Appalachian Travel: An Ode to PNC Park, the Gorgeous Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates

A Pirates fan shares why this downtown stadium with a spectacular skyline view stands above its Major League Baseball peers.

Joy Frank-Collins
PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, is viewed by many fans as the best stadium in Major League Baseball.

Every baseball fan has a favorite place to catch a game. Whether it’s the hometown minor league ballpark or a major league destination, we all have that one special spot that is our “church.”

For me, that place is Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.

Home to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the National League’s perpetual underdogs, PNC Park is located along the banks of the Allegheny River. It boasts expansive views of the city’s skyline, which are equally breathtaking during day and night games, and is regularly ranked among Major League Baseball’s most beautiful stadiums.

A Roberto Clemente statue sits outside PNC Park, with the Clemente Bridge and downtown Pittsburgh in the background

Stats-wise, PNC Park opened in 2001, seats nearly 40,000 and cost $262 million to construct. Its playing surface comprises 2.2 acres of Kentucky Bluegrass, the shortest distance from home plate to the Allegheny River is 456 feet along the right field line, and as of Sept. 6, 2022, 67 home run balls have actually been hit into that river, according to a story from MLB writers Adam Berry and Justice delos Santos.

But the magic of PNC Park is so much more than views, numbers and rankings for me.

It’s where my kids learned to love baseball—not for its “plays of the week” moments, but for the subtle intricacies that make every game a delight. It’s where my youngest ran the bases with his dad after Sunday afternoon games and met his hero, Andrew McCutchen. It’s where we jeered then-Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto so badly he dropped the ball during the 2013 Wild Card game, and then where we embraced complete strangers when Pirates catcher Russell Martin hit a home run off of him in the same at-bat. And it’s where I sought solace after my father died and where I rediscovered the joys of journalism while writing about my favorite sport.

But don’t just take my word for it. Greg Brown is starting his 29th year as a radio and TV announcer for the Pirates and has visited every MLB ballpark numerous times. His love for PNC Park is unabashed.

He calls it “sheer luck” that the topography of the land combined with the compressed nature of the city to create the ideal spot to site a ballpark. From his seat in the broadcast booth, located at the highest spot in the park behind home plate, he says, “On a clear summer night, it feels like you could literally reach out your hand and grab ahold of the city in your right arm and embrace it.”

A view of the Roberto Clemente Bridge looking toward downtown Pittsburgh from PNC Park

The lighting also changes throughout the season, guaranteeing visitors never see the same view twice. “It’s like a live painting once opening day kicks off, which is spectacular and so unique,” he adds.

Aside from skyline views, there is not a bad seat to watch the action on field, Brown says, acknowledging the cliché. And if fans need a little more entertainment this season—the Pirates’ home opener is April 7—the Bucs will debut a new, more dynamic scoreboard, ribbon boards and in-park sound system. Additionally, the ballpark is in a pedestrian-friendly area close to great restaurants and bars, has ample parking options, focuses on family-friendly activities and features multiple spaces in right-center field where guests can hang out, drink a beverage and watch the game (as well as things going on along the riverwalk).

All those amenities have made PNC Park a destination for visitors from across the globe, even though the Pirates haven’t made the playoffs since 2015. “I can’t tell you how many fans come from all over the country, the world, to take in their first baseball games because they’ve heard about PNC Park,” Brown says. “So, I guess for anyone in Columbus who has not yet traveled to Pittsburgh to take in PNC Park, it’s well worth it.”

This story is from the Appalachian Spring feature package in the April 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.