I’ve got a soft spot for Pittsburgh.
The feeling took root in the summer of 2010, when I drove cross country with my daughter to help her get set up for graduate school at Carnegie Mellon. It grew stronger during two visits my wife and I made, culminating with graduation ceremonies and a baseball game at PNC Park on a clear, summer-like evening. Since then, I’ve been rooting for the Pirates.
When the opportunity came to make The Steel City the starting point for my 2016 baseball road trip, I jumped. Good call.
During a two-day visit last week, I made the most of my time, visiting new and familiar places, hanging with friends and, of course, watching the Bucs play a couple of games.
My anchors were Lauren Pusateri and Kyle Nilson, a recently engaged couple who met in Portland and moved back to Pittsburgh (Lauren’s hometown) last year. I met Lauren through a mutual friend who was organizing a coed team to play cornhole — a popular game across the Midwest that’s similar to horseshoes. Soon enough, I met Kyle, who’s originally from Seattle.
As partial season ticket holders, they offered to have Lauren go with me to one game and Kyle to another. Couldn’t have worked out better.
Here’s how everything played out:
Tuesday: Drove from the airport to Smallman Street Deli, the same Jewish deli in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where Simone and I had our first father-daughter meal all those years ago.
Fueled by breakfast, I checked into the airbnb room I was renting from a young married couple, both medical students, then went for a run along the Allegheny River in the Lawrenceville neighborhood where Simone and Kyndall used to live.
Met Lauren, for a pregame meal at Fiori’s, one of the city’s top pizzarias. Sausage and pepperoni on hand-tossed dough never tasted so good.
Watched the Chicago Cubs — longtime patsies turned juggernaut — thoroughly dominate the Pirates in a 7-1 win behind Jake Arrieta, the best pitcher in baseball.
Wednesday: Met Kyle for breakfast at Pamela’s Diner in The Strip district, a place that’s popular with politicians, notably Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Gotta say, the Pittsburgh Hash is pretty wonderful — kielbasa with sauerkraut, mixed with potatoes, topped with Swiss cheese and served with two eggs.
Went to the nearby Heinz History Center, which was featuring a new exhibit on Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Talk about memories. There was everything from Gumby, Slinky, Mr. Potato Head, Cootie and Barbie to Tonka trucks, Star Wars, and Schwinn bikes with banana seats.
Upstairs was the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, which took up three floors with impressive displays of photos, uniforms, equipment and more, ranging from professional sports to all sorts of high school and amateur activities.
Naturally, there was a big focus on the Steelers (six-time Super Bowl champions, folks) and the region’s football history, as well as the Pirates and the Penguins, the hockey team. Proper homage was paid to Roberto Clemente, the first Latin ballplayer elected to the Hall of Fame who died at 38 in a plane crash as he was delivering humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. But there was also lots of space given to Pittsburgh’s Negro League baseball teams and a slew of athletic clubs founded by the city’s European immigrant communities.
From there, we headed to the ballgame for a 12:30 pm game. Same result: Cubs throttled the Pirates again, 6-1.
Said goodbye to Kyle, had dinner at an Asian restaurant down the street from my rented room, then finally got a chance to talk with my hosts, Cecilia and Gil. Had an enjoyable conversation, learning how they met, what they are studying, and probing their thoughts on religion and the afterlife.
(For the uninitiated, airbnb enables travelers to rent rooms in private residences, typically for less cost than a motel room. Depending on circumstances, you may or may not meet the person(s) you’re renting from. And you may share the living space with pets, as I did.)
Thursday: Met for breakfast with Jacob Quinn Sanders, a journalist friend I’ve known for about 15 years since I was a recruiter and he was a college student. Though we never worked together, we’ve kept in touch through the years and his many moves, and he’s been a regular contributor to my annual guest blogger project Voices of August.
We reconnected at Nadine’s, a Southside bar and restaurant that’s been featured on “Diners, Dives and Drive-ins.” As promised, it was a “full Yinzer” kind of place, catering to blue-collar, native Pittsburghers in sports-themed T-shirts and caps. Among a handful of retirees seated at the counter that morning was a younger guy with a man-bun and Penguins garb, sipping on a beer at 8 a.m., no doubt having just finished the graveyard shift.
Jacob left the newspaper industry not long ago to follow his own path as a freelance journalist and web developer. As such, he represents the best of today’s ever-evolving journalists, a writer of content and code and totally at ease in the world of social media.
As I hit the road for Cleveland, it dawned on me that the social aspect of this trip was essentially like hanging out with my own adult kids. My fellow baseball fans, my airbnb hosts, my journalist friend — all are in the late 20s to early and mid-30s, just like my two sons and daughter.
Though it may seem odd or least curious that I’d hang out with people young enough to be my children, I felt totally at ease. I’d like to think they felt the same.
Tomorrow: The city by the lake