W: T. Cahill
L: J. Locke
I have been on the road for 81 days now. I have visited 26 stadiums in those 81 days. I have been asked “What is your favorite stadium?” at each one. My answer has evolved over the past few months and I am sure it will change again before I am done. The one constant is the response I get from those who ask the question. “Well have you been to PNC yet?” According to virtually everyone I have met on the road, PNC is the best ballpark in America. They might not be wrong.
I arrived at the ballpark several hours before the gates opened. After discovering how absolutely gorgeous Pittsburgh is the day before, I wanted to enjoy the city surroundings. I was not disappointed. As much as I have always enjoyed the “Steel City” moniker, there is a serenity that I felt hanging out downtown that seems antithetical to the nickname. I hung out on the Clemente bridge and just stared out at the water below as boats chugged along in front of PNC Park. For those of you who have followed this site you know that I have a penchant for waterfront property. Around the stadium there are some great bars and restaurants one of which included this one-eyed gentleman serving drinks to all of us landlubbers – sorry, but it had to be said.
The statues that surround PNC are seriously impressive. While it is not unique to have sculptures of former players in and around the stadiums, it is the design and scale of the ones in Pittsburgh that really blew me away. Standing next to the larger than life versions of Willie Stargell and Honus Wagner was nice, but when I laid my eyes on Roberto Clemente I had to take a step back. Clemente's bust sits in front of the bridge named in his honor and is truly a magnificent piece of art. The image does not do the reality justice. I am most likely going to repeat myself throughout this post, but I will say it for the first time now: you need to make PNC Park a priority when choosing which ballpark to visit next.
There was a giveaway at the park today (batting practice hats), but the line was not nearly as long as I had anticipated. I used the extra time to talk to some of the folks in line. Enough has been written about the Pirates two decades of futility and their amazing 2013 season, so I will not bore you with my version of analysis. What I will write about is the overall atmosphere that winning creates. The Detroit Tigers last won the World Series in 1984. I turned one that year. The following couple of decades were not that successful for us in the Motor City. I am also a Lions fan. I don't think I really need to explain any more about that. I understand the plight of the struggling franchise. There are stages of this type of fandom that includes anger, frustration, bitterness, acceptance and then finally apathy. But eventually this cycle is broken. It may take a long time, but it will happen. The longer the wait the more euphoric the result. And what is amazing is that you can actually feel the euphoria. The city itself is buzzing with excitement. There is hope in the air. For the second time I will say it: you need to make PNC Park a priority when choosing which ballpark to visit next.
I have not decided by which parameters I will rank the parks when I am finished with my tour, but I feel comfortable saying that PNC is by far the “prettiest” park I have ever seen. That may sound like a weird adjective to describe a baseball stadium, but it was the only word that was going through my mind as I walked the concourse. The first thing that jumped out at me was the size of the stadium itself. I am firm believer that the capacity of a baseball stadium should be between 38-42,000. Any less then that and it gets too quiet. Any more and it becomes impossible to fill 81 times a year and the fans are too far away from the diamond. I had unknowingly bought tickets for the clubs seats, and when I got there I was shocked that I was actually at the highest level of the ballpark. Normally, the club seats are sandwiched between the field level and the terrace level. I have always had to leave my seat at some point during the game to get a higher vantage point to take the pictures you see on the home page. At PNC the highest level is only one level above the field. No matter where you are sitting inside this park you are pretty much on top of the field.
I sadly do not know as much as I would like about architecture and design, but the color scheme of the stadium as well as the surrounding bridges is spectacular. It creates a backdrop to the green field that works in way that makes me wonder why nobody else has stolen the idea. There is also plenty of historical appreciation scattered throughout the stadium from a mold of Ralph Kiner's hands to the Highmark Legacy Square that features giant bats dedicated to Negro League legends. Check out the gallery above for photos. The way that the bats were positioned evoked an image of medieval knights holding up their swords in ceremony.
With so much to see I almost forgot to grab my pregame meal. I am happy that I remembered. I made my way to Manny's BBQ to have the pulled pork pierogi stacker that I had heard so much about. It may not look like a lot, but there is a lot of meat and potatoes between that bread. As much as I have loved meeting the people and watching the amazing baseball this summer; when my tour is over I may miss the various delicious foods the most. Losing the weight before I hit the road was probably the best decision I have made in my life (I lost 45 pounds in four months to prepare for my tour).
