Below is a lightly edited excerpt from our feature rating and ranking spring training ballparks. This is not intended as one of our multi-page, in-depth reviews, but rather a quick overview. A large Photo Gallery is also near the bottom of the page.
March 16th 2008: Infield Reserve
March 16th 2009: Infield Box
March 10th 2010: Infield Reserve
March 13th 2013: Infield Box
March 18th 2015: Infield Box
By: Cole Shoemaker
Bradenton’s historic ballpark, often dubbed “Florida’s Fenway,” is one of the few spring venues to enter larger baseball consciousness beyond spring training nerds or local fans.
Like actual Fenway Park, it is difficult to quantify the unparalleled sense of history and authenticity of this cathedral, so feel free to take this assessment with a grain of salt. Most would probably rank LECOM (better known by its former name, McKechnie Field) higher on their list, and I sympathize with that impulse. This is why I don’t “grade” the classic MLB parks.
While the 2013 renovations dramatically improved the fan experience, they probably didn’t go far enough by some measures compared to other renovated parks ($10 million here vs. $30-$60 million+).
The recent round of renovations did an excellent job of preserving the ballpark’s classic feel, but the functionality and amenities are still a tad behind overall, not to minimize the awesome features like the “fan plaza” or the bar scene on the new boardwalk, nor to minimize my overall fondness for this place.
As with many venerated venues of the era, LECOM Park is bordered by the confines of a classic neighborhood. It’s quite similar to Dunedin, but this area has more of a working-class vibe with fewer bars and restaurants and more homes and businesses. I still consider the location to be a charming asset, and access is better here than the more isolated Dunedin.
Exuding a simple splendor that’s attractive without being over-the-top, LECOM Park’s understated architecture and aesthetics are fantastic. Added during the 1993 renovations, the exceedingly charming Spanish Mission-style exterior façade looks like it dates back to 1923. The white stucco is comparatively unembellished compared to some of the self-consciously busy and over-stylized newer parks, as LECOM is uncomplicatedly authentic and pleasant. This looks like a classic ballpark.
LECOM Park’s charm and simple splendor is duplicated inside. The same Spanish Mission style-press box characterizes the interior aesthetics. The intimate grandstand has support columns like the classic parks and is divided into three covered sections, forming perhaps the most distinctive design in spring training.
The outfield aesthetics are relatively pleasing, with palm trees backing the outfield boardwalk and a residential-looking building beyond the left field foul pole. Covered outfield bleachers import the classic grandstand sensibility to the outfield as well.
The Pirates could probably stand to add more team references, but the classic aesthetics automatically ensure a high score in “ballpark personality,” as this place instantly sticks out in a crowded landscape of solid spring parks.
LECOM Park still suffers from some functional drawbacks, but nothing about it is disqualifying. Somewhat like Scottsdale Stadium, the seats down the lines aren’t oriented toward the infield at all. Sightline issues are compounded by obstructions caused by the support columns.
Modern fold down seats with cupholders replaced the dreadful bucket-style seats during the recent renovation, but I was disappointed that Bradenton maintained a particularly large number of backless bleacher seats down the lines. Some of the fold-down seats in the upper grandstand still have limited foot room as well.
The park now possesses a wraparound concourse, but it sure seems like it took a lot of work to get to 360-degrees, as the system is so disjointed with horizontal and vertical discontinuities. The expanded “fan plaza” behind first base is great, but the concourse behind the home plate/third base grandstand remains far too tight and congested. On the plus side, the gaps between the grandstand can make the system feel quite open, although the concourse is mostly closed to the field.
The new outfield boardwalk is a floor above the ground level main concourse. It can get a bit narrow in left field, but there are plenty of great standing room areas. The lack of an accessible 200-level above the main grandstand separates LECOM from some of the more expensive renovation projects. Finally, a new, state-of-the-art HD videoboard was added in 2017.
LECOM Park’s amenities are a mixed bag, filled with plenty of memorable features but lacking in some of the most important respects. Case in point: the concessions are still deficient in quality and variety, as they weren’t sufficiently upgraded during the renovations. New kitchen space was added on the first base side, but mostly it’s just the regular items other than some BBQ. The outdated facilities were kept on the home plate/third base concourse. Last time I visited, Jersey Mike’s Subs on the boardwalk was the only higher quality item of note.
The renovations did add plenty of fantastic sitting areas, social spaces, and vibrant bars. Taking a page from the renovations at Charlotte Sports Park, LECOM Park’s boardwalk has a destination tiki bar beyond left center field. While some of it is for group seating, there is plenty of patio seating available to all fans throughout the boardwalk.
The aforementioned “fan plaza” serves as another hub for activity. Filled with palm trees, plush beach-style patio seating, and cornhole games, this is another great place to hang out before the game. The fan plaza has a second destination bar in the corner (Yuengling Plaza Bar) as well.
In keeping with the ballpark’s classic image, the renovations didn’t add too many premium seating options or group areas. Other than group seating on the boardwalk, the Pirates later added twelve private terrace tables along the center field wall. There is only one “skybox” on the press box level which is more reminiscent of an older park. The Left Field Party Deck down the line is the only party area more reflective of today’s modern facilities. Speed pitch in the fan plaza is the only activity of note for kids.
Despite some glaring oversights—namely the failure to enhance the food options or upgrade the home plate/third base concourse—and various other minor deficits, Bradenton now has a fan-friendly facility that retains the classic ballpark vibe.
LECOM Park’s placement just outside of the tier of “great” shouldn’t be seen as a slight, as the parks below were either built to state-of-the art specifications or received millions more in renovations. Bradenton remains a favorite spring training destination.
Likes and Dislikes
Things I like:
Things I don’t like: