PNC Park (and Pittsburgh) is a Jewel

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Since opening, I regularly gasped at the views from PNC Park on television. After a weekend trip to Pittsburgh, I can unequivocally say, TV does not do PNC Park justice. From the moment you take a seat in the park’s upper bowl and see the Steel City’s skyline is breathtaking. It’s like seeing your favorite movie on the big screen for the very first time. No matter how many glowing reviews I read, or how many pictures I saw, nothing prepared me for the incredible view I enjoyed for what was otherwise a lousy game (spoiler alert: the Mets crushed the Pirates).

Rain AGAIN?!? Weather concerns abound

The days leading up to the game were fraught with nervousness. The weather forecast was abysmal. Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of rain delays, and sadly, rain outs. Almost every weather outlet imaginable called for thunderstorms on Sunday afternoon and evening. Not scattered or isolated storms, but a good ole-fashioned washout. I awoke Sunday morning to a slightly improved and slightly worse forecast. Instead of thunderstorms, the rain would be scattered, but, there remained a chance for severe thunderstorms.

Great. Just what I needed. Finally have tickets in hand to see a game in PNC Park, and a nasty line of storms was scheduled to hit around first pitch. Of course, none of this was helped by my obsession with the weather.

Ansley and I spent the afternoon wandering around Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood, stopping in various bars to sample local beer. What was a cloudy, dreary day began to clear. I checked the radar and the storms keep tracking well to our north. I checked the forecast again: partly cloudy until roughly midnight.

Perhaps it was because the final bar we visited was a converted Catholic church, or maybe the baseball gods finally had mercy on me, but no foul weather stood in our way.

To PNC Park we go!

Traversing the Clemente Bridge on our way to Baseball Paradise

When you watch a Pirates game on television, it’s hard to ignore the faded yellow bridge connecting PNC Park with downtown Pittsburgh. Before, during, and after games, the bridge is only open to pedestrian traffic, which provides stunning views of the stadium. More than any ballpark I’ve visited, the anticipation built with each step I took across the bridge named for the Pirates’ legend. Fans chatting and the ballpark itself are not the only sounds on the bridge. A gentleman decked out in Pirates gear stood along the pedestrian walkway blowing into a saxophone. He’s a well-known figure of Pirates pre and post game celebrations, and a friend (and Pittsburgh native) exchanged pleasantries with the sax player. It was clear he was a fixture.

Yes, PNC Park is amazing

When you exit the bridge, you’re struck by the sizable statue of Roberto Clemente, standing there like a sentinel keeping watch over his team’s ballpark. The Pirates legend looms large in and around PNC Park. The right field fence is festooned with #21, and it didn’t take long to find a sizable number of Clemente shirts and jerseys in the team shop and on the backs of Pirates fans.

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As we entered PNC Park, I immediately noticed its coziness. Unlike most modern parks, PNC only has two decks, and has a noticeably small footprint. Given my familiarity with the now-defunct Turner Field, it remains my point of reference when I visit any MLB park. The Braves’ former home feels cavernous compared to the small and welcoming PNC Park. Our seats were above home, in the second deck, giving us the incredible view of downtown Pittsburgh that immediately stands out when watching the Pirates on TV. From the moment I sat down, I was blown away. It was easily the best view I’ve had at a baseball game, and I can’t imagine a better view in any other park. To say the view is stunning doesn’t do it justice. Please, just go to Pittsburgh, and get yourself a seat behind home plate. It’s worth it.

The Game

The Pirates aren’t having a great year. Two of their better players were suspended and superstar Andrew McCutchen is at-best a pedestrian player and now on the wrong side of 30. There’s nothing much to say about the game, other than the Mets shellacked the Pirates to the tune of 8-1. Instead of a typical Sunday afternoon matinee, we had the extra treat of seeing an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game. I think I’ve been at a Sunday Night game before, but I, for the life of me, can’t remember.

