PNC Park Book Excerpt from ‘The Fastest 30 Ballgames’ Novel
Original Print of the book was June 2011
Book Excerpt writeup By Chuck Booth
“This was the first of two visits to PNC Park during streak chases of 2008. This date was on July.7/2008. The events that happened right after this game caused me to restart the Guinness Streak on July.08/2008. A little diversion from a closure in the Lincoln Tunnel heading towards LGA cost me a flight from New York to Dallas. Hmmm.. I have not had a lot of luck in flying to Dallas have I?”
Game #7 Day #6
It was not my first time to see the Pirates play at ‘PNC’, the previous year I watched a doubleheader featuring Barry Bonds last games to be played in Pittsburgh—for awhile I was thought he might pass Hank Aaron for the all time Homer list for the games I was attending. Barry had surpassed Aaron a week earlier but I was still glad to see him in the starting lineup. Now I was back less than a year later.
I was ready to rebound from the day before. I drove 340 miles from my brother’s house in New Jersey—to arrive in Pittsburgh with lots of time to spare.
I parked in a business building across the “Roberto Clemente Bridge.” PNC Park is very convenient for parking, as they close off most of the bridges directly nearest to the ballpark. The park looks immaculate from the bridges and especially in reverse from the park where you can see the bridges.
Pittsburgh is a blue collar town but it a beautiful city downtown. The crowd was not bustling that night. There were 13,223 fans for the game and half that many were there when I arrived.
There may not be a better new ballpark when it comes to respecting the history of their team. There are statutes for just about any significant member ever associated with Pirates. There is a great amount of history of the World Series Runs of 1971 and 1979. The area my ticket was in was the left field bleachers section for a $9 price. Quite simply it is the best value in the majors considering it is general seating. You are right on top of the left fielder.
I made it over to “Greentree Pizza”—located just behind the huge scoreboard. I was staving so I ordered the large fourteen inch Pepperoni Pizza. It is made on a light thin crust and is one of the best singular foods in the majors.
Around the park, people were texting each other on their cell phones as the Pittsburgh Pirates display between every inning on their scoreboards. This is a fun thing to do—and very fan interactive.
They have two mascots that are running around the empty park. ‘The Pirate,’ (who will steal your food if you are not looking and/or opposing team ball caps that fans wear) and ‘The Parrot,’ (who is a lot more kid friendly and usually can be found occupying seats in the empty lower bowl.). I was pleasantly surprised that the ushers were so nice to me when I told them about my record streak. The lady talked to me for thirty minutes about the ballpark and even asked if I had time for a tour while in the city, she said she could call her boss if I wished. I politely declined as I had a long drive back to New York City. It was then I realized I actually needed a quick game.
It was one of the plane fares bought before the trip started and impossible to change because it was too costly. I would have about six hours to drive back to New York for a five and a half hour drive. There was not much wiggle room.
One of the coolest things about the PNC Park-is the size of left field center scoreboard. They play a four minute introduction at the start of the game that shows years of Pirate highlights and it always pumps me up. Then there is a segment where a cartoon pirate is away at sea with his crew and they come across the opposite team boat. A 3 minute battle ensues with the Pirates crew eventually taking ownership of the other boat. The pirate laughs and then it is game time.
The scenery is beautiful with the backdrop. The big green fence in right-center field has ‘Pirates’ perfectly hedged in shrubs. The only thing that is kind of weird is you can’t walk in the general area entirely across the outfield sectors. The seat’s in right field are in the 3rd level and is quite a shot from home plate to hit a home run. It is even a better sight at night with the bright lights of all the bridges illuminating the park. If only the franchise was in better shape.
The food courts are impressive for the limited amount of people attending. They are quick with the vendors—and have some of the longest serving staff of any in the majors.
In the left field bleachers there is a sit in restaurant that features live performances out on the patio deck including ‘mariachi band’s’ and groups that sing ‘a cappella.’ There is not much going on downtown directly around the park inside of the bridges that does not pertain to the ball game.
