Aesthetically speaking, PNC Park, located on the north bank of the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is in a league of its own. Serving as the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the stadium’s design truly embodies the history and beauty of the surrounding city. Oriented towards the skyline and river, fans are treated to breathtaking panoramic views. I visited the stadium in the summer of 2009 for a matchup between the Indians and Pirates and was instantly blown away by the stadium’s pure elegance. I remember arriving in Pittsburgh hours before the game and leisurely strolling along the riverfront, exploring the stadium’s surroundings. Then before entering the stadium, we paused by the Roberto Clemente Statue, taking in its magnificence with the Roberto Clemente Bridge proudly standing in the background.
Conversation for a new baseball stadium in Pittsburgh gained momentum in 1991 when the mayor of the city, Sophie Masloff, proposed a new 44,000 seat ballpark. It was felt that the old park, Three Rivers Stadium, which had never been built with artistic tastes as a priority, had lost its accessibility and no longer could serve the organization’s needs. Despite the inherent need for a new stadium, discussions stalled for years until the team was purchased by Kevin McClatchy in 1996. In that same year, the new mayor of Pittsburgh, Tom Murphy, created the “Forbes Field II Task Force,” assigned with the responsibility of assessing the need for a new stadium, along with evaluating 13 potential locations. After the group decided on a location on the north shore of the Allegheny, and the ensuing political debate about funding was settled, construction began on April 7, 1999. Construction lasted a short 24 months, allowing the Pirates to play their first official game at the new stadium on April 9, 2001, against the Cincinnati Reds.
The stadium was designed by HOK Sport in a way to salute the classic style of Forbes Field, the Pirate’s home before Three Rivers was built. With masonry archways across the entry, steel truss work, and decorative terra-cotta pillars, the stadium truly delivers on its nod to the past. The relatively small stadium is an intimate, two-deck affair, and with the highest seat only 88 feet from the field, fans can expect a spectator-friendly experience.
Tributes to a Legend
Roberto Clemente, one of the most fabled baseball players of all-time and a beloved figure in Pirate history, was used as a major component in the stadium’s design. Clemente was a Pittsburgh Pirate for 18 seasons where he became a two-time World Series Champion, World Series MVP, National League MVP, and amassed numerous all-star appearances, gold gloves, and National League batting titles. With an amazing career on the field, Clemente also made a large impact on his community, dedicating portions of his off seasons to charity work in his home country of Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries.
When the thought of the new ballpark was just in its infancy, many fans shared a sentiment of wanting the stadium to be named in Clemente’s honor. Shortly after PNC Bank bought the naming rights to the stadium, the city of Pittsburgh renamed the Sixth Street Bridge the Roberto Clemente Bridge, in a compromise with fans. The stadium was then oriented to show off the bridge in its sweeping views of the skyline. The bridge closes down to vehicles on game days, transforming into a pedestrian walkway for fans taking them right past the Roberto Clemente statue outside the stadium. PNC Park also features statues of other Pirate greats Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroski. The base of the Clemente statue is shaped like a baseball diamond. Each “base” contains dirt from three of the fields where Clemente played: Santurce Field in Puerto Rico, Forbes Field, and Three Rivers Stadium. Another design element paying tribute to Clemente’s legacy is the right-field wall. The wall stands at 21 feet high, honoring the jersey number 21 worn by Clemente. Part of PNC Park’s allure comes from its ability to embrace the surrounding city along with the team’s history. While framing picturesque modern views, the stadium also allows players and traditions from the past to play an integral role in its identity. If you’re hoping to watch a baseball game surrounded by timeless beauty, PNC Park is the place to be.