By Jim Sankey
Allied News Baseball Columnist
WITH THE spring-like temperatures of the past two days supposedly dropping into a high only in the 20s tomorrow, don’t despair: Spring is on the way, no matter what Phil might say Saturday morning in Punxsutawney.
Pirates’ pitchers and catchers will report to Bradenton, Fla. one week from this coming Monday. Three days later, the full squad will gather on Valentine’s Day for the first full team workout. The practice schedule concludes with the annual “Black and Gold” intra-squad game on Friday, February 22.
And the first of 33 exhibition games will be on Saturday, February 23 against the Tampa Rays at Port Charlotte. The Pirates will then host the Braves the following day in their spring training home at McKechnie Field; the game is the first of 16 home games in Bradenton, the team’s winter home since 1969.
In 2013, McKechnie Field will feature a variety of new amenities designed to enhance experiences for fans. A new boardwalk will allow fans to walk around the entire ballpark for the first time. Among the new locations in the stadium are the left field party deck and the Boardwalk Barbeque area for group picnics, the outfield bar in center field, and the left field bleachers. The number of shaded seating areas has increased all around the ballpark, and the Fan Plaza inside the main gate has expanded and includes new concessions and restrooms.
During the exhibition schedule, the Bucs will meet American League teams in 29 of the 33 games. The only two National League clubs on the Pirates' pre-season schedule are the Phillies and the Braves, two games against each.
The opponent scheduled most often is the Orioles, whose Sarasota training camp is just seven miles from Pirate City; the two teams will play each other seven times. The Red Sox, Rays, and Twins will each meet the Pirates five times.
Root Sports Pittsburgh will televise four pre-season games, while the Pirates Baseball Radio Network will carry most weekend games and several during the week.
If you’re planning a Florida visit, you can call 941-747-3031 for more information or to purchase pre-season season tickets, group tickets, or the weekend package.
Fans can also log on to www.pirates.com for the complete spring training schedule and information on vacation packages with or without airfare, hotel info, restaurants, and nearby attractions.
ä DAPPER ANDREW: Not surprisingly, Andrew McCutchen has been named the 2013 Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year, indicative of Pittsburgh’s outstanding sports personality during the previous calendar year.
Cutch will receive his award at the 77th Dapper Dan dinner and sports auction at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center next Wednesday.
The Bucs’ centerfielder is the 18th Pirate to win the award, but since Jay Bell won in 1993, only Jason Kendall (2000) had been named before McCutchen.
"It's an honor to be named the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year," McCutchen said in a statement issued by Dapper Dan Charities. "So many incredible athletes have won this award; to be mentioned alongside these greats is humbling for me, and I am truly thankful of the support that I have received so far in my career in Pittsburgh."
ä CUTCH ON VIDEO GAME COVER: The Dapper Dan is McCutchen’s second recognition of the new year. Fans voted McCutchen onto the cover of the video game “MLB '13 The Show,” swamping Facebook and Twitter with 108,000 votes to put McCutchen’s margin 20,000 votes ahead of triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera of Detroit and National League MVP Buster Posey of San Francisco.
"Being on the front cover of a video game…,”McCutchen said. "is huge for me, a huge accomplishment."
ä ALL DRESSED UP: The Bucs will wear a new alternate uniform at all Sunday home games this year, featuring a mustard gold cap and a pullover style jersey just as it was in the early 1970s. The uniform joins the home white, road gray, and black alternate uniforms.
Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for Allied News.