Claude Walker | Bicentennial-By-Buttons

“Sense of history, great vistas, so-so grub, fans do Wave”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed June 3, 2012

Each year - as a longstanding, long-suffering member of Cubs Nation - I trek to another city to root for my baby bears. Last year, my pal Joe and I joined the Cubs at Fenway; this year, we pilgrimaged to Pittsburgh's PNC.

What a great ballpark! Perfect site on the Allegheny River (hemmed in between the river & Interstate); stunning view of the bridges & downtown skyline. We walked to the games from our North Shore hotel. The Warhol Museum is nearby along with bars & eateries. You can see the PNC light stanchions from blocks away, always an inspiring image.

Nice street scene outside the ballpark. One day, the Clemente Bridge was hosting the world's largest demonstration of Kumba or Zumba or something.

Elegant architecture at the gates. Cool statues of Wagner, Stargell, Clemente. As you enter, look up to the oversized bats suspended in air in tribute to the Negro Leagues. With its emphasis on steel and history, PNC is more Forbes Field than Three Rivers Stadium. The yellow rough-cut limestone is pleasant, the irregular layout intriguing.

The first impression upon entering a ballpark is like your first glimpse of a shrine. PNC provides a warm welcome. Wide concourses, the smell of grilled onions & sausage, free newspaper (!), natural grass. The jumbotron is OK (Joe & I like seeing the complete line-ups), and I'm crazy about the out-of-town-game scoreboard with colored lights dancing around a diamond. I like seeing the pitch count & speed, but am unfamiliar with the "Horizontal Break" & "Vertical Break" stats. Also new to me: fans can text messages to friends in the park which are posted between innings.

From some perspectives inside PNC, the views are stunning. How appropriate for a baseball diamond to be located at the confluence of two great rivers, creating the head of one of the USA's mightiest rivers? Stare out at the dazzling downtown and the yellow bridges named in honor of three people who never met but should have (Clemente, Warhol, Rachel Carson). The LF upper deck & Bow-tie Lounge (RF line) offer great vistas. We watched boaters, kayakers & even swimmers (eeew) in the river before the game.

(I recall listening to the Maz homer while sitting in 4th grade with my transistor radio earpiece woven through my shirt. I always admired Clemente: during a Puerto Rico trip, I asked the pilot of a small commuter plane to fly over the spots where Roberto grew up and where his place went down. So, to see Clemente's & Mazerowski's banner side-by-side was very cool.)

PNC beers are pricey, altho having Yuengling was a treat. Food was spotty. Italian sausage was OK, but greasy. Thumbs down on the udon noodle dish & eggroll. The mozzarella-and-tomato dish was abundant but unimpressive. We shoulda had pierogis, especially after the inspiring nightly PNC Pierogi Race (no wagering, please).

The ushers & vendors were gracious, and made us Cubs fans feel at home, even drying off some wet seats (the seats & aisles were nice and wide, too). The fans were even pleasant: when one of our group misplaced his glasses, two fans offered help in finding them.

Minor beefs: The free program book is fine but the scorecard is tiny. Joe & I are last of a dying breed in being avid scorekeepers, but giving fans an ample scorecard is something they'd do in old Forbes Field. The Pirate Parrot was as annoying as mascots are, the hot-dog-shooting air-guns reminded me of Maud Flanders's death and real fans don't do the Wave.

We had stubhubbed our tickets for the first two nights, but for Sunday's game, we used the PNC box office. TIP! Two hours before gametime, they sometimes sell primo seats reserved for scouts who are no-shows. 12th row directly behind the plate. $40! And if you can go on Fireworks Night, you'll be in for an extravaganza.

OK, to sum up. Great ballpark with a great vista in a great city. Affordable tickets, but expensive beer & so-so grub. Great sight-lines in the park, cool scoreboard, nice staff. Homage to steel industry, Negro Leagues & Bucs' history, yet...the Wave. An "Excellent" rating? Sorry, it ain't Wrigley!

Visited May 2012

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