Love is in the air in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH – This is being called the Pittsburgh Pirates’ biggest series in the 13 seasons at PNC Park.

No doubt it is. What else would compete with the ongoing five-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals?

The stands are packed, the streets are jammed with people beginning in the late afternoon hours. The bars and restaurants in the vicinity are hopping to the sweet sounds of cash registers tallying sales.

This was what they had in mind when PNC Park was green-lighted back in the late 1990s.

Unlike Three Rivers Stadium, where people sat unhappily in overheating vehicles before and after games, there’s a real baseball atmosphere on the streets around the ballpark.

That was especially noticeable on Tuesday, when the teams played a doubleheader that started at 4:05. A lot of people pass through the turnstiles, but not all of them sit through both games from start to finish.

Some people called it a night after the first game; others didn’t arrive until it almost time for the second game.

Those concerns about losing a generation of fans with 20 losing seasons appear to be unfounded. The crowds cross all demographic lines. Put a good product on the field, and people will quickly get up to speed. Everyone loves a winner.

Of course, as July turns into August and every retailer is touting a back-to-school sale, fans are edgy waiting to see what happens. They’ve been crushed the last two years by collapses in the final third of the season.

The Pirates went from contending to not even being able to finish with a winning record. July’s euphoria was September’s heartache.

This team has pitching depth that wasn’t there the previous two years. The lightweight offense is a concern, with its swing and miss tendencies. The Pirates still don’t have a legitimate cleanup hitter. This is a new experience for the fans who grew up on the Lumber Company.

But it’s been quite a show, because the Pirates have provided so many happy endings. This is a great opportunity to the Pirates to extend the North Shore’s non-Steelers party season through the end of summer.

Easy does it

At the risk of sounding like one of those grumpy, “things aren’t they like used to be” guys, here’s something that’s not like it used to be.

Umpire Eric Cooper worked the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader behind the plate. He wasn’t on the crew for the second game.

Under the labor agreement with the umpires, the plate umpire gets the second game off, and a replacement is sent in to fill that spot on the crew.

It wouldn’t seem like working third base in the second game would be all that strenuous. That’s where the plate umpire would move next in rotation.

What can you say? Things aren’t like they used to be.


Mehno can be reached at