My dad and Chuck, his buddy from work, bought tickets to the first game played by the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium, held on July 16, 1970. Back in the days before computers, email, and smartphones–when dinosaurs still roamed the earth–my dad ordered the tickets, paying by paper check through the mail. I remember Dad coming home from work day after day, looking for his tickets in the mail. Disappointed, he’d have to phone Chuck to tell him they’d not yet been delivered. The tickets finally arrived in the afternoon mail on game day, too late for Dad and his friend to make the drive to Pittsburgh and attend the historic home opener.
For years, that unused ticket remained clipped to an old calendar which hung in the basement stairwell of my childhood home.
When I learned, several years ago, that Three Rivers Stadium was going to be demolished in order to build a new ballpark for the Pirates, I felt as though I was losing an old friend. I’d sat in the stands of that stadium for a number of games, sometimes with the youth group from my church; oftentimes with my dad and other family members.
I remember my mom bringing a picnic basket to the stadium, filled with Faygo Pop and with cold Shake-and-Bake chicken she’d made the night before and wrapped in foil. Before coolers and backpacks were considered security threats at major sporting events, fans used to be allowed to bring outside food to games. Shake-and-Bake chicken never tasted so good as it did that summer afternoon while waiting for Willie Stargell and company to win one for the hometown crowd.
As a child,Three Rivers Stadium represented Dad and baseball; summer, foil-wrapped chicken, and everything good. I had no idea the ballpark was considered an ugly stadium, one plopped down onto a piece of land in Pittsburgh with little thought given to urban planning or how its location would affect those in the surrounding neighborhoods.
During the course of this year’s Jubilee Conference I had the privilege of hearing David Greusel, the architect who designed PNC Park, describe the process he used in building a new home for the Pirate franchise. He spoke of walking the streets of Pittsburgh, taking in the city’s architecture, and getting a feel for the neighborhoods. He said he studied old photographs of Forbes Field, the ballpark which pre-dated Three Rivers Stadium, and incorporated design elements which reflected the history of the ball club. Greusel stood at ground level at the site of the new stadium, imagining the view fans would have of the city while watching the Pirates.
ESPN columnist Jim Caple described the stadium Greusel built in this way:
Frank Lloyd Wright designed his masterpiece, Falling Water, as a retreat-in-the-woods a couple hours outside Pittsburgh for department store owner Edgar Kauffman. Cantilevered over a waterfall, the home is both completely modern and thoroughly romantic, interacting harmoniously with the landscape by merging modern building materials with the natural elements surrounding it.
Falling Water is regarded as the perfect blend of art, architecture and environment.
Or at least it was until PNC Park opened.
Greusel described his work on PNC Park as a gift of love, reflecting his love for God and for the city of Pittsburgh. Having taken a wrong exit on my way to the conference, I found myself driving past PNC Park and through the neighborhood which surrounds it. The streets are clean and walkable; businesses surrounding the stadium are open and appear to be thriving. On game days, I’m told, those streets through which I drove take on the atmosphere of a community street fair.
I wish my dad had lived to see it.
There is no large banner draped from PNC Park which quotes the gospel message of John 3:16. Patrons of Pirate ballgames may or may not ever experience a life-transforming encounter with Jesus. But David Greusel designed a stadium which bears witness to a living God who cares about things like art, architecture, economics, and beauty. Greusel’s work reflects his faith in a God who is concerned about the welfare of the city, One who extends common grace to all.
The good folks of the CCO, sponsors of the Jubilee Conference, produced this video of David Greusel talking about how he connects his faith with his calling as an architect:
Linking my baseball playdate with Laura @ The Wellspring: