Took Me Out to the Ballgame

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009, 3:08 pm

Look, I have nothing against kids. Really. I don’t even mind when they act like…kids. Boys will be boys and girls will be girls, to bastardize the Kinks. That said, yesterday I went to an afternoon ballgame and spent nearly the entire time hunched in my seat with a sour look on my face. All summer in Vegas I was looking forward to the day when I could mosey dahntahn and take in a Pirate game. Bring the camera along, have a few beers, eat a Primantis sammich, soak up some non-blistering rays. And since yesterday was the only weekday matinee the Bucs have until September I headed down to the North Shore looking forward to a relaxing summer afternoon.

It was nothing of the sort. First of all, the roads around PNC Park were jammed. With people going to the game. “WTF?” I said as I inched my silver steed toward the parking garage, which was the only place I felt confident of getting a space. I was following some (deleted) with Ohio plates who kept choosing the wrong lane and then cutting me off to get back in the proper line. “You scurvy BASTARD!” I shouted as he nosed in front of me at the garage entrance. “Death to you and all your kind!!” I usually don’t get road rage but for some reason my temper was already frayed. The jackass pulled in, I let a car coming from the opposite lane take his turn and pull in…and then two dippy women in an SUV cut me off and pulled in too. There are three things to mention about what happened next:

  • I let loose with a towering stream of profanity that would’ve made Artie Lange stand and applaud
  • I did so with my driver and passenger windows wide open (sunroof too)
  • I did so with a City of Pittsburgh police officer standing on the sidewalk five feet away.

Oh, and did I mention that those sidewalks were crowded, mostly with children? I guess mores have changed because the cop didn’t ticket me for creating a public disturbance. Instead he he frowned and shook his head at me. As if to say, “That was uncalled for. Really.”

My trial wasn’t over once I paid the exhorbitent fee and actually got in the garage–I had to follow those two…women…to the top of the garage because it was nearly filled up. Ten stories and they drove about 3MPH, looking for that great spot that didn’t exist. They make you turn around these cones to create two wide lanes in the garage and the driver had a heck of time steering her tank around them. “DON’T BUY THE GODDAM TRUCK IF YOU CAN’T DRIVE THE GODDAM TRUCK!!” I screamed, pleased that my rage had fallen to a more acceptible temperature. We finally reached the roof, I parked, and ran down ten concrete flights to the street.

Which was swarming with kids. Groups of kids. Groups of kids in brightly-colored T-shirts. OK, school’s out, it figured there would be more children around than a game in September. Still, this seemed…organized. And it was really crowded. I went up to my usual ticket window and the line was 100-deep. I ended up walking all the way around the the left-field entrance and picking up my general-admission ticket there, after a teeth-grinding ten-minute wait.

Once inside the park I wandered back around to the right-field upper deck, a good spot to get some shots of the city. But the day was overcast and gloomy, not great for picture-taking. No matter–I’d drink and eat until my mood (and hopefully the sky) improved! I got a Primanti’s cheesesteak and a Bud and found an unpopulated section to enjoy my lunch. But this was not to be. First of all, my beer had a decidedly cardboardy aftertaste, as if it’d been stored in a paper milk carton instead of a keg. Second, my Primanti’s was the worst I’d ever had. They put the slaw on the bottom, then the fries and meat on top. So the bottom slice of bread was a soggy, gooey mess within seconds. And the tomato they used (which I’d forgotten to tell them to exclude) was a red, runny mess…it looked like bloody snot. It WASN’T, I hasten to add, but when you’re about to eat lunch that isn’t the most appetizing thought to have running through your mind.

I sat in my seat, frowning, sweating (it was humid), and watching Ryan Braun smack a Paul Maholm pitch over the left field wall. I took some meh pictures and decided that I’d try to find a different vantage point behind home plate. Usually when I go to afternoon games I wander around, from the upper deck to the pricier seats below. The park is usually 2/3 empty, and after the 4th inning or so the ushers could care less if you sit down front. They’re happy to have some company, I think.

But that wasn’t the case yesterday. It wasn’t a sellout, far from it, but the good seats were taken. I wandered around the concourse and heard a huge roar and the bang of fireworks. Andrew McCutchen had just hit a home run and I missed it. “Crap!” I said as I watched the replay on the scoreboard, and then I resumed my search for a perch.

