Article and all photos by Joe Mock, BaseballParks.com
All rights reserved
Two new ballparks, both very much anticipated, opened in the Majors in 2001. Milwaukee’s massive Miller Park, an engineering marvel of the highest order, debuted to fairly positive reviews on April 6th. Three days later, though, the baseball world let out a collective “yee haw!” when PNC Park in Pittsburgh opened. When you look at the setting and design of the two parks, PNC wins the head-to-head competition hands down.
That’s why it was named BASEBALLPARKS.COM’s Best New Major League Park for 2001. The plaque shown here was given to the Pirates’ Vice President of Communications/New Ballpark Development, Steven Greenberg.
Of course, since only two new parks opened in 2001, the grammatically correct way of putting this would be “Better New Major League Park.” I have a feeling you’ll indulge us on this bending of the rules of grammar.
This annual award — which last year went to Pac Bell Park in San Francisco — is based on three factors: site selection; design of the ballpark and amenities for the fans. Let’s look at how PNC stacks up in these three areas.
It’s tempting to say, “Hey, what’s the big deal? They built their new ballpark just a couple of blocks from the old one!” While this is certainly an accurate observation, that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story here.
Sure, it’s on the north bank of the Allegheny River just a few hundred yards upstream from the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers, but that’s where Three Rivers Stadium was (before it was torn down). What makes the exact site of PNC Park so perfect is that (a) it allows the perfect view of the downtown skyline — better than what Three Rivers would have provided if it hadn’t have been a “doughnut”; (b) it permits downtown office workers and guests at hotels to walk across the beautiful Roberto Clemente Bridge to get to the park, all the while taking in the wonderful view of the river and the ballpark’s exterior and (c) it is near enough to several main highway arteries so those driving to the park have a fairly easy time getting in and out. The lefthand photo below, by the way, shows the Clemente Bridge in the foreground. It was taken from my hotel room across the river from the park.
It’s the view from within the park that trumps all other aspects of this beautiful facility, though. The Wall Street Journal called it a “downtown view that feels like a 3-D movie.” Depending on where you are sitting, you will have a view of the river and bridge and/or the impressive skyline Much has been written about this view. Suffice it to say that you need to see it for yourself. The righthand shot was taken at dusk from the upper deck. The bridge can be seen directly beyond center field. When it gets a little darker than this, the lights of the buildings are truly beautiful.
The architectural firm responsible for the design of PNC Park is HOK Sport out of Kansas City . . . and did they ever do a spectacular job! First and foremost, the “footprint” of the park allows most fans to see that fantastic view. In many respects, that was a “no brainer.” However, it should be pointed out that like the great old parks in Boston and the north side of Chicago, PNC has that often-sought-but-rarely-found element of intimacy. It is quite an architectural challenge to achieve it.
“Above all, the Pirates wanted intimacy, and a facility that reflected the character of Pittsburgh,” HOK spokesperson Carrie Plummer told me. “We wanted to design a ballpark that fit within its neighborhood and, of course, capitalized on the view.”
The result is truly an intimate park with only two seating decks — the first Major League park to be built this way in 50 years. This two-level design was accomplished by tucking the luxury suites underneath the upper deck. PNC also has fewer than 38,000 seats, giving it the smallest seating capacity of any current Major League park other than Fenway.
The color scheme inside the ballpark also deserves mentioning. The seats are all a deep blue, which is a wonderful departure from the endless sea of dark green at most newer stadiums. Also, the girders are silver and blue, which works very well. The light standards also have a purpose other than illumination — the design of the towers and the arrangement of the lights are intentionally reminiscent of the lights at the Pirates’ home until 1970, Forbes Field.
The exterior of PNC Park also has a lot going for it. Beautiful limestone was used for much of the exterior, which is another welcome departure (from all of the reddish brick on so many new stadiums). The statues of past Pirate heroes Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Honus Wagner — one of the most under-rated players in the history of the sport — are strategically placed outside various entrances to the park. The Clemente and Wagner statues had previously graced the outer walkway at Three Rivers Stadium. The one of Stargell — who tragically died the same day PNC Park opened — was new this year.
HOK’s wonderful design elements also translate into many special treats for the fans. The concourse at the rear of the lower deck is open to the field, keeping fans more involved in the game. The circular ramp in left field not only provides outstanding views of the playing field, it also entertains fans with large tapestries of past Pirate players’ baseball cards (see below).
The main entryway behind home plate has a similar ramp design, but frankly, it works better in left field than behind the seats near home plate.
Fans are also treated to an incredible variety of foods at PNC — although by no means are the prices low. Not only are regional and national vendors represented at the concession stands, some local favorites can be found as well.
Don’t miss exploring around the area behind the left-field foul pole. Here you’ll find a food court, a two-level (and beautifully arranged) souvenir shop, restaurants and a wonderful gallery.
The Pirates’ stadium is named after PNC Financial Services Group, who paid something in excess of $30 million for the naming rights. The park itself cost approximately $262 million to build, $40 million of which came from the Pirates. In this age of stadiums costing $400 million and up, the tax-payers and the Pirates got an awful lot for their money. With so much to do and (especially!) see here, you can see why PNC beat out Miller Park to win this year’s Best New Park award.