Living History in Bradenton’s LECOM Park

This is a big spring training at LECOM Park, with the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrating 50 seasons at the venerable ballpark.

When the Bucs kicked off spring training 2018 with the New York Yankees in town, there were several dignitaries to help celebrate–including Bill Mazeroski, whose dramatic 1960 Game 7 World Series homer gave Pittsburgh a championship over the New York Yankees.

Technically, the current LECOM Park site does not house the ballpark that opened in 1923 for the St. Louis Cardinals; that ballpark was located to the east of the current facility. The current ballpark opened after World War II and is known by many old-timers as the former spring home of the Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves. Still, the LECOM Park field is where Roberto Clemente gracefully patrolled the outfield, where Willie Stargell engaged the fans, and where Henry Aaron awed onlookers with his sheer power and determination. It’s not the gaudiest of ballparks, and the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t exactly crammed with superstars these days, but spring-training aficionados know LECOM Park is a throwback to the way spring training used to be: an intimate affair played in a neighborhood ballpark.

You can find information on spring-training and regular-season Pittsburgh Pirates tickets here.

LECOM Park has been known by a variety of names–McKechnie Field (1962–2017, named for former Bradenton resident and MLB manager Bill McKechnie) and Braves Field (1948–1961), with the original ballpark known as Ninth Street Park (1927–1947) and City Park (1923–1926)–in a long and varied history. It’s actually changed a lot over the years: the original ballfield in 1923 was east of the current ballpark, as a golf course was converted to a baseball facility. That original ballpark, built for $2,000, seated up to 1,300 fans. And, like all ballparks of the time, it was a segregated facility.

Bradenton postcard

What we see today as LECOM Park had its roots after World War II, when the original ballpark site was used as a military base and the old ballpark removed. When the Boston Braves were seeking a new spring home in 1948, the city agreed to construct a facility at what is now the LECOM Park site. Shown above, you can see the roots of today’s LECOM Park in the vintage postcard, with two of the three distinctive grandstands in place.

In 1969, the Pittsburgh Pirates shifted spring operations from Fort Myers’ Terry Park to McKechnie Field. Since then, Pirates greats have graced the LECOM Park playing field, and the community has responded with two major upgrades–1993 and 2013–that saw grandstand renovations, a 360-degree concourse expansion, new clubhouses and more. To celebrate the 50th spring training for the Pirates at LECOM Park, the team put together a history stand showing team highlights via photos and multimedia displays. It will be at LECOM Park through the season. It’s one more reason to take in a spring-training game at LECOM Park this year.

LECOM Park 2018

About Kevin Reichard

Kevin Reichard is editor and publisher of Spring Training Online.

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