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Marauders and MiLB Ready for 2024 Season


It’s always fun when a baseball season begins, especially in Manatee County with the Bradenton Marauders.

Just weeks after the Pittsburgh Pirates packed up their baseball belongings at LECOM Park and embarked on their 133rd season, professional baseball continues locally. The Marauders, the Single-A Pirates’ affiliate, begin their 14th campaign in the Florida State League.

Just as locals came out to support the Pirates at home games during the Grapefruit League to the tune of more than 90,000 fans at 16 home games, commitment to the overall success of the Marauders should be anticipated.

The attendance figures will not match what the lure of MLB clubs have during the spring. However, Bradenton drew a respectable 65,598 followers at LECOM Park last season. Could they hope to do a better job in attracting more than the 1,075 to 61 home games last season?

Of course. However, 1,000-plus baseball fans in the summer’s heat in southwest Florida is something to take a bow to. Keeping baseball in Manatee County should always be paramount. I know. I saw what happens when communities do not buy tickets and support sponsors of a local ball club.

Follow me. I have a story to share. Once upon a time...

While living in Central New York, prior to my relocating to Bradenton, there were three affiliated minor league clubs. One by one, the affiliates picked up and left. Pro ball never made a comeback.

In cozy Little Falls, New York, there once was the New York Mets’ Class-A Short-Season affiliate in the New York-Pennsylvania League. For 12 seasons, once June rolled around and the MLB Draft occurred, many of the high school and college-aged players selected were dispatched to the Mohawk Valley.
Veterans Memorial Park, home to many players having their first taste of pro ball, was a gem. Surface-wise, Hall of Famer Wilie Mays labeled the grass field at Vets Park as good as any MLB park.

Many future stars of Flushing, Queens got their start in Little Falls. Dwight Gooden, Walley Backman, former Pirates’ skipper Lloyd McClendon lead the list of alumni. Then, with little public warning at the end of the 1988 season, local owners made a deal with new investors. The Little Falls Mets moved the next season for a new beginning in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

As much as the City of Little Falls and surrounding communities tried to attract another MLB affiliation to their gorgeous ballpark, no dice. It has been 35 years, and affiliated baseball has not put in a call into business leaders in Little Falls.

Staying with the New York-Penn League, there once was a team called the Utica Blue Sox.

After a hiatus from hosting an affiliated club, the Toronto Blue Jays came to Utica in 1977, their inaugural season. For the first four years, all seemed well with Toronto. Then, at the completion of the 1980 season, Toronto bid good riddance to Central New York.

Baseball affiliates rode a carousel into Donovan Stadium for the next two decades. Tucked among the affiliates (the White Sox, Red Sox, Marlins, and Phillies), there were five seasons when ownership operated as a co-op for other organizations.

Actors Bill and Brian Murray were part-owners of the Blue Sox.

After a half dozen seasons playing at Murnane Filed at Donovan Stadium, the Marlins bid goodbye. Not since the conclusion of the 2001 season has there been professional baseball played in Utica. There has been American Legion play and collegiate summer teams calling Utica home.

As with Little Falls, Utica has not been on professional baseball’s radar for as long as most fans could remember.

Heck, the New York-Penn League is becoming more of a distant memory to most baseball fans with each passing summer. Four years ago, the league ceased operations. In 2020, MLB restructured the minor leagues, and the New York-Penn League was shown the door. 14 teams in eight different states had to find new homes. Some did. Others haven’t.

Little Falls is 23 miles east of Utica. About 60 miles south of Utica is Oneonta, New York.

Oneonta, in southern Otsego County, is a Barry Bonds home run away from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. For as long as folks in the county could remember, summers meant professional baseball at Damnaschke Field.

The New York Yankees called Oneonta home from 1967-1998. Don Mattingly was introduced to the Yankees there. Jorge Pasada and Bernie Williams were introduced to being pros in Oneonta.

Way back in 1982, the Yankees took a gamble by drafting out of Stamford University a standout quarterback named John Elway. Drafted in the second round in 1981 by the Yankees (ahead of future hall of famer Tony Gwynn), Elway received a $150,000 signing bonus. He played the 1982 season in Oneonta.

After enjoying a successful 30-year relationship with the Yankees, Oneonta was on the outside looking in for a new partner. For the next 10 seasons, the Detroit Tigers filled the Yankees’ void and brought many of their stars of the future through Oneonta.

Currently with the Pirates, manager Derek Shelton (with the Yankees), and two of his coaches, Don Kelly, and Mike Rabelo signed their first pro contracts, and were sent to Oneonta to begin their careers.

Since the Tigers pulled out of Otsego County and relocated their franchise to Norwich, Connecticut, going from a Single-A level to the Double-A Eastern League, there has been no professional club calling Damaschke Field home.

The lesson here is that appreciate what you have while you have it. There are communities in any direction that you could throw a ball that would entertain the idea of hosting a professional ball club.

The Florida State League has been around since 1919.

The 10-team league has six clubs in its Western Division, including the Marauders. Seeing the Jupiter Hammerheads, Lakeland Flying Tigers, or any of the other affiliated teams bus to LECOM Park lets fans be scouts for the game and gauge the talent on display.

Bradenton baseball is an exciting entry-level competition. There are stars in the making. It is a great family night out. It is easy to make the connection with the name on the players’ jerseys. Everything about minor league ball is local. Baseball offers an identity to communities that far reach the stadiums’ shadows.


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