Life’s been hectic, preparing for my daughter’s return to school and my return to work. I guess that’s the best way to explain the fact that I am only now writing this post on two Met games I went to in Pittsburgh–after the Mets went on to Washington, returned for a home stand, and began another road trip this evening in Philadelphia.
Anyway, PNC Park lived up to all of the great things my family and I had heard about it.
- It is small (second smallest, only to Fenway and has an intimate feel to is.
- It has a GORGEOUS view of the beautiful downtown Pittsburgh skyline.
- As with so many of the new "old-fashioned" ball-parks, the architects incorporated elements of older designs. In the case of PNC Park, the lights are imitations of the old "toothbrush lights" of the old Forbes Field. The distinctive black poles and unusual design of these lights catch one’s eye immediately.
- In keeping with the "retro" design and at the same time acknowledging the city’s historic past, the architects made ingenious and artistic use of steel truss work in the design.
- Very well-done tributes–individual statues and video tributes–to members of the Negro Leagues and players from the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords stand at the entrance at the Left Field Gate. There are also large statues outside the park of Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner, and Willie Stargell.
- Although there are parking lots near the park itself, with its location right on the banks of the Allegheny River and the fact that the nearby Roberto Clemente Bridge is closed to vehicular traffic around and during game times, there is much pedestrian traffic to and from the park itself: a very nice touch for the community itself as well as visitors.
- File under the "Unique and Unusual" Department: the Pierogie Races, i.e., PNC Park’s version of the Sausage Races. For the uninitiated, pierogies are deep-fried polish potato-filled pastas. Just don’t ask me to name the three different characters that race each other at each game (although I’m sure my daughter probably could identify each of them just as she knows every single Major League Baseball mascot.) One is cheese-flavored and one is jalapeno-flavored, I think…
- Although this is a local chain and probably nothing particularly special to the locals to find this at the ballpark, we found it fun to order a bucket of wings from Quaker Steak and Lube–in our choice of Arizona Ranch, Garlic, Hot Sauce, or Atomic sauce. We didn’t risk the nuclear reaction but were nonetheless glad to have been supplied moist towelettes for the clean-up following our consumption of the delicious ranch variety.
- Behind Center Field, former Pirate catcher Manny Sanguillen holds court at a barbecue joint bearing his name. The clouds of smoke that billow up during the game and waft over the outfield (as well as the engaging aroma) would be the only enticement necessary, trust me. But additionally, Manny himself is there for every game–sitting high and mighty in his leather easy chair, Sharpie in hand, poised to sign autographs for those waiting in line for barbecue.
Having been to both Camden Yards and Citzens Bank Park and become familiar with Boog Powell’s and Greg Luzinski’s barbecues in each of those two respective ballparks, I wasn’t surprised to learn of Manny’s place in Pittsburgh’s new park. I also happened upon an article, addressing this phenomenon of former athletes retiring and still enjoying the spotlight…albeit by shedding the helmet and donning an apron.
My mind started racing:
Since the Mets will soon have their own "retro" ballpark, what former Met might we see serving up barbecue sides of beef in Summer 2009 at CitiField Park?
And then it came to me!!
I can see it now: hungry Mets fans lined up, waiting innings at a time, unable to get enough… imploring, begging, "Give me mo’ MO!!"
But will even the most succulent sandwiches, the most lip-smacking sauces make up for all of Mo’s on-field shortcomings? Hmmm.
Yo, I’ll take mine with the [bitter]sweet and sour sauce, Mo.
This post will not address the Mets’ current slump. There are countless blogs that can and will do so…a lot more interestingly than I might, I might add. I’ll leave all the suggestions and strategizing and thoughts about who should be batting in the Number Two spot, whether Tommy Glavine is too focused on Win Number 300, whether guys are having too much fun and not focused enough on wins, whether acquiring Moises was a mistake, why the Carloses are not hitting, etc., etc., to all of the guys on the call-in shows, the other blogs, and elsewhere. I certainly have no expertise in any of these areas.
Instead I will simply try to remain optimistic and, frankly, just aim to be AWAKE for all of tonight’s game! (West Coast night games are killers for me!)
And, as in life, I will try to see the humor in things.
Towards that end, recalling those giant flocks of SEA GULLS all over the field at Comerica Park over the weekend keeps cracking me up.
It wasn’t like, watching the game on TV, you saw a bird now and then. It was nearly impossible to get a camera shot of the game WITHOUT a bird in it! And then when we got a wide shot that showed, say, the entire field, I could not believe the sheer NUMBER of birds that were just hanging out there. It literally looked like a bird SANCTUARY!
Turns out, Comerica Park is not always like this, and the gulls were not merely attracted to the plentiful concessions. It seems the Mets left town and, even with no game (nor concession-consuming fans) at Comerica yesterday, the gulls showed up in droves.
Officials there became so concerned that the grounds crew even brought in an entomologist to address the situation. It seems the bird problem has been caused by an earlier hatching of moths, i.e., gull grub.
Whatever course of action the entomologist suggested, however, progress must be slow. Prior to this evening’s game, I saw highlights of Justin Verlander’s no-hitter tonight from Comerica, and I saw PLENTY of those gulls flyin’ high and walking around the infield too. They don’t seem to be in any hurry to vacate.
