Big Lead Sports Bar



The glorious PNC Park fare

I don't get to many Pirate games anymore, for a variety of reasons. In fact, I hadn't been to PNC Park since last July (which was beautifully recapped here). But at a recent charity auction, I had a few tickets to the new all-you-can-eat (AYCE) section fall into my lap, so I figured I might as well go and get a good story out of it. I hadn't seen a really comprehensive review of this new stadium feature and thought I would do a service to everyone else who was as slow to try this out as I was.

The walk up to the stadium was congested, as usual. We finally settled on a $12 parking spot a few blocks away in a garage. How this team still manages to get fannies in the seats after all of this losing is beyond me.

The Sunday games are always advertised as a great family outing. Today's selling point was the Freddy Sanchez banner, for all the kids 12 and under who will be inspired to grow up and bat .231. As you can see, that strategy was playing out pretty well, as the Bucaroos stand was packing them in:

While walking to our seats, I noticed this contest sponsored by the Trib. Sorry, but that's not going to sell many newspaper subscriptions:

Our tickets were in section 146. Upon arrival, you have to check-in at a booth where a Pirate staffer gives you an AYCE wristband for the day. We got to the game pretty close to the 1:35 first pitch, so we figured we'd breeze through the line, grab a few sandwiches, and head back later for more. And then we were greeted with this:

It turns out that there's only one line for the AYCE crowd. I've seen shorter waits at Disneyland. We were in line for a solid half-hour on our initial trip through the line.

The menu includes AYCE hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream sandwiches, nachos, peanuts, popcorn, salad, and pop. As you get closer to the front, the line splits into a left side and a right side, which in a perfect world would offer the same items. As you can see, our side had a grand total of one hot dog at the time, so that means a stadium employee runs back and forth shouting things like, "Who wants a hot dog?" when the mood strikes her.

As we crawl closer to the front of the line, we try to figure out exactly what we can get. One sign says you're limited to a total of four items per trip:

However, the sign behind the counter completely contradicts that. Am I nuts, or would you not read the sign below as saying you could get a maximum of four of each item?

As usual, some good old-fashioned people watching helped cure my short attention span through the line. Like this guy, who resembled a thinner Big John Studd, with a predictable raunchy, beer-related t-shirt that I saw plenty of on Sunday.There was also a great shot of some hot dog chefs grilling weiners behind a grease-stained pane of glass. Sadly, the hot dogs were below expectations on this day.And then there was this guy, who got a ticket only to walk around for most of the game with an enormous Italian flag (if you didn't know, it was Italian Day at PNC; more on that later).Finally, I claimed my rightful food in the AYCE line: two hot dogs, a very small order of nachos, and a really small Diet Pepsi.

Rather than drag our food back to the seats, we took a few minutes and inhaled it at a nearby table. By the time we finally sat down, we'd missed two innings and the Pirates were already behind. Distract us from the on-field product, Pirate management? Mission accomplished.

For some unknown reason, a number of vendors continued to work a section with access to as much food as they wanted. It appears that Jack Black is in character study for a future film as a beerman.

Here's our usher, who greeted us with "I already wiped your seats", before not showing us to our seats, which already had people sitting in them. Thanks for the effort.

We're through three innings, which means it's time for flying meat, also known as the Sugardale Hot Dog Toss. Being that I held a golden ticket to an unlimited supply of processed tube steaks, I had little motivation to participate.

The Pirates usually have a theme to their scoreboard displays. This year, it's the players as actual "Yarrgh, matey"-style pirates. Somehow, Adam LaRoche as a pirate fails to inspire memories of Johnny Depp. Or Willie Stargell, for that matter.

A few innings passed, so it was time to check on the AYCE line. Besides, I was dying of thirst after using one of my four item choices on that child-sized serving of pop. So I lined up for some additional Diet Pepsi and an ice cream sandwich from the roving, yelling employee. As you can see, the sandwich left a little to be desired. I guess storing them in the freezer is out of the question.

