Monday, July 28, 2008

Deathtour~!: PNC Park, Pittsburgh

PNC Park is another in a series of new stadiums that have cropped up in the last decade. Kruk and Kuip gush about this place on TV and they are absolutely right. This place is a gem. Situated right on the Alleghany River, much in the same way that Pac Bell is situated at China Basin, perhaps slightly further inland, PNC is one of the smallest parks in the Majors, making it a real intimate experience. The stadium size, the structure, the smaller crowds, the promotions, the small market atmosphere, the lack of club level seating and the ticket prices ($24 for a lower box seat) combine to create an almost minor league experience. And that’s not a slight. But there’s a major difference between Pittsburgh and say, Chicago or Philadelphia. The Pirates have acted as a feeder to the major markets for the past 10 years. The future stars may play here now but ultimately they get traded for prospects to perennial contenders like the Yankees (who just made a trade for the Pirates’ leading hitter, Xavier Nady). But despite the recent struggles of the Buccos, it hasn’t stopped them from creating one of the most pleasant baseball experiences in the country.

At one point, long, long ago, Pittsburgh was a great team and remnants of that history are scattered throughout the park. Hall of Famer and one of the greatest hitters who ever lived, Roberto Clemente, has a statue right outside the center field gate. Inside the left field gate are the hands of Ralph Kiner.

The bullpen is right up against the center field walkway, a perfect location for heckling opposing relievers.

The Pirates have one of the most affordable ticket prices in the majors. I can’t believe this seat is only $24. the seats behind the plate are a fraction of the price at many other stadiums.

You can watch the game through a screen under the right field bleachers. Unlike Pac Bell this area is within the ballpark gates. The scoreboard, which sadly is not hand operated, is directly below.

The scoreboard is almost identical to Philadelphia’s, minus the pitching matchups.

There are two rotundas; one behind home plate and one in left field. The left field rotunda looks like a great spot to stand and watch the game.

The announcement of the Pirates line up is preceeded with a video package set to the Pirates of the Carribean theme that includes an entire history of the franchise combining stills, video and old newspaper clippings. It blows away any similar video I’ve seen at a baseball game. I wonder if they have this available to watch online.

Van Benschoten is on the hill for Pittsburgh. After striking out Jody Gerut he gives up two walks and a home run, followed by a third walk, a single and a double. Ouch. 41 pitches in the first inning. This game could be out of reach before the Pirates even come up to bat. San Diego up 4-0.

Small ball. The idea of manufacturing runs is almost extinct. Pittsburgh gets it done with a single, a stolen base, a sacrifice fly and a second hit.

A single, a walk and another home run for San Diego in the second and Van Benschoten is out of the game, leaving to a chorus of boos from the Pirate faithful.

9-0 in the middle of the fifth. Time for some in-game entertainment. In Pittsburgh it's the Pyrogie race, and surprise, surprise, it's a total work. Mrs. Pyrogie(not her official moniker but I didn't catch name) suffers an injury and the camera guy takes out the other three pyrogies and helps the Missus past the finish line.

Either the Pirates are having a fire sale or manager John Russell has given up on the game. He's just subbed three of his top four hitters out.

The Pirates have made a game of this as I've moved around the ballpark, settling in at the left field rotunda.

Across the river, just outside my hotel, there's some sort of festival going on. And they're capping it off with a fireworks show, visible from the bleachers and right field side of the field. The game is still going on here but most everybody has turned their attention to the sky.

Trever Hoffman comes in and records a single out to close the game after Pittsburgh scores again to make it 9-6 San Diego. After the final out I head down the home plate rotunda and out the exit to look at the Honus Wagner statue.

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