PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA
Number of games: 2
First game: August 2, 2006 (Braves 3, Pirates 2)
Most recent game: August 3, 2006 (Pirates 3, Braves 2)
(Click to view a larger version of any image.)
First, a little tip for the baseball traveler: if you’re headed from Cincinnati through central Ohio and across to Pittsburgh on baseball-related matters, it’s worth the time to stop in Newcomerstown, Ohio…Cy Young central. While I would have enjoyed seeing a Cy Young museum, in some ways I liked the simplicity of what I found in Newcomerstown…a Cy memorial stone sitting on the pitcher’s mound of a miniature baseball diamond, right between a real baseball diamond and the boisterous kids splashing around in the Cy Young Pool. Yeah, it’s not quite as good as the Jello Museum in New York, where my baseball travels once took me. But it beats the Degenhart Paperweight Museum, which I also visited in Ohio that day. (“Over 4,000 paperweights on display!”) Just a couple of tips for your East Central Ohio trip planning.
I’d been looking forward to seeing a game in PNC Park since it opened. Unlike some other ballparks, its beauty travels through the TV screen. It appears that every seat in the park has a view of beautiful downtown Pittsburgh across the last few hundred yards of the Allegheny River. The Roberto Clemente Bridge (which, a plaque says, won the 1928 “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge” award from the American Institute of Steel Construction…an award it would surely still win if it could run for re-election) is not only beautiful, but functional, permitting baseball lovers to park downtown and enjoy some local atmosphere on the way to the game. Fans arriving early can enjoy a walk along the river, then wander around the park, seeing sculptures of Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, and Roberto Clemente on the way in.
PNC Park recognizes that beauty is not enough for a ballpark. It takes the two next steps to achieve greatness: its beauty is local. Its gorgeous panoramas would be enough for it to pass the “is there any question where you are” test. But the second step is a focus on local baseball history, which it does successfully through its countless sculptures. In addition to the sculptures that surround the stadium–Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, and Roberto Clemente, who majestically looks into the park through the center field entrance–when I visited the ballpark, there was a big tribute to Negro League baseball on the inside of the ballpark as well. With Pittsburgh such a key part of Negro League history (the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords both played there), the countless sculptures on the inside were a pleasant surprise. I reproduce five of those here: the three exterior sculptures, plus two former Negro Leaguers: Cool Papa Bell and Judy Johnson.
I was joined for the first of by two Pirate games by Joe and Alison, who enjoyed their second game in two nights in two states with me. Stud fans and game-scorers, these two–and now they’re having a baby, who, based on the due date, may have been conceived in and around (although not during…I can vouch for that much) these ballgames. Can there be a better sign?
Thanks to Joe and Alison, I was already happy at this game, but Pirate fans made it better. You’d think a Pirate fan at this bleak time in their history would have every reason and every right to be surly, but for the most part, we were surrounded by nice people. Some affable (but drunk) Canadian Jason Bay fans behind us ridiculed the omnipresent (and omni-annoying) Braves fans nearby. When the Braves fans responded by pointing out that the Pirates were an especially bad baseball team, of course, none of the Pirates fans seemed surprised. You can’t win an insult war with someone who knows full well their team is terrible. And fans behind us with a tiny and adorable baby kept apologizing when the baby would brush against us. No problem, Mom and Dad…any excuse to make faces to get your baby to smile.
The second Pirate game I went to was a day game, and the fourth I saw in the midst of a dreadful heat wave that week. Game time temperature must have been in the nineties. For the first four innings or so, I met my first fellow member of the Network of Ballpark Collectors. The NBC is a group that, more or less, has two criterion for membership: 1. A desire and track record that indicates one wants to go to as many ballparks as possible. 2. (optional, but nice): A website tracking travels to said ballparks. Well, for reasons that surely mystify the reader, I was brought into the group. While I haven’t yet had occasion to host any NBC-ers (strangely, they don’t make it to the Pacific Northwest that often), I was pleased to meet Tim and Susan Perry at PNC Park. They brought along a pitcher for the Frontier League team they support…the game at PNC was only a stopover on their way to a Washington Wild Things game that night. We (surprise) talked about ballparks, and especially about the new “cookie cutter” minor league parks. I brought up my trip to antiquated and lame-duck Greer Stadium in Nashville, and Tim remarked: “Of course, they’re moving where everyone else is moving…to a new downtown park by the river.” Which has led me to my current stadium dilemma: do I have a philosophical problem with cookie-cutter stadiums if I like the cookie? In any event, a shout out to Tim and Susan. I hope I get to return the favor one day when you’re in Washington or Oregon.
