This picture should tell you all you need to know:
That's right, it's a sandwich from Primanti Bros, featuring a handful of fries and coleslaw right on the sandwich with the meat and cheese. And it's at beautiful PNC park, overlooking the Allegheny River and downtown P-burg. More stories (including our Walk with Dibble) after the jump.
Brush with fame #1
There were various combinations of rain and construction that probably added an hour or more of highway time to each end of our trip, but that's why we had XM radio and something like 27 iPods in the car between me, Mrs. Doghouse, and our friends The Cycle-Friendly Baker and The Hip Librarian. We stayed at the Omni William Penn downtown because it looked nice and we got a deal ("deal" = cheaper than what we pay for the place in Manhattan with shared bathrooms where we stay when we go to see Nats-Mets... your hotel dollar goes a bit farther in Pittsburgh!). It turned out to also be host to Nats bloggers, Nats fans, a big pro bass-fishing event, and the Nats, themselves. We rolled in around midnight on Friday, and I practically ran into Anderson Hernandez as I was getting off the elevator. I didn't realize it was him at first--I just registered, "Dude with hair like Anderson Hernandez speaking Spanish to his buddy." As the elevator doors closed, I realized, "Hey, that was Anderson Hernandez!" Mrs. Doghouse wasn't watching and insists I'm making the whole thing up (she's usually much better than I am at spotting famous people, as we'll see later). TCFB's Pittsburgh friends later confirmed that visiting teams usually stay at that hotel, as it's "one of the nicest hotels in town" and close to the ballpark.
Saturday morning we walked down to "the Strip," a several-block-long collection of shops and restaurants with a sidewalk market. There was a lot of good-looking street food, and more Pittsurgh-related sports clothing and memorabilia than you'd think could be consumed by the entire eastern seaboard, much less a single medium-sized city. Mrs. Doghouse and I stopped at De Luca's for breakfast, being the total food tourists that we are. It was worth waiting in line. Here's the "mixed grill" that Mrs. D had for breakfast (it's about a pound of grilled peppers, mushrooms, squash, tomoatos and potatoes topped with a half-dozen strips of bacon and some egges):
Brush with fame #2
We spent the afternoon doing some low-key sightseeing. We'd been to the Andy Warhol Museum and The Matress Factory on a previous visit, but they're both worth seeing if you're interested in or amused by modern art. On the way out of the hotel, we ran into the ubiquitous Screech's Best Friend, proprietor of the Nats320 blog. Mrs. D actually recognized him first, and we said hello and "go Nats!" We wandered over to the Roberto Clemente Bridge a couple of hours before game time to meet our friends and grab a beer or two:
The future of Natstown™?
As you can see, the park's right on the river, and the view looking out over the outfield is back over the river and into the downtown skyline. There's nice neighborhood of bars and restaurants right next to the park:
The streets next to the park are closed when there are games (stadium on the left in this picture). One day perhaps Half Street will look like this! We saw a few other fans in Nats gear while we had a drink, and none of Pirates fans seemed particularly obnoxious (although one saw The Hip Librarian's In & Out t-shirt and wanted to know how it compared to Five Guys...). As for the park, itself? Take a look:
I think it's fair to say that they did everything right. Great sight lines, beautiful view... okay, only a few seats had cupholders, but that's the only quibble I could come up with. Beer was only $7, meaning you could get your two tallboys of Iron City Light and tip the vendor a buck for an even $15, instead of shuffling a mess of ones. Everything was cheaper--our upper-deck, behind-homeplate seats were $16 (the equivalent "infield gallery" seats would be $22 for a Value Game in Natstown™). The seats in the RF corner, while not the greatest, are all-you-can-eat hotdogs, chips, nachos, and soda for $20-30, I think. You can "pre-load" $10 of concession value onto your ticket when you buy it on-line and then have 'em scan your ticket bar code for the credit when you order food. They're even waving their ticket service charges for the rest of the season! (AFTER we got our tickets, of course...)
