ON THE RUN: Stadium’s demise end of an era
This Sunday will mark the two-week anniversary of a pivotal event in my life and the lives of thousands of sports fans.
Huddled together amidst the cold and gray skies that only a true Pittsburgher can appreciate, I joined thousands of sleep-deprived onlookers as the home of 30 years of sports magic breathed its last asbestos-filled breath.
Three Rivers Stadium, home to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the mighty Steel Curtain, was imploded on Sunday, Feb. 11 to make way for a new era in “civic history.”
The Bucs will now move into a brand new field generously funded by PNC Bank – conveniently named PNC Park and designed in the likeness of Camden Yards and Coors Field.
The genius behind these parks is reminiscent of “Field of Dreams”: “if you build it, they will come.” Marketing strategists and team owners are concerned about the general disinterest in baseball in light of new and more exciting extreme sports. Building smaller, more intimate, open air fields will most definitely remind the American family of the good old days when baseball was the official pastime – right?
The problem with this philosophy is this: a team’s home must represent civic pride, community and history. The thousands of fans that slept on the ground or stayed up all night long (like myself) were not camping out for tickets to a Beatles reunion tour. They came to pay homage to Three Rivers, a symbol that wore the city’s namesake better than Carnegie Hall.
While some considered the aging stadium an eyesore amongst the urban renewal plan of downtown Pittsburgh, it held a richness of imagery worthy of historical note.
It was in Three Rivers in 1971 that the first night World Series game was played between the Bucs and the Orioles. The same 59,000-seat football capacity gave birth to Franco Harris’ infamous “Immaculate Reception,” which garnered the first playoff win for the men of black and gold.
Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, two of baseball’s all-time greats, graced the 128,226 feet of Astro Turf and left a part of themselves on the field every time their team came up short of the win. The stadium preserved Pittsburgh history with statues dedicated to the legends of sport and memorials to the city’s finest men off of the field.
I am sure that by now, two weeks later, all of the rubble has been cleared and workers are numbly preparing this hallowed ground to be paved into parking lots for the new Steelers stadium.
That nameless building joins the ranks of many in the modern bidding war. As if a powerless daughter of royalty, its namesake and identity will go to the person with the biggest checkbook, regardless of whether it is a good match or not.
I spent half of my youth sitting in Three Rivers Stadium. I attended nearly every home Pirates game for six straight years. I knew that place inside and out and loved every dirty, creaking part of it.
On Sunday morning I was covered with a thin layer of dirt from head to toe as I relived my childhood memories through the thick cloud that gathered around this urban legend. Fans said goodbye to their second home on the river and many will return to the same spot in a few months as the baseball season warms up. I too cannot stop “progress” and will cheer on the Steel City stars in their new location.
Unfortunately, the retirement of urban traditions like Three Rivers and Mile High Stadium will continue to give birth to a new generation of Staples Centers, Qualcomm Arenas and the like.
They might be cleaner, more technologically equipped and even safer, but they will never be worthy of sacrificing a night’s sleep to sit in the cold and get dirty with thousands of strangers.
Lara Mullin is the Sierra Sun sports writer.
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