PNC Park

San Diego Padres @ Pittsburgh Pirates

2010 Regular Season at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates host the San Diego Padres for the second of a three-game series. Adrian Gonzalez was still holding first base down for the San Diego Padres. The team recently swept the Pirates in the six previous games they played in. Andrew McCutchen was in his sophomore year. Pirates were in the process of rebuilding the team around him. Though the Pittsburgh Pirates finished last in the NL Central Division with a 57-105 record, these “Bucs” would manage to win their first post season berth in 2013, 2014, and 2015. In 2013, the Pirates advanced to a best of five NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, a hard-fought matchup that they lost. The next two seasons ended abruptly as the Pirates would lose each of the single elimination wild card games. These were the first play-off hopes since 1992 when Barry Bonds and crew were so close but yet so far from the World Series. But the Pirates faithful never forgets the Iconic Honus Wagner of the early years, Willie Stargell in the “Family” of the 1970’s, and of course the greatness of Roberto Clemente. There is a statute of each one out side PNC Park as a reminder. A memorial from Forbes Field was relocated in PNC Park and can be found in the hallway behind home plate.

Founded in 1882, this Pittsburgh National League ball club has won five World Series Championships (1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, & 1979). PNC Park opened in 2001 and is the sixth MLB field in Pittsburgh. The two more popular and recent ones are Three Rivers Stadium (1970-2000) and Forbes Field (1909-1970). Ball Parks were originally made of wood. They easily caught fire. The first stadiums built of wrought iron, concrete, and steel were Forbes Field and Connie Mack Stadium. That was no coincidence. The steel mills of the early 20th Century were here in the State of Pennsylvania. They helped usher in the Industrial Revolution, building the Brooklyn Bridge and the first sky scrapers. Hence, the “Steel City.” This is a blue-collar town.

The memory of Roberto Clemente is ever present in the Steel City.  Since 2002, the official Roberto Clemente Day in all 30 MLB Parks is always on September 21. But, on any given day of the week, it’s hard to forget “The Great One’ when you’re here, signs of him everywhere, from the number 21 jerseys worn by countless fans in the stands, to the statue, to the bridge named after him, to the signs and memorials. Then there is the Roberto Clemente Museum on Penn Avenue. As I walked around PNC Park, the feel was like that of Jackie Robinson Day.

The colors black & gold is synonymous with Pittsburgh. They are used by Hockey’s Penguins, Football’s Steelers, and Baseball’s Pirates. The pride near the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers run deep. They meet in the downtown area just as its citizens do during game day. PPG Paints Arena, Heinz Field, and PNC Park are all walking distance from each other.

You can take the Duquesne Incline up to the South Side neighborhood to get a view of the entire Downtown Pittsburgh where the Sixth Street Bridge, the Roberto Clemente Bridge, and the Andy Worhal Bridge come into perspective. During the day, the view of Downtown from up there is a must see. You can almost reach out and touch the metropolitan microcosm. At night, the view is magical. PNC Park is considered one of, if not the best, stadiums in Major League Baseball, and rightfully so.

Hiram Bithorn Stadium

New York Mets @ Florida Marlins

2010 Regular Season at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. The Florida Marlins hosted the New York Mets for a three-game series in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. The humidity was thick in the air. Any sudden move would initiate a watershed moment of profuse perspiration. Players were claiming their spot near the cooling fans in the dugouts. But it was a privilege to take part of an event such as this. It wasn’t the first time MLB visited Puerto Rico. In 2003, Omar Minaya, the General Manager of the Montreal Expos, promoted 22 home games in Puerto Rico to help generate revenue for a troubled franchised. It was a success and it set the table for this series to happen. This time he was on hand as the General Manager of the New York Mets. Fun fact; David Samson, the former Executive VP of the Montreal Expos, who took part in its fallout and led the negotiations of the Florida Marlins purchase in 2002, was also on hand as President of the Florida Marlins.

