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PNC Park
Pittsburgh, PA
San Diego Padres at Pittsburgh Pirates
July 30, 2003

By Ken Schlapp

We started our day, by heading to the University of Pittsburgh, which is where Forbes Field, the home of the Pirates from 1909 to 1970, used to stand.  The brick ivy-covered outfield wall with the 436-foot marker still stands there today for fan viewing.  More importantly though, is the plaque on the ground marking the spot where Bill Mazzeroski hit his dramatic game 7 home run against the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th inning to win the World Series on October 13, 1960.  In fact, every October 13th, Pirates fans gather at this spot to listen to the radio announcement of that amazing home run.  Home plate is also displayed behind glass within the University, but unfortunately for me (not Efrem), that part of the University was under construction an inaccessible to us this day.

As for PNC Park, we were lucky enough to get a tour of the stadium prior to the game.  Efrem and I got to PNC Park around noon to pick up the two tour tickets left for us by Michael Weller of the Pirates where we were guided on a great tour by Margie and Keith.  We got to learn about the history of the Pirates stadiums, the intricacies of PNC park and get to walk through areas, such as the dugout, which was an opportunity that you do not always get (without paying for a tour of course).

To start, I will say that PNC Park is a beautiful stadium that fits perfectly within the city and its surroundings.  In fact, I will happily add that Pittsburgh itself was a much nicer city than I had previously been led to believe.  PNC Park has a yellow limestone exterior that melds in with all of the yellow bridges in view beyond the outfield walls.  Specifically, the Roberto Clemente Bridge stands out the most.  The bridge is located right outside of the stadium and allows fans to walk from downtown directly to the ballpark (cars are not allowed to cross the bridge on game days).  Roberto Clemente is revered in many ways throughout PNC Park as well (as he should be).  There is a statue of him overlooking left field that faces right field, which where he starred for so long in a Pirates uniform.  In addition, the right field wall is 21 feet high in honor of his uniform number.

Although the Pirates only began playing at PNC Park for the 2001 season, they have not forgotten about their past in any way.  In addition to the Roberto Clemente statue overlooking left field, there is a Honus Wagner statue in front of the home plate entrance, a Willie Stargell statue by the left field gate and a statue of Ralph Kiner’s hands holding a bat by left field as well.  The Kiner statue commemorates his seven consecutive home run titles as a Pirate.  There was also a strange dinosaur statue outside the stadium by the Outback Steakhouse, of which I have no understanding.  The Pirates display retired numbers of their former greats along the upper deck façade.  Some of those retired players include Ralph Kiner (4), Bill Mazeroski (9), Pie Traynor (20), and Roberto Clemente (21).

Our tour officially started with the Kiner Statue, but passed through the exit walkways, which are adorned with pictures of baseball cards of past and current Pirates.  I love the fact that this display includes the most famous baseball card of all time, which is the 1909 Honus Wagner card, as well as lesser-known players, such as the 1975 Topps Frank Tavarez card.  Since 1975 is when I started collecting cards, I remember the Tavarez card quite well, not to mention that he later became a Met.

From there, we went up to the press area, which is located above the upper deck or 2nd deck, since there are only two tiers to PNC Park.  Our guides informed us that the stadium was built this way to ensure that the fans had a better view than the press, which I think is a fantastic idea.  The interesting thing about this though is that even though we were above the upper deck, due to the small size of this stadium, we still had a good view.  At this level, we appeared to be at a height that is lower than the upper deck at Shea Stadium.  In addition to the great view of the stadium, you have a great view of Pittsburgh’s downtown and the yellow bridges connecting across the river to the stadiums (plural since the Steelers Heinz Field is next door).

In continuing on our view from the press level, you get a clear angle on both side-by-side bullpens in left center field as well as the batter’s eye in center field that includes pine trees since the stadium’s location is near to where most Christmas trees come from.  You can also see the river that some, but not many home runs end up in beyond right field. They originally thought there would be frequent splash hit like in San Francisco’s PacBell Park, but at the time of our visit, only Darryl Ward had hit one in the river on the fly in 2002.  You also notice the giant jumbotron over the left field seats and the out-of-town scoreboard on the right field wall.  The great thing about the out-of-town scoreboard is that it has a diamond for each game that lets you know (via electronic lights) what base runners are currently on and how many out there are in addition to the score.  This was the first of the new stadiums to include this feature, which is great.

Then for the simply fun part, we got to go into the Pirates dugout along the 3rd base side to take pictures of us sitting inside and get a great up-close view of the field.  The tour guides pointed out the kids section with a small wiffle-ball stadium and a playground beyond the right field bleachers and next to the river.  Then more importantly, they told us about the food options in the stadium.  The famous spots were Willie Stargell’s Chicken on the Hill stand and Manny Sanguillen’s BBQ, where he can often be found signing autograph’s (and he was on this night, but I did not wait on line to get one).  Some famous local fare includes Mrs. T’s Pierogies and Primante Brothers sandwiches, which is famous for their meat, cheese, hand-cut French fries, tomatoes, and coleslaw between two slices of Italian bread signature sandwich.  We went for one of those after the tour, which was quite different, but still good.

