of Britney Spears),” as if music fans wouldn’t know her otherwise.  Seriously, if I lived in the area I would probably attend the concerts on May 30 and June 20.  I genuinely like Journey, and absolutely love funk music.

A sign on the concourse promoting the Threshers’ summer concert series.

Like most minor league stadiums, Bright House Field has an extensive kids’ play area.  In addition to the playground, it has a ball toss apparatus that attracted a handful of kids.

Part of the inflatables in the Kid Zone, where a young boy pops into the photo to see if he hit a homerun from long range.

The game ended with the Threshers’ rally falling just short in the 9th inning, but the night concluded with a launch-a-ball contest.  It’s become common fare at minor league stadiums to sell tennis balls and allow fans to throw them onto the field aiming for targets to win a variety of prizes.

Employees wait to clean up the tennis balls following the launch-a-ball contest after the conclusion of the game.

While the weather was overcast and a little nippy by Florida standards, it was a great experience.  The food was reasonably priced, the workers were friendly and the stadium had a plethora of entertainment options.  It’s also important for me to say that while I’m not a Phillies fan because I grew up in the Atlanta area cheering on the Braves in the early-’90s, I am definitely a fan of the Threshers and their friendly landshark.

Final: Tampa Yankees 7, Clearwater Threshers 6
Box Score