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