Another tidbit that we learned on the tour was that the seats are blue to match those that were in Forbes Field, which is where the Pirates played prior to Three-Rivers Stadium or two stadiums ago.  The seats are also curved and cozy and offer a good view from any location.  The stadium lights were also styled to look like those in older stadiums.

Once the tour was over, we took a walk around the stadium, across the Clemente Bridge, and into the city.  The first part of walking around the stadium was to walk to the parking lot between PNC Park and Heinz Field, which was the Location of Exhibition Park, where the Pirates played from 1891 to 1909.  This was where the Pirates played the very first World Series in 1903 against the Boston Pilgrims.  There is a painted marker of a home plate in the parking lot to signify this historical event on the spot where home plate was believed to be.  In addition, there are the other three bases to form the baseball diamond approximately where it had once been.  For me, the most fun about stopping here to take pictures was the argument discussion I had with Efrem over stopping here and taking a picture.  He does not care at all about this and only wants to see existing stadiums, while I want to see the old sites as well.  He was stuck several times with me dragging him to the old sites, and I honestly did not feel bad about it.  The sad thing though, was that there was absolutely nothing to commemorate or mark the spot of Three Rivers Stadium, where the Prates played from 1970 to 2000.  Therefore, Efrem got off easy! 

Aside from the stop at old Exhibition Stadium, the walk across the bridge allowed us to get great views of PNC Park and Heinz Field from both the bridge and across the river.  Walking through the city was nice too.  I will reiterate that I really liked Pittsburgh, when I was led to believe it was a dump.

After our walk around the city, we headed back to PNC Park about 1.5 hours prior to the game, which is when the gate opens.  This gave us the opportunity to walk around the wide concourses (which all of the new stadiums now have) and see the team banners and all the food stands that our tour guides told us about, before we sat down in the great seats (right over the Pirates dugout) that the Pirates gave us to watch the game.

The Padres opened up the scoring in the top of the 2nd on 4 singles by Phil Nevin, Rondell White, Sean Burroughs, and pitcher Brian Lawrence, who drove in both runs with his single.  Lawrence was pitching as well as he was hitting until the 4th inning, when the Pirates got to Lawrence on a single by Abraham  Nunez, a double by Matt Stairs and a 3-run home from Reggie Sanders, which set off the stadium fireworks and gave the Pirates the lead.  Nunez started another rally in the 6th with a walk in front of Brian Giles home run, which was quickly followed by another Stairs double and another homer from Sanders, but of the 2-run variety this time.  This final blow by Sanders knocked Lawrence out of the game after giving up 7 runs on 3 homers, 6 hits, and 2 walks, while striking out 6.  The Padres would do little else the rest of the way other than pitcher Jaret Wright striking out the side in the 7th inning.

The Pirates Kip Wells got the win by allowing only 2 runs over 6 innings on 4 hits, 2 walks and 3 strikeouts.  However, Reggie Sanders was clearly the star of the game with 2 home runs and 5 RBI.  Strikeout king Jose Hernandez came through with flying colors by whiffing in all 4 of his at bats and Brian Meadows closed things out with a rare 3-inning save.  Some other interesting in-game features included:

A hearing-impaired board in right center field

Their fan patrol shooting hot dogs instead of T-Shirts

The Pirates had a parrot mascot

They have a K-Corner that would have been more interesting tracking the Pirates batters 11 Ks rather than their pitchers 5 Ks

Bottom line – PNC Park is one of the most beautiful and cozy Stadiums that exist.  This will clearly rank very high on my list.  From the coziness of the stadium, to the food options and the surrounding view of the city, this is a great place to see a game.

Basic trip facts:
-Stadium # 30
-Old Stadium Sites visited – Forbes Field & Exhibition Stadium (Total – 21)
-Under construction Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 2)
-Miles traveled – 27 via Car (Totals: Driving – 17,872, Subway - 20, Air - 3,196, Total – 21,088)
-States, provinces, Districts and/or commonwealths passed through – Pennsylvania (Totals: States – 48, Provinces – 2, Districts – 1, Commonwealths - 1)
-Seats – Section 11, Row J, Seat 12 –   Right behind 1st base dugout
-Prices: Parking – $15.00, Beer – $5.50, Hot Dogs - $2.00 - $3.50, Program (including pencil) - $6.00, Souvenir Soda Cup – $3.00 - $5.50, Turkey Sandwich - $5.75
-Credit Card giveaway –  1887 Pirates T-shirt
-First Pitch -  7:05 PM
-Attendance – 23,709
-Results – Pirates 7, Padres 2, W – Kip Wells, L – Brian Lawrence, S – Brian Meadows
-Home team record to date – 20 wins, 14 losses
-Record of “team I was routing for” to date – 15 wins, 19 losses
-Lodging – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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