BRADENTON, Fla. - This was the busiest week of the spring training season at McKechnie Field, and, unfortunately, it also produced some of the coolest weather we've experienced here for a few years.
From Sunday, March 3 through Saturday, March 9, the Pirates played six games in seven days at McKechnie. The Astros, Phillies, Rays, Orioles and Twins all came to town, and the Bucs also welcomed the Spanish National Team for an exhibition game.
Most of the Grapefruit League games began with temperatures anywhere from 52 to 58, which is about 10-15 degrees cooler than normal for this time of the year in Florida. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining because I've heard about the weather you guys have been getting up north.
Still a couple of weeks to go in the Grapefruit League season, and it's tough to get a gauge on the Bucs. Because of the World Baseball Classic, some teams, including the Pirates, seem to be altering their workout schedules this spring. Clint Hurdle has rarely played his regulars in back-to-back games and more than 60 players are still in big league camp, although the Bucs are expected to begin making cuts by the end of the weekend.
Among the more impressive Bucs in camp, to my eye, are Starling Marte, Gaby Sanchez and Jose Tabata, among the position players, and pitchers Jared Hughes, Jeff Locke and James McDonald. Former No. 1 pick Gerrit Cole pitched three scoreless innings and struck out six straight batters against Team Spain, but the Spanish lineup had only two former major leaguers. Unless something unexpected happens, Cole will open the season in Indianapolis but could be with the big club before the end of the season.
By now, Jean and Joan have secured most of the Pirates autographs. They also added Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, now a coach with the Phillies, along with Dominic Brown and John Lannan of the Phils, Brett Wallace and Tyler Greene of the Astros
Former NFL coach and current NFL analyst Tony Dungy paid a visit to the Pirates this past week. Dungy spoke to all of the players in both the major and minor league camps, stressing the importance of becoming a good teammate.
The Penn State Altoona baseball team was in the area for its own spring training, and we bumped into freshman pitcher Derek Totaro and his family from Lancaster who were here for the Pirates-Phillies game.
Several Altoona area folks have been around the ballpark recently. Tom Smith, one of my Thursday morning breakfast buddies, and a couple of his friends, broke away from the Penn State watch to come down for a few days. John and Gail Austin were here with Jim and Patty Ross and Bill and Judy Duey. Larry Stitt, Jim Klausman and Dave Claar as well as Al and Kathy Ansman were seen, along with Dr. Phil and Paula Hall. We've spent time with former baseball buddy Charley Hess and wife Linda, who now live in Chambersburg. We also had dinner with an old college roommate, John Turner and his wife, Judy, from Greenville.
Restaurants recently visited by our group included Popi's VI, Primo's Restorante in Sarasota, the Anna Maria Oyster Bar and Demetrios' Pizza House.
We also made our annual trip to the Strawberry Festival in Plant City where the featured entertainment was country stars Neal McCoy and Trace Adkins. We plan to return Sunday when entertainer of the year Blake Shelton will perform.
Until next week
Jim Lane is a retired sports editor of the Mirror. He writes from Florida in February and March.