There was a nice selection of food with a number of local restaurants represented--all at minimal ballpark markups. The sandwich up at the top was $7, which is only a dollar more than at non-ballpark Primanti Bros. restaurants (who here doesn't think you'd pay $10 for that in Natstown™?). The staff was friendly and competent, and lines moved quickly. Heck, the usher who booted us out of the club level on Sunday (after letting us sit there a couple of innings) even complemented how the Nats were playing that day before apologetically asking us to move on.
Walking back to downtown after the game, it looked like the area around the park was going to stay lively for a while. Once across the bridge, there were a number of restaurants and bars still open, some of which had grills up on the sidewalk and were selling slices or kebabs to passersby if you didn't walk to sit on their patio for a late dinner. Overall, a great vibe and a terrific baseball-going experience.
(Pirates fan may disagree--we caught about 15 minutes of country singer Jo Dee Messina giving an after-game concert. During the obligatory "Pittsburgh people are the best people" patter, she mentioned that she watched the game with the owners, "who are really cool." Wow, did she get booed!)
Brush with fame #3
We left for the Sunday game around 11:30, figuring to grab some brunch near the ballpark. As we crossed the street behind the hotel, who should we run into fiddling with his bags but Rob Dibble, ex-Nasty Boy and current Nats color commentator! Again, Mrs. Doghouse noticed first, giving me an unnecessarily-vigorous pinch as we passed by to make sure that I noticed, too. We didn't say anything, figuring he was probably trying to get to the game. Fast-forward about 10 minutes, and we're just about to walk over the Roberto Clemente Bridge again, and there he is! We figure he grabbed a taxi. Mrs. D saw him and struck up a conversation, all cool like (yeah, if it had been me, I would have started with, "Let me tell why you're wrong about the quality start.." and I probably would have ended up swimming to the park).
Anyhow, she said she hoped the Nats did better today. He chuckled and replied that he hopes that every day... We ended up walking and chatting for maybe 5 minutes as we walked across the bridge to the park. He was cordial, asking us if we lived in DC, and mentioning that he lived near Silver Spring when he first moved to DC for his job with XM. Now he splits time between VA and LA (where he has a house with room for his two big dogs), but he and his wife are looking for a place out here. He has grown kids from a prior marriage, one of whom is in college. Mrs D, ever the flatterer, expressed surprise that he could have grown kids, but Dibs was having none of it, joking that he "got 'em out of the way early!"
I tried to steer the conversation back to baseball, noting McCutcheon's big 3-HR game from the night before. Dibs noted it as an example that "at this level, anyone can hurt you." As we talked on, he said he hoped that the Lerners would be willing to spend money on the franchise, particularly to sign Strasburg. I wouldn't say he was convinced that Strasburg is the Rotation Savior, but he did say something to the effect of, "You have GOT to sign your number one pick." He volunteered that he wasn't a particular fan of Scott Boras, but he understood that Boras was doing his job to get the most he could for his client, and "he's better at it than most." I joked that there would be a "fan revolt" if the Nats don't sign Stras; he only half-jokingly replied that there would be a "broadcaster revolt," too. As we got to the end of the bridge, he thanked us for the chat and for coming out on the road to support the team. He asked us our names and promised to give us a shout-out, saying that it was important to recognize the support of the fans. He even did it, getting Mrs. Doghouse's name right, and mine as close to correct as you could expect, given that I probably mumbled.
On the whole, Dibs seems like a regular guy. I don't agree with all of his views on baseball, and don't get me started on what I see as his misunderstanding of some statistical approaches! However, I have to recognize that he's a real person, and I can't just crab at him with my forum as an anonymous internet jerkwad. Also, he seems taller on TV. (And, yes, he has a lot of tats on his forearms.)(Okay, and Mrs. D. wishes she'd asked him about the brawl with Listach!)