PITTSBURGH - On a recent Sunday evening I was feeding my 10-month-old son, Jesse, at the Sideling Hill Travel Plaza on thePennsylvania Turnpike when I heard an ohh and an ahh. Naturally, Ithought they were looking at my boy.
When I turned to my right, I saw cameras and flashes. My mouthdropped, and I shook my head in amazement when I turned to see thecause of the photo opportunity.
There in the food court were no fewer than 75 people lined upwearing Philadelphia Phillies apparel - caps, T-shirts and jerseys,my favorite being a throwback Bake McBride home jersey. The plazawas overrun with Phillies fans. An hour later, my family saw peoplein red shirts and pin-striped jerseys lined up waiting to enter arest stop near Carlisle.
The red, white and blue images from my weekend in Pittsburgh willstay with me for a while. The first weekend of June, Phillies fanstook over downtown Pittsburgh and PNC Park, as Philadelphia made itsonly visit to western Pennsylvania.
My wife and I went to PNC Park a few years ago when her favoriteteam, the Baltimore Orioles, was in town. I wrote about that trip,so I had to write again about Pittsburgh.
The city is clean and has a beautiful downtown with uniquearchitecture. Everywhere we walked, this time, we were surrounded bypeople wearing Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howardshirts. At the Blue Mountain Travel Plaza on our drive in toPittsburgh, every third person was wearing Phillies apparel.
I told a woman decked out in Philly colors that I normally wearneutral clothes when I go to a stadium outside of Philadelphia towatch a Philly team. Sort of, when in Rome, don't dress like anoutsider. The woman said, "Oh, no, we are taking over Pittsburgh.This is my seventh year, and we'll outnumber the Pirates fans."
Her prediction was correct. There were at least 20,000 Philliesfans in Pittsburgh. Some fans told me it is easier to get ticketsfor away games than for those in Philadelphia, where the team hassold out every game since June 19, 2009.
Philly fans make driving trips en masse to Washington, New Yorkand Pittsburgh. It is a six-hour drive from Philadelphia toPittsburgh, and we made the trip from Lancaster in four hours. It isan easy and rather inexpensive weekend of fun.
This was our first extended family trip with a son. My wifewanted seats high in the ballpark to avoid foul balls. I opted forseats directly behind home plate, but high, Section 316. This gaveus a great view of the skyline but kept us away from flying objects.
Because Pittsburgh is a popular destination for Phillies fans,the seats went fast. We went to games Saturday and Sunday. ForSunday, I bought the seats through the Pirates and MLB.com. Theywere $16 seats, but had an $8 service charge and $4 orderprocessing, making two seats $44.
Since I could not get two seats with a good view of the actionthrough the team for Saturday's game, I used Stub Hub. The seats, inthe same section, were a $1 more, but cost $4 less for the servicecharge.
We left at 11 a.m. Friday, wanting to avoid rush-hour trafficjust outside Pittsburgh. The three-mile stretch before the Fort PittTunnel is jammed every time. We still lost about 30 minutes on thisstretch. Tolls on the turnpike ran $15.65 each way.
There were several good rates on the Internet for hotels in thearea. We stayed at a Cambria Suites next to Consol Energy Center(home of the Pittsburgh Penguins ice hockey team). The hotel wasabout a 15-minute walk with a stroller to downtown. Though therewere cheaper rates elsewhere, we wanted a suite so Jesse had room tocrawl. We also wanted lodging close to areas we wanted to visit.
Cambria rates vary from $179-$229. The hotel has a good breakfastmenu (get the western omelet). There is also an indoor pool. It wasJesse's second time in a pool.
Saturday afternoon we went to the Strip District, about a 10-minute drive from our hotel. This area has a little bit ofeverything - from fresh produce and pastries to handmade jewelry andsports merchandise. It is a great place to visit.
"The Strip," as it's known, is a one-half-square-mile areanortheast of downtown Pittsburgh. It is a narrow slice of landconfined by the natural boundaries of the Allegheny River andGrant's Hill. The Strip's east and west boundaries are 11th and 33rdstreets, and the produce market runs from 16th to 22nd streets.Saturday is the busiest day, but there is activity in The Stripevery day, I was told. The hours vary by business, but 8 a.m.- 5p.m. is a good time to visit.
Cindy bought some very good shrimp and rice; I bought me one ofthe best egg rolls I've ever tasted. We also had homemade pierogiesand kielbasa that was fantastic.
Saturday night, PNC Park had its largest crowd ever for a game,with 39,400 fans. More than half were wearing Phillies colors.
If you have never been to Pittsburgh for a game, this is trulyone of the best ballparks in baseball. What a wonderful view! Italso has a great food court on the 100 Level. Yes, I had a PrimantiBros. sandwich at PNC.
After the game there were fireworks over the water and in frontof the many skyscrapers in downtown Pittsburgh. Fans sitting near usenjoyed watching our son's excitement over his first fireworksdisplay; the Pirates put on quite a show.
I would take this trip again, but would drive out Thursday nightand go to games Friday and Saturday night instead of Sunday duringthe day. If you or your child are fair-complected like we are,you'll find very little relief from the sun until about the fifthinning. If you do choose a day game, sit on the first base side,which offers some shade later in the game.
I still shake my head when I remember how many people I sawwearing Phillies memorabilia. In the late 1980s I went to home gamesat Veterans Stadium, during the team's lean years. The team would belucky to have 20,000 at a home game. Now they get that many whenthey are on the road.
Phillies Nation travels well.