Back to the seats for more exciting Sunday Lineup action. By looking at the Kennametal K Club, you could probably guess that Ian Snell was pitching today. They had quite the easy workload. Ian's line: 4 IP, 8 hits, 4 runs, 2 Ks. After a promising start, he's fast on his way to becoming a "True Pirate".

A Pirate rally ties the score at four. As the 8-5 final would indicate, that would be short-lived. Time for another silly Adam LaRoche intro, this time heavily hyping "Buck Commander".

It's time for in-game distraction #8,952, the Great Pittsburgh Pierogi Race N'at, a.k.a. "Something That Would Be Much More Beloved If It Weren't Introduced During Such A Down Time in Pirate History".

And we have a winner! This somehow seemed less rigged than the NBA playoffs.

A few inspired Italians donned Mario and Luigi outfits for the day. Unless they were actually Mario and Luigi, which was totally possible.

As the scoreboard would indicate, 22,983 tickets were sold for today's game. Say what you want about the Pirates, but they have an incredible marketing team.

The intimidating troika of Morgan-Chavez-Gomez went 1-2-3 to close the 8th. I know, I'm as shocked as you are. The PNC Park faithful, sensing a three-run deficit was too great to overcome, heads for zee hills. That would prove to be a wise, get-a-jump-on-traffic move, as the Pirates would meticulously recreate their 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the 9th. Blue Jays 8, Pirates 5. Put the brooms back in the closet. And yes, I actually saw a guy carrying one today.

So the $40 question: was it worth it? Well, it's kind of like getting .50 off per gallon of gas at GetGo and thinking you're getting a deal by paying $3.50 a gallon. You're so used to getting ripped off, you've talked yourself into believing you're getting a good deal.

I think the tickets in this area are about $17, which would mean you're paying $23 for the privilege of missing half the game while waiting for mini-orders of nachos in 85-degree heat. A deal? I suppose. It was nice to get free refills on soft drinks, which could easily bankrupt a person on a normal game day. The alternative of beer (now priced at a low $7 per bottle) makes the all-you-can-drink pop even more attractive.

My final tally: a burger, two hot dogs, an order of nachos, and three Diet Pepsis. It's not much more than I'd eat at a family cookout, especially spread over three hours.

Actually, I didn't see much "abuse" from the AYCE customers. It's not as if there was some enormous guy walking back and forth the entire game with four burgers in his hand at all times. The speed of the line clearly discourages a lot of people. Some employees looked like they were trying to keep up with the crush; others looked like they were moving in suuuuper---slooooow----motion.

The way I saw it, most people loaded up on burgers and dogs in the early innings, then supplemented that with nachos and ice cream down the stretch, with ample drink refills throughout. A decent number of paying customers would use their entire four-item allocation on their own personal tray of drinks.

But as I looked around the stadium, I noticed something that was really sad: the complete and total apathy of the crowd. The Pirate "fans" have to rank among the worst in the league, and it's not entirely their fault. As I said earlier, the fact that anyone is still showing up for these games is a minor miracle.

They come for the atmosphere, for the day out of the house and under the sun, for the Italian Day, for the hot dog toss, for the all-you-can-eat burgers, and for the Freddy Sanchez banner for their kid. If the Pirates win, it's a nice bonus, but win or lose, the end result really doesn't matter to the majority of those in attendance. They're totally numb to the on-field action. And while the Pirates could only muster an eclectic collection of 10 singles today, it wasn't as if they were ever out of the game at any point.

If you'll notice, I rarely use the phrase "Pirate fans". It's a breed that has mostly gone by the wayside, for 15 1/2 reasons I can think of off the top of my head. I prefer "Pirate customers", and credit must go to whatever local analyst came up with it (it's escaping me).

Just look at my experience today. I missed a great portion of the game standing in line. I just think of dropping that phrase into an in-person account of a Steeler or Penguin game and not dreaming I would ever let it happen. What can I say? The apathy and non-urgency of the PNC Park crowd is contagious.

