While December remains the “most wonderful time of the year,” this week in January isn’t far behind.
The bustling winds, fluffy white snow and bone chilling temperatures do not scream baseball. However, for my brother, Zach and I, a trip to PNC Park was just what we needed to cure our national pastime blues.
It has been a total of 15 excruciating days since I was last at my summer home, PNC Park. On Friday night I met my best friend Andrew in Pittsburgh to help open the weekend series with the Braves. I’ve said it before that Pittsburgh is a de facto halfway point for Morgantown and Youngstown.
The traffic into the city was horrendous. Parking was hard to come by once I escaped the bumper to bumper mess. It honestly was the worst I have ever seen the North Shore set up prior to a Pirates game. I expected a packed house with a shot at a sellout.
It was far from that. The announced attendance was just 22,000, still a decent crowd but with most tickets $7 dollars and a sweet Andrew McCutchen canvas photo wrap giveaway there should have been more people.
Many of the people were college kids, around my age. It is weird to be a Pirates fan in and around Pittsburgh for someone younger than the age of 25. There really has been a generation of Pirates fans lost thanks to the 17 straight losing seasons. I really do wish it was cool to be a Pirates fan but until that happens I’ll be stuck surrounded by hooligans who only go to the game to drink, meet with friends and start the wave while not paying attention to the game at all. Baseball ignorant people rub me the wrong way when I go to the park to enjoy a couple hours of a ballgame and to escape the outside world. PNC Park is my santuary for peace.
Anywho, the Pirates lost 7-0 and only managed four hits. Nothing went well for the Bucs. I expected a strong performance out of starting pitcher Ross Ohlendorf, but this guy made sure that didn’t happen.
The Jay-Hey kid (I really do not like that nickname, it is cool no doubt but Willie Mays is the only one who should have that rhyming distinction). The 20-year old (I still can’t get over the fact that I’m older than this guy, I should be a Major League player!) belted a two run homer and teed off for a double. He will be fun to watch as I have already dubbed him the next Ken Griffey Jr. He has the marketabilty and is easy to connect with.
This was the at bat that Heyward went deep in. You always see those flashbulbs going off when a big player steps to the plate. While it seemed that I was the only one snapping a picture of the future star I’m sure that in a few years ballparks will be flickering when he is at bat.
The night didn’t end after the blowout.
I met up with my friend Erin who is a regular reader of the blog. She recently graduated from Pitt and yes I do old that against her. However, she is an awesome girl who rivals me in terms of Pirates knowledge and passion. She also is in love with Nate McLouth. A man that I can just not respect anymore.
The reaction to McLouth’s return to Pittsburgh was underwhelming. It was almost unheralded completely but there were more cheers than boos. I missed his first at bat as Andrew and I fought for parking while we made the game in the bottom of the second inning.
I couldn’t think of a better way to end the night than drinking away my sorrows of a shutout. We went to the Hall of Fame Club located below the scoreboard in right field. It is a cool place to hang out before of after the game and even watch the game from the deck area outside. Every so often there are former players and local celebrities that come by the HOF Club to pour drinks for patrons. Customers were treated to an appearance by one of the most famous Pirates of the last 20 years, Andy Van Slyke.
I do not remember much about Van Slyke as I was just around the age of three when he played. He autographed my program and fielded questions from thirsty guests. He said “There’s no doubt Barry Bonds used steroids” and “He was a jerk and a terrible teammate.” I told him I was a fan of the Tigers because at one time he was a coach for Detroit along with my favorite manager Jim Leyland. Former Pirate managers Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon were also on that staff. Literally the Detroit Pirates. Andrew brought up the Tigers-Twins playof play in game of last year dubbing it “the bets baseball game of all time.” Van Slyke agreed saying “it rocked.”
Speaking of Van Slyke it was fitting we met him on that given night. A parking garage between Heinz Field and PNC Park notes their levels based on fmaous Pittsburgh athletes. We just so happened to park on the Andy Van Slyke level.
Now that was not our only coincidence of the night. There was a second that also has to do witha Pittsburgh celebrity.
