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 Ball Parks were originally made of wood.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.

University of Pirates

Spring Training 2010 at Pirates City minor league complex in Bradenton, Florida. It had recently been renovated, including all the comforts of a typical university campus. With dormitories, common areas, and services nearby, the prospects also eat, sleep, & live here. Training sessions resembled auditions, multiple stations and assignments, all of it being recorded on the numerous clipboards, stopwatches, and radars, lots of moving parts. They dared to chase a dream on the farm. The coaching staff really went out of the way to be cordial to the visitors. The family environment felt as if they we’re our kids out there. This is the “Pirates City” minor league complex that includes 80 dormitory rooms, offices, cafeteria, conference areas, storage space, locker rooms, and 5 baseball fields.

It was an accidental find. I set out to see the Boston Red Sox play the Pittsburgh Pirates at their home field in Bradenton (currently named LECOM park). Josh Beckett was pitching for the Red Sox. But, LECOM park is 3.5 miles east of “Pirate City. I used a “Tom Tom GPS” and it somehow brought me here instead. Don’t judge, we weren’t attached to our smartphones yet and I probably still had a flip phone. Room 231, in the dormitories, is dedicated to Roberto Clemente where he stayed every spring; not sure what the layout was like back then. But, the thought that these are Roberto Clemente’s old stomping grounds was worth the trip. The 2012 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, lived in Bradenton. For him, it was probably a longer trip to the mall than reporting to Spring Training.

This week, MLB has also been about scrimmage games. The games are not new. But, they normally transition to another level of training. In this case, scrimmage games are being maximized for their worth. Playing 6-7 innings with little regard for the score. Teams implement the various situations; like shifting the infielders or starting the inning with a man on second. So, what will baseball look like in 2020? It’s as clear as mud. Its 30 teams of 60 players treading water in a proverbial salmon run.

The 2020 season starts Thursday July 23rd with Washington vs. New York Yankees at 7:08PM ET. Fans want the game back. But, that wish comes with some concerns; including changes in the game. Things different about the game will be no fans, social distancing protocols, and new game rules. The biggest change will be the void or absence of the player development pipeline that is the minor leagues. That alone will have long term affects. Before the pandemic, MLB offered a proposal to MiLB, regarding the player development, that would eliminate 42 teams from the minor league systems, among other cutbacks. The pandemic accelerated the direction MLB was already going in. Stay tuned for the players in those extra reserve teams. You may find a few sneaky MVP-walk off-pick to click-game changers-that find the feeding. For them, its show time.