That night began sunny but soon clouds over giving me the worry of a rain out. The Houston Astros ran out to a 3-0 lead on a towering homer by Carlos Lee. The Pirates responded with a 4 run bottom of first. The inning took about forty-minutes and I was in time trouble again.
Fast forward to the 4th inning and it was 10-7 Pittsburgh—and we were already nearing 9:15 PM. I was sweating the game big time. If I left about 10:30 PM—I would be in massive trouble. I had done the drive from Pittsburgh to New York a few times before so I had some confidence to make good time.
It is a scheduling nightmare the certain Monday and Thursday baseball games on the condensed nights of the MLB when you are chasing this record.
There were not too many other nights I could see the Pirates playing. Again I was thinking about the July.9th restart option.
I was happy to see a quick 5th and 6th inning. The only thing that made me happier then that—was the game went the last 5 innings—only with one hit, and no runs after 17 runs in the 1st four innings. The last 5 innings only elapsed 40 more minutes in time.
I thanked the ushers for signing my logbook and ran out of the southwest corner near the ‘Clemente Bridge.’ I was happy at this moment it was Pittsburgh—as the crowd was smaller to navigate back to the highway. I had 7 hours in order to make it there for an hour before my flight.
I had prepaid the parking fare in the business garage, and was horrified to see the PT Cruiser I had rented the previous week in New York had now been keyed by someone. I was relieved that I had added the extra insurance to the car rental-which I usually forego however, because of the New York City garage experience the last time I had been to New York—I took the insurance.
This was still a concern. The car rental place would certainly want to discuss this. Just like some other rentals the scratches were not too visible and for a minute I thought they had been there the whole time. The scratches were on the passenger side so I had not seen that area much in the week. I pressed on.
I was revving on adrenaline as the time and miles wore away. I stopped at the edge of NJ State to stop for gas. All I had to do was go through the Lincoln Tunnel merge onto the ‘FDR’—in order to merge onto the 495-S Long Island Expressway. It was just after 4:40 AM-when I was headed for the tunnel.
“You have got be friggin kiddin me!!!! I yelled as I approached the tunnel which was closed for construction. I was at a loss for what was next. I knew the FDR would take me to the bridge I needed to take over. I then remembered the “Holland Tunnel” would work. I starting making way in that direction as panic set in. It was only starting to become daylight. At 5:00 AM-I made it to ‘Times Sqaure.’ I then finally made it to the FDR before merging onto the 495—and was on the Brooklyn-Queens-Expressway within reason.
Then the fun began. LGA is an airport dropped into a rural neighborhood. I made it to the airport okay—the problem was the car rental place was up the street. I arrived into ‘Thrifty Car Rental’ at 5:25 AM-with the flight leaving at six sharp I had a chance at that point.
I was on the shuttle bus awaiting the driver to leave for the airport which would have taken about 5 minutes—maybe another 10 minutes for early morning security and then I would have 10 minutes to run to the gate. The shuttle was away.
“Yes, I am going to make it,” I pronounced—it would be the closest miss yet. The shuttle driver had informed me that there was not much of a lineup for people traveling without checked baggage. The sun popped out and all of a sudden I loved New York City. Despite a small detour, I had overcome it by feeling out my way through it like I did as a courier back home.
A knock on the loading window stopped the shuttle bus smooth–and a grey haired, tall lanky old man with glasses came on the bus and pointed in my direction. “There is damage to your Cruiser. We need you to fill out an accident report.”
“Sir, I have full insurance and have a plane to catch, there is no time. I will be back this way next week watching a baseball game at Shea Stadium can I fill it out then?”
“Son, I could get in serious trouble for that. If you hurry there is another shuttle leaving in 5 minutes.”
I knew if I left the shuttle I would miss my flight. The only saving grace was that ‘Air Tran Airways’ are nice enough to their travelers—by letting them fly stand by on remaining flights to their original destination should they miss their flight. It was a stand-by option good for one day only. I knew there were two more flights to Dallas that day—both had a lengthy stop over in Atlanta. The first flight arrived in Dallas at 3:30 PM. I had designated that flight the first time I was going to book the flight. I then mistakenly thought the drive from Pittsburgh was only 5.5 hours-like it was from my brother’s house to PNC Park. I had the two confused in my final booking of the flight!
