Road Trip to PNC Park
Earlier in May, myself and my baseball crazed buddies travelled down from Toronto, Canada to Pittsburgh, PA to catch our home town Toronto Blue Jays play the local Pittsburgh Pirates. Astonishing to me, I didn’t know Pittsburgh was only a five hour drive away, is very easy to get to via I-90 and I-79, and the city owns a striking skyline which you can view quite nicely by sitting in the stands at PNC Park. Alternatively, tourists can also take one of two inclines up Mt. Washington (we took the Monongahela Incline) for a wonderful, panoramic view of the beautiful city, which as a whole, I came away very impressed with.
One tip to keep in mind should you travel to Pittsburgh, is that for whatever reason taxi’s are hard to come by. You absolutely have to take advantage of a couple of ride-sharing services, Lyft or Uber, should you need to get around Pittsburgh and if you don’t stay at a hotel within walking distance to the ballpark. Unbeknownst to me, one of our Lyft taxi drivers shared with us that Pittsburgh is a hidden jewel of a city and I wasn’t one to argue; it’s refreshingly clean, people are friendly, and the standard of living is quite affordable too as our driver relayed to us that a house could be purchased there for as little as $60,000 USD.
An additional note of interest via another friendly Lyft driver (who happen to be local residents trying to earn extra money on the side) said that Pittsburgh is really a Steelers town as there are no cars on the roads whatsoever on Sundays as everyone is either at the game or watching the Steelers on TV. He then conveyed to us that the NHL’s Penguins are the second most popular franchise (hard to argue with given their success), and then the Pirates come in third place amongst all the local sports teams. I could only imagine that 21 years of losing will do that to a community.
As for the actual games that we attended, the Jays’ bullpen blew two leads which lead to two disheartening losses. Needless to say, we were in utter disbelief. It’s important to note though that there was a large contingent of Jays’ fans in Pittsburgh for the series. The Pirates crowd was mostly quiet until Jays fans started chanting “Let’s go Blue Jays” and then the faithful started chanting back “Let’s go Pirates” so it was a fun back and forth in the stands. Surely, after Saturday’s loss, another late-game defeat, Pirates fans felt a little more bravado and shouted things like “Blue Jays suck”, and “It’s better to stay home” garbage as they walked by us sporting our Blue Jays gear. Even so, I didn’t let some sore winners ruin my visit as all other people we met were very welcoming and kept on asking us “why are there so many Jays’ fans here?” They had no idea either that Toronto is only a five hour drive away.
Indeed, Pittsburgh is home to some gastronomically delicious cuisines as you will see here. At PNC, you have many options available to you including the succulent Primanti Bros. sandwich, the Pierogi Stacker sandwich from Manny’s BBQ, and “The Closer” grilled cheese sandwich from the Rivertowne Brewing Hall of Fame Club. Outside of the ballpark, we ventured out to visit Peppi’s Old Tyme Sandwich Shop, and Pamela’s Diner to taste their famous hotcakes which were served at President Obama’s inauguration.
While in town, we took in a tour of the ballpark, which was quite fascinating to learn about little tidbits about what makes PNC so special. Prior to being built in 2001, the Pirates consulted with fans about what kind of ballpark they wanted. Sure enough, fans wanted to be close to the action so it’s interesting to note that the seats behind home plate are only 51 feet from the plate; that’s closer that the pitcher is to the batter!
We also learned that each clubhouse at PNC is 18,000 square feet, the largest of any clubhouse in all of MLB. The Pirates, without question, want their players to be comfortable, and I must say, they have the space to do so.
Another attractive feature of the ballpark is that players are able to park their cars under the right field stands and head into the clubhouse by walking across the entire field, down the dugout and into the clubhouse. In my mind, that’s the best walk to work I’ve ever heard of! We even saw Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle come into the tunnel and say to us Jays fans “You’ve got a good team there!”
We even ran into the Pirates’ Director of Guest Services while walking the town, and had an intriguing conversation with the man. He relayed to us that they try to do many types of promotions to get people into the ballpark like free give-away’s every Friday night (which we enjoyed), even fireworks too. He openly wondered if they’ll be able to keep Pirates MVP, Andrew McCutchen, beyond 2018 when his current contract expires. We’d better cross our fingers and hope that he doesn’t leave for a bigger market.
As to where PNC Park ranks in relation to other MLB ballparks, ESPN’s Dan Shulman recently shared at a local Toronto event that he personally rates PNC just behind AT&T Park as the best ballpark to watch a game outside of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, which he admitted are in a league of their own given.
Having never visited AT&T yet, I too, would rate PNC very highly just behind Wrigley and Fenway with Baltimore’s Camden Yards coming in fourth, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year. Indeed, the building of Camden Yards in Baltimore, in the words of Dan Shulman, “changed the game” and it’s unfortunate that Toronto’s Rogers Centre, formerly SkyDome, was built in 1989, right before this new age of ballpark came into existence with Camden Yards in 1992. Don’t get me wrong, having a retractable roof at the time was a world marvel, however in hindsight, the concrete jungle doesn’t add up to the other ballpark experiences I’ve had on my road trip adventures.