As beautiful as this ballpark is, the game I witnessed was anything but pretty for the home squad. The Diamondbacks put up eight runs in the first three innings and then tacked on seven more in the last two. There were a lot of numbers in that last sentence so to make it easier I will just say that the Dbacks simply destroyed the Buccos scoring 15 runs on 20 hits. Sorry, I like numbers. Pittsburgh tried to make it interesting by answering the 8-0 deficit by scoring five unanswered runs, but ultimately the Diamondbacks proved to be too much as they pounded away at the Pirates bullpen.
Despite the drubbing taking place before us, the fans sitting around me were in high spirits. This is what decades of losing breeds. There is still joy to be had in defeat. Yes the Pirates were losing today, but they were playing meaningful games late into the season and that is all that mattered. I chatted with some amazing people around me including a woman named Karen Hoffman. Hoffman was the first woman's sports writer in North Dakota and if that was not impressive enough for you, she was also the first woman in the United States to win the Sportswriter of the Year award from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You never know who you are sitting next to at a ballgame. Subscribe to the podcast now and when the episode is available it will show up in your iTunes for free! This was one of the more inspiring, fun and educational interviews I have done this summer.
While I do not claim to have any special powers, I have to admit I may be at fault for the Diamondback's late inning rally. I have been told by dozens of people that the only way to fully appreciate PNC Park is to see it at night. Unfortunately for me I had tickets for a 4 PM start time. I have not calculated it yet, but I am estimating that the average game time for me this summer as been around three hours. I needed this game to go into extra innings if I was going to get a chance to see this park in its element. After a wild start to the game which saw a combined 12 runs come across the plate in the first three innings, I thought that maybe the pace of the game would allow me to catch a glimpse of the view at sunset. Apparently the baseball Gods were listening to me and the last two innings took almost an hour to complete. The game ended at 7:59 PM just as the sun was about to set. I patiently waited for the moon to rise while my fellow seatmates streamed out of the stadium. I did not want to cause any problems, but I desperately wanted to experienced PNC Park at night. I sat in my seat for nearly thirty minutes after the last out until I was the last person left in the stadium. I watched as the tarp covered the field and the stands filled with men and women to begin cleaning up for tomorrow's game. It was worth it.
I still have three more parks to go, but I am confident in stating that I have found the stadium with the best view. I have to give Busch Stadium top billing for during the day because of the city skyline and the Arch. It does not get much better than that. Sadly, nobody seems to have told the St. Louis city planners how to light their city because when the sun goes down so does the visibility of everything outside the stadium walls. This is where PNC Park shines (pun intended). The way in which the Clemente bridge is lit up along with the skyline creates a devastatingly gorgeous view. I had to put my camera down for a moment so that I could simply sit back and take in the magnificent vista in front of me. I can not say enough about how perfect this stadium is. I honestly can not think of anything to complain about from the food, to the seats, to the view to the people. It is about time that the team on the field lives up to the building that they play in because this city deserves to see a winning club. Hopefully the Pirates will have years of success in the future and I will be able to come back for a World Series game at PNC Park. I sincerely believe that when that day comes this park will cement its legacy as being one of the best places to watch a ball game on the planet.
Next up: Citizens Bank Park
Game Time Temp: 79
First Pitch Time: 4:05 PM
First Pitch: Kenny Miller
National Anthem: Channing Pifer
Seventh Inning Stretch: Be My Girl - Bruce Channel
Total Pitches Thrown: 378
Total Hits: 31
Total Singles: 23
Total Doubles: 4
Total Triples: 0
Total Home Runs: 4
Total Walks: 6
Total Strike Outs: 12
Total Errors: 2
Game Time: 3:54
Attendance: 37,982 (99% full)
Home Plate Umpire: Jim Wolf
Miles Traveled: 40 miles
Time in Car: 1 hour 45 minutes
Sleep Time: 6 hours
Bottles of Water: 5
Food Eaten: Cliff bar
Ballpark Food: Pulled Pork Pierogie Stacker, ice cream helmet
Money spent on parking: $12
Money spent on ticket: $63.00
Cost of Program: $0.00
Money spent on food: $14.50
Total money spent on Merchandise: $24.00
Total Money spent at stadium: $113.50
Total Money spent today $113.50