Big League Stew

PNC Park: A local’s guide to enjoying a road trip to the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

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PNC Park in Pittsburgh (Getty Images)

Have a baseball road trip coming up? Well, in a bid to help you with your upcoming journeys, Big League Stew has solicited the help of the locals. Over the next month or so, we'll be hitting up our usual guest blogger crew to feature 10 tips for enjoying each of the 30 ballparks like the locals do. Have a suggestion in addition to the ones listed here? Make sure to list it in the comments below.

Up next is our good friend Drew Brown of RumBunter. He's blessed with the opportunity to visit one of baseball's best parks 81 dates a year and is ready to pass on the secrets of PNC Park to you ...

When people discuss the best ballparks in America, PNC Park is almost always part of the conversation. The pride of Pittsburgh opened in 2001 and was a major upgrade from Three Rivers Stadium. Located on the shore of the Allegheny River, the stadium is right up there with AT&T Park for having the best view in baseball.

There’s a reason fans continue to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play. Fans have been through the thick and thin, such as watching Homer Bailey no-hit the Pirates at PNC Park to give them loss number 81 last season and watching Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder crush pitch after pitch as the Milwaukee Brewers pounded the Bucs 20-0 at PNC.

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For a team that’s consecutive losing season streak is older than Bryce Harper, the Pirates still draw decent crowds to support a team who has suffered two straight late season collapses. That's because PNC Park is a great place to watch a baseball game, and with my leadership, your time at PNC will be that much better. Here are 10 tips on how to get the best experience out of a road trip at PNC Park.

1. Don’t overpay for premium tickets: There isn’t a bad seat in PNC Park. You can sit all the way up in Peanut Heaven and still enjoy the game. Ticket pricing, compared to other ballparks, is pretty darned inexpensive. You can get into left field bleacher reserved seats for a little more than $20. As is the case with other parks, it's easy to score even better seats if you can wait a few days prior and purchase through StubHub.

Be sure to stay away from purchasing club seats, though. The seats are nice, and you can have a great view of the Pittsburgh skyline, but you’d be paying roughly $60 for them, when you could be spending twenty for tickets just a section higher. There are perks when it comes to buying club seats, such as an indoor establishment that features restaurants, bars, pool tables, merchandise shops, and TVs to watch the game, but for all the times I have set up there, I never thought it was worth the $60 you would be paying for the ticket.
Nine out of ten times, I sit in left field, and I love the seats. The scoreboard is behind you, but it’s not hard to turn around and look at it in between innings. Also, sitting on the third base side is better than sitting on the first base side, strictly because of the Pittsburgh skyline. One of the reasons people consider PNC Park the nicest ballpark in America is because of the city buildings in the background, and there isn’t a better view of it than on the third base line.

2. Take a look at the promotion schedule: PNC Park almost always has good giveaways, and they all come on weekends.

Friday: Every home game features a free shirt, and the shirts are usually pretty nice. The designs vary, but most fans go home happy after getting a free shirt.

Saturday: Almost every game has a giveaway, which ranges from fireworks night, concerts (Skyblast/FanJam), bobbleheads, etc. The concerts usually feature a well-known band, and we have seen bands like Daughtry, Boys II Men, Lifehouse, Styx, OAR, and this year features Kool and the Gang, Third Eye Blind, and Neon Trees. Almost every Saturday night game is a sellout, and most of the Friday night games draw 30,000 fans, so don’t mess around when it comes to buying tickets. PNC Park isn't the most enjoyable park during sellouts — if you hate tight, overcrowded ballparks — PNC Park on a weekend isn't for you.

Sunday: The Pirates never get the nod for ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, so 99.9 percent of Sunday games start at 1:35. If you’re planning on taking the family to the game, a Sunday afternoon at the ballpark might be your best choice. Kids 14 and under almost always get a solid giveaway, and this year fans will be receiving kids jerseys, umbrellas, flags, drawstring backpacks, ear buds, scarfs, posters, etc. Before the game, amusements are set up outside the park for the kids to enjoy and after the game (weather depending), all kids are invited to stay and run the bases on the field.

