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. 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. (They are actually heptagons (seven-sided polygons), not circular.) Within the rotunda behind home plate is a staircase leading up from the street level to the main concourse.
PNC Park in one of only two post-1990 stadiums with just two main decks, the other one being Comerica Park. The difference is that PNC Park has just one luxury suite level rather than two, except near 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. The press boxes are situated at the top of the second deck (under the roof, shown in the second-deck diagram above), like Nationals Park, and as Wrigley Field has had since the 1980s.
While I was very impressed by PNC Park when I first saw a game there in August 2009, I was rather irked by the complex, almost jumbled arrangement of upper-deck seating sections. The upper deck is "split-level," with entry portals on two separate levels (similar to Veterans Stadium) and a barrier that makes it easier for the ushers to prevent "seat cheating." Since there is no mezzanine deck at PNC Park, that's understandable. But there are four big party terraces, in addition to the numerous open areas (designed in part for handicapped fans) scattered all around. Behind three of those party terraces, three additional rows of seats extend down from the upper-upper deck, showing that its profile is about five feet higher than the lower-upper deck. Finally, the aisles between the seating sections terminate with perpendicular stairs at the bottom, flanking the open areas, and the railings obstruct the views of patrons sitting nearby. (See Photo #4 below; the same problem plagues Citi Field.)
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 deep 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 nice and cozy (22,200 square feet), affording great close-up views for fans. The first twelve rows of seats are separated by a walkway and "moat" barrier from the seats further back, which are a bit 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. "Lexus Club" members do not have to climb but can walk straight through the tunnel to their seats behind home plate. There are three separate seating levels out in left field, plus the "Hall of Fame Club"; the lower levels are true bleachers with bench seats. 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. 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 has suffered electrical problems when 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.
Unfortunately, the Pirates did not get much of a boost in attendance or playing success from the new stadium in its early years. In 2008, the satirical Onion magazine had a headline that (at the time) was very fitting: "PNC Park threatens to leave Pittsburgh if the Pirates don't build a better team." Well, those bleak days have come to an end, thanks in great measure to young slugging outfielder Andrew McCutcheon. In both 2013 and 2014, the Pirates attained a wild card berth, their first postseason appearances since 1992.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006); Pastier (2007); Pirates Insider Magazine (July 2009)
FAN TIPS: T. J. Zmina, Matt Ereth, Cody Gobbell