PNC Park

I went to PNC Park on Saturday and it was OK

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I went to Pittsburgh on Saturday to take in the Diamondbacks-Pirates game. The reason: I mentioned to a friend of mine that my girlfriend had never been to PNC Park and that I wanted to go back. The friend — who happens to be a Pirates season ticket holder — shot me a couple of tickets for Saturday’s game. Makes me wish I had told him that I was really wanting to drive a BMW 550i. Maybe next time.

Anyway, with tickets in hand — way better tickets than we had any business having — we drove to Pittsburgh Saturday morning for that afternoon’s game.

Everyone who has been to PNC Park will tell you it is either the best park in baseball or is one of the best. That’s a totally defensible notion for a number of reasons but lately I’ve been wondering exactly why people say that. What part makes it the best? Because I feel like there are a lot of things people value about ballparks and not all of them stack up equally.

Two parks you hear about as “best ever” more than any others are PNC and AT&T Park in San Francisco. What do these two parks have in common? The views. PNC looks at perhaps the best skyline in a major league park and AT&T looks out into the San Francisco Bay. Each park has its own charms apart from its view, but I feel like that’s what people are keying on when they say those parks are best, don’t you? Maybe that’s just what they start with and the part they talk up the most, but I feel like for most people that weighs really, really  heavily.

And I like it too, of course, but I feel like that’s not the most important thing. Because I have a couple of nitpicks for PNC Park that I feel prevent it from being The Best Park in Baseball despite that view.

  • Nitpick one: I think the speakers are too loud. At first I thought this was because we were sitting in amazingly good seats and perhaps we were just too close to some speakers. But looking around, I noticed that those big black speakers are pretty uniformly distributed and that we weren’t all that close to one to begin with. Just a very loud park when they decide to pump in music. Which, to PNC’s credit, isn’t as often as some other places, but there were several times I thought the place was just too darn loud. Only crowd noise should be so loud that you literally have to shout over it at a ballpark, not anything electronically-enhanced.
  • Nitpick two: It’s kinda cramped. I observed this on my first trip to PNC back in 2007 and wrote about it then, but the observation still holds. Back in 2007 I was in normal seats down the third base line, so maybe that was just a function of where I was sitting? Nope: on Saturday we were lucky enough to be in what are quite literally the best seats in the house: the Lexus Club right behind home plate. The view was great and the service was great but there was, once again, less legroom and elbow room than you typically see in newer major league parks, even in many of the usual box and reserved seats down the lines.

Again: these are total nitpcks, inasmuch as, boy, these were fantastic seats otherwise and at some point I can tune out excessive noise. So, no, this is not a negative comment as such. I just feel like, if your thing is “We Are The Best Park in Baseball” — and there are signs around the ballpark which literally make that claim — even the nitpicks are fair game.  All things taken together I think PNC is a top notch park. Probably a top-5 in my experience. But there are aspects of it which I don’t like as much some folks do which puts it back in the pack with the other really, really good parks.

With that out of the way, some random observations:

I couldn’t get a good picture of it, but the PNC Park banner scoreboards down the lines have some great info you don’t get in a lot of places. In addition to the speed of each pitch it gives you a readout of the horizontal and vertical break of each pitch. This, in conjunction with the wonderful out-of-town scoreboard on the right field wall make PNC the tops in information-presentation in my view, even if the legroom is not the best.

There is a rotunda — kind of a ramp thing — out in left field which is a lot of fun:

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It is all standing room for fans and, I presume, the place where the rowdiest people will be come playoff time. Also: when I was up there I saw no less then five people smoking and observed another five being told by stadium personnel to put out cigarettes. PNC Park had the most scofflaw smokers I’ve ever seen in a ballpark, actually.

This guy was the peanuts-popcorn-Cracker Jack guy in our section:

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Handlebar mustache, full-blown Homestead Grays uniform. Pretty damn awesome. Given that the section is one in which fans get free food, I imagine a lot of his happiness is based on the fact that he doesn’t have to make change or count money apart from the tips he gets. Either way: he was on his game and a pleasure to have around. Especially when I wanted Cracker Jacks.

I was told I had to get a Primanti Brothers sandwich. I was told that they were better at the restaurant than in the ballpark, but that wasn’t an option for us, so we got a capicola sammy:

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It was good, but not up to the level people talk them up to, in large part because it wasn’t made to order and tasted like it had been sitting out for a while. I get a better sandwich of this type — fries and slaw on the actual sandwich — at Planck’s here in Columbus. In this I found another parallel with AT&T Park: garlic fries are the same way.  Good, but you can do better elsewhere. I found some other concessions at both parks better than the thing which gets all the attention.

For what it’s worth, my best meals in Pittsburgh game came at Burgatory for lunch before heading to the ballpark and brunch the next morning at Harris Grill, each of which were utterly fantastic.  Side note: a guy working at Harris Grill came up to me and said “you’re Craig Calcaterra,” which was simultaneously flattering and embarrassing. I am a jerk and forgot his name, but he’s an HBT reader, so hi, dude. And thanks for the ego boost.

I walked into the team store to look around. Lots of good Pirates gear. I guess when black is so big a part of your color scheme that’s understandable. You can do a lot with black. This stood out, though:

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Yeah, that’s what Dale Berra and Dave Parker said too.

As for gear, Allison and I each wore some Pirates stuff so as not to stick out. And because, secretly, I love excuses to wear stuff from just about any team as long as they aren’t actually playing the Braves at that particular moment:

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Note: if the Pirates beat the Braves in the NLCS, I am burning this hat and shirt.

