The Baseball Parks of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati
Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
248Trip End Ongoing
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Spicy hot Vietnamese sandwiches, apples, bananas, granola bars, coffee and Coca Cola were packed into a cooler before Ellen and I climbed into our 1995 Pathfinder. We were embarking on a pilgrimage to two new ballparks. One in Pittsburgh - the other in Cincinnati. For the past 10 years ballclub owners have been building brand new retro-ballparks, in the style that was used during the period from 1909 to 1914. I had originally planned on doing this almost 2,000 kilometer trip by myself, but Ellen felt that anyone who is as obsessed as I am about such things should not be left alone. To help the journey pass we listened to a Dean Koontz, psycho-killer, audio book. My mind began to wander as we turned onto the I-79 at Erie Pennsylvania. Twenty-five years ago on this same highway, my wife, at the time, and I, were driving southbound towards Florida. Just north of the Pennsylvania/West Virginia border we stopped on the side of the road for a pee. It was just after mid-night. The night was cold - the ground frosty. There wasn't a sound or a light anywhere, except for a full moon. I finished my business first and climbed back into the car. I happened to casually look into the rear-view mirror. I saw the silhouette of a hulking man charging towards the car.
"Kathy, get in the car now." I screeched. She usually didn't listen to me, but I must have spoken forcefully enough that she responded. I tramped on the accelerator just as the man reached the car. I still think of that freaky night. And tonight on Pennsylvania I-79 Dean Koontz wasn't helping matters.
PNC Park, home to the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League, was named after a bank or some other three letter corporation. It sits high on the banks of the Allegheny River. Steel rivet beam construction, rhythmic stone-cut archways and decorative terra cotta tiling all make for a stand-at-attention salute to the spirit of the ballparks of yesteryear. The cityscape with its old and newer buildings across the river make for a spectacular view over the outfield fence as the setting sun reflects against them. A tiny, old yellow-painted expansion bridge gives you a distinct early twentieth century feel.
After the game we drove west into the setting sun. Cincinnati was a little over 500 kilometers away and tomorrow's game was an afternoon affair. We drove until 10:30pm always fearful of highway-roaming deer. Every ten kilometers or so there would be dead one laying by the side of the road. Finally, we stopped at a seedy little motel just off the highway near the town of Cambridge Ohio. The spiffy dude, exchanging what appeared to be a large sum of money with a scantily clad young woman beside our doorway should have been the first clue to a bad idea. The night would not be a restful one. Every half hour or so we were awakened by loud conversation. Cars would come up and then they would leave. Their headlights would shine through our motel window and cast great shadows on the wall above our bed. We were staying next door to either a cat house or a drug den - both perhaps, I thought.
The alarm went off at 6:00 am. Ellen was mad as the devil at our finally quite neighbors. She headed straight for the shower where words like "napalm", "dynamite" and "AK47" came from otherwise indistinguishable sentences. As she continued to rant I calmly flipped through the TV channels, drinking coffee and eating a cheese danish. I found a Sunday morning TV church service led by a strong-willed, fire and brimstone southern preacher. When Ellen was ready to go I finished my coffee, turned up the volume as high as it would go, locked the motel room and climbed into the Pathfinder. Not two minutes later a pair of dusky, half-naked men and a bedraggled, skanky brunette came bounding out their doorway, tripping over one another. Like a hitman who stays to confirm his kill I put the Pathfinder in gear and slowly drove off to Cincinnati.
I think I was expecting too much when we entered the stands and took our seats at Great American Ballpark, home to the Cincinnati Red Legs. Great American Ballpark sounds a lot more enticing than PNC Park, but that's where it ends. It's built of the same steel girders, but it seems sterile, new and too clean. It just doesn't have that old style baseball park, feel to it. My interest shifted. I began to focus on the people instead of the park. There are many people in America with girths that almost make them look round. And it's not just adults. It's not uncommon to see physically fit parents with two, sometimes three overweight children - necks, faces and little arms swollen as though they're being force-fed. It can't be just fast-food. You get a feeling that there's a purpose behind it all. Maybe Dean Koontz knows the answer. He writes conspiracy theory stories too.
PNC Park won handily over Great American Ballpark on just about all counts.
If every family in Ohio and Pennsylvania took in one deer, none of them would be hit by cars.
2,000 kilometers is a long way to go to see a couple of ballparks.