Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pirates' 2012 Opening Day

I was very fortunate to score some tickets to Opening Day (my first ever) so I decided to Dad. When I told DB~ I got tickets she was excited. When I told her I was taking my Dad, she looked like a little girl that dropped her ice cream on the ground and it was 2 nanoseconds before she was going to cry (DB~ didn't cry).

I thought it would be a great father-son bonding moment, especially since my Dad had a triple bypass last May and I realized how close I could be to losing him at any moment. He's in great health now, but it sort of hit home for me.

We got down to the North Shore around 11:30 and used our complimentary parking pass to the General Robinson Garage, the garage underneath the Fort Duquesne Bridge and the home of the North Shore Connector Tunnel (foreshadowing!!!). We went to a tailgate hosted by a guy my Dad works with at his post-retirement, 3-day-a-week job. It felt like a pre-season Steeler game with the great sunny weather, the smell of charred meats hanging in the air, cornhole games set up everywhere, but everyone (guy and girl) was clad in some sort of Pirate gear. It was great to see such support for "Pittsburgh's 3rd son".

After crushing a kielbasi sandwich, my Dad and I wanted to walk around the outside of PNC Park and take it all in, then head in to see some of the new wrinkles to the park this year. The crowds were thick everywhere we went outside, especially on Federal Street (closed off, of course, to allow walkers to come over the Clemente Bridge) that was turned into a radio row of sorts. There were 4 stations broadcasting live from the game. There were also kids of all ages, ranging from 1st grade to 12th grade, at the game so I imagine school attendance rates were down a bit today with a lot of kids sick with Pirate Fever.

We went inside around 12:30 and went to the RF corner to check out the new Budweiser Bowtie Bar. They wedged this interesting little bar in the RF corner off the main concourse, adjacent to the Clemente Wall seats. My love of chatting up strangers comes from my Dad, so it was no surprise that he started talking to an usher about the bar. We learned that they put the finishing touches on the Bowtie Bar last night. There are two rows of seats, maybe 40 seats total, that overlook the field. Each seat is $50, but you get $20 of food/drink credit too. The bar has glass windows overlooking the river side of the park and open air to the field side. Pendant lights and propane free-standing torches give a nice feel to the area, which is surprisingly roomy.

One of the new menu items are Chickie and Pete's crab fries, located in the "food court" on the 3B side of the main concourse. It felt weird getting a Philly-based restaurant's menu item while we were playing Philly (the line was short so others felt the same), but I had to see what the hot fuss was about. The fries come in a little tub and are tossed with Old Bay-esque seasonings. You get a little cheese cup that hangs on the side of the tub, too. The fries were very tasty, but were $9.75 -- even using ballpark food price scales, that was too expensive for me.

I wanted to find the nachos with lime cilantro seasonings and creme fraiche, but the stadium was too packed to wander around. It was the biggest crowd in PNC Park history as 39,500+ attended the opener. I'll find them in a couple of weeks when DB~ and I go to the game.

Some people ask me if I would love if the Pirates got so good that the games all were near-capacity. I always recoil in horror and say "Oh, no way!" and here's why:
If the people in said PNC Park were actual fans and knew what was going on -- yes. But yesterday, these two drunk girls were in front of us and were texting/taking pictures/harassing vendors/being obnoxious. People were blatantly standing up in the aisles talking with friends, like this was a social hour, while the game was in play. Repeated shouts of "Take a seat!" from the crowd had no effect. The lines were ridiculous and I nearly stepped on not one, but two midgety-type people because they just ran out of nowhere.

I think 25,000 is probably the ideal crowd at PNC Park. It's packed enough to be loud, look good on TV, get revenue for the team, but still have the fan experience be enjoyable. Above that it gets hard to move around and enjoy the different food lines or even go to the bathroom without missing 1-1/2 innings.

PNC Park looked great again, as it always does. Pittsburgh is a fantastic city to be in when the sun is shining and the Pirates are playing.

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