History of Minor League Baseball In Sarasota / Bradenton
The Florida State League is a Class A minor baseball league operating in the state of Florida. It is one of three leagues currently operating in Class A Advanced, the third highest of six classifications of minor leagues. Each team in the league is affiliated with a Major League Baseball team, and most play in the affiliate’s Spring Training Facility.
Now for some history: The league was founded in 1919, and has continued almost entirely uninterrupted to the present day. Most players in the Florida State League do not reach this level until their third or fourth year of professional playing. The League originated in 1919 with teams in Bartow, Bradenton, Orlando, Sanford and Tampa. The League closed down in 1928 and resumed playing in 1936, then they continued playing uninterrupted, except for the World War II years, from 1942-1945.
The Florida State League was reconfigured following the 2008 season, and is currently divided into two divisions: North and South. The twelve member teams play a 140 game schedule with 70 games at home and 70 games on the road. The six team divisions play a split season with the first half ending in June and the second half ending in September. Four teams participate in the play-offs. Winners of both halves within each division play each other in a best-of-three game series for the Division Championships. If there is a repeat division winner, a wild card team will qualify for the play-offs. The Division Champions will move on to the League Championship Series and play a best-of-five game series. In 2009 the Florida State League established a Hall of Fame commemorating the league’s greatest players, managers, owners and umpires. The ceremony to present the awards for the inaugural class takes place at the Florida State League’s winter home in Daytona Beach, each November.
The playing of baseball and the practicing took place at the Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, which has an interesting history. It was built in 1989 to replace Payne Park as a spring training and minor league baseball site in 2010. That’s when the Baltimore Orioles began playing spring games in the ballpark. Ed Smith Stadium was formerly the spring home of the Chicago White Sox from 1989 -1997 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1991. In 1988 Ed Smith Stadium replaced Plant City Stadium, the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds remained at the facility through 2008. After Cincinnati’s Club moved its spring training to Arizona, Ed Smith Stadium spent a quiet year without major league spring training.
The Oriole’s became the stadium’s tenant and main attraction in 2010. Baltimore had trained in Sarasota before, at Twin Lakes Park in 1989-1990 before moving to St. Petersburg and then Ft. Lauderdale for spring games. From 1989 to 2009 the stadium hosted a series of Minor League Baseball Teams, the Single-A Sarasota White Sox, Sarasota Red Sox and the Sarasota Reds. From 2004 until 2009 it housed the Gulf Coast League’s Gulf Coast Reds. Ed Smith Stadium has also been the host of high school and college basketball tournaments. Another occasion was the presence of Barack Obama in 2008 where he had thousands of spectators as he made a speech about his up-and-coming election as President of the United States.
The Florida State League owners have approved Cincinnati’s sale of its Class A club to the Pirates, which was the final step in the Reds’ pursuit to move all of the organization’s operations out of Sarasota, Fla. With the sale of their affiliate, the Reds have now officially cut all ties with Sarasota, which had served as the organization’s Spring Training home since 1998. The club has already moved all of its operations out west to Goodyear.
Ed Smith Stadium experienced a major change after the $31 million renovation. In 2008, a planned renovation fell through when a proposed bond issue from the city of Sarasota to partially fund the renovation was rejected by the voters. The Reds, whose lease with the city and the stadium expired after the season, announced that they intended to seek a new spring training home. At that point they moved to the Goodyear Ballpark in Arizona. The Baltimore Orioles reached a tentative 30-year agreement to begin spring training at Ed Smith Stadium starting in 2010 which included renovations to the stadium and surrounding areas. The $31.2 million renovation was completed prior to the beginning of spring training in February 2011.
Seats in the renovated stadium are refurbished seats from the Orioles’ home ballpark, Oriole Park in Camden Yards. Three air-conditioned suites were added to the park and are numbered Suites 66, 70 and 83, corresponding to the club’s three World Series championships. A fabric sun shade system extends from the stadium’s original roof to nearly double the number of seats in the shade. If you’ve been to a game, you know how warm the sun can get. Seating is available for 7,428 spectators, with standing room space taking the park’s total capacity to 8,500. Two concourses include food and beverage stands, a cafe, and a 2,000-square-foot gift shop. One hundred high-definition televisions are located throughout the stadium and a high-definition LED video board in the outfield measures 17 feet (5.2 m) high by 30 feet (9.1 m) across.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have had their spring training facilities based in Bradenton, Florida since in 1969, when the city met with Pirates’ general manager Joe Brown and owner John W. Galbreathand both sides agreed to a lease of 40 years, with an option for another 40 years. Training games in March. McKechnie Field, opened in 1923 and rebuilt in 1993, is one of the oldest ballparks The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Spring Training ballpark and minor league complex in Bradenton, Fla., McKechnie Field underwent $20 million in renovations as part of the team’s new 30-year lease with the city before the start of the 2008 Spring Training season. The upgrades included lights and a new visitor’s clubhouse at McKechnie Field and new offices, dormitories, renovations to the minor league clubhouse and a fifth practice field at the Pirate City minor league complex. About $9 million was covered by a state-funded program designed to keep teams that currently hold Spring Training in Florida from leaving for Arizona. Bradenton officials said the upgrades have allowed for events other than Spring Training and had never had lights until the 2008 season.
