Pittsburgh's Perfect PNC Park

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Pittsburgh's Perfect PNC Park
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Article originally posted on www.stadiumjourney.com

Pittsburgh’s beautiful PNC Park receives accolades as being one of the best of the 21st century ballparks.

There is no doubt that the Pirates did everything right. Location, scenery, and fitting tributes to the Pirates' rich history are all done just right. Unfortunately, what’s missing is the product and patrons.

The Pirates completed their 17th consecutive losing season in 2009 and have not cracked the 70-win plateau since 2004. Despite its beauty, the lack of a contending team has left the stands relatively empty and has deprived this treasure of the full appreciation that it richly deserves.

FANFARE Score: 30

Food & Beverage: 5

There is perhaps no better value, than the absolutely delicious sandwiches that can be found at the Primanti Bros. stands at PNC Park. I tried the roast beef loaded with cheese, slaw, and fries right on the sandwich, and was about as happy as could be.

The sandwich cost a very ballpark-friendly seven bucks. I added a whole pickle for another $1.50, and settled in. There are plenty of local beer choices, which is always nice. Penn City Lager and Iron City Lager each went for a reasonable $7.50 a beer.

The upside of having few fans at games is that food lines are short and easy to get through at any time during a game, so no need to sneak out mid-inning to avoid a wait.

Atmosphere: 4

Built in 2001, this is a new park that is yet to see a season to remember. However, the Pirates organization does a good job of honoring its past with prominent statues of Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente guarding each main entrance.

The right field wall is exactly 21 feet high in honor of Clemente’s retired number 21. Additional Pirates with retired numbers include Billy Meyer (No. 1), Ralph Kiner (No. 4), Willie Stargell (No. 8), Bill Mazeroski (No. 9), Paul Warner (No. 11), Pie Traynor (No. 20), Honus Wagner (No. 33), and Danny Murtaugh (No. 40).

The Pirates honor Negro League stars with statues in Legacy Square including the great Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.

Neighborhood: 5

Located just across the Roberto Clemente Bridge from downtown Pittsburgh, there are plenty of options for bars and restaurants prior to a game or after. Mullen’s Bar & Grill is located just across the street from PNC Park and is a great hangout for either Pirates or Steelers games.

The Pigskin burger is ingeniously covered with a thick slice of hickory smoked ham and provolone cheese. It’s definitely worth the extra dollar over the Bucco Burger, which is essentially just a regular cheeseburger with a Pirate tribute name.

You can continue to drink locally by selecting an Iron City beer on tap. Also, the servers at Mullen’s are great, so I high recommend stopping in. The Grille on Seventh is a nice spot if you want to stay on the city side of the bridge. This is a great place to try the classic Pittsburgh pierogies. The Grille also has decent drink specials and an overall tasty menu.

Fans: 3

I am a bit torn on how to rate fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates. On the one hand, anyone who comes out to see a team this bad must really love their team and the game of baseball. This is evident from the conversations you hear around the park (and you can hear a lot of conversations given all of the empty space).

On the other hand, the fact that the team averaged fewer than 20,000 fans in 2009 is a real tragedy. The family I sat near drove four hours for a 12 p.m. start, and spent most of the game discussing where the outfielders were playing in relation to what kinds of pitches were being thrown—pretty intelligent. So the quality is there. Now they just need to attract the quantity.

Access: 4

Forget about waiting in line for a bathroom. Parking can be a little bit trickier. There are plenty of parking garages across the river, which are very cost effective, but it does leave a bit of a hike.

If you don’t mind walking, this is a great way to approach the park, crossing the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Otherwise, there is parking located on the other side of the river in the North Shore lot.

Return on Investment: 5

PNC is truly one of the best venues in baseball, and should not be missed. Tickets are affordable, as is food and beverage inside the park. The term "worth every penny" does not do the experience justice, as I would have gladly paid more to spend time in this beautiful park.

Etc.: 4

For its tribute to its past, the fabulous view of the Pittsburgh skyline, and the overall affordability, I give an additional three points. For the fourth bonus point, you need to leave the stadium, and make the 5-10 minute drive into Oakland. There you will find not only the vibrant University of Pittsburgh campus, but also the remnants of historic Forbes Field.

Only the outfield wall is left in a non-descript garden area, but standing near it, you can’t help but visualize Bill Mazeroski’s game-winning home run in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series. Absolute goose bumps. Keep your eyes peeled and set your GPS to 230 S. Bouquet Street. You won’t be disappointed.

Final Thoughts: I can’t help but hope for better times for the Pirates organization and their fans. In the meantime, take advantage of the spaciousness of PNC Park. It has a little ballpark feel that is unmatched by its contemporaries.

Paul Swaney is a co-founder of Stadium Journey.

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