Would I recommend one of you buying an AYCE ticket? Yes, but only if you are fully aware of the downside of this program ahead of time. If you're interested in seeing as much game action as possible, you might want to wait a few innings to avoid the early-game rush, if you do it at all. If you're in it mostly for the food and atmosphere, it's a pretty good deal considering your options.

A few more notes:

--Lots of Toronto fans in attendance today. There was a loud cheer after each Blue Jay home run.

--Quite a collection of jerseys worn in the crowd today. An old-school Barry Bonds Pirate jersey, loads of Blue Jays gear, a Mats Sundin jersey t-shirt, and a Jeff King jersey stand out.

--As I saw Jack Wilson saunter to the plate, I thought to myself how amazing it was that he's still here. Honestly, how many guys make it to their eighth year with the Pirates anymore? But he's gotta ditch that at-bat intro music. Time for something new, Jack-O.

--Why are the Pirates still struggling with sub-.500 ball? I present Adam LaRoche (.217), Freddy Sanchez (.231), Ian Snell (5.99), and Tom Gorzelanny (6.59). You can't have that many guys you're counting on completely disappear once the bell rings. Plus, the injuries to Phil Dumatrait, Xavier Nady, and Ryan Doumit haven't helped.

--Up next: the New York Yankees, visiting Pittsburgh for the first time since Bill Mazeroski sent them home as runners-up in the 1960 World Series. We'll get an up-close look at Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and the much-hyped Joba Chamberlain for the first time ever in a regular season game. Maybe that can inspire some ticket buyers to watch the action on the field for a change.


I'll be on the 102.5 WDVE morning show on Tuesday morning at 9:20 AM to talk about this in greater depth with hosts Jim Krenn and Randy Baumann.

You can listen online at


BlackAndGold said...

Your derogatory comments on the Pirates are getting to be a little ridiculous. You sound like the biggest fair-weather fan that there is. I am sure that when the Pirates contend for the division in a couple years you will hop on the bandwagon like you did for the Pens this year...JOKE

SeanCollier said...

Great write-up, but seriously...never, ever, ever pay to park at a Pirates game. Within a ten to fifteen minute lot from the stadium are about 1,000 North Side meters that are free just about every time the Pirates are playing (nights and Sundays.) They're in the Cedar Ave./Children's Museum/Allegheny Circle area, no more than 3 blocks from the stadium.

Schide said...

I second the never pay to park comment, but will also add that no one in their right mind should ever pay to watch the Pirates play. Also, $40 for some decent seats and food that fell off the back of the school lunch truck? This does not a good deal make.

Still, I would pay some small fee to watch other teams come to PNC so I could see some actual baseball teams. Except the Yankees. Anybody who bought tickets to see the Yankees games is delusional.

godohoky said...

Pittsburgh still has a baseball team?

Do not listen to B&G he is obviously crazy. He said "I am sure that when the Pirates contend for the division in a couple years." I would rephrase that statement if I were him and replace a couple with 50 because that is how long it will take baseball to catch up with the rest of the sports world and get a salary cap. So that he can not say the same thing about me I'll tell you my stance on the "battlin buccos". I have not watched a Pirate game on tv or in the park since mothers day the year PNC opened when I took my mom. I refuse to even accept free tix from friends and coworkers. However as soon as baseball wakes up and gets a salary cap so every team can compete, instead of the Yanks payroll being greater than the cost of PNC park, I will go and watch and enjoy. I wish more people would do the same then my dream of moving this side show of baseball team out of the burgh would be achieved.

By the way Jason Bay has been the best player on the pirates for 3 or 4 seasons now, isn't time for him to go sit the bench in Boston or New York.

Anonymous said...

Answer to your question about when the last time was that the Buccos played a game that people actually cared about -

There was a series against the Astros in early September of 1997 (yes, that magical summer of '97 with those $9 million Buccos!) when the Bucs still in contention for the AL Central title (somehow) only to be swept at Three Rivers.

Since that series, I can't remember being emotionally invested in the Pirates.

This is all summed up in one word: irrelevance.

Deaner said...

Great stuff!

ManBearPig said...