I opted for the earlier flight because I would arrive in Dallas at 11:00 AM-and could check into the Motel 6 right away to catch up sleep.
I filled out the accident report and made the next shuttle to LGA. Like I was a possessed addict chasing an addiction I ran to the ticket window at ‘Air Tran’. It was 5:45 AM. The system had already shut me out of the flight. I ran to the window were a mid-40’s gentleman was typing a keyboard and looking at me running at the same time.
“Flight to DFW right?” he questioned, he knew the answer.
“Yeah, I thought that you could print out the tickets up to 10 minutes before?” I answered, somehow gaining a glimmer of hope that he could radio ahead, stop the plane until I got there. I heard stories growing up of this happening.
“Actually you need to be in the boarding area 10 minutes prior to gates closing-we cut off the boarding passes 20 minutes before sorry.”
“Ah, man.” I was pissed, I half-wanted to race back to the car rental facility and drag the manager out into the street and beat him to a pulp. “How does the next flight look to Dallas?”
“Lemme check that for you.” The man typed quickly as he could, a man who was late for the same flight I was—came in line to be helped next. “The flight is oversold and there are 7 people on the waiting list ahead of you.”
If there is one thing I know is waiting for stand-by on flights. My step-mom had worked in the airline industry for 25 years. I was able to fly whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted provided there were available seats. 7 seats was a lot for a 9:00 AM Flight. It would have been different if it was the flight I had just missed. I had to try it. New York traffic had swallowed me up that morning, maybe it would swallow up others. “Print me the pass, I will try.”
“You never know sir you might also get a family that does not want to fly separately. You are a single traveler so you have a better chance than others.”
I grabbed my new boarding pass and headed trough security, and pressed onward to the gate. There was not much open for breakfast so I was happy to have polished off that huge pizza in Pittsburgh the night before. I needed to call the airlines to see if I could arrange other travel arrangements to Dallas.
I searched for the internet at ‘LGA’ which was non-existent at that time. I called every airline up. It was going to be $600 or $700. Day of flight’s prices sky rocket on same day sales. My plan was simple now. I would see if I made the next flight before another decision was to be made. I called Visa in the meantime and I was appalled to see that I had little credit left with all of the pre-authorizations against the car and hotel rentals. I was awaiting a payment to go through as well. I had $450 left. I was stuck. Not only was I in danger of missing my game in Texas—but my streak reset needed to start over in San Diego the next day.
It was a lost cause at ‘LGA’ and I left the airport at 10:00 AM-by boarding what I thought was a charter bus in between ‘LGA’ and “JFK.” I wanted to be at JFK incase I was stranded-since there were more amenities and late night domestic flights. At 10:30 AM-the charter bus let me off downtown in Manhattan.
“Wait a second I purchased a bus-ride all the way to JFK.” I said to a heavy set German fellow.
“You boarded the wrong bus.” The man replied.
“No I didn’t.” I was right–the man had forgotten to switch the template on the bus signage based on what I had seen back at ‘LGA’- he had deceived me.
“I paid for a ticket to JFK, and that is what your sign said. I know you are going to try to stiff me,” I was being rude back to the rude New York people now, “so why don’t you tell me how I get to JFK, it has been a brutal morning.”
The man radioed a bus a block away, “hold the bus for a minute, I need to drop a passenger for you to take to JFK, I made a mistake, no charges either.” The man actually smiled and nodded at me. I was relieved but knew that New Yorkers were good at nearly breaking you and then surprising you with doing the right thing.
I made it to JFK at noon in the hot heat, it was approaching 90F. I was still not ahead of the game. Like LGA-JFK did not have internet accessible terminals anywhere. I was running out of options. I called my buddy Dan Dion.
Dan Dion and his brother Justin had given me the time off delivering newspapers for the trip. I had known them both for eight years. Justin was doing one of my routes for me while I was away. I had to forfeit the second route because of the timing, but was promised a different route when I returned in August.
Dan was in Langley, British Colombia, and was in front of his computer.
