Ballpark Breakdown: PNC Park
By Brendon McGirr
Opening Date: 2001
Capacity: 38,747 (as of 2018)
Visiting Date: Twice, most recent Phillies 15, Pirates 4 (August 2021)
My photo from PNC Park
One look at 3 Rivers Stadium could easily show you it was built for function, not for appearance. Park of the donut multipurpose craze, 3 Rivers shares a lot in common with Veteran Stadium; a stadium beloved by the locals, but a relic of the past. In 1996, mayor Tom Murphy spearheaded the Forbes Field II Task Force to research and plan a future home for the Pirates. 13 sites were in the initial proposal, but the North Shore was eventually decided on due to its lower cost, potential for future development, and the ability to incorporate the skyline into the ballpark. A financial plan was developed to raise over $800 million for construction of a new Pirates and Steelers stadium.
When naming rights came up, a strong fan petition emerged to name the stadium after Pirates legend Roberto Clemente. However, local bank PNC emerged with an offer of over $200 million and was accepted by the team. As a compromise, the 6th Street Bridge leading towards the stadium was renamed the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
HOK sports, famous for stadiums such as Camden Yards, Progressive Field, and Coors Field, was chosen to construct the Steel City stadium. An emphasis was put on a “classic style” ballpark with reference to Forbes Field especially included. Wrigley and Fenway were also used for inspiration. The stadium put emphasis on exposed steel truss work and brick to give an old fashioned feel to the stadium. However, PNC would also be the first outdoor stadium with an LED scoreboard and a very detailed out of town scoreboard in Right Field (Upon researching this article, it was found out the out of town scoreboard was replaced with advertising space for the 2022 season. A real shame.)
Groundbreaking for the stadium occurred on April 7th, 1999 in conjunction with the renaming of the 6th Street Bridge. Stadium construction took just 24 months, at the time the fastest stadium construction project in US history. This was due to the use of computer tracking 24 hours a day and a pact by construction unions to not strike during the project.
On April 9th, 2001 the Pirates opened PNC Park against the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately, the Jolly Roger would not fly that day as Sean Casey led the Reds to an easy 8-2 victory.
Surrounding Area/Getting to the Stadium
Pittsburgh has done a great job at revitalizing the North Shore with the construction of PNC and Heinz Field. Just across the river from downtown proper, the North Shore has many different restaurants and bars within walking distance of both stadiums that offer a wide variety of food options. My personal recommendation for a quick bite to eat before the stadium is the Southern Tier Taproom. The restaurant has some quick and tasty pub fare and has a really nice vibe inside.
For things to do before heading to PNC Park, I would recommend a quick walk through Point State Park. While a very small park, it takes you right to the confluence of the 3 Rivers that give Pittsburgh it's fame; the Allegany, Monongahela, and the Ohio River. It’s a pretty cool site to see up close. Another recommendation is the Duquesne Incline, located about 2 miles from the stadium. A cable car that traces its history all the way back to 1877, this short ride up to the Duquesne Heights will give you the best view of downtown and the many bridges that surround the city.
PNC Park’s location in the North Shore makes walking to the stadium very easy. Fans coming from downtown can easily cross the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which is shut down to car traffic on game days (Please note the bridge is under reconstruction right now and should be open for the 2023 season). Crossing the bridge on gameday is in itself a great experience, with vendors and musicians dotting the bridge and giving it a very fun feeling as you walk towards the stadium. As you get closer to the stadium on Federal Street, you will notice several local bars that are packed with fans before first pitch. We went to Mike’s Beer Bar and Grill for a quick beer before the game, and they have a fantastic selection of local and PA brews.
In the Stadium
The first thing any visitor should see when they come to PNC Park is the statue of Roberto Clemente. The base of his statue is a baseball diamond, with dirt from the three fields Clemente played on (Santurce Field in PR, Forbes Field, and Three River Stadium) under the platform. Clemente is located just outside the Centerfield entrance. After seeing Roberto, you can see 3 other Pirates greats at the other corners of the stadium. Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroski also have bronze statues surrounding the stadium.
PNC is definitely a ballpark you want to get to early and walk around. The one word that I feel best describes PNC is intimate. No matter where you are, you never feel very far from the field at all. And while over two decades old at this point, PNC seems to just “fit” into Pittsburgh like it was always supposed to be there. The combination of steel, limestone, and brick really adds to the classical feeling Pittsburgh wanted when looking for a new home of the Pirates. There was definitely a focus on simplicity with the design, and having the architecture and the skyline behind it really be the star of the show when taking in a game.
While Pittsburgh has done a lot to make sure the experience is on the game, the one non baseball event you should make sure to check out is the Pierogi Race that happens after the 5th inning. Taking after the iconic Polish dish that is popular in Western PA, 5 costumed potato pockets race around the stadium. Oliver Onion was victorious on our last visit.
Food of Choice
PNC has a variety of different food options. The easiest for a large or picky group would be Pop’s Food Court. Located just behind 3rd base, it is home to several different food stands including Chicky and Pete's Crab Fries, Chicken on the Hill sandwiches, Pop-A Duke’s Gyros and Familee BBQ platters. This is a nice area to stop and get everyone’s food all at once before finding your seats.
If you are looking for something with a more regional flair, there is a Primanti Bros located inside the stadium. A local institution since the 1930s, Primanti Bros is famous for picking your sandwich protein, and then adding coleslaw and fries on top. While a little too much for myself, it does give you a great Pittsburgh experience.
The Pirates have had a rough go of it recently, and watching the Bucco teams of late can be tough. However, PNC Park is one of the standards when it comes to a gameday experience inside a modern work of art. The seamless integration of a classical field with the iconic bridge and skyscraper skyline really does bring back the close knit community feel of other legendary stadiums like Fenway, Ebbets, or even Pittsburgh’s own Forbes Field. PNC has earned its spot as one of the top ballparks in all of baseball, and Pittsburgh is a fantastic city to visit full of some of the most loyal fans in all of sports. While it might look a little empty now, PNC has one of the best atmospheres when the Pirates are winning. Hopefully with the foundation of O’Neil Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes, we will see the Jolly Roger flying more frequently soon over the Clemente Bridge.