I had a special day this past Thursday. I went to PNC Park in Pittsburgh to watch afternoon baseball between the “locals,” the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the reigning world champion Los Angeles Dodgers. I went with several of my pals and was reminded of the old adage that when you’re on your deathbed you won’t be thinking “jeez, I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”
Before I delve into this story further, I want to get in a plug for the venue. PNC Park is in the heart of the Burgh, one of the many “retro ballparks” built in the 1990’s and early 2000’s in a wonderful move away from the “multi-purpose stadiums” of the 1970’s, which had all the charm and quaintness of old motel room ash trays. In my slightly biased opinion (I have been blessed to have been the family lawyer for the principal owners of the team for the last 30 or so years.), PNC is the best of the new ballparks, with the ones in Baltimore and San Francisco close behind, tied for second.
Those readers who follow Major League Baseball know that the current retro parks have been a largely successful attempt at combining the charm and nostalgic feel of the old parks, around from the 1920’s through the early 70’s, with the modern amenities demanded by an increasingly sophisticated consuming public. In my early childhood, I saw games from my front row seat on Cherry Lane, telecast in “living black and white” from historic, magical places like Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Crosley Field in Cincinnati, and Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium) in Philadelphia. The retro parks have been a welcome return to special edifices like these in the inner cities from the concrete blobs built in the suburbs in the 70’s.
Every time I walk into PN, or one of the two remaining relics from the early 20th century – Fenway in Boston and Wrigley in Chicago – I am reminded of the late comedian George Carlin who did a great skit on the difference between baseball and football. “Baseball is played in parks, football in STADIUMS. In football, your objective is to crush your opponent, using blitzes and formations, in baseball, your objective is to get safely home.” If you ever get the chance, take in a game at PNC Park. You’ll feel at home. It’s truly a day at the park.
A couple of observations though on how the baseball experience of 2021 does not quite match the days of yore in some ways despite its current nostalgic trappings. First, the tickets. Electronic. They appear magically on your phone. Convenient I guess, if you have a degree in computer science or a younger friend, and perhaps more sanitary since we’re still worrying about that. But hardly the stuff of which memories are preserved.
When I was a very young child and was being raised by a wonderful dad who thought that playing and watching sports was what you did when you weren’t studying or working, I was taught to “save your ticket stubs.” My guess is that it began with a late 1950’s Thanksgiving Day football game in Roanoke between VPI and VMI, the “Military Classic of the South.” This was an annual event in my family. A community church service (when the Methodists and the Baptists and the Presbyterians in town laid down their dogmas and communed together early Thanksgiving morning), then the trip down Christiansburg Mountain to watch each school’s corps of cadets (Keydets if you were from VMI) march into Victory Stadium and then to watch the teams battle it out on the field. I am pretty certain that this was when my dad first told me “preserve your memories, save your ticket stub.” I had a little toy safe in my closet on Cherry Lane where I stored them in the early years. Faithfully. A practice that continues to this day.
Over the years I have stubs from everything from a VPI vs VMI freshman football game (the Shrine Bowl, also held in Victory Stadium) to a 1963 Yankees game in old Yankee Stadium to an Ike and Tina Turner concert my first year of college. I even have a stub from the Wax Museum at Gettysburg. But I will have no stub from last Thursday at PNC.
My dad has been gone for many years now, a few years before the cyber world took hold. When I meet with him again someday, I will explain it this way: “Well, Dad, you see, they send the tickets to your phone from somewhere in the cloud and then they scan the bar code to let you go through the turnstile.” I’m sure he’ll understand.
There is another significant difference between now and the time of my ballpark experiences as a young adult, involving another matter also near and dear to my heart. Sitting in the Club Level last Thursday, by virtue of tickets which graciously and miraculously appeared gratis on my phone from my clients, my friend Tony and I went to the beer stand and asked for two beers. The lady dishing out the concessions with a smile and major resort-like training politely said “that will be $28.” My friend Tony says “No, you don’t understand, we only want two beers, not a case.” In fairness, they were 24 ounces.
My dad would have been okay with the high price of a cold one at the park, being more or less a teetotaler in his lifetime. But he sure would miss those ticket stubs.
Evans “Buddy” King is a proud native of Christiansburg, CHS Class of 1971. He resides in Clarksburg, W.Va., where he has practiced law with the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC, since 1980. He can be reached at email@example.com.