Friday night, my wife asked about our weekend plans. I mentioned that the Tigers game wouldn’t be on TV thanks to those jerks on Big Fox claiming the broadcasting window. Seeing as how I have wanted to see Pittsburgh’s ballpark since it opened up, I suggested that we make the drive over there to see the game. With four kids, we weren’t going to find a sitter at that late date, so I half-joking suggested that I could just go and she could watch the kids at home. Shockingly enough, she agreed.
So after work on Saturday, i met my wife for lunch and then hit the road. 256.2 miles later I had arrived in downtown Pittsburgh.
The first thing I noticed was all the traffic. Unlike Detroit, there are almost no parking lots anywhere near the stadium and the ones that were there were long since full. It was still over an hour before first pitch, but I spent quite a bit of time circling to area looking for parking. Eventually I found a spot about a mile from the park, paid my $10 and started walking while trying to keep a mental inventory of the area so I could re-trace my steps after the game.
Downtown Pittsburgh is absolutely beautiful, at least the parts I saw were. The buildings were in use and well-maintained, the streets were filled with Tigers fans and Pirates fans alike, all walking toward the park. As I approached the left field gate, I was greeted by a huge statue of Willie Stargell and once inside, equipped with my complimentary Neil Walker bobblehead, I began to take in the atmosphere.
As much as I’ve heard about the stadium, no one yet has done it justice. This is easily the most beautiful ballpark I’ve ever been to. I admit, my list isn’t all that long (Tiger Stadium, CoPa, Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Progressive Field, Great American BallPark, Riverfront Stadium), but PNC Park didn’t waste any time in taking my breath away.
I wandered around the concourse for a while and stopped in to a couple of shops there. Food vendors and memorabilia shops abound at PNC and they aren’t any more overpriced than those at Comerica. Plus they sell Yuengling there, and if you have to pay $7.50 for a beer, at least you can get a good one.
My plan had been to just buy a ticket on the cheap and then roam the ballpark and move from seat to seat. Of course, the game Saturday was the second sell-out of the year, so that plan backfired a bit. I was stuck watching the game from high above the first base line in the upper deck. You know what though, those were great seats. I could still see the movement on every pitch and it wasn’t so steep that I felt like I could fall forward and land on Miguel Cabrera.
They really play up the whole Pirates thing there, more than the Tigers do at home for sure. They have a few videos on the jumbo screen that air before the game, with actors playing actual Pirates and “telling the tale of Pittsburgh baseball.” That’s another thing that the Pirates got right though, the screen in left field is amazing, especially when compared to the somehow out-dated one at the CoPa. They showed replays of every play up there and the auxiliary scoreboards that line the facing of the second deck in left and right field not only show the pitch count, but the speed and PitchFx of every pitch for both clubs.
I like the view of the Detroit skyline beyond the outfield at Comerica, but sitting in the top level at PNC allows you to look out beyond the right field wall at the river and at the building on the other side. It was truly incredible.
The place was pretty well full and while there were a ton of Tigers fans in the house, the Bucs were very well represented as well. The Pirates fans I talked to were charming and complimentary, especially so when speaking about Jim Leyland. The game itself didn’t go as I had hoped, obviously, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, which is really what going to a game is all about for me. I greatly enjoyed the perogi race as well. Instead of seeing a poorly animated cartoon cup of coffee in between innings, you get “real” mascots racing around the warning track. Very nice touch.
As I walked back to my car, I began chatting with a family of Bucs fans. The kid was probably 14, decked out in a Roberto Clemente jersey and celebrating the Pirate win. It occurred to me at that moment that this kid has never sen a winning baseball team in Pittsburgh. It made me feel for him to be sure, having lived through the 1988-2005 seasons of Tigers baseball. It also made me think how similar the two franchises really are.
When I was younger, I loved watching those Pirates teams with Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla and Doug Drabek and the rest. Seeing this club now with so much young talent and finally playing like a team to be reckoned with brings a bit of happiness to me. Given the histories of the two franchises, I guess I can understand why I may have a soft spot for them and their long-suffering fans, and after seeing the park, I know that I could totally be a Pirates fan if the Tigers were contracted or moved away or something like that.
I texted my wife a few pictures of the park and I told her that while the drive wasn’t much fun, she was definitely coming to see this place next time. And there will be a next time for me. What a great place to see a game.