Among the other dignitaries, Mrs. Vera Clemente, the widow of Roberto Clemente, and her son Luis Clemente were presented a donation of $37,050 for San Jorge Children’s Hospital during a pre-game ceremony. Just recently, Edwin Rodriguez was hired as Florida Marlins Manager; making him the first Manager of Puerto Rican origin in MLB history. It was an unforeseen circumstance. The previous Manager, Fredi Gonzalez was fired for sitting Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez down during a game after a lack of hustle. The front office questioned his decision to take the team’s star out of the line-up. Legend Bobby Cox was retiring and put in a good word for Fredi Gonzalez to replace him as Manager of the Atlanta Braves. Hanley Ramirez would later move to third base in 2012 to make room for short stop Jose Reyes who was starting in this game for the New York Mets. Mike Stanton, a player to be renamed later as Giancarlo Stanton, had just debuted with the Florida Marlins in early June. This was also a special day for his family in more ways than one. His maternal great great grand mother was from Puerto Rico.

Hiram Bithorn Stadium was named after the first Puerto Rican MLB player. He pitched for the Chicago Cubs between 1942 & 1946; also serving in the U.S. Navy (1944-45). His final season was with the Chicago White Sox in 1947. He paved the way for many players to come. Professional Baseball in Puerto Rico can be traced back to 1938. But, baseball’s origin on the island goes back to the 1890’s during the Spanish American War. Ironic that it’s start was during a time of war, just as it was during the Civil War on the mainland. Baseball always has a way of bringing people together, even in a time of war. Its not a coincidence that Hiram Bithorn Stadiums’ Art Deco design is similar to that of Dodger Stadium. The most common element is the “V” or “W” shaped roof line seen in both parks. They opened a year from each other in the sixties when that style took a resurgence. It gave Americana a mood of optimism and hopefulness that later flourished into the hippie culture.

Hiram Bithorn Stadium has played an integral part of professional Baseball in Puerto Rico. Leysa Caro Gonzalez from “El Nueva Dia” recently reported on a proposal by a Candidate for San Juan Mayor (Rosanna Lopez) called “San Juan se Recrea y Compite.” It promotes a healthy living via physical activity and nutrition. Hiram Bithorn Stadium would be an important part of this endeavor. It’s a response to the downside of stay at home living due to COVID-19. The concern among those in some circles on the island is that it did not mention anything about professional baseball. They’ve seen this same lack of priorities for the game of baseball that is attributed to the decline of the sport 10-15 years ago and the eventual cancelation of the 2007-2008 Winter League Season, due to lack of funding. The hope is that this time there is a groundswell of support to advocate for professional baseball. Just as the mainland, its yet another thing at stake in an election year.     

Target Field

Detroit Tigers @ Minnesota Twins.

2010 Regular Season in the St Paul-Minneapolis area to see the new Target Field, the house that Kirby Puckett built with a World Championship in 1987 & 1991. Traveling to visit MLB ballparks across the country means going light and trying to stay on the budget. It helps to research and take public transportation whenever possible. In this case, Target Field is in one of those chosen metro-areas with a public train system from the airport that leaves you at the park’s doorstep. The train ride also gives you a chance to get a good view of the park coming in. The Ubers and Airbnbs have also been great options to stay on budget. Overall, the challenge has been game ticket prices.

It was a chilly 45 degree day in Minnesota, definitely crispier then that with the wind blowing. That didn’t slow some people down at the park who were celebrating “Cinco de Mayo.” There was a very popular area behind left field, over the bullpens, lined with wall-to-wall heat lamps. Fans were on top of each other, huddling up to get the rays of comfort, like seals beaching themselves on Skeleton Island, the good old days. Target Field represents the 21st new ballpark, and counting, since the opening of Rogers Centre 1989 (Toronto).

The 2010 Season was the first time, since 1981, that the Minnesota Twins played a home game outdoors. From 1981 to 2009, they played at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, an indoor gym. Target Field is the third home field in the Minnesota Twins’ history. Originally, the Washington Senators move to Metropolitan Stadium (Bloomington, Minnesota) in 1961. This was also the first of three MLB teams to have called Washington D.C. home.

