McKechnie’s daughter upset with name change of Pirates’ spring-training ballpark
BRADENTON, Fla. — Carol Montgomery remembers following behind the hearse that carried her father’s casket through the streets of Bradenton on an autumn morning in 1965.
The funeral procession took an unexpected detour. When the line of cars rolled to the intersection of 9th Street and 17th Avenue, Montgomery realized the reason for the new route.
On his way to the cemetery, Bill McKechnie made a final trip past McKechnie Field.
Montgomery, 85, is McKechnie’s last surviving child. She lives in Jacksonville, Fla., but grew up in Bradenton and in Wilkinsburg, which was her father’s hometown.
The spring-training ballpark was named for McKechnie in 1962, seven years before the Pirates became its tenants. The stadium bore his name until 12 days ago, when it was renamed LECOM Park.
Nobody bothered to call Montgomery and tell her the news. She found out about the name change a few days later when her husband read a spring training schedule in their local paper.
“He asked me, ‘Where is LECOM Park? Did the Pirates move?’ ” Montgomery said. “I couldn’t think of another ballpark in Bradenton.”
Montgomery lives a four-hour drive from the field. Three years ago, she threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Pirates spring training game. She’s upset her father’s name, which was emblazoned on the front facade of the ballpark, was covered by a temporary sign.
During the news conference to announce the new name, Bradenton mayor Wayne Poston said his office “was coming up empty” trying to contact McKechnie’s relatives.
Montgomery isn’t buying that.
“The least they could have done is let me know,” Montgomery said. “It seems like it was done very quickly, very covertly. I know Daddy never paid anything to get his name up there. Obviously, someone else has.”
Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, a graduate school with branches in Erie, Greensburg and Bradenton, is paying an undisclosed amount to the Pirates to claim naming rights for 15 years.
“In today’s world, we need to have flexibility to do a naming rights deal to fund the performance that we want to bring in,” Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said. “We need to sell tickets, and we need to work effectively with sponsors.
“We certainly tried to be aware of sensitivity and talked about how do we not forget the shoulders of the people that we’re standing on, and remember that connection.”
The Pirates’ state-of-the-art home clubhouse, which was renovated two years ago, was renamed in McKechnie’s honor.
“It felt like the right balance,” Nutting said.
That’s not how it felt to Montgomery.
“It’s a slap in the face,” Montgomery said. “Big deal. They can take (McKechnie’s name) off there anytime they want.”
Born in Wilkinsburg in 1886, McKechnie was a Pirates infielder for five of his 21 seasons as a player. As a manager, he guided the Pirates to the World Series championship in 1925. He also managed the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Braves and Cincinnati Reds.
Montgomery and her siblings grew up at the cozy little ballpark, even when her dad managed other teams. She remembers her brother, Jim McKechnie, helping out in the visitor’s bullpen when her father’s Reds came to play in Bradenton.
After Jim died about 20 years ago, the family held a small memorial service for him at home plate. His ashes were scatted near the visitor’s bullpen down the left-field line.
“They’d better be careful now,” Montgomery said with a chuckle. “He might haunt the place.”
Nicknamed “Deacon” because he sang in a church choir and never cursed, Bill McKechnie was a guru for pitching and defense. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962.
“Daddy was not a show-off. He was proud, but quietly proud,” Montgomery said. “He was thrilled they named the field after him. He put it right up there with the Hall of Fame.”
What would her father say about LECOM Park?
“He would be somewhat taken back,” Montgomery said. “But he’d probably say, ‘Well, money talks.’ ”