PIRATE CITY EVENT HOSTING
It’s a new era for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Florida. McKechnie Field is now open for business (and play) both day and night with the addition of brand new light towers around the playing field. And the newly constructed Pirate City complex is now a state-of-the-art training facility to rival any other. You can now host your events here, including camps and training groups. Even before the recent historic renovations, Pirate City played host to events and camps of all sorts, including:
Baseball groups who eat, sleep and live at the complex. This includes college programs; high school and college showcases & tournaments; and instructional sessions. Foreign teams’ Spring Training and Corporate Team Building Events including such elements as a softball game and barbecue at Pirate City. and the opportunity for a softball game under the lights at McKechnie Field. Other types of events held here are Corporate Meetings & Seminars, Holiday Parties and Camp; Banquets, Wedding Receptions, Birthday Parties, Concerts and more…
With the new facilities available, it is anticipated that there will be even more hosting. From one-day conferences, to overnight corporate retreats, to week-long baseball programs, Pirate City and McKechnie Field have the event space to accommodate any group.
After the Reds’ spring-training departure from Florida’s Grapefruit League to Arizona’s Cactus League in 2009, the Reds and Pirates did an “affiliate-swap”. The Pirates took over the Sarasota Reds, while the Reds became the parent club of the Pirates’ former Class A-Advanced affiliate, the Lynchburg Hill Cats of the Carolina League. On November 10, 2009, baseball officials voted to allow the Pirates to purchase and uproot the Sarasota Reds. The Pirates moved the team to Bradenton, where they were renamed the Bradenton Marauders. The Marauders became the first Florida State League team located in Bradenton since the Bradenton Growers were established in 1926,
The Marauders playing struggled during the first half of the 2010 FSL season. The team finished the first half of the season with a 30–40 record and never really contended for the South Division title. At the start of the season’s second half, the Marauders posted a 7–5 record. Two scheduled home games were also moved to Port Charlotte’s Sports Park while McKechnie Field’s roof underwent construction earlier in the season. One of the biggest stories involving the team came in the form of improved attendance. The Marauders drew 56,718 fans to their home games in 2011, with a game average of 1,418 fans. The team ranks eighth in attendance in the Florida State League. In all of 2010, the team drew 51,856 fans in 70 home dates, only the Dunedin Blue Jays drew fewer fans. According to team officials, the turn-around attendance is believed to be a result of the team having a full season to market itself and establish a fan base. By the season’s end, the team drew a total regular season attendance of 103,978 fans, doubling the previous year’s attendance.
On August 18, 2011, Bradenton’s Robbie Grossman became the first minor league player to score 100 runs and walk 100 times in a season since Nick Swisher did so in 2004. He is also the first player in the Florida State League to walk 100 times since 1998. Ramon Cabrera was also awarded the Florida State League batting title on September 5 by finishing the 2011 season with a .343 batting average. Three of the FSL’s top four hitters were members of the Marauders: Cabrera (1st), Eleyvs Gonzalez (2nd) and Adalberto Santos (4th).
On August 30, 2011, the Marauders defeated the Palm Beach Cardinals, 6–3, to clinch the Florida State League’s second half title, for the second time in two years. However, the team would go on to lose the Southern Division Championship, 2 games to 1, for the second straight year.
The Sarasota teams’ names, logos and team colors were all closely associated with each parent club. For example the logos for Sarasota White Sox, Red Sox and Reds were just slightly altered versions of the parent club logos. However, there were attempts to allow some of these teams to find their own unique identities. In 2000, the Sarasota Red Sox introduced their mascot Gordy the Gecko. The Red Sox front office felt that since the team was based in Florida, its mascot should be reflective to the area. Soon Gordy found his way on to the team’s caps as an alternate logo.
In 2009 the Pirates took a different approach to the team. Instead of calling the club the Bradenton Pirates, which has been used in the past by the Gulf Coast League Pirates, the team was given an original name and logo. According to Pittsburgh Pirates President Frank Coonelly, the Marauders’ uniforms are closely associated with the Pirates brand, but also allows for the team to have its own unique identity. The Marauders uniforms incorporate the Marauders logo and letter script, while the colors mirror the Pirates’ black and gold colors. White uniforms are worn for games played at McKechnie Field. These white uniforms feature the “Marauders” team name across the chest of the sleeved jersey, as well as the Marauders logo on the cap. During the Marauders 2010 inaugural season, the home jerseys also featured a commemorative patch on the sleeve. Gray uniforms are worn for Marauders road games. These gray uniforms feature the name “Bradenton” across the chest of the sleeved jersey and a styled “B” logo on the cap. Meanwhile batting practice jerseys are worn during home and road batting practice, as well as during select games throughout the year. These jerseys are black and feature the Marauders logo on the left chest, along with yellow and red accents along the sides.
The Marauders also have an alternate gold cap with a black bill and the uniquely styled “B” logo on the cap representing the City of Bradenton. The gold cap is reminiscent of the one worn by the Pirates of the early 1970’s. A second alternate black cap with the styled “B” logo is also in use as of December 2011.