- Patricia Beninato
PNC Park - Pittsburgh Pirates
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
PNC Park 115 Federal St Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Pittsburgh Pirates website PNC Park website
Year Opened: 2001 Capacity: 38,362
A Wonderful Park with a Baseball Problem
Whenever a list of the best ballparks in Major League Baseball is made, PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, is either at or close to the top, and for good reason. Opened in 2001, this intimately sized park on the banks of the Allegheny River is a baseball lover’s dream, with a now-iconic view of the Pittsburgh skyline beyond the outfield and a reputation as one of the fan-friendliest venues in the majors. There’s only one problem–the Pirates. It’s been a while since they’ve fielded anything resembling a competitive team, and it shows in the dismal attendance. Nevertheless, PNC Park is on many baseball fans’ bucket lists, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Burgh. If you’ve already been here but not recently, a significant expansion of the right field plaza has made what was already a good fan experience even better.
Food & Beverage 5
While it might not be the foodie draw that, say, San Francisco’s Oracle Park is, PNC Park seems to have something for everyone, from local legend Primanti Brothers sandwiches to Korean tacos and pizza rolls. Part of the right field plaza expansion includes an overhaul of World Series catcher Manny Sanguillen’s barbecue joint, now called Manny’s Market, and two food stands inspired by local favorites Coop De Ville, which features excellent fried chicken sandwiches, and Station with its top-notch burgers. You can scan a QR code to order remotely and pick up your food. The plaza also features two open-air bars, one sponsored by Pittsburgh stalwart Fat Head’s Brewery, so along with Skull Bar, you’ve got lots of places to get your drink on.
Unusual for Pittsburgh sports venues, PNC Park features Coke products. It also has added several grab-a-can beer stands with various domestic and craft beers. A hot dog and domestic beer will run you roughly $20. Two chicken sandwiches and soft drinks at Chicken on the Run, Coop De Ville’s stand, cost about $40. Note that all concessions are cashless, but there are plenty of reverse ATMs to convert your cash to a usable debit card.
For a park that doesn’t attract huge crowds, PNC Park is always a good time. No matter where you sit, you’ll have an excellent view of the field. If you’re sun-sensitive, try to sit along the first base line. Since PNC is one of the few double-decker parks in MLB, you’ll always be close to the action. The center field LED screen was slightly overhauled this winter, with a crawl display surrounding the base of the upper deck and another screen on the right field wall.
The Pirate Parrot roams the lower deck and main concourse while Jim Klimchak, the Pirates’ “in-game host,” oversees various contests. The Great Pittsburgh Pierogi Race is a time-honored mid-game tradition, with the potato-stuffed participants coming through afterward to pose for pictures. Yes, it’s reminiscent of minor-league parks, but it’s still fun. If you bring kids who need to blow off a little steam, a climbable pirate ship’s been installed in the right field plaza. Don’t worry about safety-each section has netting to prevent falls.
With PNC Park and Heinz Field right down the way from each other, considerable effort went into cleaning up what’s known as the North Shore neighborhood, and it’s a wonderful place for a stroll along the Allegheny River. For a pre-game bite, it’s best to hit up Federal Street, running north/south past PNC.
North Street Tavern and its famous “steak on a stone,” served sizzling hot on, yes, a small rock slab, has been a longtime draw. Taps and Tacos and Batty’s Pizzeria, technically located within PNC but accessible from the street, also draw crowds. On weekends, Federal Street has food trucks and live music. North Shore Drive does have some more upscale restaurants and breweries, but it could probably use a couple more. The nearby Strip District and downtown usually do more restaurant business than the immediate neighborhood, but if for some reason you’re limited, you should be able to find a place to hang out. The weekend Federal Street scene is lively, though, hence the score.
It’s not news that the Pirates aren’t good and haven’t been good for a while. As a result, they have one of the lowest attendance numbers in MLB, and, sadly, most of those numbers can be made up of the opposing team’s fans, particularly if it’s an intra-division game. So, yes, you’ll hear Pirates fans complaining about … well, just about everything, particularly owner Bob Nutting, but at the same time, there’s always a happy buzz, even when the Bucs are getting creamed. It’s probably because PNC is so nice, and on a lovely summer’s day, even lousy baseball can be entertaining. That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.
If you’re driving to PNC Park, parking in the immediate vicinity will run you about twenty bucks. However, there are tons of cheaper alternatives if you’re willing to walk–and you should, because walking anywhere in downtown Pittsburgh is an opportunity you shouldn’t miss. The famous footpath from downtown to PNC, the Roberto Clemente Bridge, is currently being refurbished and isn’t open this season, but the Seventh Street/Andy Warhol Bridge is a fine alternative.
Those coming in from south of downtown can hop the light rail system, known as the T, which is free to ride downtown and $2.75 outside of it, to the North Side station, a block away from PNC. A semi-secret for those coming in from the north or west is to park for free at nearby Rivers Casino and take a ten-minute walk to the park. PNC Park is fantastically accessible, with tons of ramps and expansive concourses. Restrooms are clean and spacious if a touch dated.
Return on Investment 3
The Pirates badly want to put butts in seats, so PNC Park tickets can be incredibly cheap if you take advantage of the numerous discounts the team offers, so there is literally no reason you should pay full price. Often, seats go for half off, which means a pair of lower-level seats on the first base line can cost as little as $61, a positive bargain for MLB. The Pirates also offer combo packs, with tickets plus food and/or drink vouchers. If all you want to do is enjoy live baseball in a beautiful park, bargains abound.
Because of Pittsburgh’s location, it’s a great road trip destination, and, somewhat sadly, PNC Park sees big crowds when teams like the Cardinals and Yankees are in town. Since the locals don’t want to see the Pirates, those whose teams are better and more expensive to see in their home parks crow about the deals they can get at PNC, which is why my score is lower. A park should attract its own fans, not other teams’ fans.
Once upon a time, the Pirates were good, with legendary players like Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroski, the hero of the 1960 World Series. You’ll find their statues surrounding PNC Park.
The park also contains a pretty comprehensive team store, although you may hear a cry of “they want how much for a Ke’Bryan Hayes jersey? It’s not even signed!”
Oversized baseballs line the riverwalk, immortalizing Pirates Hall of Famers and stars from Pittsburgh’s two Negro League teams, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. A more localized Hall of Fame is being worked on as well.
PNC Park is a mecca for MLB fans two decades after its opening, and the recent right field plaza refurbishment combined with a ton of promotions and discounts make it a relatively cheap day or night out for locals and visitors alike. The Pirates, while still pretty bad, have actually begun spending money on players, and there are a lot of kids coming up that make watching a game not quite as painful as it has been. Pittsburgh hopes that one day the Pirates will field a team that’s worthy of the beautiful ballpark they call home.