3. Head down to the Strip District before or after the game: If you are heading to a night game, I definitely recommend stopping at Primanti Brothers in the Strip District before of after the game. If you’re unaware of Primanti Brothers, it’s a Pittsburgh-based food legend that makes the best sandwich in Pittsburgh. You can get a roast beef, cheesesteak, capicola, fish, chicken, etc. sandwich with french fries, cheese, egg, cole slaw, etc stuffed on top of it. There is a Primanti Bros inside the stadium, but the sandwich isn’t nearly as good there as it is at the restaurant.

The Strip District is just a short hop across the river from PNC Park, and it tends to get busy for night games, so get down there quick if you’re looking to grab a great sandwich.
If you’re going to a day game, I recommend stopping at Delucas to grab some great breakfast. Delucas is also located in the Strip District, so grabbing a fantastic breakfast and heading to the game is not a bad idea at all. On top of the two great restaurants in the Strip District, there are plenty of other stores and restaurants in the Strip that you might have interest in.
Craft beer lover? Stop at Rivertowne Brewing's restaurant, or the Tilted Kilt or McFadden's beside PNC Park to check out a long list of local brews. The Roberto Clemente Museum is another must see when you are in town.

4. Swing by the statues outside PNC Park and the Highmark Legacy Square: On your way into PNC Park, you will definitely walk by at least one massive statue paying honors to a Pirates legend. There are five entrances to the ballpark, and four of them have a statue in front of it. If you’re coming in through the centerfield entrance, you’ll see the statue of the legendary Roberto Clemente. Willie “Pops” Stargell accompanies the left field entrance, while Honus Wagner holds down the home plate entrance. In 2010, the Pirates honored Bill Mazeroski by erecting a statue of him near right field.

All of those statues are outside of park, but once you enter the park, you have the chance of seeing even more life-size statues. Located inside the left field entrance is the Highmark Legacy Square, an interactive exhibit that pays tribute to the Negro Leagues. While focusing mainly on the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, the area is free to visit and features life-size bronze statues of some of the best Negro League players that played in the city of Pittsburgh. There are also videos you can watch on an electronic video wall that show you a great timeline of the Negro Leagues and plan on spending 20-30 minutes if you want to brush up on your knowledge of the Negro Leagues.

5. Take a walk along the river walk and catch a ride on the Gateway Clipper: One of my personal favorite things about PNC Park is the river walk. The stadium sits right on the shore of the Allegheny River, and home runs fly into the river from time to time. Either way, walking the river walk before or after the game is always a cool thing to do. It’s a few miles long and runs through the North Shore, the area right around PNC Park. You can ride the Gateway Clipper Fleet, a big cruise boat that rolls by the stadium every once in a while and lets out a loud blast.

One note: If you are planning on going to a firework/concert night at PNC, the river walk will be shutdown after the game due to the fireworks being shot off from the river. (Check the schedule, the Pirates haven't been good at winning in the past two decades, but have become really great at massive fireworks shows.)

6. Follow the game on Twitter: As a Pittsburgh Pirates blogger, there is nothing I like doing more during Pirate games than interacting with other bloggers/fans while the games go on via Twitter. Believe it or not, the Pittsburgh Pirates have more successful blogs than a lot of other MLB teams, and following what people have to say about the team has always been one of my favorite things. Whether they’re cracking witty jokes about opposing team players, talking about Pedro Alvarez’s slump, or simply bombing Clint Hurdle’s in-game management, there is always something good to read on Twitter throughout the games. If you’d like to join the conversation and see what some of the top-notch guys around the Pirates social media system have to say, here are some of the people to follow:

@RumBunter
@_DrewBrown
@Whygavs
@InClementeWthr
@RTJR
@NorthSideNotch
@ForbesToFederal
@DavidManel
@TimWilliamsP2
@ThreeRiversBlog
@Cocktailsfor2

7. Try your best not to interact with the ushers: The ushers at PNC Park take their jobs way too seriously, and not too many of them are all that nice of people. In all the years I have been going to PNC, I have only met a handful of nice ushers who were willing to help me out. Considering you’d be attending the game from out of town, the ushers might act more generous towards you, and offer to take pictures of you/help you out as much as they can.
Let them know that it’s your first time at the ballpark, and maybe they’ll be polite to you. As far as my experiences go, they have never treated me all that nicely. There have been a good amount of times in which I was watching the game in a crowd of less than 10,000 people, and they have kicked me out of mediocre seats because my ticket didn’t match the section.