I headed from Tim’s shaded row back to my expensive seat. I bought a seat in row one behind home plate. Of course, row one doesn’t mean the first row…it means the first row behind the Super-Duper Diamond Club or whatever it’s called. I can handle that. But being in the sun on this ludicrously muggy day? That is another matter entirely. I toughed it out…but what followed was one of the most bizarre customer service experiences in my history going to ballgames.
Apparently the Diamond Club mucky-mucks get free drinks as a part of their deal. I can handle that. On this particular day though, hydration was a matter of health. So when this affable usher walked through his section shouting “Who wants water!” and then threw it…THREW it!…to the rich patrons…well, I thought that was taunting in the manner of eating a sundae in front of the starving. I mean…I’m SITTING here…I’m barely able to move due to the thirst…I spent fifty bucks on this seat, which is probably as high a percentage of my income as their seats are of theirs (if they didn’t get them in some corporate freebie, in which case I paid more), and not only will I not get a necessary bottle of water (which I understand…I didn’t pay for the privilege), but I will be forced to watch while it’s cavalierly thrown around just a few feet in front of me. I don’t hold any grudges against the usher…from his perspective, he’s just doing his job and being pleasant. In fact, when the ubiquitous Obnoxious Drunken Visiting Braves Fans in my row begged him for a water, he said he couldn’t give them one…but he returned with wet towels for their faces. I was really touched by his thoughtfulness, for which he gained absolutely nothing. Still, I was bothered by the flying water bottles.
I flagged down a passing customer service supervisor and tried to explain why I was bothered by the thrown water bottles. I don’t think he understood my complaint. “You could have paid to sit there,” he said, I think a bit snidely. Eventually, I think I got him to understand that it wasn’t the free water that bugged me, but the way it was tossed around in front of me. A light bulb went on. ”Oh…I guess I can see where that might look like taunting on a day like today. I’ll see what I can do.” He then walked away, and I never saw him again. The usher continued to throw water through the rest of the muggy day. Down the road, I hope somebody encouraged him to be a little bit more subtle about that perk, because it seriously made me feel second-class. Maybe I’m being hypersensitive, but a triple-digit heat index does that to my brain.
But, to PNC’s credit, they also had a fine moment of customer service as well. The aforementioned ubiquitous visiting drunken Braves fans? Well, the worst offender was a mom with her family. The son, not yet old enough to drink, decided to pelt the rich people in front of us with his water gun. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it? (Of course, on this particular day, getting hit by a water gun was likely a welcome event.) But that’s not what brought the usher (at left) into action. The general loud boorishness of the drunken mom was detracting from my enjoyment and that of those around me. I’m not certain every usher would have the skill and fortitude to step up and deal with such a situation, but this man did. He handled the situation with uncommon dignity, grace, and firmness. The hardest part of being in a job where one must deal with the public is…well, a significant minority of the public is very difficult to deal with. And the fact that he did so–and successfully–earned him my respect. Thank you, sir.
On the whole, the PNC Park experience was simply tremendous. The mix of top-notch aesthetics and loads of local color make the upgrade from Three Rivers Stadium to this the best change a team has gone through this side of Cleveland. I’d love it if the Pirates could be competitive someday, but even if they’re not, the ballpark alone is well worth a trip. If it’s a hot day, do me a favor and check out the Diamond Club’s ushers. I’m curious as to whether my input was ignored.
BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:
Matt Diaz homers in the first game, but the Braves’ winning run comes when Edgar Renteria’s sacrifice fly scores Willy Aybar, who had reached on Jason Bay’s dropped fly ball.
Shawn Chacon makes his Pirates debut and picks up the win for Pittsburgh in the hot day game.