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Spring Swing: A revealing look into the Pirates bullpen

Big League Stew

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'Duk is in the Grapefruit League this week as part of Big League Stew's Spring Swing. Follow his journey up and down Florida's Gulf Coast here and through Facebook and Twitter.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Tell me this, Stewies: Has one photograph ever summed the total experience of a Wednesday afternoon spring training game in Florida better than the one posted above us? I would submit that one has not.

After all, what says March baseball more than a shot of assorted Pittsburgh Pirates relievers splayed about on some uncomfortable metal chairs and wooden stools in the McKechnie Field bullpen? There's no pretense here that what they're watching unfold on the other side of the right-field line is anything that important. There's no underlying sense that any one of them might be summoned to action if Clint Hurdle decides the matchup is right. Half of them are in fair territory for crying out loud!

Yes, what you see is what you get. A bunch of young guys living. Fueled by water, Big League Chew and chaw. Maybe they're waiting for their scheduled inning against the Minnesota Twins to come up. Maybe they're just waiting for the game to be over so they can retire to their apartment for another evening of trying to find something to do in Bradenton. Either way, real baseball — whether it be in the bigs or the minors — is still about a month away. That's what this picture tells us.

Heck, you might even say this postcard is indicative of the last 18 years of the Pirates franchise itself. No real order and an anonymous sampling of guys that 99.999 percent of public couldn't pick out from a lineup. Say, which one is Evan Meek(notes)? ... Oh, I kid. Look below for more photos from a nice day spent with the Buccos.

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Here's a tip for all you youngsters planning spring training trips in the future: When drawing up your itinerary, double- and triple-check that you know where you're going. That's because I misread Wednesday's Grapefruit League master schedule and thought it was possible to see the Yankees in Tampa during the day and the Pirates in Bradenton at night. Of course, this was not possible and it turns out I had somehow looked at next Wednesday's schedule when the two teams play a night game at Steinbrenner Field. Consarnit!

Anyway, I was left with a decision to make and I ended up choosing Bradenton's McKechnie Field. Not only had I never been there before — crossing the park off the list would leave me with only two spring training stadiums I haven't seen — but it was also on the way to my end-of-the-week jaunt to Fort Myers and would make for a much more relaxing afternoon because there'd be half the amount of people there. (Announced attendance at McKechnie was 3,959. In Tampa, it was 8,638.)

It was a good decision, too. Located in downtown Bradenton, McKechnie is a unique and intimate spring training stop that's worth a look. The stadium's footprint is so small that the team has to train at Pirate City a few miles away and the majority of fan parking is located in the lots of local businesses around the ballpark. Trust me: It's actually more charming and convenient than it sounds.

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As Bing Crosby said to David Bowie so many Christmases ago: "It's a pretty thing, isn't it?"

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Ah, the underwhelming Grapefruit road lineup — a tradition unlike any other.

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Finally, I didn't catch the PA announcer's explanation for why The Parrot was getting arrested by workers in this sketch, but given all the recent headlines we've seen from players like Coco Crisp(notes) I have a pretty good guess: Too much rum.

More to come from Bradenton as the day goes on ...

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