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Let the games begin

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Thursday is the first, bona fide Grapefruit League game of the spring. The Pirates play Cincinnati at McKechnie Field. I’m going to miss the routine of the past two weeks, when the players worked out on the practice fields at Pirate City.

Sure, there are only so many bunt drills you can watch before your eyes start to bleed. And the “relief pitchers take their lead off third base” drill is based on a situation that rarely happens in an actual game. But the pace is more relaxed, even by spring training standards.

Plus, Pirate City is nestled next to an orange grove, away from the bustle (such as it is) of “downtown” Bradenton. Quiet. Pastoral. Only a hundred or so die-hards come to watch the workouts — heck, there are fewer Japanese reporters following Masumi Kuwata’s every move — so there’s lots of elbow room.

The press box at McKechnie is economy-sized, so you don’t have room to sprawl with your notes, media guides, laptop, cell phone, computer bag, and bottled water. And just to keep everyone honest, a foul ball whizzes up into the box every once in a while. Brad Eldred smacked up on there Wednesday, and Mike Henry of the Bradenton Herald scooped it as it banged around the press box. Mike, who’s in his 50s, said it was his first foul ball ever. Well done, Mike. I’ve snagged a few in my time, but maybe I’ll get one more before we break camp and head to Houston.

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