OK Folks, I located the Holy Grail. More on that in a bit.
Just a short drive up the Gulf Coast from Port Charlotte is Bradenton, home of the Florida State League (Advanced Single A) Bradenton Marauders. They play their home games in the spring training park of the Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom they are affiliated.
That field is called LECOM Park and you’d be hard pressed to figure out where the name came from unless you saw this sign in the outfield.
So what does the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine have to do with minor league baseball in Florida? Turns out that august institution bought the naming rights and it has campuses in Pennsylvania and right here in Bradenton. Still, a connection with baseball? Are they hoping some of the players will enroll during the off season or come to them for treatment of their baseball injuries? Who knows?
It is, nonetheless, an absolutely beautiful park, just blocks from downtown Bradenton. It has a seating capacity of 8,500, though there were only about 500 on hand for this game. The field is meticulously groomed, and, in all respects, this was an ideal night for baseball (88 degrees at game time, light breezes, no clouds).
The Marauders took on the Dunedin Blue Jays in what turned out to be a pitchers duel. Both teams played well (though the Jays did have two errors, one of which cost a run), and the pitchers were outstanding. One mistake by the Dunedin pitcher cost them a two-run homer, and that was all the offense either team could muster. One consequence of all this was that it was a very fast game, lasting just 1:53.
For the first time that I can recall at a minor league park, the grounds crew came out to sweep the field and replace the bases midway through the game.
Another phenomenon I haven’t seen at any level is uniformity of uniforms – well, socks, really. All of the Marauders wore knee-high black socks – not stirrups with sanitaries.
Now for the Holy Grail. In keeping with my usual routine, I walked the perimeter of the park before the game. Only one concession stand was open with the usual offerings at reasonable prices. I wasn’t in the mood for a dog or a brat, so I kept walking toward the outfield, where there is a deck from right to center field and bleachers in left. In center, there was another stand with different items for sale, and that’s where I found it.
Yes indeed, GATOR BITES!!! Genuine alligator meat, cooked to order and a generous portion at that. I expected rubber but instead got tender and tasty chunks of truly delicious reptile, complemented with a side of fries. Appropriate for the area and distinctive in the world of baseball. Oh, and did I mention, one dollar draft beer?! Baseball Nirvana.