Hey Black&Gold moron. Religiously following a team like this does not make you a true fan, just a true idiot.

Mondesi is not a bandwagon jumper, he just tells it like it is...something that delusional people like yourself can't seem to accept.

Anonymous said...

Good, entertaining write-up. I love reports of Pittsburghese atmosphere at Pirates games. Nothing beats the guy with a mullet pounding Iron City's talking about Jim and Randy on DVE. BTW, The Buccos need to bring back Mullet Moments as another distraction from the product on the field. Those were worth the price of admission.

Unknown said...

I agree with BlackandGold, If the Pirates ever contend again there will be write-ups after every game. If he still rips on the Pirates after they start winning that's okay but I don't think that will be the case. Like I said once before, if the Pens and Steelers fall on hard times, the site would never get updated.

I like most things on this website and appreciate the hard work put into it, but the Pirate bashing is getting old. Either quit bashing them or quit writing about them, until they start winning of course.

HotDog_Zanzabar said...

Or you could quit reading?

What the heck do you want him to write about, how Osoria sucked again, how Snell blew out his arm, how they didn't get an extra base hit?

I'm tired of fans blindly approving everything this team does. I wish the bobble-head having, fireworks going, non-winning baseball fans would just go away.

Matt said...

Just for the record, Alex Rodriguez was here when the Rangers came through town in June of '02. A-Rod went 0-for-4 with a strikeout against Kip Wells in game one, 3-for-4 with a walk and an RBI against Jimmy Anderson/Mike Lincoln in game two, and 1-4 with a homer against Josh Fogg in the Sunday game. Texas swept the Pirates.

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to write about the Buccos when its the same old story. No one enjoys reading or writing "ho-hum we lost another game" stories. Those stories have been the same for the last 15 years. The only difference is personel names. The mainsteam media is full of "what if" Pirates stories. Even the Trib and PG get bored with them. There is very little good news coming from PNC Park worth writing about and if there is this site jumps on it. At least when the Pens were at their depths, there was hope. The hopes of building a team through the draft. The hope of a savior like Sidney Crosby. There is no hope coming from the Park on the North Shore. Then why should there be hope coming from this website?

AJ said...

is there any chance of Billy Crystal getting a start against the Buccos this week? said...

My friends and I made PNC the first stop of a four-park tour earlier this month. Besides the baseball being played, it was the best park on the tour (compared with Cleveland, Detroit & Cincinnati).

The team sure does suck, though. We watched them play the Nats, and it was an overdose of suckitude. I've seen better double-A games.

Still, it's fun to take the ferry over and the stadium's awesome (especially the out-of-town scores) and we payed $32 per seat for four seats about 15 rows behind home plate.

Oh, and it's fun to continually yell, "Aaaaaaarrrrrrrggghhhh" throughout the game.

If the Pirates ever get good, this would probably be my favorite place to watch a pro game.

Unknown said...

interesting writeup.

i got a LOT of admiration for all yall remaining pirates fans. i don't think i could do it.

and trust me on this i understand how difficult it is to find something good to write when your team sucks.

as for salary cap - yeah, i can see ALL these different champs in football and basketball over the past 15 years. and salary caps sure help the detroit lions.

salary caps won't do squat when you got owners who do not care if the team loses every year because they already got millions in profit coming in from MLBAM and revenue sharing. there isn't any reason for them to you know, do something different if the yankees suddenly aren't allowed to spend more than 120 mill or whatever

treefiddy said...

I dont understand what all this criticism of the writer is about. When a team consistantly performs as badly as our pirates do, they deserve the chastisement. When they do something that is worth remarkable recognition, then they deserve the positive comments. It just so happens that the pirates havent done anything remarkable in a long time. Sure, on occasion there might be a game or stretch of games where the pirates look like an actual professional team, but in terms of longevity its been almost my entire life. The pirates and the organization deserve the negative comments. It takes a true fan of a team to be able to point out shortcommings and inabilities, rather than mindlessly think that they can contend.

Unknown said...

