DAY FOUR: PNC PARK
Ever since really getting a good look at it on MLB: The Show (then later on live television), PNC Park has been my favorite park in the majors. AT&T is a close second, while both are on the water, I think the view of the Pittsburgh skyline gives it the edge. Pittsburgh is a beautiful city. I’m not sure I was aware of that before getting an opportunity to explore it. We walked around and took a cable car up the hillside to get a great view of it all.
One of our pre-ballpark stops was to the former site of Forbes Field, home of Bill Mazeroski’s famous Game 7 walk-off homer against the Yankees in 1960. It’s been gone since 1972, but this brick wall remains as a memento of the park. It was 457 to dead center and 436 to right-center, as pictured here. There was also an entire flagpole in dead center field, which Houston must have taken inspiration from.
Then, game time — and oh, man. Oh, my goodness.
PNC Park is home to the best baseball experience that I have yet to find at a major-league ballpark. First of all, the design of the park is fantastic. There’s plenty to see around the exterior, the statues are cool, and the gate entrances are grandiose and exciting. Once inside the park, very modern concourses are tiled, or have escalators, or are outside in the sun looking over the bridge and the river.
We also had some pretty incredible seats that night.
As though the design of the ballpark and the view of the city wasn’t enough, the actual experience that PNC provides to their fans is second-to-none. You’re never at a loss for information; well-produced visual effects sequences depict the current Pirates batter doing something superheroic on the scoreboard, before displaying year-to-date and other relevant stats. The sound guy is doing a heck of a job, with a rallying clap-along/sing-along clip between almost every pitch. The audience is always engaged in Pittsburgh, visually and audibly committed to every pitch, every at-bat. (No waves to be found here.)
Finally, the between-innings experience was just as top-notch, from pierogi races to follow-the-object-under-the-helmet to trivia games to Super Bucco Run, the half-virtual, half-physical athletic challenge that takes place on the right field scoreboard.
The Pirates offer a complete experience — and that night, it was even complete with a win!
DAY FIVE: Nationals Park
It can’t have been helped by immediately following my favorite park — or an uncomfortably humid 90-degree day — but the home of the Washington Nationals was, in a word, genuinely underwhelming. It’s not a bad park, by any means. The field is well-kept, I’ve always liked the scoreboard, and it’s... neatly shaped, I guess?
The problem is that Nationals Park is incredibly average. City building regulations mean that the exterior of the stadium is borderline indistinguishable from a parking garage. There’s no weird baseball quirk on the field, nothing irregular, no tall walls, no large foul areas, nothing that differentiates the park from another one.
Not to mention the on-field product that day — the notorious Nats bullpen struck again, blowing a 5-3 lead to the Cubs with two outs in the ninth! Had I been a Nationals fan, I would have been livid. As a Twins fan, I was... mostly unimpressed. Washington is cool! Make the park cooler!
DAY SIX: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Once again, our day would begin early with a tour of the park. This one was a bit more comprehensive than the tour at Fenway; we visited the dugout and walked through otherwise-inaccessible concourses used by players and umpires. We visited the press box, as well as the audio/visual headquarters for the folks in charge of running the scoreboard and the sound system.
Did you know that every ball that clears the right-field wall at Camden Yards gets a little baseball-shaped plaque where it landed? Here’s Justin Morneau’s:
Did you also know that the warehouse beyond the right-field wall was renovated to reinforce all the glass windows, so that they wouldn’t break when home runs smashed into them? Did you also know that no home run has ever hit a window in the warehouse beyond the right-field wall?
The Orioles are one of those teams that make me wish the Twins had a clearer color — we have clear team colors, but the Orioles are just so orange-centric that even the tiniest little details of the park can be painted orange to give it a little extra flair. The same thing went for Boston. I vote we switch to lime green and repaint Target Field accordingly. [Editor’s Note: Absolutely note, you heathen.]
The game was pretty fun, too. By this point in the trip our entire tour group had really gelled so we had a great time ribbing the players, and each other. The game went 10 innings and resulted in a loss for the Orioles, but we got to see Trevor Plouffe start at DH for the Rays (and gave him a rousing round of “Ploooooooooooouuuffe”s each time he came up to bat.)
DAY SEVEN: Citi Field
So there is...not a lot going on outside Citi Field. There’s, like, a car repair shop? And a drugstore, I think? But it’s probably the most middle-of-nowhere ballpark I can think of. [Editor’s Note: It’s... in... Queens? Okay, good point.] It’s at least tied with Guaranteed Rate for that honor. Guaranteed Rate has a train stop next to it; I assume Citi Field does, but I didn’t see it. [Editor’s Note: Yes, it does.]
The Mets have a “Jackie Robinson Rotunda” at the entrance of the ballpark that’s adjacent to their Hall of Fame and Museum, which contains a lot of stuff from the 1969 and 1986 teams.
The field is cool — all the walls are blue, and the foul poles are orange, which is the only instance of non-yellow foul poles in the majors (a concession that MLB granted the Mets as a carryover from Shea Stadium).
They also have that apple that comes up when a Mets player homers, which I’ve always enjoyed. Their newest addition to the experience is a fan down the left-field line who holds up a Simba plushie when Yoenis Cespedes walks up to Elton John’s “Circle of Life.”
It doesn’t have that same mystique of the other New York team (which I’m sure a lot of Mets fans would kill me for saying), but I liked Citi Field. We also got to see an exciting ballgame that featured a come-from-behind homer for the Mets.
I’ll tell you one thing — this trip absolutely flew by. We couldn’t believe it when Saturday crept up on us and we realized this was our last ballpark. We got to see so much history — hundred-year-old history, decade-old history, and history in progress at the games each day. It was a whirlwind ride of experiences that I would truly recommend for anybody. We’re already planning to take the west coast tour next summer — and I hope I can bring you back some memories then, too!