Pittsburgh is a classic American sports town, full of multi-generational, die-hard fans. While the football and hockey teams have enjoyed more recent success than the Pirates, the bloodlines connecting each sport run deep through the town. With a proud history from Honus Wagner and Ralph Kiner to Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, baseball has had a home in the Steel City since the late 1800s, and now calls beautiful PNC Park – with a picturesque, skyline view of downtown across the river – its home.
Perhaps there is something to the solidarity of the yellow and black jerseys worn by each team – the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins – or the fact that all play their games within close proximity, as the athletic venues each now reside in the same riverfront neighborhood. But even the fact that the Pirates own the longest stretch of consecutive losing seasons in any professional sport (20 and counting, entering the 2013 campaign) isn’t enough to dampen enthusiasm, or keep the fans away.
There are nice touches at the ballpark that are uniquely Pittsburgh as well. Their version of the Racing Presidents (who took part in the festivities this weekend) are the Pierogies, a local food staple of the eastern Europeans who first settled the city. After victories, they “raise the Jolly Roger,” hoisting a Pirate flag above the ballpark. And, up in the press box, you’ll find Rick, who has worked for the club for 10 years. He owns five different classic Pirates jerseys, and sports whichever one matches best with what the team on the field dons that particular game, along with his throwback handlebar moustache.
But for all the tradition, spectators at PNC Park were treated, for lack of a better word, to something they had never heard before this weekend. As Washington plated six runs in the series-winning victory on Sunday, a chant rose up from a select few in the upper bowl.
Those who have attended a Nationals game in D.C. over the past few years have no doubt become accustomed to, or perhaps even joined in on the rallying cry of “N-A-T-S Nats Nats Nats” that accompanies each score by the hometown nine. But hearing it happen on the road, drawing the ire of the hometown fans, was signified something of a first. It only highlighted just how many red jerseys, t-shirts and Curly W’s were on display in western Pennsylvania this weekend.
The Pirates had averaged just 20,616 fans through their first 12 openings of the season, but saw more than 80,000 spectators over the three-game set, despite playing against a Penguins home playoff game Friday night and the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday morning. Saturday’s contest drew 29,975, the largest crowd since Opening Day, but a decent percentage of those in attendance sported red, not the hometown yellow and black.
Two of those who made the trek included Burt and Lynn, who patrolled the grounds outside the park several hours before first pitch on Friday afternoon. Lynn sported her Ross Detwiler jersey T-shirt in support of his start that night, and the two of them took in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. It marked their first trip to Pittsburgh, and they were hardly alone.
The Nationals already set April attendance records at home, drawing over a half-million fans in the season’s opening month for the first time. But that trend has extended beyond the banks of the Anacostia, where the likes of Burt and Lynn have joined a growing group of Nationals fans bringing the comforts of the ever-growing home field advantage on the road.