Speaking of sea gulls and the moths that they are attracted to, that reminds me of a recurrent problem related to bugs in my own outdoor work experiences: every summer the MET performs outdoor performances of operas in concert in local parks in the New York City parks.
Although rain-outs are always a concern for any outdoor concert (or ballgame), several years in a row there was a particular problem related to a specific park located on Staten Island. Every time we performed at this particular venue, our performance–always in mid-June–seemed to coincide with the mating season of a large colony of June bugs that called that particular area of Staten Island home.
Apparently attracted to the hot spotlights focused on the orchestra and soloists onstage, these bugs would begin to congregate shortly after the overture began and continue swarming in larger and larger numbers as the opera progressed, spawning and then falling to the floor of the stage to die, buzzing all the while, making an enormous racket.
It was incredibly distracting, if comical, especially when one of the buggers attacked you or your instrument. Looking around the orchestra while the opera was going on, it was nearly impossible to keep a straight face, much less continue performing: violinists were putting their bows down to slap their legs, horn players were literally jumping out of their chairs, and the conductor was waving his arms giving extra beats.
One particular bug-riddled performance resulted in an unexpected intermission having to be taken because the distraction made it impossible to continue. The orchestra was having trouble keeping any kind of continuity in the music in between the bug-slapping and, although the soprano was a sport and had gamely continued singing, she was understandably a little grossed-out, having had a bug fly right into her open mouth while singing an aria from the evening’s opera, Lucia di Lammermoor!
Funny, I didn’t hear anyone screaming, "Is there an entomologist in the house (on the lawn)?!" Never mind.
But back to the Comerica Park sea gulls…other than being omnipresent, I don’t think the birds caused any problems. There was a bird right in front of David Wright in one of the games as he ran forward to field a a chopper and quickly throw to first. I seem to recall Gary Cohen and Ron Darling of SNY mentioning something about how it was a good thing he hadn’t quickly picked up the bird and thrown it instead.
I cannot swear that there was no foul play (ar, ar) involving the sea gulls. (Frankly, I found a lot of the games so frustrating that I was not following them as closely as I usually do.) I did hear somewhere (Was it on SNY?) that Oliver Perez’s cap had been decorated with gull droppings sometime within the course of the first game, but I was unable to find an official Press Release on that one. (I heard it was while he was off the mound.)
The presence of the birds did provide for lively discourse between Garry and Ron as well as the opportunity for them to mention the incident in Arizona in a 2001 exhibition game involving a poor bird that pitcher Randy Johnson "exploded" (Ron’s terminology).
Being reminded of that incident and the proliferation of sea gulls on the field at Comerica Park prompted me to see what I could find out about other incidents where other foul impacted the game.
I found some interesting things:
- In 1983, Dave Winfield, then with the Yankees, created a furor in Toronto by throwing a ball that hit and killed a seagull at Exhibition Stadium. The bird was walking, not flying, and because Winfield was just making tosses to the infield between innings, it appeared to the fans that saw it to be intentional. The Metropolitan Toronto Police charged him with cruelty to animals, but the charge was dropped the next day.
It was said that Billy Martin, in his defense of his player, was quoted as saying,
"He couldn’t have hit the seagull on purpose. He hasn’t hit the cutoff man all year."
Almost exactly one year ago, a baseball collided with a seagull at home plate at a minor league game in Buffalo, New York. "Seagull hit by pitch (not awarded first base)" read the USA Today headline. The gull was not awarded a base, but thankfully, he was alright–presumably not meeting a 98-mile-per-hour fastball as in the case of the poor bird, a dove apparently, encountering Johnson’s pitch–and was escorted off of the field.
- Writing in Baseball Digest in June 2004, Rich Marazzi discussed his contributions to a book that had recently been published on the subject of major leaguers playing from 1950-1959. In an article entitled "Baseball rules corner: some colorful stories about players from the 1950s", Marazzi writes:
- "When a batted ball hits a wall or the ground it is no longer considered to be in flight for the purpose of making a catch. If the ball strikes a flying bird, however, it remains in flight. That might not be necessarily true for the bird. And yes, a fielder can make a catch of a batted ball that bounces off a bird. Just ask Frank Ernaga, who had a cup of coffee in the major leagues with the Cubs in 1957 and ’58.
Playing for Tulsa in the Texas League game against Houston in 1956, Ernaga was in the outfield when Houston pitcher Bill Greason flied to left. As Ernaga waited to make the catch, the ball struck a bird. Nevertheless, Ernaga caught the ball while teammate Bob Will grabbed the bird. No, umps didn’t call "Fowl Ball," they ruled Ernaga’s snare to be a legal catch.
By the way, Ernaga was flying high when he homered and tripled in his first two major league at-bats. After he glided into the sunset, he became a building contractor in Susanville, California."
Care to feather your nest with yet one more baseball/bird reference? You can go to this NPR afiliate site for their delightful take on interleague (interspecies?) play.
Baseball is certainly not the only outdoor sport to have been plagued by aviary interference. The results have often been hysterical as witnessed by an ESPN Sport Center-compiled video montage of "Top Ten Bird Moments", running the gamut of the entire world of sports.
Let’s hope more runs and wins generate news for the Mets in their upcoming games, rather than Mother Nature. There’s always the Discovery and Animal Planet channels for that, thank you very much.