In the end, the vote wasn't close this March, when readers of Ballpark Digest and Spring Training Online were asked to select their favorite Grapefruit League venue. Capturing at least 65 percent over three rounds of voting, LECOM Park was chosen as the fan favorite for the second straight year.
The final round saw fans select the spring home of the Pittsburgh Pirates by a 67.9%-32.1% margin over Hammond Stadium, spring home of the Minnesota Twins. The ballpark is also the regular-season home of the Florida State League's Bradenton Marauders.
"Tradition means a lot in the Grapefruit League and spring training, and LECOM Park is certainly one of the most traditional venues in all of baseball," said Kevin Reichard, publisher of Ballpark Digest and Spring Training Online. "With some great updates in recent years that really enhanced the fan experience, LECOM Park really is best of both worlds."
"We are again humbled by this honor that recognizes our southern home as the best spring venue in the Florida Grapefruit League," said Pirates President Frank Coonelly. "We thank the city of Bradenton and Manatee County for being such great partners and supporting our vision of maintaining this truly beautiful and historic ballpark and our new naming rights partner, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine ("LECOM"), for helping us to enhance what had already been a terrific fan experience."
Built in 1923 for the St. Louis Cardinals and known by many old-timers as the former spring home of the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, LECOM Park is a ballpark where Roberto Clemente gracefully patrolled the outfield, where Willie Stargell engaged the fans, and where generations of Pirates greats began their seasons over the last 48 years in Bradenton. As noted, enhancements over the past few years saw the construction of a right-field boardwalk and a center-field Tiki bar, installation of new seats and new grandstand roofs, and expanded concessions.
"Attending a Pirates spring-training game at LECOM Park should be on every baseball fan's bucket list," Reichard added. "The Pirates put on a great show, and the ballpark offers a great experience."
ABOUT THE BEST OF THE BALLPARKS CONTEST
This is the third year for the Best of the Ballparks fan voting, where Ballpark Digest asks its readers to weigh in on their favorite MLB, Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, Low-A, Short Season A, independent, summer-collegiate, spring training and collegiate ballparks. Over 150,000 individuals voted in the 2016 competition, generating over a million votes.
ABOUT BALLPARK DIGEST/SPRING TRAINING ONLINE
The leading Website covering the culture and business of baseball since its inception in 2002, Ballpark Digest (www.ballparkdigest.com) has been called an "indispensable" guide to baseball and ballparks by The New York Times; it's been used as a source by publications and websites ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Epicurious.com. Spring Training Online (http://www.springtrainingonline.com/) is the leading guide to spring training on the Internet. August Publications is a publisher based in Middleton, Wis. Besides Ballpark Digest, August Publications websites include SoccerStadiumDigest.com, FootballStadiumDigest.com and ArenaDigest.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.