I want to visit every ballpark in the major leagues. And having been to a small handful already, I think I have found the one that will stand as the one to beat: PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
For 20 years, the Pirates have been an awful team, but they began to enjoy a rebirth over the past couple of seasons. They threatened a couple of times with solid first halves, before falling off the map in the home stretch.
Then, last year, finally, the Pirates returned to the playoffs. They won the 1-game playoff and eventually lost to the eventual National League champion St. Louis Cardinals, but the city was swept up in Pirates fever for the first time since the early 1990’s. That is a long time for a town to go between playoff appearances. Even longer to go without having a decent team.
Years of penny pinching and trading away their best players seemed to work out for the team, as a stellar bullpen and young players playing their best and coming together at the right time brought the fans back to the park.
And PNC is one hell of a place to watch baseball.
I was lucky enough to get to do a park tour the day before the game, and it is a wonderful place. The details that went into building it, down to the original rivulets, is truly impressive. Wandering through the suites, and the pressbox was really cool, a way to see how the other half lives. Then we got to go down in to the depths of the stadium, where the dressing rooms are, the batting cage, and eventually, wandering into the dugout and onto the majestic field itself. Standing on a major league ball diamond is something truly amazing, to see the field in the same way that the players see it, and to feel the shale crunch beneath your feet. This was something unforgettable for me.
As far as the game itself went, it was extremely exciting. The fans were great, all clad in black and yellow, and they were there, fired up for their team. This was during the 2012 season, and the Pirates were still very much in the hunt when I saw them. The people of Pittsburgh were fired up. The park is beautiful, and after so many losing years, the prices was right. A $40 ticket got me fifth row seats behind the visitors dugout (they were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks), on the first base side. Couldn’t ask for better seats, and as I arrived, I was even surprised by how good they were. I wasn’t expecting them to be that close.
On my trip, I had lived off junk for too long, so I didn’t have a hot dog at the park, but I did indulge in a few beers with the friendly people in my section. They were nice people, and they made the game that much more entertaining, as we cheered for the Bucs together, dove for foul balls at the same time (made it on the big screen and on the local broadcast!), and roared as the Jolly Roger was raised at the end of the game, to signify a Pirates victory.
I loved everything about my experience at PNC. Great employees, very friendly ushers, a mascot that was fun and not obnoxious, and a young, exciting product on the field all made for a great night. The weather was absolutely perfect, and the view…
Looking into the outfield of PNC Park is one of the best sights in the majors. Downtown Pittsburgh sits across the Allegheny River, and a couple of the yellow bridges that cross the river sit in the beautiful view. It is something beautiful to behold, yet another city that has done it right with the location of their ball park.
The whole area around PNC is also perfectly done, as there is a long cluster of nearby bars and restaurants ready to handle the pre- and post-game crowds. A short walking distance away is Heinz Field, home of the legendary Steelers. The setup is similar to that of Seattle, with the Mariners and Seahawks stadiums being right next door to one another.
Pittsburgh is a surprisingly awesome town, and I was glad that I had the chance to visit there. It was even better having a hotel across the street from the ballpark, but that was an indulgence I would not be able to afford every time.
PNC Park, in my opinion, is my favorite ball park I have visited so far, and it is one that I would truly love to go back to in the future.