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Friday, Oct. 30, 2009

The president of the Class A Florida State League said a plan for the Pirates to plant a minor league team in Bradenton in 2010 is practically a done deal.

Thursday, Chuck Murphy said league officials will vote Nov. 10 to allow the Pirates to purchase and uproot the Class A Sarasota Reds. The team will play its home games at McKechnie Field, the Pirates' spring training venue, which is about 20 minutes away from Sarasota.

"I don't expect any problems (with the vote)," Murphy said. "Everything should go pretty smooth. Our 2010 schedule is pretty much complete, but I don't think (the move) would affect it very much. Everything is in good shape over there at McKechnie Field."

In essence, the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are swapping their high-A teams. The Reds, who next year are moving their spring training site from Sarasota to Goodyear, Ariz., will become Class A Lynchburg's new parent club.

The Pirates have a rookie league team in Bradenton, but it plays all of its home games at the Pirate City complex. In 2008, McKechnie Field was renovated and had lights installed, which will enable it to accommodate the 70 home dates on a Class A schedule.

"We've been looking for an opportunity to do this for several years," team president Frank Coonelly said. "The biggest advantage is, we'll have our high-A team where the hub of our development (program) is located. So much of our staff is either based in or spends a good deal of the year in Bradenton."

The new Class A team will not be called the Pirates. The team nickname will be revealed at a Nov. 11 press conference in Bradenton.

By moving to Bradenton, the Pirates will end their 15-year affiliation with Lynchburg. Last year, the Hillcats won the Carolina League championship.

"Frank (Coonelly) told us it's nothing personal and we understand that," Lynchburg general manager Paul Sunwall said. "It's a business decision. We're disappointed and saddened to be leaving the Pirates family, but we understand it's going to help them in the long run."

This deal nearly went down last year, prompting Lynchburg officials to mull offers from the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. But when Sarasota stayed in the Reds' hands, Pirates quickly signed an extension with Lynchburg for 2009 and 2010.

After reaching an agreement with the Reds this year, Coonelly offered to keep the Pirates in Lynchburg until the two-year contract expired. However, Sunwall and Hillcats president Calvin Falwell allowed the Pirates to break the deal a year early.

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