I agree that the play on the field has been unexcusable the past 15 years. There have been many of times where I have turned off the TV set and threw the remote out of fustration. The only thing that I am fustrated about is that when the Pirates finally turn the ship around (whether it's 4 or 40 years)the fans will pop out of the woodwork and pretend they supported this team in there darkest days.

I'm not saying the writer is one of these fans, because I understand the fustration and I enjoy reading his webpage. I also apologize for the criticism of the writer.

I think that we have to remember that the Pirates are part of Pittsburgh history to, and through the years they have given us great thrills, and eventually they will again

Unknown said...

Your an idiot for buying shit food, no one to blame but yourself. Plenty of good places to go besides the cheap ass AYCE, everyone knows that. Did you think you were at the Golden Corral? Do your blog a favor and don't Data Mine on your next field trip, you sound like an Idiot.

Unknown said...

The Quip about Freddy Sanchez does seem a little unfair though, he's been to the All-Star game for the past two years, plays great defense, and just has run into a lot of bad luck this year.. His .248 BABIP is evidence of this, as it's a far cry from his .324 career clip, despite the fact that his LD% is actually up this year.

godohoky said...

For the guy that thinks salary caps do nothing allow me to direct you to Mellon arena where the pens went from being the worst team in the NHL to the stanley cup finals last season. Your lil talk about the lions, aka the only team in the NFL not to be in the playoffs in the last ten years. By the way you are talking about the league with the most parody of all sports. I really enjoy following the MLB because in order to keep up with who has a shot at winning the world series I only need to pay attention to the same 6 teams every year.

Russ Hailwood said...

Neil: Everything is okay, buddy. Just take a deep breath. He got some tickets at a charity auction and decided to use them. This does not make him an idiot.

What the Pirates do so far as bringing fans in is amazing. With the players they put out on the field, they wouldn't be drawing more than 8000 a night in any other comparable city.

One of the reasons they do so well, besides the park and touristy fun, is that, as I've read here, this city is so eager to embrace a winner. The Pens reaped the reward of winning, and the Buccos are starting to see what can happen if a team is moderately successful.

However, I too was pissed off at the fans when I attended Friday night's game. In the top of the eighth, in a 0-0 game with the BJs up and threatening, some idiots in my section started the wave. At the most critical moment yet in the game. My girlfriend stopped me before I could kill the jag-offs.

Sky Davis said...

Good post russ.

I'm with black&gold tho...yeah it has been tough to watch the pirates over the last few years, but the constant sarcastic bashing is just gettin ridiculous.

A few observations:
I see you like to make fun of the between inning entertainment. Go to any park but wrigley and fenway and show me where they dont have "in-game distractions".
Also, I'm with cory on the freddy sanchez comment. The guy gets a batting title and 2 all star appearances and suddenly you wouldnt want your kids play like him because he's struggling this year? Yeah i'm getting tired of watching him hit into doubleplays this year too but its hard to bash a guy who works as hard as he does.

By the way, ice cream sandwiches tend to melt in 85 degree weather, can't blame the pirates for that one buddy.
The one thing the pirates have done well the last 15 years was pnc park. there is no reason to trash a place ranked #1 best park in baseball 7 years in a row.

I like this site because i'm like reading up on local sports, but B&G is right up there..i wish this site was up, or i was reading back when the pens sucked a few years ago and the steelers blew in the late 90's-early 00's (kent grahm years)...i'd like to see the fairweather blowing through those years
The pirates actually have some fight in them this year despite injuries and our aces (snell-gorzo) Our outfielders have better numbers than the 3 leading vote getters in the NL outfield, and the new management has yet to make a bad move. (gomez, mientkawitz, michaels, dumatrait, pedro)

sorry 3 diet cokes and few cheeseburgers didnt do it for ya, but if you are a pirates fan go to the games to watch baseball. they are 23-16 at pnc park this year and playing pretty good ball. but you probably didnt know that because you were too concerned about adam laroches scoreboard pictures or jack wilsons at-bat music
Go Bucs.

BeraH said...

"85-degree heat" is like saying someone had to deal with "frigid 50-degree temperatures"

Anonymous said...