As for the game itself: not very competitive. Jeff Locke was rocked early. Despite the big hole early, the Pirates had their chance to tie it in the sixth but missed their opportunity. After that the Buccos’ bullpen was awful and it was 15-5 late. Not that it stopped this guy in front of me from rocking his rally cap:

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There was no rally. The Dbacks won. After the game we went across the street to Beer Market and had some of their many, many awesome beers on tap and shot the breeze with some HBT readers who headed over there too. A fun time was had by all.

All in all: an enjoyable 30+ hours in Pittsburgh. Nice people. A really nice city which I want to explore more when I have more time. A great park, even if I don’t think it’s necessarily the hands-down Best Park in Baseball. A “meh” game, but bad baseball is better than good anything else.

A study showed “grit” isn’t always a great attribute

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper slides into third with a three RBI triple during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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This popped up in my Twitter feed and I felt it had some applicability to baseball. This past October, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic highlighted a study in which researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University performed three separate but related experiments to determine how “gritty” their subjects were.

One experiment had them solve anagrams. The second, a computer game. Finally, the third test had them solve math problems. Those who were deemed “grittier” attempted to solve fewer anagrams, which means they were sticking too long with difficult words rather than skipping and moving onto easier ones. The “grittier” crowd worked harder when losing at the computer game, but worked only as hard as the less-gritty when winning. With the math problems, the subjects when stuck were given a choice to take $1 and quit or keep going for a potential reward of $2 but $0 if they failed. The study showed that the “grittier” people weren’t any more productive but were more willing to risk the $1 for the doubled prize.

“Grit” is also a common colloquialism in baseball circles, used to refer to players who always run out a routine ground ball or pop-up. Other common characteristics include a willingness to dive for fly balls, slide into players to break up double plays, and to stick up for their teammates when there’s a disagreement between members of two teams. Often, those deemed “gritty” are in many other ways subpar players, but their perceived “grit” gives them value.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a rare superstar player who has earned the “grit” descriptor. There are many examples showing why he has earned it, but the most famous incident occurred on May 13, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. Harper turned his back to the field to chase an A.J. Ellis fly ball but went face-first into the wall, suffering abrasions on his face and a jammed left shoulder. This was during a game the Nationals were comfortably winning 6-0 in the sixth inning. At the time, the Nationals were 95 percent favorites to win the game, according to FanGraphs. Is the risk of suffering an injury — which could keep Harper out only a game or two, or cause him to miss the rest of the season — worth potentially turning a double or triple into an out?

Famously, Philadelphia fans and talking heads got on outfielder Bobby Abreu’s case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s because he appeared gun-shy when approaching the outfield fence on fly balls. He was under a lot of pressure to sacrifice his body for the supposed good of the team, and developed a reputation as “soft”. As a more recent example, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins caught flack from fans when he didn’t run out a routine pop-up against the Mets on August 30, 2012. Then-manager Charlie Manuel benched the veteran. At the time, the Phillies were 62-69 and 17.5 games back of first place in the NL East and 8.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Freak injuries can happen, as Rollins’ teammate Ryan Howard showed when making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Is that non-zero injury risk worth the tiny chance that the infielder drops the pop-up and Rollins gets a single (or, in rarer cases, a double) in a game that is essentially meaningless?

The aforementioned study shows that maybe Abreu and Rollins had it right after all. Statistically, a freak injury that occurs on a “hustle” play is bound to happen. Maybe that’s what it will take to stop expecting athletes to put their bodies on the line for no realistic gain.

Zach Britton settles with the Orioles for $6.75 million

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Boston. The Orioles won 6-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
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The Orioles and closer Zach Britton avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season, Jon Heyman reports. The club has now handled all of its remaining arbitration cases and won’t have to go to a hearing with any players.

Britton, in his second of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $7.9 million while the Orioles countered at $5.6 million. $6.75 million is exactly the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

The 28-year-old lefty saved 36 games in 40 chances last season for the O’s while putting up a 1.92 ERA with a 79/14 K/BB ratio over 65 2/3 innings.

The Blue Jays will also try to sign Josh Donaldson to a multi-year deal

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson gets up after being unable to handle an infield single by Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts during the fourth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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Tacking onto Friday’s report that the Blue Jays will attempt to sign Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to multi-year deals, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that the club will try to do the same with third baseman and defending American League Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports notes that Donaldson’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 15, so the two sides will have 10 days to hammer out a contract.

Donaldson, 30, is entering his second of four years of arbitration eligibility. After earning $4.3 million last season, Donaldson filed for $11.8 million and the Blue Jays countered at $11.35 million. The $450,000 difference isn’t much compared to some of the other disparities among arbitration-eligible players and their respective clubs. Jake Arrieta and the Cubs, for example, had a gap of $6.5 million.

This past season, Donaldson let the league in runs scored and RBI with 122 and 123, respectively, while batting .297.371/.568 with 41 home runs and 41 doubles. He earned 23 of 30 first place votes in AL MVP balloting, with runner-up Mike Trout of the Angels grabbing the other seven votes.

Reds prospect Juan Duran suspended 80 games

Banned
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Juan Duran, a minor-league outfielder in the Reds’ farm system, has been suspended 80 games following positive tests for the performance-enhancing drugs Drostanolone, Stanozolol, and Nandrolone.

Duran is 6-foot-7 with big-time power, averaging 23 homers per 150 games since 2011, but he also strikes out a ton and struggles to control the strike zone. He spent last season at Double-A, missing a lot of time with injuries and hitting .256 with six homers and a .728 OPS in 59 games as a 23-year-old.

Duran is on the 40-man roster and is considered a quasi-prospect, but he’ll be ineligible to play until July and figures to head back to Double-A once reinstated.