Sunday, August 23, 2009
Though I would never call myself a big sports fan, somehow summer never seems complete without taking in a baseball game. I love the sheer languor of the game, which seems perfectly matched to the season.
We went to our first Pittsburgh Pirates game on Friday night, after talking about it for two years. PNC Park is one of those new-old-fashioned ballparks, and it works, in much the way Coors Field in Denver does. Like Coors Field, it makes the most of its setting: the ballpark is on the North Shore of downtown, right on the Allegheny River, and the view of the skyline and the Roberto Clemente Bridge is spectacular, especially as night settles in and the skyscrapers light up.
To be honest, I couldn't care less about the game itself. For me, the appeal lies in the experience: being in the stands on a hot summer afternoon or (in this case) on a balmy evening, drinking a ridiculously expensive, generally awful beer from a can or a plastic cup. And what I really enjoy are all the weird rituals of the game.
There are the universal ones: the "group sings" of the national anthem and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the traditional taunts, the wave, the seventh-inning stretch, the cries of the vendors as they hock their wares through the stands: "Ice-cold BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEER here." Or, at PNC Park, "Yingling here!" (Spelled "Yuengling," but pronounced locally like the first and last syllable rhyme.)
The most interesting local tradition in Pittsburgh, though, is the Great Pierogi Race between the fifth and sixth innings. Sponsored by Mrs. T's, the race features four people dressed in oversized pierogi costumes who race each other around the periphery of the outfield. Lest you think that all pierogies are alike, making it impossible to tell which one won, these are distinguished by flavor and attire: Cheese Chester, Oliver Onion, Sauerkraut Saul, and Jalapeno Hannah.
The Onion won on Friday night, as did the Pirates, 5-2 over the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates hit two home runs and rookie Andrew McCutchen had an impressive hit that looked like it was also going to go all the way but was caught after bouncing off the outfielder's glove, but nevertheless got McCutchen a triple.
Perhaps because their record this year is pretty dismal, the Pirates are waxing nostalgic about the 30th anniversary of their championship 1979 season. So all night the scoreboard would occasionally light up with clips from TV shows of the era, and the loudspeakers featured snippets of memorable tunes from that year: "Le Freak," "September," "Rock Lobster," "Shake Your Groove Thing." Nostalgia piled on nostalgia: just what a baseball game should be. And it was Dollar Dog night, so we didn't even feel completely bankrupt by the end of the evening.
Really, what more could a person ask for on a beautiful Friday night in August, the last weekend before the semester starts? It was the perfect way to cap off the summer. So when classes start tomorrow, I feel somewhat more ready to say "Play ball!"