August 30, 2008
Pittsburgh Pirates vs Milwaukee Brewers
Final Score: 3-11
* The stadium was re-visited for a game on September 9, 2022
During a beautiful Labor Day weekend, we spent a couple days in Pittsburgh, PA which included a visit to spectacular PNC Park. Pittsburgh is a wonderful city, a place that has shed the early image of steel, iron and the constant smoke. The innovative city features a stunning skyline and there is plenty to do as we visited the Heinz Museum, took a Duck Boat tour, relaxed at Point State Park and hung out in Station Square. The city is filled with tunnels and bridges, while the surrounding hilly terrain offers some scenic views, including that skyline that we took in via riding the incline to Mount Washington. Sports is a very big deal in Western PA and the hometown Pirates are one of baseball’s oldest teams, starting play in the National League during the late 1800s. The Bucs have won the World Series five times with the last one coming in 1979. Recently, they have fallen on hard times thanks to inept, cheap and indifferent ownership as the 2008 season will be their 16th straight losing season, tying a pro sports record. It is a real shame because the city has great fans and the team plays in arguably the best ballpark in Major League Baseball. Upon my return visit in 2022, the team enjoyed a nice little run from 2013-2015 as they made it back to the playoffs, however, now they are back to being terrible. After spending three decades in ugly Three Rivers Stadium, the team moved in 2001 to PNC Park (capacity: 38,496), a splendid stadium with an amazing view and design features reminiscent of Forbes Field, where the team played from 1909-1970.
Prestige Ranking: 5 out of 5
I don’t think this ballpark could be in a better location. Situated downtown along the Allegheny River in the North Side, PNC Park is near many of the great spots in Pittsburgh. Across the river in the center of the city is the business and cultural section, along with the scenic Point State Park on the tip of the Three Rivers (Ohio, Alleghany and Monongahela). Not too far down is the Strip District, which includes the excellent Heinz History Center and numerous spots to eat. Walking over the Roberto Clemente Bridge, letterings for PNC Park are spelled out in front of the stadium as the entire upper deck is visible. On this side of the river next to the stadium, Federal Street is set up with eateries that have indoor/outdoor seating. Further down, you’ll find attractions like the National Aviary and the Andy Warhol Museum.
Location Ranking: 10 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
The riverfront location allows for some different modes of transportation as fans can take a water taxi/shuttle to the game from a few points in Pittsburgh. We were staying in a downtown hotel and then had the thrill to walk over the bridge to the game, which closes to traffic near game time. As for arriving by the conventional car, that can be a challenge with the combination of constantly changing interstates, along with perpetual road construction. If you do choose to drive and park on the North Side, there are many parking lots, given that the football stadium is close by. Traffic is a mixed bag, while finding your way back to your destination can be challenging, even with GPS. Another option is taking the city’s light rail (“T”) from the South Side.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 5 out of 8
In addition to the remarkable first impression from the location, there is quite a bit of exterior architecture to admire. This is highlighted by a refreshingly different ballpark building material: limestone, which is common to the region. The tan-colored material is used throughout. Sides are flat, while towards home plate, there is a brief curve to the building with a PNC Park sign on the surface of the wall. Dark gray, iron trusses are used in many places higher up (railings, support beams, etc.) and these also act to resemble the many area bridges. This is a small ballpark and the outside fits that feel as the park is somewhat understated and not imposing over the area, which worked out to be a good thing. The only thing keeping this from a perfect ranking is that the main entrance is only slightly underwhelming.
Exterior Ranking: 9.5 out of 10
As one enters the stadium from the left corner or the home plate side, each entrance features a long escalator that brings fans to a rotunda which circles around leading to the various seating levels. The continued use of limestone and dark trussing is prominent. There are two concourse levels, along with open areas in the outfield where many of the displays and honors are located. This area is also great to walk given the nearby river and downtown skyline. The lower infield concourse is enclosed, yet open to field views, while the upper deck one is covered but open on the side to the elements. Both can be narrow in spots, especially the upper one. In addition to wanting more space up here, I also wished for a wider right corner, where you could take in a stunning view of the city and still see the ballgame.
Concourse Ranking: 4 out of 5
Standard fare was essentially all that was offered in the upper deck. Main level concession stands had the goodies, which included Pierogies (unavailable during 2022 visit), Manny’s Barbeque and Quaker Steak & Lube’s famous bucket of wings. However, the signature item is the Pittsburgh icon; Primanti Bros. Sandwich. Fries, coleslaw and tomatoes are inside of the (normally) huge sandwich, to go along with a choice of meat. It’s too bad the product vastly underperformed compared to locations around the city. It was almost inedible and I would suggest something else. Beer options were plentiful and they included several local choices.
