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Official Review by Steven Bieniek, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Opened in 2011, Charles L. Cost Field is the new home of the Pitt Panthers. The field is part of the Petersen Sports Complex that includes Pitt’s soccer and softball fields. Playing baseball in the Big East is a tough sell, especially with a major league team right in town. To find this nice of a college ballpark in the Appalachian Mountains is a pleasant surprise.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is only one concession stand that serves all three fields. A soccer game was finishing up at the start of the baseball game, so the concession stand was a bit crowded. However, the concession stand cleared up quickly as the soccer game ended. It could be perceived that if ever all three fields were in use at the same time, the one concession stand might be less than ideal, but it's hard to imagine that this would ever happen. When only one field is being utilized, it's easy to get in and out of the concession line relatively quickly.
The first thing that stood out was that no single item was priced at more than $5. A few unexpected items, such as provolone sticks, fried zucchini, and mac & cheese bites were on the menu, all priced at $4. Even Kielbasa was priced at only $5. Other classics and grill items, such as hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches were available. Most items were either deep fried or grilled, and while the variety was great, the quality was basically average.
Pepsi products were also served as both fountain drinks and in bottles, but no beer was sold in the stadium. No one will go hungry or broke at this sports complex, which is all anyone can really ask for at a ballgame.
The new stadium provided for the typical small park baseball atmosphere. Just as with major and minor league parks, stadium music was pumped in through the great sound system. There were a few nice aesthetic choices throughout the stadium, such as panther eyes on the center field wall and the uniform navy blue, that added to the ballpark. The seats were also very comfortable for a college stadium, complete with perfectly-placed cup holders.
While there wasn't anything that necessarily detracted from the atmosphere, there were a few things that were missing. For instance, instead of the traditional scoreboard, a small video scoreboard might have been better. Also if you walked around the entire sports complex, downtown Pittsburgh could be seen by looking behind the softball home plate. The soccer stadium was in between the softball and baseball stadiums, with the baseball stadium facing almost the same direction. Being that one of the greatest views from any stadium is right in the same city, you would have thought that the Complex's architects would have taken a page from PNC Park, if possible, and designed it to face the city. Overall though, the atmosphere was relaxed and nostalgic, though.
The Petersen Sports Complex is close to the Petersen Event Center, home of Pitt basketball. It did not seem as though there was much around the complex, unless you were a Pitt student. The only things that were within close walking distance were pick-up games of soccer and basketball. Bars and restaurants really were not going to be found within walking distance, and tailgating is nonexistent. Downtown, the strip district and south side are all very close to the campus, however. They are all within a five- or ten-minute drive, which helped the Neighborhood rating. There are plenty of signs of life around the field, but again, it is mainly campus life.
The fans that show up for Pitt baseball games is for the most part, either parents or college students that were serious baseball fans. The cheering that was heard beyond clapping will be most assuredly a parent or family member. Most of the time, the stadium was quiet enough to be mistaken for a library, and you could easily hear everyone's conversation in your section. Again, Big East baseball is probably never going to draw extremely well, especially in a city that has a Major League team. The stadium holds 900 people but will usually only be about 25% full.
There is only one bathroom in the complex, which was quite sufficient for the number of people at the game. What was said about the concession stand would also hold true here; you can get in and out easily, but it's just interesting to think how crowded the one bathroom would be if all fields were busy at the same time. The bathrooms were also used by the players, so it was very common to pass members of both teams while the game was in progress. The concourses are also extremely large, and they would surely still be large enough if the sports complex was at full capacity. The lights in the concourse also added to the small stadium ambience and were very pleasing to the eye. The little details like this definitely make a difference.
Parking was a mixed bag. There was a lot of free street parking available; but, depending on what else was going on at the University, you may have a tough time finding a spot. If you can't find a spot on the street, you may have to drive around a little bit to find a lot that is not permit-only parking. If you come on a weekend, you're more than likely not going to have to pay for parking. Be warned, though--the Pitt campus has many hills, so if you don't find a spot close to the stadium, you're going to have a small hike ahead of you.
According to the Pitt website, general admission tickets are sold before the game at $5. The day of this particular visit, I was able to walk in without buying a ticket. It's simply not possible to beat a Division I baseball game that has free parking and free admission. You can sit wherever you want and come and go as you please without a hassle from anyone. Spending a relaxing day watching good baseball for free at a stadium that is just over a year old is worth even more than the five star rating. Quite frankly, even if I would have paid the $5, the five-star rating would have still been warranted.
Two extra stars are deserved to be given to the Charles L. Cost Stadium. The first one is for the free admission. It's unknown as to how often this happens; yet even the $5 admission fee would have been well worth the price. The second star is for the very friendly staff. All of my questions directed at anyone on the staff were easily answered. One fact that was just interesting was that the field was made of synthetic grass, and actual dirt was on only the mound and the warning track. The surface that was around home plate, the bases, and close to the dugouts was just dirt-colored synthetic grass.
The overall newness of the stadium makes Charles L. Cost Field a very nice stadium to watch a baseball game. If you're from the area or want to go to a game when the Pirates aren't in town (or even if you want to make a doubleheader in the Steel City), Pitt is a great second option. The product on the field is great, and you'll certainly have your choice of seats. I would suggest getting there a little early to ensure you get a decent parking spot, but once you're there, you're in for a relaxing day or evening of baseball.
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