A Braves spring move looks good from here

The Braves play Monday at a gem of a spring training site -- McKechnie Field in Bradenton. (Steve Hummer/AJC)

The Braves play Monday at a gem of a spring training site — McKechnie Field in Bradenton. (Steve Hummer/AJC)

BRADENTON, FLA. – Normally, I am a staunch opponent of using taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize the extravagant appetites of wealthy professional sports franchises.

But now we’re talking about somebody else’s tax dollars. So, by all means, yes, yes, proceed with plans to move the Braves from their Disney faux spring ballpark to some planned community on Florida’s west coast in Sarasota County. Plunk it right down between the water aerobics class and the arts and crafts room and let’s call it a done deal.

The Braves certainly didn’t need to move their permanent headquarters from Turner Field to Cobb County – where my property tax bill is addressed. But the plan to bug out of Orlando after 20 years for somewhere more suitable seems perfectly rational. (The Sarasota plan is one of a couple being floated now, the one seemingly with the most legs).

Maybe I feel more of a pull in this direction on this Monday, with the Braves visiting the antithesis of everything Disney on their road trip to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the quaintest outpost of the Grapefruit League.

The Pirates McKechnie Field is a real ballpark in a real neighborhood – there is a food bank across the street – where the real business of preparing for a season takes place without a single cartoon character in sight.

The place dates back to 1923, and despite the various modernizations that have taken place since, it has not lost the feel of authenticity. It is not the biggest park around (capacity 6,600) and the parking is a bit of a joke, but convenience in this case is the enemy of ambience. The Pirates like it enough to have signed a lease through 2037.

You park where you can around the Pirates spring home. (Steve Hummer/AJC)

You park where you can around the Pirates spring home. (Steve Hummer/AJC)

Of course, if the Braves move just down the road, builders won’t be able to replicate the charms of McKechnie. But any new ballyard figures to be an improvement over the contrivances of baseball in a theme park.

The Braves have been at Disney since 1997, where they have constructed exactly one team good enough to get to World Series and zero teams that have won a playoff series since 2001. Now there is plenty of blame to go around for this lack of October success, but if it suits my argument, I’ll place a very small share on the setting of March. Hey, the Braves got lost in the fantasy of their surroundings (OK, it’s a real reach).

It’s a personal theory that the Braves lose at least five games in the standings while stalled in traffic on I-4 during the spring.

As the Braves lease with Disney is set to expire next year, the move to another spring locale seems inevitable. The new energy of a change in training sites won’t hurt. A spot on the map more accessible to other camps is an absolute necessity. And, perhaps, having a set-up where weight training equipment won’t overflow into a dreary hallway (as at Disney) might pick up the lads’ spirits.

It is with great excitement we greet the buzz of a new place to play make-believe baseball.

Thank you in advance, Florida taxpayers, both residents and visitors.

Reader Comments 0

13 comments
billt50
billt50

I love McK field. The folks who work there along with their food and hospitality make 'Spring Training' what it should be.

Matthew Angely
Matthew Angely

Im not sure if the writer of this article Steve Hummer realizes that Mc Kechnie field is in Manatee County not Sarasota County. The Baltimore Orioles play in Ed Smith Stadium which is Sarasota County. Im glad to see theres a possibility they might have a new home for spring training. It's too bad it didn't happen before when i use to live there for many of years. I use to watch the Pirates play all the time and i also went to Ed Smith Stadium when it was the Chicago White Sox, back in the day of the Big Hurt Frank Thomas, Michael Jordan when he tried his hand in baseball followed by the Cincinnati Reds and now the Baltimore Orioles. A few times id go south to Lee County and watch the Red Sox. I do miss Florida this time of year, i miss watching the spring training games where the young kids are fighting to make the opening day roster, the 40 man roster or watching the regulars get ready for the upcoming season. If would love to see the Braves relocating to Bradenton, it would give me another reason to visit.

jimfowler
jimfowler

Outdated?  Come on now.  Does everything have to be sparkling new?  Is this a contest of who can have the newest facilities?  Are the fans ever considered?  Disney is plenty new enough! Bottom line, this is a bad move for fans who attend spring training regularly.  And yes I go to different stadiums and they are a comfortable hour or so away.  Not a bad drive at all!

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@jimfowler It is not the age of the Disney Facility ,it is the travel from Orlando to Ft.Myers or Sarasota to play the games . Even going to Port St.Lucie (Mets) or Jupiter (Marlins and Cardinals) takes at least a hour each way ,time on the bus is time not spent on the practice field.And this Braves team needs all the practice they can get.

Amy White Kecskes
Amy White Kecskes

This is the first I've heard about Bradenton. I read earlier last week that North Port was being kicked around.

Cejay Vandergriff
Cejay Vandergriff

Yea I heard about North Port also. Actually I like the move if they do it. I have the Phillies here in Clearwater but the Braves are my team and always has been. I much rather go to Bradenton or North Port than where they are now at Disney World. Less people, less traffic and probably cheaper too without all the tourist.

PhilUnderwood
PhilUnderwood

I totally agree. I was at McKechnie Field today (my favorite since the Indians moved from Land O Lakes in Winter Haven) and took my wife to experience what I called the best Spring ballpark in the Grapefruit League. Let's go Braves....to Sarasota!

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@PhilUnderwood My favorite was Al Lopez in St. Pete , The Rays should have played their home  games there instead of that domed aberration of a stadium. Heck ,they barely draw 10,000 a game anyway, unless they are playing the Yankees.

jimfowler
jimfowler

A move from Disney is a very bad idea.  Move because the Braves don't want to take trips?  These guys make enough money to not worry about a trip to the coast.  Disney is not only a very good spring base but also gives the family some activity after the games.  I've been there for the past 20 years and love it as does my family.  Obviously the Braves do not care about their fan base as they project a move ever farther away from Atlanta.  Being in a "real neighborhood" means nothing when you compare parking, accessibility, post-game activities, etc.  Those are the reasons the Braves gave us for relocating to Cobb County!  Oh well, nothing will stop this move as the Braves want to snuggle up closer to their opponents instead of providing a great atmosphere and full-day option for the fans.  Couldn't disagree with Hummer more but what else is new?

PhilUnderwood
PhilUnderwood

@jimfowler Disagree!  Disney is outdated, crowded with different activities, and too far even for us fans who like to go to Spring Training and take in more than one stadium (and who wants to go to Lakeland?)...so move!

lowlow
lowlow

haha I'm fine with the move to Sarasota County as I have a place in Charlotte County which the lines separating it from Sarasota County are so crazy you can't keep up with the "entering ---- county now."  There are a lot of other teams in the area (redsox, rays, yankees, pirates, orioles, twins).  However, I have seen the area they plan to build in and its not like Bradenton - "more like i have some swamp land in Florida to sell you".  But facilities can go up around it and traffic will be much better than Bradenton and beach is 15 minutes way.  Hope North Port works out.  

Raaharr
Raaharr

I've complained about Champions Field for years, with the outrageous food and ticket costs, the distant parking, the orientation of the field (facing the Sun all afternoon), and the distance from other ballparks.  So yes, let's hit the road...