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Trip to Pittsburgh: Yet Another First

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On June 19th, I saw my first Indians away game.

It has been years since I have gone on a real vacation. I have had opportunities, but the timing never seemed to be right. Either the opportunity did not interest me, I did not have the time to spare, or I could not financially afford it. In October of 2008 I took a mini-vacation. A weekend trip to Philadelphia to visit a college buddy. It was first out of state venture since my eighth grade class trip to Washington, D.C. Last weekend I took another mini-vacation. Another weekend visit to another college buddy. This time the trip was shorter distance, on the opposite side of the same state. It was my first visit to a city I have despised ever since I became a fan of the Cleveland Browns: Pittsburgh.

The two and a half hour drive, though riding alone, luckily did not drag and seem as long as I thought it would be. Once I crossed the border I immediately hit the familiar mountainous area of Pennsylvania I remember from my road trip to Philadelphia. After an hour it appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. The city skyline of Pittsburgh. The bridges over the three rivers. A very cool sight to say the least.

My first meal in the city was at Primanti Brothers, what I was told was one of the more popular restaurants in the downtown area. The selling point from this place was that each sandwich was served with French fries and coleslaw on it. Every sandwich from a cheese steak to a bacon and egg was topped off with French fries and coleslaw. I had heard about something like that before, but never experienced it. Being my first time trying such a concoction, I decided to go the safe route and try the cheese steak, the most popular sandwich on the menu. Though I am not a food critic, the sandwich made a good first impression and I would recommend the restaurant to anyone else visiting Pittsburgh for the first time.

The next stop on my tour was the Duquesne Incline. For anyone not familiar, it is like the Space Needles in Toronto, Seattle, or any amusement park. The only difference is instead of traveling vertical, the car moves on a diagonal incline like a roller coaster heading up a hill. Also, not only it is in fact a transport up a hill, the top of which is a high class residential area. The area at the top of the hill has several platforms overlooking the city, providing an awesome view. From that point, the Pittsburgh skyline reminded of Cleveland. The only thing missing was the pay-binoculars that are found at such historic places such as Niagara Falls and atop the Empire State Building.

The remainder of the night my buddy/tour guide Steve, his brother, and I went on a car ride throughout the rest of the city, including through the campuses of Pitt, Duquesne, and Carnegie-Mellon, and a few of the city bars. However, we decided to save the more important stops for the next afternoon.

After a bigger than expected lunch at Rock Bottom, Steve and I parked at what he called his favorite downtown garage and proceeded on a more extended walking tour of downtown Pittsburgh, on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far. The highlight of the tour was stepping up to the gates of Heinz Field. Being from Cleveland, many of my family and friends from Ohio begged me to do something illegal to the building. However, out of respect to Steve, and of course, fear of incarceration, I refrained from defacing the infamous home of the Steelers. Before my trip, I inquired about where exactly the three rivers met. I was informed there was in fact a pin-pointed location called “the Point” and was marked by a fountain. Unfortunately, the entire area was under construction and we were not able to make our way to the precise location.

The reason I chose this past weekend to take my first trip to Pittsburgh was to experience another first: my first Cleveland Indians away game against the Pirates. Before making our way to PNC Park, Steve and I stopped off for dinner at the Jerome Bettis Grill, a popular sports restaurant owned by the former Steelers Pro Bowl running back. I quickly learned that the restaurant often gets crowded on game days, as we waited for almost an hour to get a table. However, the wait was worth it. I ended up having one of the best burgers I had ever tasted. The wait ended up being a positive as it killed some time and left us with just enough time to arrive at PNC Park before a rainstorm that was forecasted all day. On the walk to the stadium I was surprised that some Pirates fans actually tailgated before games. However, Indians fans these days do not have that luxury as the main lot where Browns fans tailgate was nowhere near walking distance to Progressive Field. The stadium itself was an interesting sight. Many of its concession stands are not built into the stadium like they are at Progressive Field. The built-ins were in fact smaller versions of some restaurants in town, including Primanti Brothers. Also, like the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium and current Cleveland Browns Stadium, PNC Park overlooked a body of water in the Allegheny River.

Once the rain died down after about an hour wait, we made our way to our seats in the upper deck. I decided these were the best seats for its value as opposed my usual bleacher seats in Cleveland because the PNC outfield was about 40 feet deeper than at Progressive. Additionally, our upper deck seats were right above home plate with a great view of the mound. The game received a greater attendance than I expected. Like the Indians, the Pirates are not a good baseball team and receive sparse crowds for the their games. I then learned this game was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Pirates’ 1960 World Series victory. Before the game, the remaining living players and coaches from that team, plus the family of Roberto Clemente, were presented on the field. Everyone in attendance received a collector’s mug recounting the championship.

The game itself, like many Tribe games this season, had its ups and downs. The Indians struck first right away, but the Pirates immediately responded. David Huff, the Indians’ starting pitcher for the night, walked the first two batters he faced and allowed Pittsburgh to get right back into the game. His struggles continued as he was abused by Andrew McCutchen and Lastings Milledge, who was a homer short of the cycle, all night, and allowed the first career hit by Pirates rookie third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Huff lasted only five innings, throwing 105 pitches and allowing five runs on six hits, with only two strikeouts and a ridiculous six walks. Russell Branyan got the Indians back into the game with a three-run homer, but the Pirates bullpen shut them down and preserved a 6-4 win, snapping a twelve-game losing streak and starting the Indians on what turned out to be a seven-game losing streak.

Because the game was delayed by an hour and did not end until almost midnight, Steve and I had decided to call it a night since I had planned to head home the next morning. After this weekend trip, however, I do plan to return to Pittsburgh one day when there is no baseball game to be seen. Ever since I bought my first car two and a half years ago, I planned to head out to Pittsburgh to visit my college friend one day. Being from Cleveland though, I was reluctant to do so given that I had detested the city for so long. I learned that as long as I am not wearing anything related to the Browns, those who live in Pittsburgh are decent enough. This mini-vacation left me with a certain respect for the city of Pittsburgh.

Credit for the photo to http://www.viewpoint.com

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