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Thread: A canadian visits PNC...

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    Default A canadian visits PNC...

    Saturday, April 17, 2010 10:43 PM

    A night of firsts in Steeltown
    Navin Vaswani

    The rumours are true. How do I know? Because, thanks to The Baseball Road Trip Of A Lifetime , I now have first-hand proof. Pittsburgh Pirates fans are indeed real; they are not unicorns. And I happened to meet probably the nicest one of them.

    Nearly 24-years-old, and pursuing a graduate degree in theological education, his name was Dan Getkin. And what makes his story that much more unique is that he is a relatively new member of the Church of the Pittsburgh Pirates, joining the movement, by his own admission, in 2007, when Neal Huntington was appointed the twelfth general manager in franchise history. Seventeen straight losing seasons, the last five seeing the team lose 94 games or more, and still new fans don the black and gold. That's the power of baseball; the power of fandom.

    According to the Associated Press , the Pirates rank dead last in payroll in baseball in 2010, a few thousand dollars shy of $35-million. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, only twice in the past 10 years have the Pirates spent more than $50-million on their team. So why does Dan bother?

    “It's a young and, I would argue, exciting team. They just don't have the talent to win a lot of games, but that doesn't mean there aren't flashes of brilliance. Who knows what will happen in the next five years or so, but I am enjoying our team's honest, long-term attempt at success.”

    As a Toronto Blue Jays fan, watching my city's team rebuilding process begin anew, I could surely relate.

    “What so many people around here fail to understand is that, even if the Pirates don't contend for the division, the Pirates will, and already have had, have some remarkable games. As I have come to love this sport and this team, I have become entirely willing to endure some really awful performances to see the ones where it all just comes together.”

    In a city where the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Penguins have celebrated recent success, the Pirates, naturally, have become somewhat of an afterthought. It happens. Everyone wants to support a winner. And 17 straight losing seasons don't help. But Dan is nothing if not passionate.

    “The world should know that Pirates baseball has some followers who don't buy into the garbage misinformation that is spread through this city. It's hard for most folks to understand what it takes to be competitive in baseball. I don't claim to understand either, but at least I am not entirely cynical about it.”

    Not yet, Dan. Give yourself another few years.

    I met Dan at Pittsburgh's legendary Primanti Bros. Restaurant, where we chatted baseball over a couple of rounds of Yuengling, and a sandwich I'll never forget (which I'll tell you all about shortly). I asked Dan what the Pirates meant to Pittsburgh, considering the successes of Pittsburgh's other sports teams, and where they were on the city's sporting radar.

    “They don't mean anything, and they're not on the radar. They won't be until they start winning. Then the bandwagon will be full of Pirates fans,” he said with disdain. And I understood. Because when the Blue Jays are eventually on the verge of another pennant, and they will be, there won't be any room on Toronto's bandwagon. I know; I've been driving the all-but-empty wagon for years. It's been too long since both Pittsburgh and Toronto have seen playoff baseball, all but assuring that a winning ball club is the answer to the age old question: what came first, fans or a winning team?

    A most gracious host, Dan picked up the tab at Primanti's. It was a pleasure to meet him; he represented Pittsburgh with class and pride, and I hope he gives me the opportunity to return the favour when he next visits our fine city of Toronto.

    Primanti Bros.

    Before I go any further, I've got to tell you about what I'm now calling “the sandwich.” Believe me, it deserves quotes. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I had the roast beef. But that's not all; along with the roast beef, within two pieces of Italian bread, you'll find: cheese, tomatoes, cole slaw, and fries. It might have been the best sandwich I've ever had. And very reasonably priced at $6.29 (Market Square, downtown Pittsburgh). And, according to my man Dan, don't ask them to give you the cole slaw, or fries, on the side. That's terrible etiquette. Respect the sandwich.

    And to think I'd actually visited Pittsburgh before (to watch a Penguins/Maple Leafs game) and not tried the sandwich. Unbelievable.

    PNC Park

    She was everything I thought she'd be. Crossing the Allegheny River from downtown Pittsburgh via the Roberto Clemente Bridge, with the stadium in full view to your left, is one of the best parts. If Exhibition Stadium in Toronto and Cleveland Stadium in, obviously, Cleveland were both dubbed the “mistake by the lake,” PNC Park in Pittsburgh should be called ... something awesome that rhymes with river, “by the river.” They got this one right.

