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Fans' Guide to Pirates Spring Training in Bradenton

Whether you're a spring-training veteran or a rookie visiting for the first time, here's everything you'll need to know this spring.

This article originally appeared on the .

Whether you're a Western Pennsylvanian heading down to Florida or a Bradenton, Fla., native driving down the block to see Pittsburgh Pirates spring training this year, here is everything that you need to know:

When do pitchers and catchers report?

Players will start showing up in Bradenton on Sunday, Feb. 13, and hold their first workout Monday, Feb. 14. About 40 players are expected in the initial group.

And the rest of the team?

The first full-squad workout is Saturday, Feb. 19.

Fans are invited to a free pep rally that night from 5-7:30 p.m. on Old Main Street in Downtown Bradenton that will feature player appearances, autographs and fun & games.

When and where do the Pirates practice?

Workouts are held at , about four miles from , where spring-training games are played.

The first workout for pitchers and catchers will be at noon on Monday after they take their physicals. After that, practices begin at around 9:45 a.m. daily. Practices will run until about 12:30 p.m. the rest of the week, then last until about 2 p.m. once the full Pirates squad arrives.

Can I watch them practice?

Yes. All workouts at Pirate City are free and open to the public.

What else do I need to know about Pirate City?

The Pirates' training facility is home to five practice fields (grass and turf), batting cages, a clubhouse and player dormitories. After spring training, it serves as the home for the Pirates' rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates. In addition, it hosts ; corporate team-building events and meetings; parties, weddings and receptions; high school, youth and college tournaments; and foreign teams' training camps.

What about McKechnie Field?

The legendary ballpark was built in 1923 and has been the spring home for six different major league teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. It has hosted the Pirates' spring games since 1969.

The stadium, named after Hall of Fame manager and former Bradenton resident Bill McKechnie, has kept its vintage feel thanks to old-time grandstands and classic Spanish mission-style architecture. It underwent a major renovation in 1993 and added lights in 2008 for its first night game. The stadium seats 6,602.

After spring training ends, McKechnie is also home to the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates' high single-A minor league team that played its inaugural season in 2010.

Go here for driving directions and a seating chart for the stadium.

How much are tickets, and how do I get them?

Tickets are divided into Gold Level games (against the Phillies, Yankees and Red Sox) and Red Level games (all other teams). Price ranges are as follows:

Red Level
Grandstand - $10
Reserve - $17
Box - $18

Gold Level
Grandstand - $12
Reserve - $19
Box - $20

Tickets are available on the Pirates' official website and at the McKechnie Field box office. Fans can also purchase season-ticket plans starting at $167, as well as two-game ticket packages.

When does the season start?

The Pirates kick off the 2011 slate with an annual charity exhibition against , formerly known as Manatee Community College, on Friday, Feb. 25. Then, they visit the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Feb. 26 before returning to McKechnie Field to host the Rays on Feb. 27.

How's the schedule look this year?

Pretty good. The Pirates will host 16 big-league games this year, including a visit from the Yankees (March 1) and two apiece from the Phillies (March 4 and 12), Red Sox (March 13 and 19) and hometown Rays (Feb. 27 and March 27). There's also a rare visit from the Houston Astros (March 23), who train in Kissimmee, Fla., as well as one night game against the Baltimore Orioles (March 10, 7:05 p.m.). All other games are at 1:05 p.m., except for the exhibition against Manatee, which begins at 12:05 p.m. on Feb. 25. View the full schedule here.

Who are the players to watch?

The Pirates might not have the star power of some other teams, but they've built a good nucleus of young talent. Andrew McCutchen is just 24 but was recently picked as the best center fielder in the game by MLB Network. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft, made his big-league debut last year and finished the season with a sizzling September, knocking in 26 runs in his final 27 games. Left fielder and former Yankees farmhand Jose Tabata hit .299 last year. Pirates-catcher-to-be Tony Sanchez got his start with the Marauders last year. Neil Walker won the Pirates' starting second baseman job last year and was arguably the best rookie in the big leagues at that position in 2010.

New manager Clint Hurdle hopes to  in the team as it attempts to reverse a streak of 18 straight losing seasons.

Any advice for autograph seekers?

Head down to Pirate City during workouts. You can often catch players as they move to and from the different practice fields and the clubhouse and ask them to sign your memorabilia.

During games, fans can line up along the walls and fences near the two bullpen areas and grab autographs as players come in and out of the home (right-field) and visitor (left-field) clubhouses. Spring games are unique in that the starters and big-name players usually don't play all nine innings, so they'll often sign a few autographs as they exit games. You might also be able to get players to sign after games when they board the team charter buses to leave the stadium. Of course, you should always observe the instructions of team security and staff as to where fans are allowed access.

Who are the Bradenton Boosters?

They're an all-volunteer staff of 120 local residents who serve as gameday staff at McKechnie Field and work as ushers, ticket collectors, merchandise sellers and more. Say hi to the friendly folks in yellow when you visit on gameday.

Where do I park?

There isn't an "official" parking lot at McKechnie Field, though there is a large grass lot located behind the stadium that is operated by the nearby  and accessible from Ninth Street West. There are also a bunch of lots operated by various businesses along Ninth Street West and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Prices usually range anywhere from $5 to $10. Follow the signs. You may also be able to find free curbside parking in the surrounding area if you arrive early enough.

What should I eat at the stadium?

McKechnie has a full selection of ballpark fare, from pizza to hot dogs to pretzels to chicken fingers and beyond. Many concessions stands are operated by local vendors, including  and . McKechnie also has a great selection of beer, including Pittsburgh favorites like Yeungling and Iron City at the "Pitt-Stop" concession stand. They also serve Bruster's Real Ice Cream. There's a large outdoor picnic area located behind the first-base side of the stadium where you can sit down to dine. Fans are allowed to bring in one bottled water from outside of the stadium. Also, note that the concessions stands don't take credit cards. There's an ATM located in the concourse.

Where should I eat before or after the game?

 is a popular spot for casual, home-style cooking located right next to McKechnie Field. Also nearby are ,  and .

For a more upscale option, head toward the Manatee River waterfront and dine at .

You'll also find a ton of dining options from popular chain restaurants to local establishments by heading to Manatee Avenue West a few blocks north or to Cortez Road West a few blocks south. Browse restaurants in the Bradenton Directory for more choices.

How about places to grab a drink?

Your best bet is to head Downtown to Old Main Street (12th Street West), where you'll find several bars – , ,  and more.

Where can I buy merchandise?

There are a few souvenir stands set up along the concourse of the stadium, but for the best selection, try the official souvenir shop located next to the main gate. It opens at 10 a.m. on gamedays.

I'm from out of town. What else should I see?

The beaches! Head west to discover the beauty of Anna Maria Island along Florida's Gulf Coast. ,  and Coquina Beach  and  parks are must-see locations.

For everything else that you want to know about the greater Bradenton area, visit its official travel site.

What's the weather like?

The average high temperature for Bradenton in March is 77 degrees. The average low is 57. You may want to bring a light jacket to the stadium on overcast days, but for the most part, it doesn't get any more gorgeous than a sunny day at the ballpark.

What are the closest airports?

Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is only about 15 minutes to the south. Tampa International Airport is about 45 minutes north.

What about nearby spring-training sites?

The Pirates' closest spring neighbors are the Orioles, who play their home games in Sarasota, Fla., at newly renovated Ed Smith Stadium. Other nearby Grapefruit League teams include the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., the Yankees in Tampa, Fla., the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., the Rays in Port Charlotte and the Red Sox and Twins in Fort Myers, Fla.

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