Food Ranking: 6 out of 8
Once inside, you are greeted with the best view in the majors. Beyond the low outfield seating is the Allegheny River, the Clemente Bridge and the entire spectacular Pittsburgh skyline. The view is jaw-dropping when you first step out of the concourse and into the seating bowl behind home plate. Evening games are particularly great as day transitions to night. Also, on the water you will see boats and river cruises occasionally passing by, with an occasional toot of their horn. The seating bowl design is very good as it is quite intimate. Being one of the smallest stadiums in the majors, there are only two decks of seating which cover foul pole to foul pole. Again, everything is very close to the field and the first level’s dark navy-colored seats extend back so the above deck is overhanging some of the deeper seats (though that does lead to some difficulty spotting fly balls further back). The Upper Deck is split into a 200-club section and a separate, larger 300 level seating. Towards the back is a small overhang. Luxury suites (69 of them) are hidden nicely between decks. The bowl is angled with seats turned towards the field subtle corners making for both a good look and good views for the fans as only a few sections aren’t perfectly positioned. I did however run into a couple areas where the view was impeded by the partition near the concourse entrance stairs. Otherwise, the blue sides are wide and comfortable with enough space between each row. Varied seating sections can be found in the outfield with several social spaces. Meanwhile, bullpens are in center and a landscaped “PIRATES” design is underneath the Batter’s Eye.
Interior Ranking: 13 out of 14
The scoreboard in left-field is simple but very good with decent size and clear video. At the top is a “PNC Park” sign, while the rest of the board is completely comprised of video and the layout during the game works well. What I didn’t like was the four giant ads on each side as it ate too much into the video screen. During my first visit, the intro video was very strange as they played a battleship animation of Pirates that went on way too long.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3 out of 4
In front of each gate is a statue of a former Pirate: Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski and of course, Roberto Clemente, a person rightfully held in high regard by both the team and city. Also outside of the ballpark, current players are featured in the form of a vertically-hanging poster on the sides of the park. Inside, the Pirates continue to honor their history with additional displays and mementos that vary in nature. These touches really enhance your walk around the stadium, especially in the outfield. That area also includes plaques for a team Hall of Fame. From the seating bowl, fans can see displays for the team’s World Series pennants painted in yellow on the wall of the press box. In addition to the sheer number of various honors, everything in the ballpark just looks good and team colors are used when appropriate.
Displays Ranking: 5.5 out of 6
Ticket prices are some of the lowest in the league and rightfully so given the product on the field. With all non-club seat tickets going for under $55 during my first visit, the Pirates had some of the best deals in all of pro sports. Our seat directly behind home plate in the 300-level upper deck was $16. In addition, several of the garages downtown can be had for only $5. Overall prices remained below average in 2022. Concessions in spots are a bit high, but I’m willing to let that slide, especially since that cost can be avoided as they allow fans to bring in food.
Cost Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
This is the only part where the stadium experience drops and I do not blame the fans. The Pirates have been so bad for so long with complacent management, that fans have stayed away. Attendance is usually at the bottom of the league and the game we first attended featured maybe 10,000. As a result, the atmosphere is subdued with fans mostly relaxing at the Park. While it did appear that there are many long-time fans based on the apparel we saw on people over the weekend throughout the city, the Pirates are third behind the Steelers and Penguins when it comes to overall support. Even during the team’s playoff run, they still were only in the middle of MLB’s attendance standings.
Fan Ranking: 5 out of 8
After a very quiet first game that I attended in 2008, our 2022 visit featured similar circumstances with a 51-86 Pirates team. Yet, there were some “Let’s Go Bucs” chants and a pretty good vibe in the ballpark when the team won. Even though attendance didn’t spike during the decent seasons in the mid-2010s, the atmosphere was absolutely electric during the playoffs games (remember Cueto?). Perhaps only behind Toronto for loudness.
Atmosphere Ranking: 7 out of 14
Forbes Field in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh was the home of the Pirates from 1909-1970. This was one of the first concrete and steel stadiums built and the field has a special place for fans of classic ballparks.….One of the all-time greatest championship endings happened in Pittsburgh at Forbes Field in 1960. Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the World Series vs the Yankees to win the championship for the Pirates..…After each Pirates home run, small fireworks are set off behind centerfield and the Pepsi bottles light up above the right field seats.
Game (Initial Visit)
It was classic Pirates as their offense was inept and they wound up losing their ninth straight. Milwaukee’s Jeff Suppan only gave up three hits thru seven innings and after a couple early runs, the Brewers poured it on in the sixth inning. Five straight hits and a three-run homer by Mike Cameron gave Milwaukee a 7-0 lead. Pittsburgh did score three including a homer by Brandon Moss, however Milwaukee went on to win 11-3. Corey Hart had three hits and three runs as the team totaled 16 hits.