Friday, August 3, 2007

Game #7: Not a Pit After All

PNC Park was rated the best park in the majors a few years ago in an unscientific ranking system devised by two ESPN columnists, just edging out the Park By The Bay in San Francisco. And indeed, both the park itself, and the city of Pittsburgh, were a huge hit for me, presenting a fantastic environment for baseball in a very cozy and intimate setting. It really is a shame the team stinks.

The park was highly reminiscent of AT&T Park in SF, perhaps not surprising given the fact that the same architect firm was used for both. The exposed brick and steel have become common elements, but in general layout and feel, there were definite similarities. Also, the potential for balls heading to right field to go into the water, in this case the Allegheny River, is a nice touch. The great thing about PNC is the city skyline beyond the right field wall, with the presence of numerous beautiful bridges in the near background. Those bridges mirror another great aspect of Pittsburgh, in that they all reflect the yellow color palette so integral to Pittsburgh. Yellow steel is used throughout in the bridges, yellow brick is common throughout the city and the ballpark, and the use of yellow and black for all three of the city’s sports teams provides a common thread of a type I’ve always wished more cities would adopt. Instantly recognizable as Pittsburgh, this prevalence of yellow is really a great touch.

I was given heard two random city facts, neither validated, but both interesting enough to include here: 1) Pittsburgh has more bridges than any world city after Venice (!), perhaps because of the easy availability of steel? 2) Pittsburgh is the second oldest city in the USA from a demographic standpoint, a sign of its stagnant economic situation.

Unlike the last few parks I’ve been at, and even though PNC is a new park, there are few distractions. The focus of the building is very definitely upon the baseball, and while a small replica park is in place in right field, you can tell that the intention is for the fans to be focusing upon the game.

There were great food options throughout, including the repeatedly recommended Primanti Brothers sandwich (yes, those fries are inside the sandwich), for which I actually visited the original site for lunch, and including a second signature food typical of the region, pierogis. This Eastern European delicacy is essentially a potato, cheese, and onion ravioli. Both the sandwich and the pierogis were tasty, and highly representative of the area, though both were fairly subtle in flavor. Beer selections were good as well, with a wide variety of local microbrews available on tap.

Tickets were plentiful and inexpensive, likely a reflection both upon the cost of living of the city itself and the misfortunes of the team.

The game was unfortunate, and having built such a great building in which to play baseball, it is indeed too bad that the Pirates do such a bad job inside of it. The game was against the Cardinals, a team that hasn’t been playing particularly well this year in their attempt to follow up their World Series championship. However, the Pirates really never threatened to win the game at all. While the score was close throughout, and ended at 6-4, there was something of a sense in the air that it really wasn’t going to happen.

If you were to point at one representative moment from the game, though, it would have to be the putrid play of the Pittsburgh catcher, Ronny Paulino. With two outs and a man on 1st in a tie game, Paulino was lackadaisical on a high foul pop-up, dropping it for an error. The very next pitch was doubled to center, though the outfielder got the ball into the infield in time for a play at the plate. But Paulino then proceeded to mishandle the throw to the plate, letting the go-ahead run score, and really being the beginning of the end. Radio hosts and callers were irate after the game, screaming for blood, and demanding that he be sent immediately to AAA, AA, A, or perhaps Cuba. But, this being the Pirates, he’s sure to be a fixture for years to come.

[Editor’s note: Paulino did hit a grand slam the next day, and then another HR the day after that, perhaps getting some vindication. Meanwhile, the Braves demonstrated the sort of decisiveness for which the Pirate fans were clamoring the next day, in which they demoted a poorly performing starting pitcher only 30 minutes after their game was over.]

Finally, I failed to mention this on the blog entry covering my drive to Pittsburgh, but there’s a small spur of West Virginia that comes on up and sticks itself between Canton, OH and Pittsburgh. With all apologies to Al, just that little hyper-rural stretch of local highways (I was not on the interstate at this time) did rather reinforce the WV stereotype quite a lot. My favorite example, and one that I’d really like to hope was a joke, was the sign, crudely painted on a piece of discard wood beside a very run down store that said “Got Far Wood”. Read it again if you didn’t quite catch that, and don’t be afraid to adopt a fake accent.


Mobile Em said...

What do you need far wood for at this time of year? Surely it's too warm to make use of a far place?

Anyway, glad you liked Pittsburgh. If I could have chosen one park to join you for, it would have been that one.

Alta Vista said...

PNC Park sounds like a great place. You have peaked my interest. If you don't ask mobile em to join you on another visit soon, I'd be pleased to offer to escort her. Perhaps at a time when the Penguins are playing and we can also see Sidney Crosby?

But, for those who do not live in the Bay area, I must say you have a wonderful park there. My breath was taken away by the gorgeous setting of PacBell (or whatever it is called now). The spectacular setting of the San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge truly suited the strains of "I left my heart in San Francisco" that was playing as we slowly walked out of the park.