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Pirates More than a green cathedral

Sunday, April 15, 2001

By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

An enlightening stroll through PNC Park

All right, boys, let's park the car here and walk across the Roberto Clemente Bridge. This is going to be a new experience for you. This is going to be a new experience for all 38,000 of us inside the North Shore green cathedral we call PNC Park.

What's a green cathedral?

A grass-field ballpark, son. A place to worship baseball as it was meant to be. A tent revival of the fields of dreams from days of yore.

Yeah, your dad's speaking in tongues again.

Look at all the kiosks and carts along the bridge. Go ahead and start spending the money that's burning a hole in your pocket. What's that? You have to go to the bathroom already?

No problem. You'll find a bathroom almost every few steps in the ballpark, which will happen when you install something like 727 toilets in your new house. All told, this place supposedly has 20 men's rooms and 21 women's rooms. Why, son? The women get more because either most everything in the park must equal Clemente's No. 21, or they get more because they deserve it. Ask your mom which one. I'll agree with whatever she says.

No, we aren't going to eat at the Outback Steakhouse today; maybe next time. You can purchase tickets for the restaurant and sit at tables overlooking the field, if you want. This is America's first park with an Outback. The pizza and coffee places next door will be open every day, too -- Pirates game or no Pirates game. Let's take a look around the park first before deciding what you want to eat.

This is the Pirates office building, including its retail store. No, we aren't going to cover all 4,000-something square feet of the "Pirates Outfitters" outlet today. The park has three other stores where you can buy Pirates gear. Hope you boys have some money left. There are, so I hear, 33 concession stands yet to hit.

What's that? No, we can't hit every one of them today, either.

Here's a neat part of the park: Pops' Plaza. It's named for Willie Stargell, a Hall of Famer like Clemente. You got your Chicken on the Hill, your Fam-a-lee Barbecue, your Willie's Chili, my 475 Bar, your Pops Potato Patch -- I hear they serve the same spuds as Kennywood. And, no, we cannot go there today.

See, from here along the third-base line you can watch the game and wait in line for food. Oh, you want to eat something else. OK, let's head toward home plate. . . where we find such eateries as RB Rye's and the Sweet Spot Sweet Shop. I didn't make these up, some sarcastic Pirates VP named Steve Greenberg did.

Yep, feel that wind. Your godfather's going to find it rather chilly in these fancy home-plate seats on cool days. Oh, so you want different food? Keep walking, boys. Don't watch TV, or we'll be here all year. I read where there are 658 of those 27-inch, flat-screen monitors in the park. None of them get the Cartoon Network (I hope).

Now we're coming to probably the social gathering place here, a spot with a lovely perspective of both the park and the city, behind the first-base line. Welcome to Smorgasburgh. Here you'll find Primanti's sammiches, Quaker State and Lube, Benkovitz and Beers of the Burgh. That last one's for your dad, for later.

Finally, it's time to take our seats.

Not too shabby a seat, huh? Cozier than old Three Rivers Stadium seats, if you can remember that far back in your young lives. Feels wider. Much nicer view, too.

Take a look around. See that scoreboard in right field? That wall stands, once again, 21-feet high, and on it is a new-fangled outta-tahn scoreboard. It's put together by these Sports Ticker people who run a real-time sports-information business, and it's supposed to show you every other game's runners on base, pitchers, outs, inning, score, you name it.

That Pepsi bottle three times our size above the right-field stands? That's either going to make you thirsty or need another bathroom. Apparently, when the Pirates hit a home run, those strobe lights will light up, and the bottle will look like it's filling up.

Yeah, I'll get you another soda in a minute.

The big scoreboard above left field? That's a Sony Jumbotron. Imagine a $2.1 million TV almost the size of our house. You're right, I think our neighbors might complain.

If you remember the old scoreboard in Three Rivers, it looked like cable-access TV compared to this gizmo. See how clean, crisp and high-tech its picture looks. There's something like 16x9 sharpness in this one instead of the 4x3 in Three Rivers' board. Can I explain that? Unh-unh. That's exactly how this Pirates employee explained it to me. Ask your mom.

Anyway, wait a few minutes for the 3-D animated Pirate to appear on the scoreboard. He'll welcome us to the park and introduce us to all kinds of stuff. The board also will show wacky plays of the week, baseball quizzes, the cap shuffle, the jukebox multiple choice, player questions and answers -- such as "Wilma or Betty?" -- and a new game that gives you the high-school yearbook photos of celebrities and ballplayers. The board will show continuous pitcher stats, too.

The smaller boards on the bottom of the second deck are LED color boards. Those are the ones that will show ads and prompt us to cheer.

Let's stand up for the national anthem. Listen to that sound system, too. The old stadium had all its tinny speakers bunched together in center field, but this place is concert quality. Surround sound, man, 360 degrees. The better to hear Vince Lascheid on the organ.

Hey, it's the new Pirate Parrot -- the guy inside is a gymnast who can do flips.

The Pierogi Race is back. This time, all the races will be live, with the pierogis running around the field. And there's a fourth pierogi now: Jalapeno Hanna. She's one hot dish.

I made that up, son, not Mr. Greenberg.

Time for the first pitch. . . .

You want to walk around already? If you wait a few innings, I'll take you to Kids Land outside the southwest gate. You can't wait?

I can't wait until some sponsor steps to the plate and pays for that Pirate ship the club still wants to build. We could leave your little brother there for hours, although I'd worry about Hercules pushing that vessel into the water and sailing her to New Orleans.

Happy now? We're along the Riverwalk, behind the outfield. Yes, there are a bunch more kiosks and carts here. And don't the river and city look awesome from this vantage?

Hey, see up in the switchbacks ramps behind home plate and left field, all the people standing there, watching the game, sipping drinks. What are they drinking? Never mind, son.

What are those guys doing in the boats out there in the river? They're are waiting for home-run balls. It's a 443-foot shot down the right-field line and into the Allegheny, and those folks might wait a long time to see a rocket splashdown there. It may happen only two, three times a season, some experts say.

Check out the left-field bleachers, kind of like Chicago's Wrigley Field. That wall in front only goes 6 feet high. You can't get much closer to the field than that. Man, the first time the San Francisco Giants come here with Barry Bonds . . . remember him? If he jumps up the fence to catch a fly ball, these bleacher dudes could reach out and let him feel the love.

Now we're back to the Clemente Bridge gate we entered. Up here, beneath the Jumbotron scoreboard, are the restaurants I showed you earlier. That booth there is a radio studio for KDKA-AM, who broadcasts the Pirates games, and its sister stations.

No, you cannot go on radio today.

Maybe next time.

Next: Extra cash bought some fans a suite deal

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