About a minute later there was another roar and more fireworks. I raced over and saw Garrett Jones jogging back to the dugout after hitting a home run of his own. “Excrement!” I snarled. The most excitement the Bucs have had in 5 years or so, I’m in the park, and I miss it. I turned on my heel and continued on my way.

Cheers. Fireworks. “Bull-SHIT!!” I screamed and ran to the rail. Ryan Doumit had just hit ANOTHER home run. Three homers in four batters. I shook my fist at the heavens and said, “Are you SHITTING ME??” Doumit actually didn’t cross home plate right away, as the umps ruled that the ball hadn’t cleared the Clemente Wall. Turns out it had, the Bucs challenged and instant replay confirmed, and Doumit finished rounding the bases as I settled into my new seat along the third base line. My mood was darker than the Pirates playoff hopes. It was the third inning, the Bucs were leading 5-2, and I was thinking about leaving. Take me out to the ballgame?

I took a deep breath, a couple of pictures…and then I decided to change seats again. I did this because I was bracketed by about 500 extremely annoying kids. Now, I’m not talking about kids enjoying a day at the ballyard, with cotton candy and Cracker Jacks. I’m talking about kids who were climbing over the empty rows of seats to see who could reach the top of the stadium first. Who were endlessly backtalking the “adults” who were “supervising” them. It was that constant background noise that had me heading to the concession stand for another beer (a Yuengling this time, which also tasted cardboardy) and back to my original seat.

It was about this time that I heard over the PA that this was “Day Campers Day” at PNC Park. Ah, so that explained all the kids wearing matching T-shirts. Today was an outing for all those kids whose parents shunt them off to the backwoods to give their sanity a chance to recover. Let me say this about that–if you send your kids to camp, and you think that your child, with 30 others, is being “chaperoned” by two teenagers who spend most of their time flirting with each other, good luck to you. I saw one coven of hyperactive children who I wouldn’t tackle without the aid of the 82nd Airborne–their shephards were an octogenarian and a girl who looked 14. I crossed myself and fairly jogged back to my original, isolated seat.

The score was 5-2 and Maholm gave up a one-out single. “Let’s see how he blows this lead,” I texted my brother. Maholm duly walked the next two batters and gave up a bases-clearing double to Braun. In fact, here’s a pic of Maholm serving that up:

You’d think this sort of meltdown might get the attention of the manager, but no. With the fans booing (God knows I was) Maholm gave up a two-run dinger that put Milwaukee back in the lead. Pirate manager John Russell finally woke up or put down his knitting or whatever the hell he does during the games and took Maholm out. There was more booing, louder, but no one threw debris on the field or anything that was called for like that.

Someone named “Joel Hanrahan” came in and got the last two outs of the inning. I eased back in my chair and watched the most exciting part of any Bucco game–the pirogi race! Halapeno Hanna (sp, I know) beat out Saurkraut Saul at the end. Wonder how much money changes hands during the pirogi race. Fans gotta have some prop bets to hold their interest.

But then something weird happened–the Pirates rallied to tie the score. And something beyond weird happened–Andy LaRoche had a clutch two-out hit to score a run, and later scored they tying run himself. Perhaps you have to be a Pirate fan to understand, but “Andy LaRoche had a clutch hit” is a sentence almost as strange as “Sasquatch rode a unicorn to Atlantis”. I know, pics or it didn’t happen, so here is a shot of LaRoche (his brother Adam was traded yesterday so there’s no need to use the first name) getting a clean hit:

But after Ramon Vasquez doubled LaRoche in, Russell inexplicably let Hanrahan hit with two outs. Two outs, a man on second, and you let a newly-acquired relief pitcher with an ERA above 7.00 hit for himself. “WTF!!” I screamed. “W.T.F.!! The guy bats twice a year! You have a runner in scoring position!! Pinch-hit, you colossal asshole!!!!” But the Pirate manager, perhaps having a lie-down after the exertion of yanking Maholm three hitters too late, let Hanrahan bat (he did get good wood on the ball, lining out to right). I rubbed my temples for a few seconds and saw that my beer was empty.

And that did it for me. Well, that and the huge group of 8-year-olds sitting one section over who were shrieking, and I do mean shrieking, almost constantly. There was one girl among them, I have to tip my hat, she had a scream that was something out of a nightmare. High-pitched, high-decible, and she could sustain. She would scream and everyone would look at her and laugh, because it was hard to believe such a tiny girl could produce a noise louder and more piercing than an F-18 launching from an aircraft carrier.

