ALL STAR GAME: 2006
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Aug. 2000 (UC); Aug. 2, 2009 (WSH 5, PIT 3)
The awe-inspiring view of the Roberto Clemente Bridge, the Allegheny River, and downtown Pittsburgh beyond the center field wall would be reason enough to see a ball game at PNC Park. Add to that the cozy, human-scale size and superb overall design, and you've got a ballpark that rivals the Pirates' beloved old home, Forbes Field. It is obviously far superior to its immediate predecessor, and is located just a few blocks from where Three Rivers Stadium once stood. PNC Park has the lowest seating capacity of any of the neoclassical stadiums, which is quite appropriate for a medium-size city such as Pittsburgh. The only other post-1990 stadium with only two main decks is Comerica Park, which has two skybox levels, one more than at PNC Park. (Exception: there are two skybox levels in the left field corner, which is why the second deck out there has fewer rows.) The second deck is rather large, however, about 30 rows. For that reason, they built access tunnels at two separate levels within the upper deck, like at Veterans Stadium. The upper deck includes some open platforms for large parties, not shown in the diagram above. Because there is only one "mezzanine" level, the press boxes are situated at the top of the second deck (under the roof, and therefore not shown in the diagram above), as at Wrigley Field has been since the 1980s, and like Nationals Park. This being Pittsburgh, it is fitting that there is lots of exposed structural steel in this ballpark. This is especially evident in the big spiral "rotunda" entrance ramps in left field, and at the main entrance to the stadium in back of home plate.
Originally, the distance to left-center was marked as 389 feet, but they had to move that marker to make way for a new billboard prior to the 2005 season, after which the distance was marked "378." The sign was later moved again, and now says "383." The intriguing corner in left center field, like other such "nooks and crannies" common to neoclassical stadiums, presents a challenge to visiting outfielders. Inasmuch as it was put there to accommodate the bullpens, it more or less passes the "authenticity" test. As in Ballpark in Arlington, however, there are too many gradual bends in center field. If the Pirates really wanted to pay tribute to their old home at Forbes Field, they should have straightened and extended some of those outfield walls so as to enlarge the playing area and approach some of the extreme outfield dimensions of this ballpark's "grandfather." If the field to the right of center field were extended into the the area where that small seating section is currently located, replacing the gradual angles with a sharp corner about 420 feet from home (like at Fenway Park), there would be a lot more opportunities for extra-base hits. Hence the "suggested alternative configuration" diagram above.
Foul territory at PNC Park is almost as confined as at Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, affording great close-up views for fans. The first ten rows of box seats are separated by a walkway from the seats further back, which are a few feet higher. This is a design innovation (later followed by New Yankee Stadium) to make access easier for high-paying fans, without blocking the view of the field of those in the rear seats. For some odd reason, there are three separate seating levels out in left field; the lower levels are true bleachers with bench seats. Aside from the cozy size and great views, this stadium resembles AT&T Park in that the right field wall is very tall (21 feet, in this case) and hemmed in by a body of water. The edge of the Allegheny River is 443 feet from home plate, considerably more than I had originally estimated. Darryl Ward hit the first "splash" home run at PNC Park, and there were others at the 2006 Home Run Derby. Since the out-of-town scoreboard is located so close to the river, it tends not to work whenever the river rises close to flood stage. From the right-center corner at the 375 mark to the bullpens, the wall is 10 feet high, and in left field it is only six feet high. The area in front of the center field "batter's eye," landscaped with Norway pine trees and mountain laurel, is a nice aesthetic touch.
While I was very impressed by PNC Park during my first game there in August 2009, there is one aspect of the design that irks me. Because the upper and lower portions of the upper deck are separated, the aisles between the seating sections terminate with perpendicular stairs at the bottom, and the railings obstruct the views of patrons sitting nearby. (See Photo #4 below; the same problem plagues Citi Field.) Instead, they should simply make the bottom ten or so stairs steeper, which would still provide the necessary three or so feet of flat floor to enable fan access.
Unfortunately, the Pirates did not get much of a boost in attendance or playing success from the new stadium. It seems that the "bloom is off the rose" of the neoclassical retro stadiums, which just don't seem to draw fans they way they did in the 1990s. In 2008, the satirical Onion magazine had a headline that was very fitting: "PNC Park threatens to leave Pittsburgh if the Pirates don't build a better team." Well those bleak days may have come to an end, thanks in great measure to young slugging outfielder Andrew McCutcheon: As of August 2012, the Pirates are in hot contention for a postseason berth, for the first time since 1992.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Pastier (2007)
FAN TIPS: T. J. Zmina, Matt Ereth, Cody Gobbell