Remember Erin? Pitt fan. Back in the Hall of Fame club we ran into the only person I respect at that school, basketball coach Jamie Dixon.
After shaking his hand I asked for the picture and then told him that I may get in trouble for this because I am a die hard West Virginia fan. He showed nothing but class and laughed at me. He boasted about Bob Huggins saying he is a first class gentleman and a great friend. I wish I would have taken my jacket off to show off my WVU shirt underneath. It was a once in a lifetime chance but I guess I took the high road and displayed an ounce of respect.
Once again it was a fun night, as all nights are in Pittsburgh, as all nights involving baseball are. Saturday’s game was not televised and I’m actually glad it wasn;t as Pittsburgh fell to ATL again. However Saturday’s game was on and boy was it grand. Ryan Doumit hit a walk off home run in the tenth inning to avoid the sweep.
In a word, the Pirates were dominant, scoring five runs in the opening frame.
The Pirates played a persistent, strong game throughout the contest. Very uncharacteristic of the lovable losers.
The three game series sweep was the Pirates first over the Cubs since August 30, 2006.
While no homeruns wer ehit in the blowout, doubles came supreme. In fact Lastings Milledge rocked a near grandslam just two feet away from me in left field. Look closely at the below picture. On the left is my arm pointing out at Alfonso Soriano.
The ball hit the top of the wall and bounced back into play. However it looked as if it would clear. Fireworks are going off, “They Hey Song” is playing, everyone thinks its a dinger. Even Milledge. He trotted around the bases and was tagged out rounding second. I cannot me too mad at him. He shouldn’t be looking at the ball, the extracurricular activities led him to believe it was a home run. In the end it was just his second double of the game.
Beyond the stats and onfield play this game meant a lot more. Pride was on the line.
My WVU buddy Marc is a die-hard Cubs fan. Growing up in West Virginia the Cubs were his t-ball team. Continuing to follow his team some 15 or so years later Marc is almost like a transplanted fan from the streets of Wrigleyville. The last time I was at a game with him the Cubs scored eight runs in the first inning en route to a 14-3 beatdown. Lets just say the taste of revenge was almost as sweet.
With a handful of Cub fans around us he was in somber company and had more than enough shoulders to cry on. A lot of ribbing was going on by a pair of drunks behind us. These guys were around our age and pounding over priced beers like it was their job. They were making fun of everyone in their general area including Marc in his “Theeeeeeeriot” jersey, the charismatic ederly man with his young granddaughter and the cute West Virginia girls who we struck up a converstations with. They were dissing the Pirates left and right, had no baseball knowledge and took the joy out of me greatly. Marc was the most ticked I had ever seen him. The happy go lucky Southern boy had his fuse lit but kept his emotions in check.
After the game Marc owed me a little something. A beer. We had a bet riding on the game and we had a nice sit down at Mullens, a sports bar on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. There we engaged with chats from a University of Colorado grad, numerous Cubs fans, a guy who knew Lou Pinella and this charming guy.
Communicating in sign language and written notes the guy was very nice and was bubbly to everyone in the bar. He was mute but did not let his handicap keep him from having a good time and supporting his Buccos.
From the bar we ran into Frank Coonelly, Pirates President. Nice fellow, said my name again after I introduced myself which is always a sign of respect. Now there were two pertinent messages I could have told Mr. Coonelly,
1. To read my blog! Doubt he would have but shoot I may never see him again could have at least told him about it.
2. My buddy Andrew Schuerholz was also with us, his uncle is John Schuerholz, President of the Braves. Either would have sufficed and created a great convo. But knowing Coonelly’s background as an attorney I told him that Marc was interested in law school.
Speaking of Marc, he needed a pitstop on the way to the car and enjoyed the beautiful skyline of the city of Pittsburgh (recently ranked the USA’s most livable city by Yahoo).
However I will leave you with a snippet of information when visiting Pittsburgh or any big city for that matter. Do not stop walking. Homeless people and creeps are always abound and danger could strike at any second. We learned that tonight. Mom and Dad if you are reading this no need to freak out. We’ve all seen it before and know how to handle ourselves.
Bring on Pujols and the Cardinals! The Bucs are in 3rd place!