Levi: The day began inauspiciously, with the Waffle House that had been used as bait to get Maura out of bed at 6:15 turning out to be a boarded-up derelict. But after that, everything looked up. We reset our breakfast sights on an Eat 'n Park, a Pennsylvania favorite, then hit the road for Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh is a beautiful city these days, at the confluence of three rivers and surrounded by high hills. We rolled into the swank Hilton--with wireless Internet in all rooms!--and within minutes, rain was pouring down. But our luck held out, the rain cleared off, and we had another beautiful, sunny day for a ballgame. We met up with Maura's friend Allison from work, who besides being a Cardinals fan is good company. She had flown out for the series and was staying at our hotel, which seemed to be about half full of Cardinals fans. Being with two MLB employees meant that we got great seats without the hassle of pulling out or opening our wallets.
PNC Park is located just down the street from the old Three Rivers Stadium, but that's about as close to the old ballpark as this one gets in any way. The old ballpark was the worst of the cookie-cutter dual-use 1960s stadiums, big and impersonal and mostly empty. PNC, like all the new parks we've been to on this trip, is very open, with lots of views from the outside of the inside and vice-versa. We were on the third-base side, just past the bag, about thirty-five rows up in the lower deck, and from there we had a view of the Roberto Clemente bridge and a bit of the Pittsburgh skyline. The out-of-town scoreboard is similar to the one in Philly, but in this case, I didn't much care what was going on out of town, because the Cardinals were busy delivering yet another defeat to the Pirates. Albert Pujols sat out, which led to this conversation one row behind me. As I listened in, I couldn't decide whether it was an ad for MLB, an ad for, say, "Spend time with your kids. A message from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints," or, "Kids are counting on you. Don't let them down. A message from the (see above)." You make the call:
Dad: Is that Albert Pujols?
Son: No, dad. That's Scott Rolen.
Dad: I don't think Pujols is even playing today.
Son: Yeah, I don't think he is.
Dad: And he's the main reason you wanted to come today.
Dad: He was all you could talk about in the car on the way here.
Son: Yeah. . . . . But Scott Rolen's pretty good, too.
Dad: Yeah. He sure is.
The Pirates scoreboard opened the game with a lengthy animation in which the Pirates' ship sank the ships of the other NL Central teams. Later, it featured the animated beginning to what turned into an on-field Pierogi race. In this race, the Pittsburgh Parrot mascot, taking his cue from Randall Simon, decked three of the pierogi in order to assist the female pierogi, Hannah Jalapeno, who had fallen at the finish line. The Parrot carried her over, to much applause.
Pierogi without legs or gender were available at the concession stands, and they came in a close second to the Comerica Park veggie pita in the vegetarian ballpark food rankings. The reason they didn't rank more highly was that, as I think Bob can vouch, you can either eat not enough pierogi--the problem with a serving at PNC--or way too many pierogi--the problem if you eat them at home. There's no middle ground, and PNC, perhaps sensibly, chose to go with too few rather than have groaning patrons unable to leave their seats at game's end.
The Cardinals got a three-run homer in the second from Reggie Sanders and a solo homer the next inning from Jim Edmonds, his third of the weekend, to give them a 5-0 lead. In the third inning, Larry Walker threw out Jose Castillo at the plate as he tried to score on a single to right. Yadier Molina took the throw and just had time to turn towards Castillo when Castillo, traveling about 75 mph, knocked him into about the twelfth row. But Yadier held on, got his brain put back in the right direction, and stayed in the game. That was a good thing, because the next inning also ended, following a patented Matt Morris semi-meltdown, with the tying run thrown out at the plate trying to score on a single to Jim Edmonds. Edmonds makes that play several times a year, running in hard to field a single and coming up throwing a strike to the plate. A few times a year, he overruns the ball and looks extremely silly, but the outs at the plate more than make up for that.
The Cardinals held on, matching their win total from all of last year and running us to 8-0 on the trip. Tomorrow, we're on to Cleveland, where we meet up with Dan (and, presumably, get in for free again) and, I think, root for the Indians. As far as the trip goes, despite the threat of thunderstorms today, we're into the home stretch; it feels kind of like it's the 9th, we're Eric Gagne, and we're about to face Rey Ordonez, Neifi Perez, and Tom Goodwin. Our perfect record, however, is in more danger than ever: none of the remaining three games presents us with a clear favorite team to root for, and any one seems as likely to win as any other one. I have faith. 11-0, here we come.