Not that I heard her for long. Because I bailed. A 7-7  tie in the eighth inning and I left. I didn’t care who won–I wanted to get out of there. The kids, the heat, the lousy beer. John Russell. I didn’t want to get caught in the post-game traffic and there was one more thing I wanted to see before I headed home.

I used to work on the North Shore and I walked past my old building and felt that familiar nostalgic twang. Hard to believe that I left the company more than three years ago (be fair, the company left me). But I pressed on, past Heinz Field, past the Science Center. I wanted to see the almost-ready Rivers Casino, due to open on August 9th. You might think it odd, considering that I spend about two months out of the year in Las Vegas, that I’d never once seen the casino as it was going up. I literally had no idea what it looked like, how big it is, heck, even it’s precise location. I’ve read about it in the paper, of course, and I started to get a picture of it in my head. When it was first proposed I thought that it would be this little joint, like maybe the size of a Cheesecake Factory or something. Nope. I read about how many slot machines the place would hold and all the restaurants and bars and whatnot and, hey, it’s gonna be a fairly substantial place. This is as close as I could get to it:

A bit narrow but it should give you some idea of the size of the place. It is extremely weird to think that there’s going to be a casino in Pittsburgh. That I can, if I want, drive 20 minutes and be playing video poker in a casino. Very strange. And this is just the start, of course–there’s already been talk of introducing table games here (inevitable) and allowing video poker machines in bars (uhh, that could be bad for me). I think people should be allowed to spend their money as they see fit, but after spending two months in casinos I must confess to feeling a bit uneasy about having one here at home. Maybe that’ll change when I visit on August 9th (I’ll be there as soon as it opens, for professional reasons, of course) but it does seem a bit surreal to see a casino plopped down there.

After satisfying my curiousity I turned on my heel and headed for my car. And off in the distance I heard…fireworks. Lots of fireworks. Turns out that Brandon Moss hit a game-winning walk-off home run in the ninth. The Bucs hit five home runs and I didn’t see four of them. I’m not sure what this says about the Pirates or about me. I’m as insane a sports fan as you’ll find–ask Al and Jen about watching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals with me. I’m a mean, vicious, uncharitable, gloating bastard, and I’m proud of that. But with the Pirates…ehh. They play 162 games a year, can’t get too excited about any particular one. And the Pirates haven’t played a truly meaningful game since Barry Bonds failed to throw out Sid Bream at home back in 1992. I probably can’t name 20 players on the major-league roster (harder than it sounds with all the trades of late). But I still go to three or four games a year. The team stinks, has stunk for nearly two decades, but people keep coming to the games ’cause the park is gorgeous and it’s nice way to spend a summer day. Next time I gotta pick a game without the campers.

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3 Responses to “Took Me Out to the Ballgame”

  1. Don C Says:

    I know a guy who is good with numbers. You could say he is pro gambling. A casino went up in the town next to the one he grew up in. He thought it was great. Through the visiting years he he saw what was a relatively nice place turn in to a hardcore wreck. Listening to him grapple with the change was the only time I heard him have second thoughts about free gaming.

    I don’t know, yeah, let the people send their money as they see fit. On the other hand its a funny notion as we live in one big fixed game. The nice suits snicker from the hedge.

    The homeless is gaming towns stand out. The one in Reno looks like they could out fight, out stink, out dive for the chicken bone any mid evil mob who ever howled in rags.

    It can be tough to relax and enjoy a game. Sometimes I let myself and sometimes I don’t.

    Nice pics and a funny description of a day at the park.

  2. Wolynski Says:

    Great article. I enjoyed your photos and writings from the WSOP – keep up the good work.

  3. Julio Rodriguez Says:

    You are spoiled, sir. That is one of the nicest parks in baseball, while my lowly Marlins are stuck (for the next few years, at least) playing in a cavernous football stadium where some of the seats face the wrong way.

    Here in Las Vegas, we have the 51’s team and Thirsty Thursdays, but I miss being able to see a pro team with $4 tickets and $10 parking.

    Right before I moved west, the Primanti Bro’s opened a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. I enjoyed my coleslaw, fry burger, but is there any chance it’s as good as the original Pittsburger? Same people, no?

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