The atmosphere at PNC Park is one of the most unique experiences in the world. Sitting in the park, it’s easy to feel like you’re in a baseball stadium from years past, but as you stare out at an unmistakably modern skyline, you know that you are very much a part of the 21st Century. PNC, which Pittsburghers profess is the best ballpark in the country, is rightfully also considered the Jewel of the North Shore. People who try to say that they aren’t impressed by the structure are kidding themselves.
There’s something special about being at a baseball game, about seeing the game play out right in front of your eyes, of having to be aware of foul balls that might come careening towards you at any moment, of smelling the freshly-cut grass and the hot dogs that are being enjoyed. There’s also something special about listening to the people around you; some are deeply intense, deadly serious about the game going on. Some are there for the atmosphere only, and to enjoy some fresh air with friends while occasionally paying attention to the game.
And then there are the people who make you wonder if they have any idea where they are, what they’re doing there, and what the heck is going on.
PNC Park – like the rest of Pittsburgh, and I’m sure many other cities – is chock-full of entertaining snippets of conversation. Although some of them are really disturbing if only because you have to wonder if you should be concerned for your safety due to extreme stupidity surrounding you, they are also side-splittingly funny. They definitely make you feel better about yourself, if there was ever any inkling of self-doubt on your part. The following is a list of five of the weirdest, funniest, and most ridiculous things that I have overheard at PNC Park while taking in games. I have no doubt that this list will probably grow and change, but for the moment, this is a pretty good overview of the kinds of things that people say; sometimes you can’t help but listen.
Like Pittsburgh itself, a crowd at PNC Park is often very, very diverse. But ridiculous comments know no bounds, and do not confine themselves to any particular category. Some of these comments have come from sources that absolutely lend themselves to a bit of stereotyping, and others have been completely shocking for more than one reason. But the night that I heard “…why is the grass two different colors? Did they dye it?” come from behind me, I realized that it doesn’t matter where the comment comes from. All that matters is that it was said. PNC Park’s field is painstakingly cared for by an incredible grounds crew, and that night, the outfield happened to be mowed in diagonal lines, two shades of green caused by the mowing pattern. Had the question been “Are there two kinds of grass on the field?” or “Is that fake grass?,” it might not have been as hilarious. In fact, it may even have been a semi-logical question. But the ability of mowing patterns to alter the color of the grass is, apparently, mind-boggling.
Speaking of things that boggle the mind, it’s true that over the course of the past few years, the Pirates’ lineup and roster have been a little bit of a revolving door. Players might be there one night, and halfway across the country the next. It is both a point of contention among die-hard Pirates fans, and a point of utter confusion for those who are only occasional spectators. But if the lineup had been cemented, then there would have been a great moment missing from this list. As center fielder Andrew McCutchen came up to bat only a month or two after making his Major League debut last June, a jubilant cheer came from behind me. It wasn’t surprising; the Pirate faithful had welcomed “Cutch” with open hearts and arms, and weren’t shy about expressing their feelings. Why should they? The kid had it all; he was fast, he had a great arm, and he could hit the ball as well as anyone. I didn’t really think about the display of excitement. I kind of just expected it. Until Cutch lined a ball into left field, and I heard what the man had to say. “He’s my boy,” came the shout. “…don’t know who he is, but he’s my boy!” Flava Flav? No, just a man most likely taking advantage of free tickets, and the bar that is available to ticketholders on the Pittsburgh Baseball Club level of the park.
When a group of college-age boys sits behind you, you just sort of assume that they know something about the sport. When one turns to his friend and says “…hey man, they have, like, another whole bench in the outfield,” it’s really, really hard not to look at the person next to you and roll your eyes. That bench, young man, happens to be called the bullpen. Congratulations. The six-year-old boy behind you knows more than you do. And everyone else around you now knows that you are a space cadet.
The weekend of May 21-23, the Atlanta Braves happened to be in town. I was there for two reasons: one, because I was obviously there to see the Pirates, and two, because I happen to be a Nate McLouth fan, and there was no way that I was going to miss his return to Pittsburgh. During the game, Bobby Cox took Chipper Jones out of the lineup, and let the veteran third baseman sit on the bench for the remainder of the game. When the replacement third baseman missed a line drive hit just inside the foul line, a ball that was able to drift into left field, an incensed Braves fan nearby shouted “Way to go, Larry!” (Larry being Chipper’s real name), his companion turned to him, looked at him, shook his head, and said “…dude, Larry isn’t even in there anymore!” Friends don’t let friends make fools of themselves.
Drunken fans aren’t really funny. They really aren’t funny when they come in the form of screaming women who don’t know when they should stop talking. They’re even less funny when they have no idea what they’re talking about. Despite that, there is something extremely funny about seeing a professional baseball player be taken aback by the screaming and just roll his eyes in a total snub of said screaming woman. On this particular evening, the screaming came from the left field bleachers, seats which are field-level and from which you have a great chance at getting a ball from an inning break. A woman – who had to be in her thirties, and therefore was no adorable small child hoping for a memento from a favorite player – was shrieking “Left fielder! Left fielder! Throw me a ball! Hey Jason Bay! Throw me a ball!”
Perhaps this in and of itself isn’t all that funny. In fact, it’s fairly annoying when it happens for seven straight innings.
The funny part is that Jason Bay hadn’t played for the Pirates for nearly two years by then, and the left fielder in question happened to be Lastings Milledge.
Not. Even. Close.
Milledge’s response? He apparently could actually hear the woman, considering the proximity of the bleachers to the field – and the fact that the woman had a voice like a harpy – and after taking a second to look at her, instead of mollifying her and tossing her a ball, he tossed it to a little boy in a baseball cap who couldn’t have been happier to receive the token. I couldn’t have been happier because the screaming woman left in a huff after that.
I wish I could have been so creative to have made all of these up, but unfortunately, these comments are all courtesy of my fellow game-goers over the course of the past couple of summers. Were they not so hilarious, I think I would be highly concerned for the state of the human race. As it is, I have to admit that I have at least been more than entertained by the ridiculous things that people say, whether or not the Pirates are actually winning.
And to think, people say baseball is boring.