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.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 3, Red Sox 2: The Red Sox could’ve clinched the AL East on the Yankees’ home field but their bullpen had different ideas. After Nate Eovaldi tossed six shutout innings, Brandon Workman and Ryan Brasier teamed up to cough up three runs, capped by a Neil Walker three-run homer in the seventh. To their credit, the Yankees tried to give up the lead in the ninth with some bad defense, but their effort fell just short. Aaron Judge made his return to the Yankees lineup and went 0-for-4, but he made a lot of contact and, to be honest, didn’t look too terrible for a guy who has been on the shelf four a couple of months.

Phillies 5, Mets 2: Philly mounted a sixth inning rally, scoring all five of their runs that inning, three of which crossed on Jorge Alfaro‘s three-run jack. After the game Gabe Kapler analyzed the homer thusly:

“It was quite evident from the very beginning that he was standing a little looser in the batter’s box and swinging with a little less, I guess, ferociousness . . . And the bat was whistling through the zone.”

Recently people have been debating whether or not overly-complicated advanced stats have alienated fans from the game. No one seems to want to ask whether post-hoc b.s. is doing so.

Pirates 2, Royals 1: Ryan Lavarnway hit a walkoff single in the 11th to give the Buccos the game. This has been your once every three or four years or so Ryan Lavarnway report. This is the second night in a row that a backup catcher has had a walkoff hit for the Pirates, with Jacob Stallings doing it on Monday. And we’re not talking your standard catcher caddy here. Lavarnway and Stallings are closer to “bullpen catcher” than “starting catcher” on the old depth chart.

Blue Jays 6, Orioles 4: Toronto spotted Baltimore a 4-0 lead and still led 4-2 in the seventh. That’s when third baseman Steve Wilkerson made a two-run throwing error to tie the game, after which Lourdes Gurriel hit a two-run single to put the Jays up for good. Not fun thing: the O’s broke the record for their most losses in Baltimore, surpassing that 1988 team that began the year 0-21.  Fun thing: the Orioles had their team and player names spelled out in Braille and fans were given cards with Braille letters on them so they could spell out their favorite players. This was done in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the National Federation for the Blind moving its headquarters to Baltimore. Definitely not the usual ballpark promotion, but certainly more interesting than anything else the O’s have done this year:

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Indians 5, White Sox 3: Corey Kluber struck out eleven batsmen and allowed three runs over eight innings to pick up his 19th win. I’m gonna guess I have not used the word “batsmen” all year and I just wanted to do that there. OK, I checked. The last time I used the word “batsmen” was on August 4 of last year, describing the Nolan Ryan-Robin Ventura fight. The last time I used it in a recap was on July 13 of last year, in an “And That Happened: Classic” during the All-Star break. That was for 1903 games and I was purposely using over-the-top antiquated language, which I suppose “batsmen” is. Anyway: batsmen.

Twins 5, Tigers 3: Jake Odorizzi had his second strong performance in a row, allowing two runs on four hits while working into the seventh. Tyler Austin doubled and knocked in three and Chris Gimenez had two hits, including a homer. The Tigers lose their 90th game, making them the third team in the AL Central to do so. How you can have three such awful teams in one division in the age of an unbalanced schedule — and a second place Twins team that is also going to finish below .500 — yet have the division leader, Cleveland, still be the worst playoff team in the league is a hell of a trick.

Nationals 4, Marlins 2: Stephen Strasburg struck out 11 in six innings and Anthony Rendon knocked in a couple as the Nats take their seventh in their last ten. They’re six and a half out. One has to wonder what might’ve happened with this squad had they not intentionally blown up their bullpen over perceived character issues and decided to pack it in at the deadline. Because, folks, neither the Braves nor Phillies are particularly good.

Cardinals 8, Braves 1: This is what I’m talking about. That’s four losses in a row for the presumptive NL East champs. Paul DeJong hit a two-run homer and Yadier Molina hit a two-run single in the Cardinals’ four-run eighth inning, giving St. Louis its third straight win and padding its lead for the second Wild Card to a game and a half over Colorado.

Reds 3, Brewers 1: Milwaukee is in the first Wild Card slot, but they’re now only two games ahead of the Cardinals. In other news, it sure would be nice for their offense to wake up, eh? Here they scored two or fewer runs for the third time in four games and, not surprisingly, have dropped those three of four. Milwaukee got only three hits against five Cincinnati pitchers all dang game. Jose Peraza hit a two-run homer for the Redlegs.

Rays 4, Rangers 0: Blake Snell seems to be putting the finishing touches on a Cy Young season. Here he picked up his 20th win which, while not necessary in our more enlightened, pitcher-wins-aren’t-terribly-important age, is a nice grace note. More importantly he allowed only one hit over five shutout innings, reducing his ERA to 1.97 and putting him on pace to be the first American League pitcher with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title to finish below 2.00 since Pedro Martinez did it back in 2000. Chris Sale has a chance at that too, but he’s borderline right now on having enough innings. Willy Adames hit a two-run homer for the Rays.

Astros 7, Mariners 0: Five Houston pitchers, led by Josh James, combine for the five-hit shutout. Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run homer. With the win, the Astros eliminated the Mariners in the race for the AL West title. Not that anyone was holding their breath here.

Cubs 9, Diamondbacks 1: Javier Baez and Daniel Murphy hit two-run homers and Mike Montgomery gave up only one run on four hits while striking out eight over six. After a week or so of sweating, the Cubs are now back three and a half games ahead of the Brewers in the Central. The Dbacks fall to six back as their depressing late season fade continues.

Angels 9, Athletics 7: Oakland led 4-1 entering the top of the sixth inning and boy howdy did the wheels fall off. Two pitchers combined to load the bases and then a third pitcher, Lou Trivino, came in to face Andrelton Simmons. Trivino induced what should’ve been the second out of the inning in the form of a foul popup, but an A’s fan had other ideas:

Which, oh man, that’s bad. I guess, in her defense, I’ll say that Piscotty seemed to be feeling that wall, looking down a bit, and may very not have caught that ball — that’s why, I suspect, the replay crew decided not to call fan interference — but it’s not like she knew that. She wanted a souvenir. With new life, Simmons smacked a two-run single to pull the Angels to within one and then, following a plunked batter which loaded the bases back up, Kaleb Cowart hit a grand slam to put the Angels up by three. Mike Trout hit his 35th homer of the year and stole his 24th base. Oakland loses yet another game of ground to the Yankees for home field advantage in the Wild Card game.

Dodgers 3, Rockies 2: Kyle Freeland and Clayton Kershaw figured to be a pitcher’s duel but, while it was low-scoring, neither ace looked particularly sharp. Chris Taylor‘s infield single in the fifth inning tied the game at two and the bats were silent for some time after that. Taylor’s dinger in the 11th ended things:

That gave the Dodgers a 3-2 win over their closest competition for the NL West crown, pushing their lead to one and a half games over Colorado. It may be safe to say that the Dodgers are, finally, playing their best baseball of the season.

OK, it’s definitely safe to say it.

Giants 5, Padres 4: Hunter Pence homered, doubled and drove in three and Chris Shaw hit a go-ahead, two-run single in the eighth to give the Giants the win. In so doing, it also guaranteed the Padres last place in the NL West.