Pirates fans sail south to reach spring training dreams

Old and new fans bask in the spring training experience

Two yellow shirts watching baseball.
Mike Wagner and Linda Kurta have been Pirates fans for over 60 years. They watched the team win the World Series in 1971, and they still visit Bradenton every three years hoping each new year for another championship. Photo by Sarah Maat 

BRADENTON, Fla. – Two fans sporting bright yellow Hawaiian shirts stood out under the blazing sun on the centre field concourse at LECOM Park. 

Linda Kurta and Mike Wagner are Pirates superfans from just outside Pittsburgh. They’ve been dedicated followers for over 60 years and they aren’t afraid to flash their pride.

Even after a century, the Pittsburgh Pirates are attracting new and old fans to their spring training ballpark.

“We usually come down here every couple of years to see the games,” Wagner said at Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Although they enjoy watching the team at home, they make special journeys whenever they can to soak in the spring training experience in Bradenton.

As lifelong fans they remember what the team was like when they started watching in the 1960s.

“Back then it was real popular, we had a winning team, everyone went to the games and you could afford to go … Now it’s getting tougher to go and the team isn’t doing as good,” Wagner said. 

Even after all this time, though, the couple still hasn’t given up hope for the Pirates. 

“We saw them win the World Series (1971) so we know they can do it,” Kurta said.

She reminded Wagner why they’ve remained such dedicated fans for so long and claims the most exciting thing about this year is the potential for “a winning team.”

Wagner is less convinced, but still enjoys the fan atmosphere, especially back home in Pittsburgh at PNC Park, which he says is one of the best stadiums in the U.S.

“I just wish we had the team to go with it.”

LISTEN: Runners on first at LECOM Park

Isaac Hung shares his thoughts from his first time at a baseball game, while Sulien Khan and Lucas Argier share takeaways from their first spring training experience.

For Bridgette and Bob Jenkins, another couple from Pittsburgh, this game was a long awaited one.

“It’s on his bucket list,” said Bridgette about her husband, excited to finally have the chance to take him to a spring training game.

In the bottom of the fifth inning the couple left their seats to grab a bucket of chicken tenders and some popcorn. The food—and the fans—rounded out their once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

“The spirit of Pittsburgh is here,” Bridgette said. “You can reach out and touch them.”

Even at the management level, the Pirates understand how much the fans impact the ballpark experience.

“We get great support from our fans always and they follow us anywhere,” Dan Hart, the director of media relations for the Pirates, said in an interview at LECOM Park.

“Not only in Pittsburgh but when we go on the road, we get great support, coming here it’s always a great atmosphere, it’s one of the best ball parks in the Grapefruit league.

“I love coming here, and so do our fans.”

WATCH: Experience spring training in sunny Bradenton, Florida

Jackson Kerbl and Alex Mandarino capture the exciting sights and sounds at LECOM Park during the Toronto Blue Jays and Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday afternoon matchup.

Bradenton assistant general manager climbs her way to the press box

Rebekah Rivette has been with the team for almost five years. Photo by Isaac Hung

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Posted: Mar 8 2024 7:42 am
Filed under: Special Reports Baseball Pittsburgh Pirates Sports Toronto Blue Jays