Patriotism fills PNC Park
A sparse crowd honored America, baseball and the New York Mets.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
PITTSBURGH -- For the first time in decades, black and gold weren't the dominant colors at a Pittsburgh sporting event.
Red, white and blue filled PNC Park Monday, from the American flags waving throughout the sparsely-filled ballpark to the shirts, caps and other clothing worn by the 10,000-or-so fans who attended one of America's first baseball games since last week's terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
Ceremony: While some chanted "USA, USA," the New York Mets, one of Pirates fans' least favorite teams, received a standing ovation during a pregame ceremony when players from both teams stood on the baselines.
Safety concerns, short notice on rescheduling and the Pirates' generous ticket exchange policy were among the reasons ticketholders stayed away.
Before Major League Baseball shut down for six days, the Pirates were scheduled to play the Mets Monday through Wednesday at Shea Stadium in New York.
But because Shea is being used to assist the relief effort from the destruction of the World Trade Center, this series was moved to PNC Park to make up for the three games postponed here last week.
The Pirates are treating the Mets games as rainouts, meaning the tickets may be exchanged for any available ticket for the rest of the season.
And if fans don't want to attend the Thursday and Sunday games against the Cardinals (the Friday and Saturday games are sellouts) or next week's three games against the Chicago Cubs, they can exchange unused tickets for select games next April and May.
The Pirates announced a paid attendance of 25,902, then said they estimated 10,000 had come through the gates, by far the smallest crowd in the new ballpark.
Welcome relief: Some fans couldn't wait to hear the words "Play Ball."
After buying a pair of tickets from the left-field box office on General Robinson Avenue, Brian Harvey, a student at West Liberty (W.Va.) State College, said personal safety crossed his mind when he weighed the pros and cons of attending.
"I like the Mets, it's the first game coming back after the events of last week, and I wanted to see the pregame ceremony," Harvey said, "and I heard there was a possibility they might give out flags."
They didn't, but small American flags (which are in short supply in the Mahoning Valley) were available for $5 from vendors on the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
The Pirates did give out "I Love N.Y." buttons to fans entering the gates, and that gesture touched Mets starting pitcher Al Leiter.
"That's outstanding for the [public relations] people here to do something like that in Pittsburgh," Leiter said. "I think what the country is seeing is that New Yorkers aren't so tough and arrogant and bad people based on the togetherness and the love and the hard work and the volunteers that are committing their lives to help out in any way.
"I live in Manhattan and to see what [volunteers] have been doing has been tremendous," Leiter said.
Also on sale on the bridge were T-shirts respectful and otherwise. The most tasteful shirt shows the World Trade Center Twin Towers superimposed over the American flag.
"People are talking about how a sports facility could be the next target, but I don't think anything will happen here," said Harvey, who was watching his 15th game at PNC Park with Shannon Armnyos of Newell, W.Va.
Fan friendly: Also buying tickets was Howard Ernst of Pittsburgh, who was attending his ninth game of the season.
"I'm sure everything will be fine," Ernst said. "I expect it will be a little sad, but also upbeat. I'm excited about baseball coming back."
The Pirates, like all major league clubs, have banned coolers and backpacks, but fans can still bring in a water bottle and sandwich. Purses and diaper bags are subject to searches.
During the "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America," the scoreboard video focused on fiery Mets manager Bobby Valentine and others in uniform singing with gusto as the music echoed across the empty seats.