    I paid a scalper $15 for a $24 seat in shallow right field, along the first-base line. It was raining; convenience ruled the day. But almost every seat in the park has a view; with the lit-up Clemente Bridge and downtown Pittsburgh in the background, you really can't go wrong. And, yes, there are bleacher seats. In left and left-centre field.

    As has been the case at every stadium so far on #TBRTOAL, concession stands dot the horizon, for as far as the eye can see. If you couldn't make it to Primanti Bros. before the game, you're in luck: there's one at the stadium, in the aptly titled “Smorgasburgh Food Court.”

    Because I hadn't gorged myself enough after my delectable Primanti Bros. sandwich, I stopped at “Pops' Potato Patch” in “Pop's Plaza,” another food court, this one on the third base side of the main concourse. I regretted it later, but I went with the fries topped with nacho cheese, and Frank's Red Hot, for $6.75. It was delicious. At the time.

    I'd suggest to go with the Yuengling, at $7.75 a pint. I preferred it to both the Iron City and Penn Pilsner. I'm truly beginning to think it's a crime against humanity that they charge a ridiculous $10.25 per large beer at the Rogers Centre.

    When it comes to merchandise, if you're looking for that Roberto Clemente t-shirt you've always wanted, PNC Park in Pittsburgh is the place for you. You can't blame the Pirates, though. History is about all they've got.

    One last comment: when it comes to the scoreboard, each ballpark does things differently. At Comerica Park in Detroit, you know how many men each team has left on base. After every pitch thrown at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, in addition to velocity, the scoreboard flashes the horizontal and vertical break in inches of every ball thrown. Nerds rejoice!1

    The Game

    My first rain delay!1 It lasted an hour and nine minute and was, well, kind of boring. Get a roof, Pittsburgh. In all seriousness, the delay was the perfect opportunity to explore the ball park. Plus, I'd never seen a grounds crew put roll up the tarp. Was good times. And, yes, it is impossible to look at that tarp and not want to make it your own personal, gigantic “Slip-N-Slide.” I was tempted, but better judgement, thankfully, prevailed.

    The Cincinnati Reds were in town Friday night and, much to my chagrin, Canadian hero Joey Votto was given the night off, as was the GBOAT (Greatest Blue Jay Of All Time), Scott Rolen. My weeping heart. I was very much looking forward to seeing Rolen man the hot corner. As he proved in his short time in Toronto, no one does it better.

    Zach Duke was on the mound for the Pirates, and pitched a great game. He went seven innings and only allowed a run, but went home with a no-decision, as his bullpen failed him. And, for some reason, Duke, the pitcher, batted eighth in the Pirates lineup, ahead of shortstop Ronny Cedeno, the Pirates' best hitter (.343 AVG.). I'm not sure what the hell is going on there.

    After Octavio Dotel blew the save in the 9th inning for the Pirates, the game ended with fireworks, literally, thanks to a walk-off base-hit by Lastings Milledge; 4-3 Pittsburgh final. And you know as well as I do: there's nothing like a walk-off hit to end a baseball game. Good thing, too, because after the game was delayed by over an hour, everyone was ready to go home. Not to mention the wind was blowing, and it was rather chilly.

    One last comment about the game: pitchers shouldn't bat. They're pitchers. Join the rest of us in modern-day society, National League. We're waiting.

    The Steel City

    I've got to admit, it was nice to be back in a city where I wasn't afraid to venture into the streets after 9:00 PM. (Sorry Detroit and Cleveland. But, you know.) If you're staying in the downtown area (I told you already, is the way to go), and are looking for a quick bite to eat late at night, Salonika's Dining Room, on 6th St. and Fort Duquesne Blvd., near the Clemente Bridge, is the spot. I had the Chicken Gyros, and I'd have them again.

    Pittsburgh was truly a pleasure. I think I could live there. Anyway, I've arrived in New York, New York, big city of dreams. I might sneak into Yankee Stadium tomorrow afternoon. And not eat anything, or drink any beer. I refuse to put any more money into Mr. George Steinbrenner's coffers.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: A canadian visits PNC...

    Great article. I love when people from outside come to this city and are amazed by what they find.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: A canadian visits PNC...

    Good writing. I like this kind of story. It's always good to catch a story like this, if you're going to visit that place.

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