Trip Around the League: PNC Park, Home of the Pirates
As the Mets ventured into the West Coast for the week, MetsPlus also traveled west! Instead of the 2,500 mile cross-country trek to San Diego, we went less than 500 miles away, to the steel city: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; home of Pittsburgh Pirates, to take in some newfound sights and sounds.
The Pirates play their home games in PNC Park, which opened in 2001, and is currently the seventh oldest park in the National League. The ballpark’s proximity to the city couldn’t be beat, as it’s located right in the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh, off the shores of the Allegheny River. The ballpark has a seating capacity of 38,747, and has held over 40,000 fans at a game, but given the Pirates current trajectory, roughly sees an average of 20,000 fans a game.
Most of the hotels, shops and restaurants are located across the Roberto Clemente Bridge (renamed from the Sixth Street Bridge in honor of the legendary Pirate) so many fans cross over the bridge (which is closed to vehicular traffic) prior to and after the game. The original bridge was designed by famed architect John A. Roebling, thirty years before he designed the Brooklyn Bridge, arguably the most famous bridge in the world.
Once nearby, there’s lots of bars, restaurants and live music to get fans excited and ready for the game. Most of these did not appear to be officially sanctioned from the team, which contributes to a very organic and grassroots feel; the perfect atmosphere for a baseball game.
The Pirates (like many other teams in the Major Leagues nowadays, but dissimilar to the Mets) use metal detection upon entry, which was annoying, but rather nominal time-wise. There wasn’t much of a line when we entered, and I never saw a queue at any point during the game.
For a twenty year old ballpark, PNC Park still looks brand new from an aesthetics perspective. Around the exterior of the ballpark stands a series of grand masonry archways, and stunning decorative terra cotta tiled pilasters, which invokes feelings of nostalgia from the club’s former home, Forbes Field.
PNC Park was also the first ballpark with a two-deck design (as opposed to a three-deck design) to be built in the United States since 1953, which contributes to a very intimate environment, the highest seat is just 88 feet from the playing field, giving every fan in the park an ideal sight line of the action.
In certain stadiums, sitting in the upper level would be nauseating of sorts, whereas that was not the case here. The upper level was arguably better than the main level, with those picturesque views of the Pittsburgh skyline in immediate view.
Wanting to venture around, I took a trip up to the aforementioned upper level to examine the vistas, but was promptly stopped by a somewhat nosy usher, who didn’t want to let me in to the upper deck, over an hour before game time, despite being ticketed in a more expensive seat on the field level.
This is something that I’ve only seen at Citizens Bank Park, and is extremely annoying for all involved, especially considering the stadium was extremely empty throughout the game. Thankfully, an usher a few sections over had no problem with me taking a breath or two in the cheap seats.
Outside of that one interaction, I found the staff at PNC Park to be rather friendly, but concurrently, clinical to a fault. Like the Mets, the Pirates use Aramark concessions to fulfill food & beverage needs, which means that fans eligible to consume alcoholic beverages get carded no matter their age (which I think is wrong) and their new point-of-sale system, which was installed in April of this year, was rather laggy, causing prolonged wait times at food stands. Thankfully, a little bit of Pittsburgh charm from the staff (or is it a lack of New York rudeness?) kept the smile on the patient fans.
While Citi Field could be described as a culinary oasis of sorts, PNC Park is less-so, with your traditional ballpark classics adorned around the ballpark. On a quest to find some original eats, I stumbled upon Manny’s BBQ.
Named after former Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen, this barbecue joint is located behind the center field batter’s eye, in an area that feels like you’re outside of the ballpark itself.
The barbecue is prepared in front of you, and there is a visual menu, featuring some of the most blurry and grotesque looking food I’ve ever seen on a public-facing image.
Thankfully the cuisine looked much better in real life:
I sampled two of the options, a more complex french-fry pork and onion string concoction, and the more traditional Pulled Pork sandwich.
Both were tangy and rich with flavorful sauce, but rather lukewarm, mainly in part due to the long wait times caused by the technical difficulties, but considering I ate them at a table directly adjacent to the stand, and it is to be assumed most fans take their food to their seats, it might be worthwhile for the Pirates to pump up the heat a little bit on the smoker.
The other local staple from Pittsburgh was a location of Primanti Brothers (the Shake Shack of Pittsburgh).
Founded in 1933 by Joe Primanti, this eatery is famous for putting french fries inside the sandwich (not that radical in my eyes, but I digress) and wrapping it in newspaper.
This location serves at the ballpark serves up two of Primanti’s classics, minus the newspaper.
It was fine, but far from an excitement that my taste buds would want to go back and experience over and over again. Still, this is Pittsburgh’s signature sandwich that has delighted fans for decades. When in Rome, right?
The ballgame experience was fun as well. The Pirates mascot, Pirate Parrot, was busy entertaining fans young and young-at-heart, all throughout the game, and if you weren’t hungry enough from the photos above, there was a pierogi race around the outfield warning track (Chester Cheese won, for those scoring at home).
The Pirates were also wearing their amazing throwback “steel city yellow & black” uniforms, with a yellow racing stripe on the pant leg, circa 1976. Black pants are all but extinct from the sport, so that was really cool to see.
If only they had kept the yellow batting helmets and the stir-up socks!
While the Pirates might not be the most exciting team in the league, (projected to be in last place with only 79 wins according to FanGraphs) the ballpark experience is on par with the best I’ve seen around the country, and while I find it somewhat arrogant that the Pirates proclaim that PNC Park is the “Best Ballpark in America” (I mean -come on- it’s **right there** in the logo) it does check all the boxes that you’d want to see in a premier ballpark, and I’m already looking to go back to pay the city a Pittsburgh a longer and prolonged visit real soon.
For those of you who would like the PNC Park Experience, you should definitely put the Mets vs. Pirates series in August on your bucket list. Tickets start at just $20, and there’s an amazing firework show after the game, with that picturesque Pittsburgh skyline in the background. You can purchase your tickets by clicking here.
Travel Considerations Courtesy: MLBAM a.k.t. & MediumBlogs / Photos Courtesy: James Giovan & MLB Digital / All Views & Opinions are my own / Contact: Niko@MetsPlus.com
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the city of Pittsburgh for their generous hospitality.