The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles train about 10-15 miles apart in the Manatee-Sarasota area (with the Rays, the Yankees and the Phillies each about 40-50 miles away), so there is plenty of spring baseball around here.  But, of the 2 local teams (Pirates and Orioles), only the Pirates have a Florida State League team that plays here.  The Bradenton Marauders made the playoffs in 2010, which was their inaugural season, and they attracted a small but loyal fan base.  Granted, they attracted more people than the Sarasota Reds did in any of the games I attended there, but there is definitely room for improvement.  Based just on the 9 years I’ve been here for spring baseball (which includes the 2 1/2 years I’ve lived here), all I can say is that the Pirates seem to have made a bigger effort to be a part of the community than the Reds did.  The Orioles are still new, so time will tell, but the Pirates really seem to care about Bradenton and its people.

One such effort on the part of the Pirates was their “Baseball Basics for Women” that was held at McKechnie Field last night.  Unlike real Fantasy Camp, this was for local women, most of whom are originally from somewhere else and not  necessarily Pirates fans.  I learned about it during the Blue Jays/Pirates game I went to a couple of weeks ago and, since tuition was only $30, I decided I simply had to go.

I had an amazing time.  There were about 50 or 60 women in attendance, some of whom had won “scholarships” from WCTQ, a local radio station, and others who learned about it from the newspaper.  There were some attendees who had played softball on the college level, and others who’d never held a bat in their hands.  I’m decidedly unathletic, but I do pride myself on knowing a lot about the game itself.  There were actually real Pirates in attendance, as well as players from the various minor league affiliates.  We got to meet Ross Ohlendorf,  James McDonald, Craig Hansen, Matthew Skirving, Quincy Latimore, Daniel McCutcheon, Chris Leroux, and more guys whose names escape me right now.  The Marauders will post items about the clinic on their Facebook page, and I’ll link to that later.  I’m not on Facebook (one of my goals in life is to be the last person in the world not on Facebook), but I imagine it’s a public page so I’ll be able to get the link and post it here.

We were given instruction on how to warm up by the Pirates’ conditioning coaches, and we all gathered in the outfield to run, skip, hop, etc.  It was tiring!  The attendees were then divided into 7 groups, and there were 7 stations scattered around McKechnie Field.  #1 was an opportunity to sit in the Pirates’ dugout and talk to major league players about pretty much anything.  #2 was the hitting station; #3 was baserunning; #4 was bunting; #5 was the outfield; #6 was the infield and #7 was pitching off the Pirates’ bullpen mound.  I saw that one woman pulled up lame at the baserunning station, so she missed the rest of the clinic, poor thing.

One of the perqs of attendance was a ticket to today’s Spring Training finale: the Pirates vs. the Rays.  I already had tickets to that game, so I gave my comp ticket to one of the other women at the clinic.  We were escorted onto the field before the game, and got our picture taken with Marty the Marauder, the Marauders’ mascot (the Pirate Parrot was nowhere to be seen).  Unfortunately, out of 60 attendees, only about 10 of us were on the field.  Another perq was a special t-shirt designed for the clinic, but they were made for flat-chested tweens (the so-called “ladies’ cut”), so the majority of us couldn’t fit into them.  I’ll keep the shirt as a souvenir, but even if I lose those last extra pounds, there is no way I could ever fit into it.  Just for the heck of it, I tried on the size XL in the privacy of my own home, and it was scary.  I can afford to lose a few pounds, but I wasn’t even close to being the largest person there.  Whoever convinced the staff to order “ladies’ cut” shirts was obviously a stick-figure or one of the afore-mentioned flat-chested tweens.

Today’s game was a lot of fun.  Dad and I sat in the shade (thank goodness!) and saw the Pirates beat the Rays 5-4 on an error in the bottom of the 9th.  Only 1 of the guys I met last night played in the game (pitcher Chris Leroux), and he gave up the game-tying home run in the top of the 9th, but he got the win anyway.  There were 2 errors, but there were also a lot of really good plays by both teams.  It was one of the better-played games I’ve seen during Spring Training. I rooted for the Pirates, but as a resident of Tampa Bay, I have to say I was very pleased to see the number of Rays’ fans who showed up.  The team might not draw well at the Trop, but they do very well on radio and TV, and it felt like a Rays’ home game.

So, in the final analysis, it was yet another terrific Baseball Weekend (and I don’t even ache from the exertion!).  There’s more to come because the Marauders’ season starts on the 7th, with the first home game on the 8th, which is also one of 3 Fireworks Nights.  And Dad and I already plan to see the St. Lucie Mets when they come to town.

As it is written: Baseball is life.  The rest is just details.

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