8. Grab some great ballpark food! While at PNC Park, you are definitely given a wide variety of different food options.

Quaker Steak and Lube: If you are a fan of wings, you can’t go much better than grabbing a bucket of wings, which have often been cited as the best of the country. Chicken wings might not be a traditional ballpark food, but you'll be an instant believer one wing in.

Primanti Brothers: Located next to Quaker Steak and Lube, is Primanti Bros, the legendary Pittsburgh-based sandwich shop that was mentioned above. A Primantis cheesesteak is bomb, don’t get me wrong, but I’d look elsewhere when it comes to eating inside PNC Park, because the sandwiches aren’t nearly as good as they are as the actual restaurant.

Bucaroos: Next to the left field entrance is a Bucaroos, which has decent food for a small price. Pizza, hot dogs, drinks, chicken fries, nachos, etc. are located at Bucaroos and if you are bringing the family to the game, that might be a smart place to go when it comes to feeding your kids.

Manny’s BBQ: Former Pittsburgh Pirates great Manny Sanguillen runs a restaurant along the river walk. More often that not, Sanguillen is there to greet his customers and is always willing to sign autographs and take pictures for those who ask.

Hall of Fame Club: Above the left field bleachers, but underneath the scoreboard, is the Hall of Fame Club. You have to be 21 to enter but there are some decent choices for food in there, including the new PNC Park Brunch Burger, which was added this year. If you’re looking to eat a hamburger, with a fried egg and bacon, in between two glazed donuts, the Hall of Fame Club would be your best, and probably only, place to find that in America.

9. Snag some baseballs!: If you’d like to channel the inner-kid back into you and try to get baseballs from the players, you always have a good chance at PNC. If you have kids, players are always generous to them when it comes to tossing balls in between innings or before the games. If you get to the game early enough, you have the chance to watch the opposing team take batting practice. All home runs hit in BP are kept by the fans, and there are a good bit of “ballhawks” who go to PNC in search for baseballs every game.

In batting practice, Pirates players are pretty decent towards people when it comes to tossing them baseballs. Players such as Jason Grilli and Michael McKenry always take time out of their day to interact with the fans, and Grilli will always sign autographs/take pictures if you ask him politely.

Pedro Alvarez always tosses an autographed baseball into the stands prior to the start of the game. Keep an eye on #ElToro and you could land a treasure.

10. Enjoy the between inning entertainment. The people who run the Pirates scoreboard are among the best in baseball and their creativity keeps things lively before the game and in between innings. Be on the look out for:

Pirates Quiz: Taking place in the middle of the fourth, a fan is quizzed on their Pirates knowledge. They have the chance to win a $150 jacket, or trade it in for “The Box of Mystery.”

Pirates Q&A: My personal favorite takes place on the scoreboard in either the fourth or fifth inning. All players are asked the same question, and they often give funny responses that get some laughs out of the crowd.

Punch-Out: Similar to Pirates Quiz, Punch-Out is based on a trivia question and the contestant has a chance to win some cool prizes.

The Great Pittsburgh Pierogi Race: Inspired by the Racing Sausages (Miller Park), the Pierogi Race has been a Pittsburgh tradition since 1999. Even though it isn’t my favorite, the majority of the fans are excited when it happens in the sixth inning. Jalapeno Hannah, Sauerkraut Saul, Cheese Chester, and the Incredibly Intelligent Oliver Onion race around the track in Pierogi costumes. If there’s one tip I can give you on the race, go with Cheese Chester as the winner.

On top of all this, fans have the chances to send in pictures or comments on the game via Twitter/Instagram and can take part in voting for music to be played.

If the Pirates are actually playing good baseball, you’ll have a chance to see the Pirates do something they don’t do too often: win. Walking out of PNC Park after a victory is always a sweet feeling, especially if Jason Grilli closes the game out for the Pirates. When Grilli takes the mound in the ninth, he has his own video and fans go wild for their favorite reliever, similar to the way they did when Joel Hanrahan used to close out games.

Pirates flags are in the air throughout the top of the ninth and all fans watching at home can’t wait for Greg Brown’s signature phrase: “Raise the Jolly Roger!”

Previous parks: Citi Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, Petco Park,Comerica Park, Progressive Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Wrigley Field, O.Co Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Fenway Park

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