Baseball in our area has always been about spring—long, sunny afternoons at McKechnie or Ed Smith that combine the thrill of big league names with the simplicity of the pre-season. I considered myself a veritable James Dean every time my grandma helped me ditch school to spoil me with peanuts, lemonade and hot dogs in her perennial seats right on McKechnie’s first base line. And all of Sarasota was buzzing with pride this year when the Orioles took the field at the beautifully restored Ed Smith Stadium.
Now, though, summer’s in on the fun. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Single-A affiliate is wrapping up its second season as the Bradenton Marauders, meaning McKechnie finally has life beyond April. I still can’t help but smile every time I’m driving through Bradenton and see the lights glowing over 9th Street—there’s something terrifically nostalgic about a baseball stadium at night.
And it’s the perfect summer activity: cheap, outdoors and ridiculously relaxed. Minor league baseball means you’ve probably never heard of the players and you don’t have to fret about the game’s outcome. You don’t even have to like baseball—the crowd dynamics and dusk sky alone are worth the trip. I love the sport, but after a few innings I find myself spending equal time watching people and staring aimlessly at the outfield grass, thinking about absolutely nothing.
I was there Monday night to watch the Marauders take on the St. Lucie Mets (it’s okay, I had never heard of them either). A strong breeze toward center field animated the flags against a sky of evolving oranges, pinks and purples—something you’ll never find at that artificial capsule of a stadium in St. Pete. The Marauders won the night, 11-3, but that was really just an afterthought to good food and great company.
There’s still a little time if you haven’t made it to a game yet: They start their last regular season homestand Thursday (you can see a schedule here). And as of last night, they’ve scored another trip to the playoffs—two in as many years of existence isn’t bad—starting next Tuesday. As September ushers in the upcoming season, I can’t think of a better way to take a long, slow breath of summer.