When Attending PNC Park This Season, Come Hungry! (And Thirsty)

Photo credit: Antonio Wolfe

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I remember leaving last season’s Pittsburgh Pirates’ home opener mostly disgruntled.  We had been kicked out of the parking lot for tailgating, the entrance we tried to use was closed, the food lines were excessively long, and the fan experience seemed to be an afterthought among a roster that didn’t appear to have taken much thought either.

However, this season I have an entirely different tune.  I was extremely impressed with my experience at PNC Park yesterday and I give a ton of credit to whomever came up with the stadium changes this offseason. 

My Dad and I started our home opener experience on Federal Street.  While that has not changed due to the Pirates efforts, but rather the construction being done on the bridge, it was nice to have that closed down again to vehicle traffic.  There is no better pregame atmosphere than Federal Street before a packed Pirate game when they have closed the bridge to traffic.  It is just a crowd of fans, enjoying an ice-cold beer, and hanging out amongst the Pirate faithful.  I also noticed tailgating back in the parking lots which is a huge plus.

As we entered the gates just behind the Willie Stargell statue, we took a left toward the outfield river walk.  We immediately noticed how open the space underneath the left field bleachers had become and vowed right then to come back in the middle innings and enjoy a plate of loaded nachos from the new Nachorita restaurant in left field.  There were also newly installed stools with a bar counter along the railing where fans could sit and enjoy the game while eating their nachos on a first-come-first-serve basis.

We then made our way around to the new Fat Head’s bar in left center field where they had torn down that eye sore of an ivy-covered security building that seemed to serve little purpose to the fans.  What that allowed for is even more stools and bar counters that face the field for those fans looking to enjoy a bar experience while watching the game inside the stadium. 

There is also a large, covered, bar fully stocked with Fat Head’s beer.  It is a true bar experience at the ballpark.  I have never seen a single spot more packed with people at PNC Park before, but the area didn’t feel cramped because it is made to be wide open.  It also serves as a great viewpoint of the play on the field and the teams' bullpens.  We mentioned how we may never even go to our seats up in 307 for some games because the stools have such a good vantage point and are not reserved seats.

We then walked to the other side of the batter’s eye, making our way toward right field, and there was another, even larger, bar with even more non-reserved seats that had an equally great vantage point on the game.  Just as many people packed this bar and seemed to really enjoy the new hang out spot in the ballpark. 

Now, all of these changes came at a cost of actual seats, however, the park is much better equipped for potential Standing Room Only areas during a postseason run.  I know, I know, this will not come this season, and probably not next season as well, but the ballpark is much better equipped with SRO areas now. 

As we completed our lap around the river walk area we noticed that the new chicken sandwiches and snacks were provided by Coop De Ville in the Strip and the burgers were from Station in Bloomfield.  Also, the new Reuben hot dog is from Weiss Provisions from the Smallman Street Deli in the Strip District.  Those food items along with the Fat Head’s beer bar certainly gives PNC Park a local flair for both Pirates fans and out-of-town visitors. 

Also, all of these food stops are made more efficient by introducing a Sheetz/GetGo type setup.  Customers enter and pay for their items at a kiosk, a receipt with their order number is printed, and customers wait for their number to be called.  This helps with the lines because now the same customer is no longer ordering, paying, and waiting for their food while others could be ordering behind them.  I saw it as a huge improvement on last season. 

The rest of the park was essentially the same, which is fine because it is already one of the best in baseball.  We didn’t see any changes beyond the brand new river walk experience, but we may have just missed them as we now had just a few minutes to get up to our seats for the opening festivities.  

The single negative change we noticed is that the Out of Town scoreboard was just playing ads all day.  We are hoping that was just a Home Opener thing, and they will continue that Out of Town scoreboard moving forward. 

Also, and this is a hill I’m willing to die on, day games really expose just how bad the PNC Park video board is.  It is barely visible when the sun is shining directly on it, and it is about time they replace it.  That is where PNC Park has greatly fallen behind the rest of the stadiums I have visited within the last five years.  The technology for those video boards has blown passed what the Pirates currently present in left field.

However, besides those two items, the ballpark experience was fantastic yesterday.  While the play on the field still may suffer for a few seasons, the Pirates have at least enhanced the fan experience around the ballpark and I give them a lot of credit for that.  Hopefully, those additional Standing Room Only areas are used for postseason games sooner rather than later.