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PNC Park's opening means a whole new ball game

Tuesday, April 10, 2001

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

For the 36,954 fans at PNC Park it's a day of mixed feelings: joy in the brand new ballpark and all its wonders and sadness in the death of the beloved Pirates slugger Willie Stargell at the age of 61.

It was a day of electricity and excitement tempered with sadness. The Pirates' new ballpark officially opened, but one of the team's all-time heroes passed away.

Ned Sokoloff, a long-time season ticket holder at Three Rivers Stadium, rests his feet on the top of the Pirates' dugout to take in yesterday's home opener from his new seat at PNC Park in a leisurely, lazy days of summer kind of way. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

Welcome, PNC Park. Farewell, Willie Stargell.

As thousands of fans streamed across the Roberto Clemente Bridge in record-tying 80-degree heat yesterday afternoon, it seemed like nothing could dim the happy anticipation surrounding the opening of the Pirates' new playground.

And yet pain was inescapable because of the death of Stargell, the backbone of the championship teams of the 1970s, who, after months of failing health, died of a stroke early yesterday.

The celebration was marked by the release of thousands of multicolored balloons and of 115 white doves -- one for every year of professional baseball in Pittsburgh -- that circled upward over the field.

More on PNC Park's Home Opener

In the stands, nine innings of memories

Chuck Finder
Finder on the Web
Not everyone cheering for the Pirates opening day

PNC Park Photo Journal

From Sunday's Special Section
The struggle over building PNC Park

Remembering "Pops"

Willie Stargell: Numbers couldn't measure the man

Ron Cook
Pirates' family mourns death of beloved "Pops"

A photojournal of Stargell's career

The Game

Pirates learn of Stargell's death, fall to Reds in PNC Park opener, 8-2

Bob Smizik
Opening day takes some hits

Sean Casey, Upper St. Clair native, makes himself right at home

Pirates Opening Day Firsts

Pirates Photo Journal


The sorrow was marked by video highlights of Stargell's prodigious skills -- swinging his mighty bat, sliding into home, doffing his cap to the crowd, tagging out a runner at first and circling the bases after one of his 475 home runs.

Stargell got a two-minute ovation after the video.

Fans laid several dozen bouquets of flowers at the foot of the Stargell statue at the ballpark's left field entrance -- a statue that had just been unveiled Saturday.

"There is no family without Pops," read a sign placed at Stargell's feet. One man stood and saluted. All day fans stood in front of the 12-foot bronze statue to have their pictures taken, even after the Pirates dropped the opener, 8-2, to the Cincinnati Reds.

Three of those fans were Joe, Mike and Christopher Eritz -- three generations of Pirates fans from McKees Rocks. Joe, the grandfather, recalled seeing slugger Ralph Kiner play at Forbes Field, while his son Mike recalled watching Stargell during the World Series of 1971 and 1979 at Three Rivers Stadium. Mike's son, Chris, who's 10, didn't remember much about Stargell but was looking forward to seeing new players at PNC Park.

The day's heat, which tied a record set in 1969, seemed more appropriate for midsummer baseball. Political figures, past and present, who played a role in financing PNC Park were honored before the game, including former county commissioners Mike Dawida and Bob Cranmer, current Chief Executive Jim Roddey, Mayor Tom Murphy, Gov. Tom Ridge and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.

Ridge said the opening of PNC Park "reaffirms Pittsburgh's status as a world-class city, full of all the amenities that make Southwestern Pennsylvania such a wonderful place to live."

Hundreds of fans posed for pictures with the ballpark as a backdrop, including Dan Honan, Frank Rosato, Curtis Bray and Justin Gurnich, four friends who stood on a landing high above left field.

"Three years ago," Rosato said, "who would've thought this city would have something like this?"

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