PITTSBURGH, PNC PARK
Astros vs Pirates, 7/9
After five days of a road trip agenda that was predominantly centered around barbecue, alcohol, and SEC cities, it was time to inject another facet of Americana into the mix. And really what says "good ol' USA" like the Pirates and the Astros on a random Wednesday night in July? IT's MOEHLER ... IT'S VAN BENSCHOTEN ... LIVE AT PNC PARK!!!!!
I had heard for a couple years now about how awesome PNC Park in Pittsburgh was, mostly from my dad. A couple years ago, he and his wife went on a road trip around the country seeing various ballparks throughout the Midwest and Northeast (I know, the apple doesn't fall from the tree). Miraculously, my dad remains married to this day. Anyway, he gushed about how great PNC Park was, that it was his favorite ball park he saw the entire trip. So I had to see for myself.
Despite the fact that at this time of year my radio show centers more around topics like the chances of Tom Cruise making a "Top Gun" sequel than rabid discussion of the Pirates and Astros battling to see who is the taller midget, the Pittsburgh Pirates were kind enough to provide me with a media pass to the game. As you can see from the picture above (taken from seat 46 in the front row of the PNC press box), the engineers got it right with this yard. Bordering the Allegheny River and with a beautiful view of the highly underrated Pittsburgh skyline, PNC Park is exactly what the baseball gods had in mind when the renaissance of nouveau ball parks started with Camden Yards back in the early 1990's. The only problem as I see it is the fact that the Pirates haven't put a compelling product on the field since Barry Bonds skipped town in 1994. Since then, a combination of a mass exodus of marquee stars (Bobby Bonilla, Doug Drabek, Bonds), poor decision making (Jason Kendall for $10M a year anyone?) and the general financial dysfunction between the haves and have-nots in baseball have left the once proud Pittsburgh franchise a laughing stock. So you have a gorgeous jewel of a ball park with an utterly crappy baseball team. Imagine the producers of the movie "Vacation" deciding to put Amy Winehouse in the Ferrari instead of Christie Brinkley. That's what this was -- a beautiful vehicle with the homeliest of gnarly scum whores driving.
To be fair, this Pirates team has some young players you can get behind, most notably center fielder Nate McLouth, but bad is bad, and this team is ... well, as Charles Barkley would say "they not turbull, but they not verah good." The banners on the wall say it all -- the last time this franchise accomplished anything truly noteworthy was when the Pops Stargell-led "We Are Family" Pirates won a World Series in 1979, coming back from 3-1 down to beat the Baltimore Orioles.
And yet miraculously, the Pirates were able to convince the city to build them maybe the most plush yard in the bigs. As I sat high above the field before the game, I watched each of the 13,000 fans file into this 40,000 seat superstructure (seriously, it was so sparse that the usher to fan ratio allowed for each paying fan to have his/her own personal usher .. or so it seemed). All I could think of was the argument that all of these owners who are/were seeking new ball parks in mid-level to small markets espouse -- that without a new park, they won't have the revenue streams to compete with the big boys. And yet here are the Pirates with the most beautiful yard in the league, and on July 25th they are practically in last place and dumping Xavier Nady (and his .330 batting average) and Damaso Marte for a bunch of New York Yankee farmhands. Same old Pirates, same old baseball. But it is a damn fine yard, a Ferrari to be sure. Too bad the team is Amy Winehouse.
PRESS BOX NOTE: Perhaps my proudest moment as a media member was one that none of you will ever see nor hear. You see, the Pittsburgh press box is glassed in with windows before and after the games. During the games, they open the windows allowing for you to feel like you're at the park but also allowing in a fair amount of insects on warm July nights. Well,
after the game there was a junebug sitting to the left of my seat on the counter at seat 46. Well, perhaps fearing that PETA may actually consider an annoying little flying insect an animal, rather than squash my new press box neighbor, I decided to flick it down the counter away from my personal workspace toward seats 47, 48, 49, and so forth. (NOTE: There was no one sitting to the left of me so it wasn't as though I was depositing a new pet into someone else's area.) Well, I gave the little bugger a mighty flick with my right middle finger and it went in the laptop extension cord hole past seat 50! SWISH!!! You can see the hole in the counter to the left of Seat 50. To give you an idea of the degree of difficulty of this shot, it's like the equivalent of chipping in from about 120 yards, according to my calculations.
I don't know why I am sharing this with you other than to show how it's really the little things in life like flicking a defenseless junebug about 25 feet into a two inch hole that make life worth living. Isn't it?
PITTSBURGH CUISINE NOTE: For those wondering, yes, I did make it out to a Primanti Brothers restaurant while I was in the 'Burgh. If you haven't had a Primanti Brothers sandwich, you are missing out on one of the truly unique sandwich eating experiences. If you're not sure if you've had one, then you haven't. The sandwiches have been a staple in Pittsburgh since the 1930's. There are times where eating establishments or food companies will combine seemingly unrelated food products into one eat-it-simultaneously amalgamation with hopes that they are discovering the eating equivalent of plutonium. Sometimes the results are historically great, like when the dude accidentally plunked his chocolate in the other dude's peanut butter. VOILA! Reese's cups are born! Other times the results give you disastrously sharp stomach pains all day, like McDonald's deciding it would be a good idea to use miniature, maple saturated pancakes as the bread device for a breakfast sandwich. VOILA! The utterly horrific McGriddle is born, complete with complimentary Pepto Bismol.
Primanti's sandwich combination (freshly made cole slaw and french fries cut right in the store, along with your choice of meat and the best bread you will ever sink your teeth into) just works. There's no other way to put it. And like anything this gluttonous and messy, it's always better at around 2 in the morning with a twelver of Iron City beer coursing through your veins.
Me, I went with the roast beef. It's the old reliable, never disappoints. Got the lovely and talented Aubrey to flash the double rods as well. Viva La 'Burgh!!!
PRIMANTI BROTHERS - PITTSBURGH, PA
FOOD: ROAST BEEF SANDWICH (w/ slaw and fries)
GRADE: rock solid A