NOTE: This post is the third in a series of Features describing the author’s first visits to various MLB ballparks around the country. The first two visits, to San Diego and Anaheim, happened during an April visit to Southern California. The third stop, at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, was the first of several stops planned during a cross-country trip from California to Philadelphia and back.
I screwed up.
I was in Pittsburgh on Saturday, June 10th, having arrived in the Steel City the day before after four days of cross-country travel. I woke up early enough to take in downtown Pittsburgh’s Saturday morning scene, including a walk down to the Fort Pitt site at the famous confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, before returning to my hotel room for a little relaxation and a pre-game nap.
The nap part, it turned out, was a mistake.
I set my alarm for 5pm, certain that that would get me to the ballpark in plenty of time for the game. Unfortunately, that night’s game was actually that afternoon’s game, with a 4pm start. When I woke up, they had already reached the third inning, and I had to hot-foot it back through downtown and across the iconic Roberto Clemente bridge to join the game in progress. By the time I found the available open entry–most of the gates were closed by the time I arrived–got up to the third level, bought my food, and settled into my seat, it was already the top of the fourth inning and the visiting Miami Marlins were ahead 3-1 over the homestanding Pirates.
I made haste to down my foot-long hot dog and nachos so I could take in the game distraction free. That process was abetted by the quality of the fare; it turns out PNC Park’s concessions provide excellent food, with relatively generous portions, for a fairly reasonable price (my aforementioned meal, along with a soda, came in just above my meal money target of $25 for each ballpark visit). With the food out of the way, I was able to relax and take in the sights and scores of what would turn out to be a very entertaining (partial) game.
The first and most immediate impression about PNC Park: there is, apparently, not a bad seat in the house. My upper deck seat, in the second row of the top tier on the first base side, just down the right field line, had a fine view of the infield–nothing intimate, but still close enough that a fan in my seat could see the plays clearly and without any particular strain. I noticed too that the seats in my section, as they were some distance into right field, were individually rotated towards the infield–a sharp contrast to my visit to Anaheim’s Angel Stadium, where my left field seat faced squarely towards the rock pile in center field and I had to strain my neck to look in towards home plate.
“I can strongly recommend that all baseball fans visit Pittsburgh and PNC Park — just make sure you double check the starting time on your ticket.”
Truly, the modern-day ballpark experience has it hands down over any of the old stadiums. It makes a huge difference when you’re sitting in a park that was designed with watching a baseball game in mind; those old multipurpose facilities simply can’t compare. Today’s amenities–the good seating, the massive scoreboards, the generous concourses, etc.–assure the visiting fan that he’s getting value for his ticket money. (A special nod should go to the escalators that are now de rigeur in the new parks; I never would have gotten to my seat that fast without an express climb to the top of the structure.) In fact, the newer ballparks are almost too good, from the team’s perspective; it hardly makes sense to spend huge dollars to sit in the “best” seats when the cheapest upper deck ticket still provides a great view of the game and everything a true fan needs for a good time.
This is not to say that everything was perfect. The actual seat itself seemed noticeably smaller than the standard width–not inconsequential for someone as girthy as myself. When the young man to my left moved one seat over and sat in the chair next to me, I felt like he was sitting in my lap. Fortunately, he and his cohorts soon departed in search of beer (definitely), girls (probably), and adventures we had probably best not contemplate, and I was able to enjoy the rest of the game with ample elbow room.
The lack of a dedicated cup holder also proved frustrating, at least during the dining portion of the game. Even the Oakland Coliseum has cup holders available for most seats within its crumbling structure. Definitely a stumble by PNC’s designers.
As with my earlier destination, San Diego’s Petco Park, the Pirates’ home offers attractive views of the surrounding cityscape, especially from that upper deck vantage. Unlike the expansive views seen beyond the fences in SD or at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, the scenery outside PNC’s stadium bounds feels more intimate and close by. Pittsburgh’s hilly topography lends itself to a closer, more neighborhood-like feel to sights in the distance, such as the bridges spanning the Allegheny and the tower blocks of downtown. (I could see my hotel–almost my hotel room–from my seat in section 307.) The vibe you get looking out on Pittsburgh from PNC Park is less one of a giant metropolis and more a sense of big-yet-small city–a burg that is major league, but still small enough to be personal and welcoming. It is an apt feeling for the town and its ballclub.
Indeed, those big-yet-small Pirates were apparently unfazed by Miami’s hot start; the Bucs slowly but surely reeled in their opponents over the course of the game’s latter innings, grinding out runs in the second and third to tie the game before once again yielding the lead after the Marlins plated three more runs in the fourth and fifth.
The Bucs tacked on another, single run before the winning rally arrived in bottom of the seventh. The Pirates headed for home three times during the inning, with two runs scoring on a Jordy Mercer triple to deep center field (a ball which Marlins center fielder Christian Yelich probably should have caught) before the winning run came in on John Jaso’s fly-ball double down the right field line.
That last play not only won the game for the Pirates, it may have also shattered whatever illusions Ichiro Suzuki had about continuing to play the game beyond this year (certainly in the National League, where he must play the field to play at all). Any adequate fielder would have gotten to and caught Jaso’s hit; Ichiro just doesn’t have the legs to move fast enough to make plays anymore (or beat out hits, for that matter). It was a disappointing thing to see from a once great player, and in particular a once brilliant defensive outfielder.
From there on the road to a Pirates victory was an almost pro-forma matter. Four outs of blistering fastballs from Pittsburgh reliever Felipe Rivero — the latest attempt by the Pirates to fill the closer’s role; they badly miss Mark Melancon — slammed the door on Miami and sent the Jolly Roger rising up the center field flag pole.
Overall, my first visit to PNC Park was a good time at the yard. If I had made it to the park before the fourth inning, it might have been a great time. As it was, I closed out my visit to the Pirates’ home by exiting the stadium and walking a lap around the entire structure, visiting each of the monument statues — Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Honus Wagner, and Bill Mazeroski — in turn before I followed the river bank promenade back to “The Great One’s” golden-hued bridge, where I returned to the downtown streets and a quick jaunt back to my hotel. I can strongly recommend that all baseball fans visit Pittsburgh and PNC Park — just make sure you double check the starting time on your ticket.
Next stop: Citizens Bank Ballpark, where the team of my youth, the Philadelphia Phillies, will meet the Boston Red Sox. Stay tuned.