Oh, and there are two newspaper notes. First,a demonstration of my political commitment: Despite the lead story--accompanied by a photo--being about how bunnies are thriving in Pittsburgh this year because of the wet weather, I did not buy the right-wing rag the Tribune-Review. And the Post-Gazette, which Jim did buy, included today the phrase "a throbbing mass of roaches."
Jim (late addition): Levi forgot to mention one of the best features of Saturday's Pirates-Cardinals game. During an inning break near the end of the game, the scoreboard had a question for us to vote on: what would you like to hear during the next half-inning?
1. "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll." A Pittsburgh favorite! Cheers and applause.
2. "Bad to the Bone." Another Pittsburgh favorite! Cheers and applause.
3. Video of a water-skiing squirrel. The crowd went wild!
As advertised, during the next break between half-innings, there was video of Nutty the Water-Skiing Squirrel water-skiing on the scoreboard.
On another note, initially, I had planned our entrance into Pittsburgh on Saturday to be from the south, via state route 88. It's the way I always drove in when I lived in the town of Library, in the south suburbs, right on 88. It's a fairly scenic drive that goes through some small western Pennsylvania towns, and I thought Levi and Maura might enjoy it.
That went out the window when Fox ordered the time of the game changed, which meant we had to get into town as quickly as possible, which meant the boring old entrance on I-376.
However, we did get a substitute Western Pennsylvania experience. After the game, for dinner, I suggested we go to Station Square, a development across the river from downtown Pittsburgh, since I knew how to get there via the subway and I knew there was a fairly good selection of restaurants. Levi, Maura, Allison, and I opted not to eat at Hooters, but instead went to a concept restaurant called the Red Star Tavern. Although it was technically a barbecue restaurant, Levi saw beer-cheddar soup on the menu and was happy.
Full of barbecue and $7.00 beers (cost, not value), we wandered out into the courtyard, where there was a fountain that had a bunch of different nozzles spraying in various combinations. Suddenly, the water stopped. Suddenly, the lights went out. And then it started: a synchronized water and light show, featuring various KDKA radio personalities talking about the history of Pittsburgh, interspersed with various Pittsburgh-related songs, including "We Are Family." Almost as if it had been planned, during the fountain display, two freight trains went by on the tracks between Station Square and the Monongahela River. Levi later said it was the best fountain in the history of fountains, even better than the General Motors Fountain at Comerica Park (which didn't teach us about the history of the automobile, or about Detroit, or about much of anything). However, there were no squirrels water-skiing in it.
Then we walked over the Smithfield Street bridge and continued for the 12 blocks or so back to the Hilton, some of us marveling at the fact that downtown Pittsburgh doesn't have anywhere near as many abandoned buildings as downtown Detroit.
Toby: It was actually Ty Wigginton on the collision.
Did you guys go over the bridge where the opening scene in "Flashdance" was shot? I visited Pittsburgh with Levi's sister and some other friends in January 2003 and we went over it. How nostalgic...
Bob: I imagine it would be very easy, but really, really mean, for a pirate ship to sink a ship full of bear cubs. And it would seem against a pirate's own interests to sink a ship full of brewers. That doesn't even make sense.
Toby: Neither do most of the personnel moves the Pirates have made the past 12 years.
Allison: Thanks for adding the fountain story; that definitely was worth the trip over to Station Square. And an odd note. I was back in NYC on Monday night, and ordered a draft 20 oz beer of the same brand that cost seven dollars for a 12 oz bottle in Pittsburgh. The cost? $6.50. Go figure.
Levi: What is the world coming to? Beer more expensive in Pittsburgh than NYC?
What could be sadder than a boarded-up Waffle House?
Fortunately, the non-boarded-up Eat 'n Park next door is able to lift Levi's spirits with their Pancake Smile...
Seen on the Pennsylvania Turnpike: "Pay Stop Toll"? What does that mean?
PNC Park, seen from across the Allegheny River...
The Roberto Clemente (6th Street) bridge, conveniently enough leading straight to the stadium...
A beautiful sight, the tarp being taken off the field...
The Pittsburgh skyline...
A building with an interesting-looking courtyard space...
The Pirate Parrot...
Craig Wilson, in Warhol style...
The eyes of Jason Kendall are upon you...
The final line...
Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...