Baseball. Many a Pirate fan will tell you they love to hate on it, and hate to love it. It’s a strange history we’ve got with the sport, and quite a storied one at at that. From our team’s first owners to its current one, we’ve seen many bad calls and equally awesome plays.
While baseball wasn’t invented in Pittsburgh, as so many other things were (that honor belongs to Cooperstown, New York), the first baseball stadium was built here. It’s a name even non-baseball fans seem to know: Forbes Field. The field could be viewed from the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning – what a sight that must have been! – and operated for a whopping sixty-one years.
From Exposition Park to Forbes Field, and from Three Rivers Stadium to PNC Park, the history of baseball in Pittsburgh is a long one indeed. Let’s take a look at the stadiums that played host to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Baseball is like church. Many attend; few understand.”— Leo Durocher
An interesting note to begin this post on is the fact that all four stadiums for the Pittsburgh Pirates (who haven’t always been known by that name) have all been located on the North Shore of the city. At this time, the North Shore was still known as Allegheny City, a city that would eventually be brought into Pittsburgh’s city limits where it remains to this day. However, that’s another history for another day.
Local newspapers referred to the general area along the Allegheny waterfront as “the Exposition grounds”, named for other “expositions” that would be shown there, including horse racing and circuses.source
As such, baseball wasn’t the only event to take place at this location. It played host to several area teams before it became the dedicated Pirates’ home: Allegheny, Pittsburgh Burghers, the Pittsburgh Pirates (NL), the Pittsburgh Filipinos and the Pittsburgh Stogies/Rebels. The Alleghenys first used it in 1882, and the teams that followed utilized the field, and its two other rebuilds (which were named Exposition Park II and Exposition Park III), until 1915.
“When you start the game, they don’t say ‘Work ball!’ They say, ‘Play ball!'”— Willie Stargell
Did you know that Andrew Carnegie also had a hand in Pittsburgh’s baseball scene? I didn’t until just today! But I really shouldn’t be so surprised. During the park’s lifetime, it earned itself several other names including: The House of Thrills, The Old Lady of Schenley Park and The Oakland Orchard. The owner of the Pirates, Barney Dreyfuss, decided it was time to move on from the multiple version of Exposition Park and have a more permanent home in Forbes Field. Dreyfuss approached Carnegie with a request to help him fund the new ballpark. Carnegie agreed and
“The stadium was made of concrete and steel, the first such stadium in the National League and third in Major League Baseball, in order to increase its lifespan. The Pirates opened Forbes Field on June 30, 1909, against the Chicago Cubs, and played the final game against the Cubs on June 28, 1970.”source
Near the end of the Field’s time, plans were already being made for Three Rivers Stadium, and ground was broken for this new stadium in 1968. Only one other ballpark had lasted as long as Forbes: the Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia.
Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente played 15 seasons at Forbes Field. He was emotional during the last game saying, “I spent half my life there.” After the game, home plate was dug up and taken by helicopter to Three Rivers Stadium to be installed in the artificial turf.source
Three Rivers Stadium
“Close doesn’t count in baseball. Close only counts in horseshoes and grenades.”— Frank Robinson
In the ten or twenty years prior to the actual closure of Forbes Field, several proposals had been brought forward but the potential costs of demolition and building was all the Pirates’ owners saw. So nothing was done to Forbes but maintenance. This maintenance was just as costly, as the ballpark’s facilities were aging quite rapidly. These proposals came as early as 1948. Eventually, the University of Pittsburgh purchased the aging field and its land to expand its campus.
A proposal for a new ballpark was finally accepted, and construction began in April of 1968. For thirty years Three Rivers Stadium was a staple in Pittsburgh sports, being the home for both the Pirates and the Steelers. The only team which didn’t play in Three Rivers was the hockey team, the Penguins. They had the Civic Arena. One proposal for the stadium would’ve seen it become part stadium, part bridge, part marina. They opted for a simpler approach: home to two sports teams and a concert venue.
In an opening ceremony that would be rare today, Three Rivers Stadium played host to both its football and baseball teams at the same time. New uniforms were introduced and worn, ceremonies and parade were all part of the day’s festivities. The Pirates won the first game in their new ballpark, and Three Rivers became a popular concert venue.
Then, “By the early 1990s, multipurpose stadiums had gone out of fashion. They were considered by many to be ugly and obsolete, as well as not financially viable. Joining a wave of sports construction that swept the United States in the 1990s, both the Pirates and Steelers began a push for a new stadium.” At the same time other development projects were occurring throughout the city, and proposals once again rolled in.
It was decided the teams would have their own stadiums, and video below is of the implosion of Three Rivers Stadium. As you can see, Heinz Field (now Acrisure Stadium) is already built, and just how close it was to Three Rivers:
“You wanna have a catch?”— Field of Dreams
As you can see in the video above, the stadium’s implosion was a success, doing no damage to Heinz Field. Once again it was located on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. At the same time ground was broken for the new ballpark, the Roberto Clemente Bridge was newly renamed.
As part of original plans to create an enjoyable experience for fans, the bridge is closed to vehicular traffic on game days to allow spectators to park in Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle and walk across the bridge to the stadium.source
Two years it took to construct with twenty-three labor unions contracted and sworn to not strike during the build. The final game at Three Rivers Stadium was played on October 1, 2000, and Opening Day at PNC Park took place on April 9, 2001. Its first year saw over 30,000 fans, and soon rave reviews and accolades rolled in. The park also features several statues of past Pirates players.
PNC Park is also a popular concert venue like its Three Rivers predecessors. It’s also been featured in several Hollywood films such as She’s Out Of My League, Abduction, Jack Reacher and Sweet Girl (none of which I have seen).
Over the years the Pirates has seen a decline in game attendance due to their ongoing losing seasons. Many may say that the team’s heyday is long over, but my family’s holding out hope, even with my dad potentially not renewing his season tickets after ten years.
The future of baseball is uncertain, especially when it comes to the Pittsburgh Pirates. But, as with anything we Pittsburghers hold dear, we will hold out hope it can turn around soon. I live for the day we can see 30,000 fans fill the seats once again, much like they did for the final day at Exposition Park.