Over Memorial Day weekend we took a mini-baseball tour to see some stadiums we'd never seen, heretofore known as Baseball Tour 2006!: Midwest Edition. This tour took us to PNC Park in Pittsburgh on Friday, May 26 to see the P-Men take on the Stros, Great American Ballpark (first time ever!) to see the Reds face the Diamondbacks on Saturday, and then back to Chicago to see the Reds play the Cubbies on Monday and Tuesday. It was a real NL Fiesta.
First of all, we kept missing great games by a day. Pittsburgh beat Houston on Friday which was delightful, but Saturday was that fabulous 18-inning game (not to mention double bobblehead night). We drew the straw that let us see Harang and the Reds fall 7-0 to Arizona, then the next day they had a walk-off homer by Valentin. Meanwhile on Sunday the Cubs suffered a very entertaining extra-inning loss to Atlanta before we saw a crappy Monday loss by the Reds. (However, we were in the car listening to Ron Santo suffer 18 heart attacks through that whole game, and that was really entertainment enough. Seriously, we were all crying from laughter at one point or another.)
But the whole trip was a whale of a time, as the kids say. Some notes:
1. PNC Park is absolutely gorgeous. I can't imagine that I'll see a lovelier ballpark in my lifetime. They really did this one right: the location, the view, the setup, the fan experience, everything. It pays homage to the city and to the ballparks of old without feeling like a soulless retro experience. It is, hands down, my favorite ballpark I've ever been to. Even the city of Pittsburgh surprised me a lot...the mountains, the water (did you know that Pittsburgh has more bridges than Venice?!?), the atmosphere...strikes me as a very liveable, attractive, affordable, and genuniely friendly city. User-friendly, if you will. A lot of you are in Ohio, of course, and so if you haven't been there yet I highly recommend you take a weekend and go there. Well worth it. Shame they don't have a better team at the moment, but the ballpark was almost a sellout when we were there, so they do ok regardless it seems. I don't blame them -- I'd be there every day if I lived there. It's an EXTREMELY kid-friendly place too, or maybe I just thought that because we were next to a hoarde of hyperactive schoolchildren. They do different cool graphics on the scoreboard every time they go through the lineup. The have pierogi races both on the scoreboard and on the field. They show the Muppet movie during the seventh-inning stretch. They had fireworks after the game. It's radly entertaining, and not too much in my opinion. And oh my god the Let's Go Bucs! song -- New Pirates Generation I think it's called -- extraordinary.
2. Great American Ball Park is really lovely too. It doesn't quite have the creativity that PNC does in its construction or decor, but it has more personality than I expected it to, and is quite beautifully situated there on the river. The people who work there all seem to be quite ticked off to be there -- this is one thing Wrigley really does right; the people who work there are a million times better than the fans. They all seem to really love it and will talk baseball with you for hours. And how is this for incongruous: ads in the GABP restrooms for the Dallas Police Force. As in, Dallas, Texas, and as in, come work for us. I am female, and thus use the women's restroom, but was informed that the ads were in the men's as well. Has anyone else noticed this? Also, the area surrounding GABP, ie. the hideous-looking lot and the terrible parking -- WTF? Am I correct that this is Castellini's land? When exactly does he plan to do something with this?
For this (crappy) game, we were up in the bleachers, which is a great place to sit (even though the sun was brutal). I was extremely disappointed that the Reds gave us no reason to see the exploding smokestacks. In other bad points: I sat in salsa, and we happened to be seated behind the only four Diamondbacks fans in the stadium and possibly east of the Mississippi (but they were pretty pleasant). Also, what in god's name is that version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame? Sounded like a local cover band which was getting paid to finish the song as fast as they could. No one could even sing along through their bafflement. Other good points: affordable refreshments. Well-behaved and rather surprisingly well-dressed fans. Steamboats rolling in and out of view on cue. And, of course, the Reds themselves, despite their play. They looked very nice on their lovely field. It is different, I think, to see a team in their natural habitat. Like seeing a cheetah in Africa versus at the zoo. Or something like that.
3. Wrigley Field is Wrigley Field. I have learned that when you're supporting the opposing team, you need to NOT SIT IN THE BLEACHERS and you will be fine. Actually, for all the talk of the Cubs fans in Cincinnati this weekend, there were tons and tons of Reds fans at Wrigley for both of these games; I honestly think they're just better-behaved than the displaced Cubs fans (and also, the Reds lost both games I saw, so the fans had reason to be quiet). That first game was the game Freel was robbed of a homer (and he was, I saw it with my own eyes); the second was the horrific rainy, error-filled game. Not much to say other than that; I think I've already blocked much of it out.
Oh, but i had to pick up a couple of extra tickets Monday morning, so I was down at Wrigley standing in line and met a very, very nice father and his two little boys from Utah who were on their own baseball tour. They had been at Pittsburgh the night after we had (I asked the little one about the double bobblehead which I think kind of freaked him out), and after Chicago were going to St. Louis and then Colorado. This is most notable for the fact that the little boy talked to me for 10 minutes about Jason Bay. he even imitated his batting stance. it was one of the greatest things I've ever seen. They were very sweet people, I hope the rest of their tour went alright. They had to get home for a rodeo after Colorado. Seriously.
I am the world's worst photographer, and I was also focused on taking movies for this trip with my fancy new camera (having seent he movies, I should have stuck with pictures). I also didn't take any at Wrigley, because a) I have plenty of Wrigley, and b) I was delirious by the time we got there. But here are the very few that are worth seeing:
1. First view of PNC (very appropriate)
2. Atrium at PNC
3. Baby Venice
4. Check out the "artistic grass"
5. Extremely bad picture of the live portion of the pierogi race. Oliver won. In lieu of a great deal of exciting baseball action, the people of Pittsburgh get really into these races. Like, really, really into them.
6. Lite Brite, one of many rad graphics they use throughout the game. Pittsburgh is actually a very artistic city and I understand they hire local artists and computer people to do this stuff.
7. Pittsburgh introduced a new mascot after the game, because, you know, the pierogis and the green dude aren't enough. If you want to try to name the Pirate, you can submit your entry through Sunday the 18th. Rock!
8. Left Field entrance
Pics of GABP in next post.