With football season back in full swing, we planned a trip to catch Penn State playing at Pittsburgh – an in-state rivalry that is quickly coming up on another hiatus. They will play one more time next year in Happy Valley, closing out the rivalry with the 100th meeting between the two programs. After next year, there are no other games scheduled between the two.
In true Wandering Spectator fashion, we looked for other options to make the trip even more worthwhile. The easiest option included the Pirates taking on the Marlins in a late-season game between two bottom dwellers. Not the best matchup, but it would provide a chance to take in PNC Park on Friday night before the big game next door the following night. The last time I went to a Pirates game was sometime in the early 90s when I attended with a couple of colleagues. While one of my colleagues and I were at our seats, our other colleague showed up live on the video board as he was grabbing a few beers at the concession stand underneath. Back then, it was in the dump called Three Rivers Stadium, so I was really looking forward to seeing this park.
Having recently explored Pittsburgh on a previous trip, we decided to check other areas nearby. Cleveland was the next obvious choice, where the Steelers would be visiting the Browns in the home opener. The only issue would be the late night Penn State game and the 1pm kickoff in Cleveland – with a 2-hour drive between the two cities.
If we were going to be in Cleveland, we started to look at other things to do. First choice – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve heard plenty about this place so we made it the priority. And since we were taking in one Hall of Fame, why not take in another? We added the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the itinerary and we were ready to go!
After arriving in Pittsburgh Friday at rush hour, it was straight to the Marriott to meet up with our daughter, then drop the bags and head to PNC Park. The weather was questionable for tonight, with plenty of rain in the forecast for tomorrow – and even worse for Sunday.
It was a quick ride over the Andy Warhol bridge to get to the North Shore Entertainment District that houses both PNC Park and Heinz Field – along with plenty of bars and restaurants.
We attempted to find some scalpers, but when the first one offered us three lower levels at $125 each, I quickly declined and opened up the StubHub app. I picked up three lowers behind the plate and undercover for $17 each. We entered the stadium at the Willie Stargell statue along the left field line, not far from our seats.
They do a great job of recognizing their stars from years of old with statues of Stargell, Clemente, and Mazeroski all surrounding the park. Tonight, they even handed out Clemente shirts as the fans continue to push to retire’s Roberto’s 21 across all of MLB.
First thing was a quick spin around the park to check out the site lines and concessions. You can see that it’s not very tall with the upper deck seats no more than 88 feet above the field. That’s a major difference from most venues.
The park reminds me of AT&T Park in San Francisco with a small stadium feel, plenty of local concessions and great views.
PNC sits just above the Allegheny River on the northern side of Pittsburgh. Here, you can see the famed PPG Building in the background with a floating Tiki Bar cruising down the river.
Unlike today, where locally brewed beer exists in every small town, back in the day, local options were pretty limited. Pittsburgh’s true original was Iron City, with their IC Light leading the way. Sure, Rolling Rock is another somewhat local favorite that had more national exposure, but IC Light is the beer of choice with Pittsburgh roots. Oddly enough, Rolling Rock, which was brewed in Latrobe, PA, was sold to the evil empire of Anheuser-Busch. Since then, Iron City has taken over the old brewery and continues to produce IC Light today!
With the Pirates hovering around .500 and well back of the Wild Card, attendance was low tonight – even considering the invasion of Penn State fans in town for tomorrow’s game. Maybe it was the threat of rain. Regardless, the cobwebs on the prime seats behind home plate were a dead giveaway that the team continues to struggle to fill the seats.
I will say, the views in this park are the best I’ve ever seen at any ballpark in my travels. We commented that the city looked like a fake backdrop at Disney. Simply spectacular.
Another unique aspect of the park is the famed Great Pittsburgh Pierogi Race in between innings. Potato Pete, Jalapeño Hannah, Cheese Chester, Sauerkraut Saul, Oliver Onion, Pizza Penny and Bacon Burt, all compete in a race around the outfield.
The Pirates held on to take the win 5-3 over the Marlins with some excitement coming in the way of a few home runs and a season-ending injury to Gregory Polanco. Down 3-2, Polanco led off the 6th by stretching a single into a double but slid so awkwardly that he injured his knee and shoulder. To make matters worse, his efforts would not be rewarded as his replacement was still stranded on 2nd when the inning ended.
Leaving the stadium behind, we cross the Roberto Clemente Bridge for the short walk to our hotel. We made it an early night in preparation for the big day tomorrow.
If you ever have the chance, check out PNC Park. It now ranks up there as one of the best I’ve experienced.