You’ll be back at PNC Park this summer. You know you will.
Maybe you’ll be cursing Bob Nutting’s name throughout the experience and cursing yourself for giving another dollar to his properties. Maybe you’ll shed a tear when you look out to the outfield and it hits you that Andrew McCutchen isn’t there and isn’t coming back (until the Giants come to town). Maybe you’ll throw up your hands in disgust when some pitcher who isn’t Gerrit Cole walks the bases loaded and serves up a grand slam.
Maybe you’ll only be there once this year, but you’ll still make that one trip to the North Shore, because it’s too much to go a whole year without visiting the jewel on the Allegheny River. Seventeen years after its inaugural season, it’s still considered one of the best ballparks in baseball, recently earning a ranking of No. 5 out of the 30 parks in Major League Baseball by Forbes.
If you’re going to go for the home opener on Monday against the Twins or any other game this season, you might as well enjoy your part of the experience because you don’t know what you’re actually going to see on the field.
Here are all the hacks you need to make the most out of your time at PNC Park.
Part of the PNC Park experience is walking across the Clemente Bridge to get to the ballpark, where you’ll inevitably hear saxophone music and probably some kind-hearted heckling between songs.
That means parking Downtown is key to make this grand, Instagram-worthy walk happen. Plus, you’ll get flat rates after 5 p.m. If you can snag a spot at Fort Duquesne and Sixth, you’re only out $8. If that garage is full, venture a little deeper into Downtown for a spot in one of the many garages near Market Square.
If walking across the bridge isn’t your thing, there’s another very Pittsburgh way to get to the game: On the Gateway Clipper shuttle. Park at Station Square for $5 to $10 (depending on the lot you pick) and then hop on the Clipper’s shuttle ($12 roundtrip or $6 one way). (Note: Bobcats are not permitted on the boat.)
For a cheaper but less scenic option, you can take the T for $2.50 from Station Square to the North Side Station.
And now, a tip for the most frugal fans: Search for free parking spots on East Carson Street past the American Natural gas station. If you time it right, you might just find a spot, then you can hop on the train for $2.50.
If you absolutely have to park on the North Shore, find cheapish parking at Carnegie Science Center for about $10. You can either walk to the game from there or take the T from the Allegheny Station to the North Side Station.
The place to be for tailgating is the Red Lot 6 right across General Robinson Street from the park on the third-base side. Sure, it will cost you about $25, but it’s easily worth it if you have a large group.
Pro-tip: Find a spot in the back beneath the I-279 ramps for shade, shelter from the rain, and plenty of space to set up a grill or cornhole games. Since it’s such a short trip to the gates, you can cut it as close to first pitch as you want, which in turn allows you to drink more of the beer you brought for much less than what you’ll have to spend inside.
Buying the best seat in the house
PNC Park’s seat prices remain among the most modest in Major League Baseball, even though they have inclined steadily throughout its existence.
The Lexus Club seats directly behind home plate — with which you get a pre-game buffet meal, cushioned seats and a waiter throughout the game — always go for $200 and above, but there isn’t another seat that regularly goes for over $100. On weeknights, you can sit behind the dugouts for under $70, or sit in the Pittsburgh Baseball Club seats for under $60. You can find plenty under $30 for most games and some that even go for under $20. So at least you’re not giving Nutting that much money.
While those swanky seats are nice, the best values in the park are in the left field bleachers and the grandstands along the third-base side. In the bleachers, you’re practically at field level for $23 on weekday nights and about $30 on the weekends. You’re surrounded by good food options, and you’re in great position to battle for a home run ball. (Or if you’re on the wall, you can high-five a racing pierogi.) In the grandstands, you have a postcard-quality view of Downtown (perfect for fireworks nights) and good sight lines for the game with seats that come as cheap as $19.
Buyer beware: If you want to go to the opener or certain other games that are deemed “premium,” the price goes up. The club seats and box seats are being sold for more than $100 for Monday’s game, and the cheapest seat goes for $45. But you still have the option to explore the secondary market. StubHub has tickets for as low as $33 on Monday. The rest of the year, it’s an even better option. For both Wednesday’s game against the Twins and Thursday’s against the Reds, you can get in the door for $6 (!!!).
Getting in the gate
You don’t want to be that guy holding up the line for everybody else, so show up prepared. All of PNC Park’s gates have metal detectors, so have your phone out when you go up to the gate. Also, pull out your laptop, tablet or camera if you’re bringing one. You can keep your wallet and keys in your pocket.
Save some money by bringing in food and bottled water, but expect to follow some very specific rules. Food can only be brought in a 16-inch by 16-inch by 8-inch soft-sided cooler. The water must be in a clear, plastic, disposable bottle. You can bring juice boxes for the kids but nothing other than water for the adults — beer, liquor, pop and sports drinks are not allowed because, of course, they’re for sale inside.
If you didn’t bring in your snacks, you’re probably going to want some sustenance for the game. Most importantly: Primanti’s is in section 110.
There are also a lot of options if you want to venture away from the standard stadium fare. You can get barbecue at either Manny’s BBQ in center field or Fam-I-Lee Bar-B-Q outside section 133. Both of those spots have the new pulled pork pierogi stacker, which sounds like a wonderful combination of items you’d find in Tupperware in your Yinzer mom’s fridge.
Plus, there’s BRGR (section 115), Chicken on The Hill (section 131) and Tres Rios Taqueria (section 214).
Beating the line for beer
To beat the line for beer, you’ve got two options: Either wait for a vendor to come by your seat with Yuenglings or head over to PA Craft in section 131 for a variety of Pittsburgh beers. You can also find craft beer at the Terrace Bar in section 317, but prepare to wait in a humongous line.
Most importantly, remember that Major League stadiums can’t sell beer after the seventh inning of any game, so get your beer before the seventh inning stretch.
After the game, there are plenty of bar options on the North Shore, but the closest one is the one attached to the ballpark. Steel Cactus is connected to the park, and it stays open after the game ends. And that could come in handy this season because there will be a lot of fans who could use a drink.