Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Stadium Stuff recently completed its roundup of MLB stadiums with a surprising and refreshing choice at the top of its list: Pittsburgh's glorious PNC Park.

As Jim Caple writes, "This is the perfect blend of location, history, design, comfort and baseball. It's as if the House That Ruth Built had first been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and then run past Ray Kinsella for final approval."

Choosing PNC as the best was a gutsy call for It would have been far easier to go with either a classic (Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium) or one of the better new retro parks (Oriole Park at Camden Yards, PacBell Park). Such a pick would have been effortlessly defended, and no one would have complained.

I haven't been to Wrigley or PacBell yet -- they're the next two on my must-go list -- but I sat just behind home a couple of summers ago for a Phillies-Pirates game at PNC and was completely enthralled. The stadium is intimate without being tiny, and fresh without being artificial. The place just feels genuine. From the sparkling view of the Roberto Clemente Bridge spanning the Allegheny River to the delicious Primanti Brothers sandwiches washed down with an Iron City, everything about PNC is first-class.

Except, of course, for the play. It must be said that while PNC shines, the team that calls it home is a brutally bad lot. As Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park rises in the parking lot adjacent to Veterans Stadium, Phillies fans need look only across the state at the Pirates to see that a glorious ballpark is no guarantee of success. Fans in Baltimore, Detroit, and Texas would say the same thing. The Bucs used their increased stadium revenue to spend foolishly on free agents (Derek Bell, anyone?), the Orioles are being run by an owner without a clue, the Tigers seemed locked in a perpetual cycle of failure, and the Rangers forgot that 45 homers and 130 RBI from Alex Rodriguez can't mitigate the team's minor league pitching staff.

Not that I'll miss the Vet at all. The big concrete bowl in South Philly placed next-to-last on's list, ahead of only Montreal's Olympic Stadium. In a fair review, Jeff Merron noted, "It's hard to enter the Vet without the lowest of expectations. The stadium is better than bad, despite its reputation. So, these are its bonus points: a) Good move, putting in those dark blue seats in '95. They're a great improvement over the old orange, yellow, and brown ones. b) You know you're in Philly when you're there. Inside the ballpark, there's that Rocky-ish, we're-underdogs-but-we're-tough aura. c) So long, Vet. You will be missed. Sort of."


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