The other disappointing aspect of the game were the uniforms. On a typical Sunday, the Pirates wear throwbacks. This year, the team’s sporting their 1979 “bumblebee” look, complete with pillbox caps (note: I tried on a pillbox cap. I seriously considered buying one. I was just tipsy enough to do it. Then I looked in the mirror. The cap immediately went back on the shelf). Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get to see the famed “we are family” throwbacks. It was Memorial Day weekend, and as a way to honor fallen troops sell camo hats and jerseys, Major League Baseball outfitted every team in camouflage. Not a great look. I’m a big baseball cap guy. Like the pillbox cap, I left the camo cap on the shelf. (I did get a traditional black and gold game cap and a Clemente t-shirt).

The rain, which did such a great job avoiding Pittsburgh throughout what was expected to be a washout of a Sunday, finally crept into town around the 8th inning. We quickly took shelter, because, let’s face it, the Pirates weren’t coming back.

Park amenities aplenty

Not sure how many parks offer this, but PNC Park had a quirk I’ve never seen before: the ability to buy booze after the 7th inning. In a feeble attempt to sober people up before they piled into their cars post-game, Major League Baseball doesn’t allow for the sale of alcoholic beverages after the 7th inning. However, PNC Park offers a fun alternative to the traditional 7th inning rule. At a fairly robust beer bar along the upper deck concourse, you can still drink after the 7th inning. The bar has a Tensabarrier along its perimeter. They rope off the bar after the 7th and so long as you keep your beer in the bar, you can keep drinking.

God bless you, Pirates.

The food options were pretty solid for a MLB park. Of course you can gorge yourself on pierogis, if you’re so inclined, and the legendary Pramanti Bros has their own concession stand. Aside from typical ballpark food and local fare, you can even get yourself a gyro. The food options weren’t quite as diverse as say, Nationals Park, but you can indulge on local delicacies, and a pretty good beer selection.

For those wanting to splurge on Pirates merch, there’s a huge two-story team store (powered by Fanatics) with almost anything you could want. Of note: a great selection of throwback gear, with a huge focus on Pirates legends like Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. Also notable, the prices weren’t outrageous, for either food nor souvenirs. A baseball cap at PNC Park was no more expensive than from Lids or Fanatics, and the food/drink prices seemed about average.

Pittsburgh is not Paris, but it’s pretty great

Funny enough, Ansley and I ventured to Pittsburgh just days before the city became a political battleground after the United States backed out of the Paris Climate Accords. It was great timing, because I can attest that the current president seemingly missed Pittsburgh’s current revitalization. I was blown away by the city’s beauty, its enormous trees, incredible hills, and welcoming atmosphere. Almost every neighborhood we visited felt alive and made good use of existing properties to create a great restaurant and bar scene. We stopped by a craft brewery located in an old Catholic church (I’m sure Pope Francis would approve), hit a glorious dive bar down the street from our hotel, and consumed a massive breakfast at Pittsburgh’s famous Pamela’s. We even managed a short tour of the University of Pittsburgh campus (which includes the site where Forbes Field once stood) and walked around the incredible Cathedral of Learning. The Cathedral of Learning effectively looked like Hogwarts. On a college campus. In Pittsburgh…

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The revitalization of Pittsburgh is definitely uneven, and driving around, you could certainly wonder how gentrification, and its impact, but the Steel City, is not covered in smog. It’s a bustling tech and medical hub, with friendly and welcoming people. I would absolutely go back in a heartbeat, whether it’s to see another Pirates game (which I would do tomorrow) or just get away from the less-than-ideal Washington, D.C.

Also of note….we took the scenic route, traversing Highway 30, through the Allegheny Mountains. Having completely ignored the map, I had no idea we’d pass the United 93 crash site. On our way home, we stopped and even 15-plus years after 9/11, it was difficult. I visited the World Trade Center site in early 2008, when there were still only holes where the Twin Towers stood. It was hard. My dad was supposed to be in New York on 9/11, but came down with a nasty stomach bug, and his weekend flight was delayed to the afternoon of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. A lot of those feelings came back, like I’m sure they did for all those visiting the crash site. I’m glad we stopped and if–for whatever reason–you happen to be in that part of Pennsylvania, please stop. Such horror happened such a beautiful, serene location.

 

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