Baseball has been played in Pittsburgh for a long time. It has been done in the name of the Pirates since 1891. That’s 10 years before the Red Sox (then the Boston Americans) entered the MLB ranks. While Boston is baseball mecca to us here at OTM, during the last weekend, I had the chance to take a journey to one of baseball’s other holy cities.
After driving the straight-shot across Pennsylvania from Philadelphia, which included plenty of open farmland and varied billboards, I found my way to the Friendship neighborhood of Pittsburgh, just a bit northeast of Oakland and the University of Pittsburgh. It’s at Pitt that the baseball journey really began.
While PNC Park is now where the Pirates play, Pittsburgh baseball was housed at Forbes Field for 61 years before it was closed in 1970. While the structure itself is no longer standing, there are still remnants of the park on Pitt’s campus, specifically at the university’s Posvar Hall. When you walk inside the academic building, there are black and white pictures of Pirates greats like Roberto Clemente (more on him later) and then further on down the hall is a section of the floor that houses the home plate of the field, although just how close the plate is to its original position has been debated before.
But the home plate is not the only part of Forbes Field that lives on. Firstly, every Oct. 13, fans and interested parties alike can listen to Game 7 of the 1960 World Series at Posvar Hall. In addition, parts of the outfield wall still stand across a small street from where the plate is housed. That means you can play make believe and attempt to catch a ball and rob a historical great of extra bases by scaling the brick. Or you can take a picture near it. Whatever floats your boat.
After taking in the sites on Pitt’s campus, it was time to start moving into the city and closer to PNC Park. So I set off down Penn Ave. toward the heart of the city. Along the way I passed the Roberto Clemente Museum. Unfortunately, due to poor planning on my part, I was unable to get inside, but that just means I’ll have to make a return trip.
As I continued my trip down Penn Ave., something really stuck out. Wiz Khalifa wasn’t kidding when he said “Black and Yellow.” Everything from the people’s wardrobe to the architecture was covered in city’s iconic color combiation. Plus, while most cities have a Starbucks on every corner, the stretch of road I was on had a sports merchandise place instead.
Once I got into the city proper, I had to head to the North Shore, which is across the Allegheny River from downtown and the home of both PNC Park and Heinz Field.
One of the things I learned in Pittsburgh is that the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which is one of many yellow ones up and down the Allegheny and Monongahela River, is the best way to get across, and the only way you can do that on game day is by foot. The bridge is blocked off from traffic of the motor vehicle persuasion and is instead open for fans. Once I got to the other side, and was restrained from sprinting to Heinz Field to yell “Jesse James didn’t catch that ball!”, it was time to soak in more baseball history.
After crossing, right there to greet you is a statue of Clemente himself. Easily the best Pirate of the live ball era, Clemente played for 17 years and was an All-Star for 12 of those. He finished with a all-time triple slash of .317/.359/.475 and OPS+ of 130. With 94.5 bWAR, he is second only to Honus Wagner in franchise history. He was one of those sure-fire Hall of Famers, and not just in a baseball sense.
As you walk further on, making a stop in the pro shop perhaps, there is another looming figure. This time its slugger Willie Stargell, who is digging in and ready to send a ball to the moon. Stargell had plenty of those moments in non-statue form, as he clobbered 475 home runs in his 21-year career, including MLB-highs of 48 and 44 in 1971 and 1973, respectively.
Around the corner and at the entrance to the park is that Wagner fellow I mentioned earlier. With an incredible 120.2 career bWAR with the Pirates, Wagner was one of the great hitters of his day. He led the majors in all three triple slash categories four times and finished his career with a 151 OPS+. He is also a member of the 3,000-hit club and a Hall of Famer.
Last, but far from least, is a statue that allows Pirates fans to relieve one of the greatest moments in the sport’s history, let alone Pittsburgh’s. The “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, Bill Mazeroski’s famed walk-off home run in game seven of the 1960 World Series is remembered near the right field entrance.
After all this build up, PNC Park finally got a chance to show its stuff. It did not disappoint. The park itself has a modern feel to be sure and the view out over the center and right field fences is an excellent backdrop to a game of baseball. It didn’t hurt that the game I saw featured plenty of excellent baseball, even if you wouldn’t expect it in a contest between the Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds.
I got to witness first-hand the great hitting of Joey Votto, as he twice handled seemingly unhittable pitches by serving them to the opposite field for base hits. Pittsburgh starter Chad Kuhl was solid, especially when he got back-to-back strikeouts to strand the bases loaded in the top of the fifth inning. Then Eugenio Suarez smashed a three-run home run to give the Reds the win later on. I even got a chance to witness Billy Hamilton’s wicked speed and Raisel Iglesias embarrass hitters.
After the game, and during my commute home, I was easily able to say that Pittsburgh is a fine baseball city. Ten out of 10. Would repeat. But enough about Pittsburgh. Back to your regularly scheduled Red Sox content.
Drew Pomeranz is nearing his return, making rehab starts in the minors. (Kevin Dillon; MassLive)
Part of the reason the Sox are in a different place than the Yankees is they took advantage of an easy schedule in the first nine games. (Nick Cafardo; Boston Globe)
But that doesn’t mean this new rendition of the rivalry has any less hype. (Christopher L. Gasper; Boston Globe)
Brock Holt is a Whitney Houston guy, as we all should be. (Adam London; NESN)
Even with his excellent music choices, Holt and the rest of Boston’s middle infield depth have a real test ahead of them with Xander Bogaerts out for a bit. (Alex Speier; Boston Globe)
Tim Hyers is the man getting the Red Sox on the launch angle revolution bandwagon. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)