Sunday, July 25, 2010

PNC Reprise

When I visited PNC Park last summer, it couldn’t live up to its hype as the best ball park in the country. The masonry and steel stadium speaks the right language for the Pittsburgh riverfront but seems to have a limited vocabulary. And I am disappointed the food choices don’t have a better sense of place. I again couldn’t find the pirogues (to eat—a small serving race each other around the warning track) or the Isaly’s chopped ham sandwiches that I had read about in Fodor’s “Baseball Vacations.” For local food, I had “a Cap” from Primanti Brothers, capicola on thick white bread served with cole slaw and French fries right on the sandwich. If you know where to look there is a pretty good variety of beer, although most of it tends toward American lagers. I genuinely like Yuengling, so I guess I shouldn’t sneer at anyone who orders an Iron City. At least it isn’t just Bud and Miller.

Timing helped create the sour vibe last year. I visited just after the trade deadline and many fans were disgusted that the franchise had let so much talent go. This year, fans are excited by their 23-year-old centerfielder, Andrew McCutchen, playing in his first full season. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who was called up mid-June and then sent back down to Triple-A after struggling, has figured it all out in July, hitting seven home runs to date. So, without any delusions about winning the division, the Pirates fans are pretty excited.

The organization does a nice job of connecting past excitement to the present. There are three bronze statues outside the stadium, of Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. (Efforts are under way to possibly add a fourth statue, Bill Mazeroski, a historical figure for sure, but isn’t there a greater Pirate?) The statues jump off their pedestals to help masted ships fend off an attack from the visiting team in a video before each game. (Although there is a whole court memorializing the historic Negro League teams in Pittsburgh, players like Satchel Paige don’t figure in the mythology.) Another set a videos during play have current players watching film from the past, then ripping the screen down to reveal the live game feed. There is greatness in the past, but now it’s time to play in the present. If the Pirates ever have a winning season again, the loyal fans will erupt.

On Thursday night the Milwaukee Brewers set the tone with Prince Fielder’s league-leading 24th home run in the fourth and a two-run shot by Rickie Weeks in seventh. The Pirates rallied in the bottom of the inning with a walk, a single, and two-run double by Neil Walker, but that left them a run and 3-2 was the final score. The biggest drama occurred in the top of the eighth, when Fielder tried to score from second and, lumbering home later than the ball, drove his left forearm into Erik Kratz’s head. There’s bowling over the catcher and then there are cheap shots. The Pirates fans made it clear for the rest of the game how they felt, and a photograph in the next day’s Trib makes it hard to argue with them.

Before the game, I spent a couple hours at the Warhol Museum, mostly in the “Twisted Pair” exhibition. Some of the juxtapositions of work by Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol seemed like nothing more than coincidence. In other cases the evidence points to influence and imitation. I found it most interesting when the two artists explored the same ideas, but apparently independently.

Last year’s visit to PNC Park was the second-to-last day of the cross-country marathon. Thursday was a stop-over on my way to meet Melvin in Cleveland, the first of four games at different levels in the Indians organization.

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