Newly acquired Johnny Damon started in left field for the Detroit Tigers. Early in the year, Miguel Cabrera overheard Johnny Damon tell a reporter that Miguel Cabrera was going to win the 2010 AL MVP. They both looked at each, other nodding their heads. “Then you buy me dinner,” said Johnny Damon. He did not. But, I would say that the seed was planted for a historic 2012 season that awarded Miguel Cabrera his first MVP and the first Triple Crown since Carl Yazstremski in 1967. On the other side of the diamond, Orlando Hudson (O-Dog) would also play the only year with his new team, the Minnesota Twins at second base. “O-Dog” was the hardest working funny man in baseball before he retired. For the times that he was at second base, he was constantly talking to the umpire between pitches. If the umpire’s ears didn’t fall off from the frostbite, I was sure they would from listening to “O-Dog.”

Just the day before, the late Ernie Harwell, the voice of the Detroit Tigers for 42 years passed away from bile duct cancer on May 4, 2010. He knew he was sick for a year beforehand, said his peace in his farewell tour, and found closure with family and friends. I will always admire his grace in the face of his illness. Detroit Tigers wore a black patch with initials “ER” on the right sleeve of their road jerseys to commemorate Ernie Harwell, a baseball life.

Days of Wrigleyville

Washington Nationals @ Chicago Cubs.

2010 Regular Season at Wrigley Field to meet an old friend and to catch a game in the old neighborhood. I had a great childhood in the 1970’s, many good memories of living so close to the “Friendly Confines.” At one point, my family lived in a third floor apartment on Shefield Avenue, literally across the street from Wrigley Field, behind the right field bleachers. We could see the game from our living room window, everything except the right fielder who we could not see because of the bleachers. I had the good fortune, like some of the other kids in the neighborhood, to make my first money selling parking spots or souvenirs, among other jobs, for local businesses. Once in a while, I’d be lucky enough to get in and see the game for free. My first visit to a Major League Baseball (MLB) game was at Wrigley Field. I just don’t know when that was. Its like trying to remember when you first learned to walk. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the game of baseball. This was my back yard. I also thought it was awesome to live in a city with two MLB Teams. Believe it or not, my interest in baseball didn’t allow me to notice the Cubs-White Sox rivalry until I was 20 years old, when I first visited Old Comiskey Park. In the 1980’s (before inter-league play), the Cubs and the White Sox started to play an exhibition game once a year. That was my crash course into the feud. 

This is the only remaining MLB Park where Jackie Robinson once played, the second oldest Major League Baseball Park (behind Fenway Park 1912), the called shot by Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series. This was where my sense of history was born. When you walk into Wrigley Field, its timeless. The green of the grass and its architectural marvel stirs the same feelings those fans had in 1914, when this park first opened. Back then, there was also the Federal League and a third team in Chicago named the Whales. They called this home. The Cubs were still at West Side Park where they played the 1908 World Series. Looking back, its hard to believe that the first night game in Wrigley Field was in 1988. Apparently, Cubs Owner P.K. Wrigley bought and stored equipment for lights under the bleachers. He had plans to install lights in February of 1942. But, the equipment would be donated to the war effort in December of 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. For the next 46 years, lights were never a viable option for the Cubs.

These images were taken in 2010, five years before the multi phase construction and renovations that started in 2015. In 2009, The Ricketts Family purchased the Cubs from the Tribune Group for $900 million. Their vision was to restore a winning tradition. Capital improvements included a Sheraton Hotel, an office building, a plaza outside, subterranean clubhouse expansion, bleacher expansion, etc. In fact, the only elements left standing are the grandstand, the scoreboard, and the iconic outfield wall. The bleachers had recently been expanded just to give way to more progress. For better or for worst, the physical landscape of Wrigleyville has changed. With the World Championship of 2016, the Cubs Organization has enjoyed a renaissance era. This land, originally owned by the Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1891, was perhaps sacred from the beginning. Their fans are a testament of what having faith means.