BRADENTON, Fla. – As the city celebrates the 100th anniversary of baseball in Bradenton this year, Erik and Crystal Dehner were enjoying a celebration of a different kind.
The Knox, PA., natives who are also first-time visitors of LECOM Park – spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates – chose to honeymoon with the Pirates after being recently married.
“I’ve been a Pirates’ fan since the day I was born,” Erik said. “I love the Buccos, I always have, and it’s great to seeing (them) down here in Bradenton and celebrate with the Bucs.”
The Dehners were excited to experience their first Bradenton baseball game Thursday when the Boston Red Sox visited their Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I just love this ballpark,” Erik said. “This has been the first time we’ve been here, but everything about this ballpark is pretty phenomenal.
“With the boardwalk and all that (you’ve got here) great food and great drinks, with a little bit of baseball; you’ve got to love it.”
Baseball and Bradenton first came together in 1923 when the St. Louis Cardinals played their spring training games at City Park – a 1,300-seat stadium located slightly east of where LECOM Park sits today.
After three name changes including McKechnie Field in honour of former Pirates’ manager Bill McKechnie, a deal made with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2017 led to the Pirates’ organization renaming the stadium to LECOM Park.
Sights and sounds: a breakdown of the day in Bradenton with Jamie, Yannis, and Zeno
With the excitement of returning modern-day star Andrew McCutchen filling the air, fans of the third oldest ballpark used by Major League Baseball – and oldest used for spring training games – were elated to be part of the historic season.
Along the concourse level of the outfield, Tony Grieco was enjoying an ice-cold water.
With over 75 years as an usher at the Pirates’ regular season home PNC Park, the long-time Bucs’ fan who “keeps his age a guessing game,” has been attending spring training games with his wife for the past eight years and credits a fan-area renovation for bringing the park to life.
“When we first started coming down here, this tiki area was not here,” Grieco said. “In order to get around (the park,) you’d have to walk down the stairs and then back up the stairs after going all the way around.
“Then they built this tiki bar, and it is the greatest thing they could have done. Every time we come in here, we’re buying tickets for almost every game, but what we do is we get here early because we like sitting here – we don’t sit at our seats at all. We love it.”
Selling hotdogs and sausages along the right field side lower level of LECOM Park was Stanley Weyman, a Pawtucket, RI. native who found time to step away from his busy concession stand to share his favourite part of what he does – getting to know the fans.
“I love to get out and meet people,” Weyman said. “It’s (part of) my whole job.”
The 32-year LECOM Park employee is grateful for the opportunity the organization has given him for as long as they have.
“They’re (the Pirates) really great,” Weyman said. “I’m pretty lucky, and they’ve asked me back for next year already.”
– Andrew Stuetz