“Dude, It’s me, missed my flight to Dallas because of an idiot car rental worker and a bridge closed for construction, I need your help, are you online?”
“Ya, I am online right how. Where are you?”
“I am on the Air-Tram at JFK circling the gates and don’t know where to go because I don’t have a plane ticket yet, I need you to go to the site www.kayak.com.”
“Man, I am glad you are home. Okay click on the flights icon and then enter JFK letter into the: ‘from part’-and ‘SAN’ letters in the: ‘to’ part, and don’t forget to make this a one-way flight.”
“How is it in the big crapple?” Dan was laughing and typing at the same time.
“Dude, this is a brutal city sometimes, good thing I always had the reset option, knew I was probably going to need it after that Philly/New York doubleheader miss anyway.” Some girl left here tote-bag on the seat next to me and I was going to hand it in.
Some old man freaked out on me saying I was stealing it. All this was happening while awaiting results.
“Cheapest flight is $545.”
“Not good, okay try LAX from JFK, I need to return there tomorrow night anyway so it will work for a car rental.” The man scoffed a look of disgust at me again. If I was not on a good will ambassador tour I would have sworn at him for his ignorance.
A few seconds elapsed, “Dude, I got an American Airlines flight leaving at eight your time arriving at just after eleven in LA-price is $160.”
“That is awesome, book that dude, click on it for me and I will give my credit card number to buy it-and then you can give me the confirmation code, then I will need to hit Budget Car Rental’s site next.”
Dan helped me for the next fifteen minutes and I was now going somewhere again. I had several hours before the flight to kill. I was fortunate enough to have the reset option. The new attempt was still 30-26 days. I had a grueling stretch of 4 doubleheader attempts in 5 days: SD Padres-Los Angeles Dodgers, followed by a Detroit Tigers-Cleveland Indians attempt; followed by Chicago Cubs/Milwaukee Brewers; then Toronto isolated by itself before a Washington Nationals/New York Mets attempt to hit the all-star break.
If all were hit all games I would be at 9 games in 5 days, even with the 3 day penalty for the all-star break I would have a chance on the other side of it. I arrived in LAX without a hitch.
I had just enough credit on my visa to rent the car and I had $150 cash. I knew there was lots of deposit money coming off by the next night at midnight eastern time. I had to make it the next 24 hours with the money I had. There was $30 for parking/probably $20 for gas and $100 left for food and shelter. I drove to San Diego right away. I tried the Motel 6-but no there was no vacancy. I wish I would have known about the hostel downtown then. I decided to keep all my money. I had an idea to shower at a ‘YMCA’ in the morning. Besides I had to spend money on batteries for the digital camera-plus I needed some health and beauty aids.
I ate 7-Eleven food for dinner and drove around San Diego for a few hours before resting at a ‘Rite-Aid.’ I slept for a few hours and finally it was open. A homeless man was outside and needed some money bad to eat. I only had $60 left after the drugstore but decided to give him $5. He was so thankful. I talked to him about my day in New York City. He informed me that my day was about to change for the better. After I drove away somehow I finally believed it.
***Thank you to our Lead Baseball Writer- Chuck Booth for preparing today’s feature on MLB reports. To learn more about “The Fastest 30 Ballgames” and Chuck Booth, you can follow Chuck on Twitter (@ChuckBooth3024) and you can also follow Chuck’s website for his Guinness Book of World Record Bid to see all 30 MLB Park in 23 days click here or on the 30 MLB Parks in 23 days GWR tracker at the Reports click here. To Purchase or read about “The Fastest 30 Ballgames Book, ” please click here ***
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Posted on April 25, 2012, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged Air Tran Airways, American Airlines, barry bonds, chicago cubs, Chuck Booth, cleveland indians, Dallas, dan dion, detroit tigers, dodgers, houston astros, JFK Airport, lga airport, Lincoln Tunnel, Los Angeles, milwaukee brewers, Motel 6, New Jersey, new york mets, padres, pirates, pittsburgh, pnc park, San Diego, the fastest 30 ballgames, washington nationals. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.