2023: 100 Years of Baseball in the Bradenton Area!
2023 marks 100 years of baseball in the Bradenton Area and our beloved Pittsburgh Pirates are recognizing the sport’s rich history with a special exhibit at LECOM Field
The Early Innings
The Philadelphia Phillies were the first of the current major-league teams to kick off their long season by training in Florida in 1889. Nearly 35 years later – 1923 to be exact – the Grapefruit League expanded to Bradenton when the St. Louis Cardinals held Spring Training here. Later the Phillies and the Boston Red Sox also held home Spring Training games here. LECOM Park has hosted baseball games in Bradenton for more than 90 seasons, it is the oldest spring training ballpark in Major League Baseball and in 2012 the ballpark underwent considerable renovations and is now widely considered Spring Training’s finest venue.
Bradenton’s storied baseball history began when the Bradenton Growers of the Florida State League, played at a field located slightly east LECOM. A year after the Growers started, in December 1920, the Manatee County Board of Trade voted to bring MLB to the area to help the local economy.
The Gas House Gang
St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean, played at City Park (later named McKechnie Field), in Bradenton for Spring Training in the 1930s. During his time here Dizzy bought a gas station which became the basis for the famed nickname, the Gashouse Gang which won the World Series in 1934.
In addition to the Cardinals (1923-24, 1930-36), the Philadelphia Phillies (1925-27), Boston Red Sox (1928-29), Boston/Milwaukee Braves (1938-40, 1948-1962) and Kansas City/ Oakland Athletics (1963-68) all called Bradenton home prior to the arrival of the Pirates in 1969.
In 1941, the U.S. Army took over and closed the ballpark, renaming it Camp Bradenton, later changing the name to Camp Weatherford to honor Pfc. Willie M. Weatherford of Miami, who was killed in the Philippines during World War II. The Boston Braves resumed Spring Training activities here in 1948.
Hall of Fame History
The Pittsburgh Pirates have called the Bradenton Area their southern home since 1969, a period during which the Pirates won two World Series championships and featured numerous all-stars including Dave Parker, Barry Bonds and Andrew McCutchen along with Hall of Fame greats Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Clemente. (A few more Hall of Famers who played in Bradenton along the way: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig!)