Thursday, June 4, 2009

PNC Park

Andy and I spent the afternoon eating sandwiches (for a change...) and then headed over to PNC Park, taking the preferred route by walking from downtown over the Roberto Clemente Bridge to the ballpark. There's a great view of the stadium from the bridge, and as you can see in the above picture, also a great view of the bridge from the stadium.

The ballpark atmosphere was fairly lively, which surprised us, seeing as how Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals (which the Penguins were in) was happening that night too. Evidently enough people wanted to go to see a 4th-place baseball team play a 6th-place team that the game was a sell-out, even when their hometown hockey team was in the finals. True, it was a Saturday night, and the weather was great, but for a town like Pittsburgh that loves their hockey (when they're winning and the bandwagon is rolling along), this was unexpected.

We bought under-face-value tickets from a scalper who said his friends had bailed due to hockey, and found our seats in the upper deck behind the plate.  That picture at the top? That's where we sat, and in terms of ballpark views, I don't think you can beat it. The skyline, the beautiful bridge, and the's just a great place to watch a baseball game from. Even from the lower seats, you get a great view of the city. And the ballpark designers also made sure that wherever you are in the ballpark, you have a great view of the game. For example...

Example #1: Most ballparks have ramps behind the concourses. PNC has a winding ramp that has views of the field on each level, where fans can stand and watch. I even witnessed people sitting on a blanket having a quasi-picnic on this ramp while still having a great view of the field.

Example #2: Left field standing room is literally 6 rows from the field. In other parks they put the standing room behind an entire large section, at least 25 rows back. Here, you can stand and watch the game from only 10 yards or so behind the left field fence.

Example #3: The ballpark itself is incredibly low. Even the upper deck seats seem closer than in other parks, because, well....they are. PNC is the 2nd smallest park in the majors, which means that ridiculously high seats, like the ones that they have in Chicago at US Cellular, do not exist here.

Other cool things about PNC:

The out-of-town scoreboard. It's modern, but with a classic sort of look that fits in perfectly with the rest of the ballpark.

The radar gun. We've moved past the days of just how fast a pitch was. I'll be damned if I don't know the vertical break of Ian Snell's every pitch.

They've got a prize wheel on the walkway behind right field right next to the river. They stamp your ticket, so you can only spin it once per game, but everyone wins something; you can win a Pirates t-shirt, bobblehead, umbrella, discounted ticket, or an unnamed grand prize. Andy stepped up, spun the wheel, and wound up with a free t-shirt. Sweet. Then I gave the wheel a whirl, and it landed on....a piece of paper with an online code for a discounted ticket. Screw that. One crumple and disgusted toss later, I was prizeless.

The food prices are pretty standard for a ballpark (i.e. high), but the selection is better than most places I've seen. PNC has incorporated several local eateries into their concession stands, so if you want a $25 bucket of wings from Quaker Steak & Lube, you're in luck.

At some point during the middle innings, for no apparent reason, a small cheer arose from the crowd. This turned quickly into dull roar, which gave way to a full-fledged standing ovation. What had happened? The Penguins had scored to tie the hockey game at 1. As a Rangers fan, and someone who hates all things Sidney Crosby, I didn't like it, but I have to admit that seeing this happen was pretty cool.

And the not-really-that-cool-but-still-okay-I-guess things:

Pittsburgh has a food race too. A bunch of pierogies race around the warning track. Who won? The red one, maybe? Honestly, I wasn't really paying much attention to it because I was too busy admiring the skyline, which keeps its hypnotic properties, even at night. Andy wasn't paying attention because he refused to watch any race that didn't feature ketchup.

Like the Yankees and the Reds, the Pirates do the YMCA. Strangely enough, the fans here seem to like it. As Meatloaf almost said, 1 out of 3 ain't bad.

The game ended, the Pirates won, the Penguins lost, and everyone stayed in their seats for the postgame fireworks show/ country music concert from some band I'd never heard of. While we waited, they used the jumbotron to entertain the crowd. Props to whoever was in charge of programming, because their choice was a winner. The best part might have been the fact that the entire skit was closed-captioned.

Then the music started. We sat through a couple of songs, including a cover of The Devil Went Down to Georgia, and eventually the fireworks began. The fireworks show was good, and the fact that they exploded right in front of the skyline was an added bonus. Also featured: the amazing explodable bridge! And the best part was that that night's show only killed 8 bridge pedestrians! No...I kid, I kid. The death toll was much higher than that.

After a few minutes, the fireworks stopped, and the band started playing again. We left.

Quick Summary: Hidden deep in the Allegheny Mountains, nestled among the steel mills and coal mines, you will find an absolute gem of a ballpark. The park designers definitely had the fans in mind when they built it; every view of the field is top-notch, and the way the ballpark is built into the city is spectacular. One can make an entire lap around the field and find standing room to watch the game everywhere aside from the center field concourse, which loses the field view, but gives you concessions stands with an amazing view of the river and the city.

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