The Buccos are suckos and have earned every bit of it.

Aj - nice Billy Crystal line. I can see him going 2 for 4 tonight.

Brian said...

sky davis = 100% right

Unknown said...

The Buccos are the best team around in baseball today! To criticize them is madness! Mondesi why did you title the article MONDESI FIELD TRIP: THE PIRATES ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT SECTION, and write about the food you ate and not just the baseball you watched? Fredy Sanchez may have been good but he's in a slump now and you have no reason to criticize him for it at all! My blind faith in the Pirates means I can never criticize any of the moves they make, despite the fact that the last time they had a winning season I was in Kindergarden (seriously). But this is just a slump for the Buccos, they can still win the world series, this and next year.

ManBearPig said...

Hey Sky King:

Ice cream sandwiches shouldn't already be melted when you unwrap them. Did they have them placed next to the hot dogs at the AYCE concession stand?

It wouldn't surprise me. That's okay, just keep those blinders on.

ThatDude said...

First of all The City of Pittsburgh taxpayers built the stadium, not the Pirates organization. (It was sold to us as "the only way to compete" with the big market teams)

Secondly, Nutting is nothing than a businessman who could care less about winning. (The jagoff pockets the revenue sharing $$$ instead of using it for its intended purpose.)

Anyone who blindly supports this profiteering organization is a yinzer moron and a lemming. Anyone who thinks they are going to win anytime soon is delusional. These are facts.

Bash away Mondesi. “No doubt about it” - this organization deserves it.

Unknown said...

Pittsburgh loves winners and HATES losing. Just 4 short years agot he Pens were last in attendance, behind teams like Florida, Tampa Bay and Nashville in the NHL. I'll be more than happy to have a bunch of bandwagon jumpers at PNC because that means the Pirates are winning. I lived in other cities and in Chicago, NYC and Boston and when their teams are not doing well for a few season or 14 or 15 (knicks, celtics, cubs) they still sell out or come close. The only team in town here that could withstand a long losing streak is the Steelers. Yet most of the Yinzers I talk to about the Stillers don't even know the players names outside Ben and Hines, they just like wearing sports jerseys and having a good excuse to get loaded early on a Sunday. Pittsburgh sports fans are great fans when their team is winning and when their team is not, well there are no many fans to speak of.
Put me on record as saying I think the new Pirates management will have the team winning in the near future. And I will have been at the games in the dark days just the guy who writes this blog.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like those tickets are clearly not worth it. Not worth it in the pocket book or in your body.

There is so much hype with these tickets and it seems like a total letdown. I bet they are intentionally slowing that line down.

It's ashamed that they rip the fans off like that....oh wait they have been doing that for 15 years now except for that fluke year with the likes of Kevin Polcovich & Mark Smith.

Anonymous said...

"Your derogatory comments on the Pirates are getting to be a little ridiculous. You sound like the biggest fair-weather fan that there is. I am sure that when the Pirates contend for the division in a couple years you will hop on the bandwagon like you did for the Pens this year...JOKE"

Your the joke buddy. Everyone has jumped off of the Pirates ship. It's people like you who the organization love. They give you this false hope that they are just a few players/years away from contending. This team can't even play .500 ball. They can't find a way to win 1 more game than they lose over the stretch of the season. That's sad.

I am a Pirates fan but I generally don't go to the games unless I am given tickets. I feel that if you by tickets to the game and go you are buying into the crap that they put out there. I can't afford to back this team like I want to. Why go and spend good money for tickets when they trudge out players like Adam LaRoche and JVB? I can find many other things to give my money to. Going to these games and spending money is sending a signal to the ownership that we are OK with this crap.

If the Buccos start to win again then I will start to go back. It doesn't make me any else of a fan because I don't go and it doesn't make me a bandwagon fan for wanting to go when we get good. It's called being smart and saving my money for a winner.

Anonymous said...

Great post but I really don't understand why if the people criticize those famous players and their games on the field. In fact my brother told a few days back that some Lions players likes to visit
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