Archive for Tuesday, July 11, 2006

All-Star game to showcase PNC

July 11, 2006


— Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez are on the NL team. The Pittsburgh Pirates' most significant All-Star, however, is a place instead of a player.

America, meet PNC Park.

Stuck in a sixth consecutive losing season since opening their jewel of a ballpark in 2001, the Pirates rarely appear on national TV or play big games at home. That changes with the All-Star game, when PNC Park's unrivaled setting, numerous quirks and many statues can be seen coast-to-coast.

Lots of fans have heard about a ballpark that's been consistently ranked among the best in major-league history, enhanced by the gleaming downtown buildings right across the Allegheny River. But many have seen little of PNC Park except during the nightly baseball highlights show.

Now, PNC Park gets to show itself off for one night, and Sanchez can't envision anyone disliking a ballpark that was designed to incorporate the best of the new wave of parks and the old-style ballyards like Pittsburgh's own long-since-demolished Forbes Field.

The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez walks onto the field before the Home Run Derby. The contest was Monday at Pittsburgh's well regarded but somewhat unknown PNC Park, which tonight will serve as site for the All-Star game.

The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez walks onto the field before the Home Run Derby. The contest was Monday at Pittsburgh's well regarded but somewhat unknown PNC Park, which tonight will serve as site for the All-Star game.

"One of the players said they hadn't been here before, I said, 'You're in for a surprise - this place, it doesn't get any better than this,"' Sanchez said Monday.

PNC Park is named for a local banking chain once known as Pittsburgh National that bought the rights for about $30 million. Unlike most of the older-style parks, PNC Park lacks the prerequisite brick exterior. To reflect an architectural style more common to Pittsburgh, a sandy beach-hued limestone was used.

It's also not a hitter-friendly bandbox like the new parks in Houston and Cincinnati often are. The right field line is an enticing 320 feet away, but the wall there is 21 feet high - in recognition of Hall of Fame right fielder Roberto Clemente's No. 21.

Most pitchers love left-center, where the power alley is a tough-to-reach 378 feet and a notch in left-center is 410 feet from home plate. The left field wall is only 6 feet high, which allows outfielders to lean into the stands and take away homers.

"They didn't ask me to do the Home Run Derby but, if they had, I would say I don't know if I could hit a ball out of this place to left, so I'll pass," said the White Sox's Paul Konerko, who played in PNC two weeks ago.

PNC Park fast facts

Location: Pittsburgh's North Side, across the Allegheny River from the city's downtown, known as the Golden Triangle. The ballpark is several blocks from Heinz Field, where the Steelers play, and is close to the site of the Pirates' first ballpark, Exposition Park, where they played from 1891-1909. Capacity: 38,496. Number of seating decks: Two, making it the first major-league ballpark built with only two seating decks since County Stadium in Milwaukee in 1953. Dimensions: 325 feet, left field line; 386 feet, left-center power alley; 410 feet, notch in left-center; 399 feet, straightaway center; 375 feet, right field power alley; 320 feet, right field line. Height of left-field wall: 6 feet. Height of right-field wall: 21 feet, in recognition of No. 21, Roberto Clemente. Balls hit into the Allegheny River on the fly: One, by Daryle Ward on July 6, 2002. Nineteen other homers cleared the right-field seats and bounced into the water. Longest home run: Sammy Sosa, 484 feet to center on April 12, 2002. Largest crowd: 39,392, vs. Padres on Aug. 11, 2001. No-hitters: None.

Other touches pay homage to Pittsburgh's 120-year major league history. The infield is very hard, though not quite as treacherous as the rockpile that was Forbes Field's infield before it closed in 1970.

"The grass is tall in the infield and you get a lot of ground ball outs," the Astros' Roy Oswalt said.

The light standards are shaped to resemble those at Forbes Field, and there are bleachers with bench seating in left field similar to those that ran along the left-field line in Forbes.

First-time visitors to PNC should allow plenty of time to explore a ballpark that may have more statues than any in the country.

Pirates Hall of Famers Clemente, Willie Stargell and Honus Wagner are recognized outside the ballpark, and a bronze casting pays tribute to the powerful hands of former NL home run champion Ralph Kiner. There also are seven newly unveiled statues honoring Negro League Hall of Famers with a Pittsburgh past, including Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.

The setting may be unmatched in the game, Dodger Stadium and its glorious vistas notwithstanding. The Roberto Clemente Bridge (painted in gold, of course) spans the Allegheny River and offers a backdrop in center field, with Pittsburgh's underrated skyline visible from nearly every seat.

"The skyline and the background, you don't get a whole lot of that in the newer stadiums," Arizona pitcher Brandon Webb said.

Passenger boats ply the river during games, tooting out salutes to the fans inside - sometimes at the very moment a pitcher delivers a key pitch. Some acknowledge almost jumping off the mound when a blast interrupted their concentration.

"That hasn't happened to me - I just hope I don't give up a ball that hits one of those boats," Brewers reliever Derrick Turnbow said.

That would be a blast - the river has been reached on the fly only once during a regular season game, a 479-foot drive by the Astros' Daryle Ward on July 6, 2002. Nineteen other homers have landed behind the right-field seats and bounded into the river.

"You look out and see the city out there, the water and bridges, it's a little bit of everything," Turnbow said. "It's a great setting and a great place to have a baseball park."

And an All-Star game, too.

"They did an unbelievable job at doing this ballpark and I love it," Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca said. "I don't really like the domes, they look like shopping malls. This is more traditional and they did a great job."


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