21 hours, 50 minutes in Pittsburgh: A first-person account of Wild Card Wednesday

At some point during the darkest days of Cubs baseball between 2010 and 2014, I promised myself that I would take myself to the team’s next postseason game. When that started to look like a reality this summer, I started putting money away to save for a potential trip. A little here, a little there … every bit helped.

As it turned out, my savings turned into a plane trip, game ticket and some spending money to do tourist-y things. You can check that out in the attached photo gallery.

As for the experience itself:

***The seats were good.

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Section 317, Row H, Seat 19 puts you in the second tier of the upper-deck right behind home plate. I lucked out getting an aisle seat (more on that later) … but more important than that was the great view of the city as a backdrop. A seat in the upper deck gives you a good sense of where fly balls are going. Looks nice at night, but I bet it looks prettier during the day. Doesn’t look like there’s a bad seat in the house. Would recommend sitting up top again. Good value buy if you’re on a budget.

***The player intros were pretty neat. Great to see Jung-Ho Kang in attendance. I noticed Cubs players gave him a nice hand. The Pirates seemingly introduced anyone and everyone in their org, which was a nice touch. It’s easy to forget that a lot more goes into running a successful baseball team than 25 players, a manager,  a handful of coaches and the GM who puts it together. Again, that was a nice move. Fist bump to the Pirates for that.

A) On the other hand, I chuckled when the Cubs were introduced with the background music being the Kanye West/Jay-Z track “No Church In The Wild.” The lead track from “Watch The Throne” really was a tone-setter for that album and wouldn’t be surprised if that put some of the young Cubs in a good place. It definitely put me in a good mood.

B) I was confused by the Pirates hype video, in which the theme was basically “It’s our time because we’ve been waiting a long time.” Yeah, that whole waiting a long time schtick got a good chuckle from the handful of Cubs fans in my section with one remark “Long time? Who do these guys think they are — the Cubs?” I was DEFINITELY confused by the pre-game hype video referencing “When Sid Slid” which is one of the low-points in Pirates history. Not familiar with the reference point? Watch this video.

That portion led to boos from fans, which I felt set the tone for the weird vibe that seemed to be ever-so-apparent throughout the night. More on that in a bit.

C) So much for getting to Jake Arrieta through chants and crowd noise. The early chants of AR-RI-ETA followed by clap, clap, clap-clap-clap weren’t taunting in any way. If you were to judge by the cadence, you would’ve thought Cubs fans were leading the way. Pirates fans in my area found it odd that I was chanting loudly with their Arrieta chants, but other Cubs fans joined in, too. Leave it to Cubs fans to turn a jeer into a rallying cry.

***So, the Cubs opened up the scoring with a Dexter Fowler single, steal and Kyle Schwarber RBI single. If the Cubs are going to advance deep into the postseason, they’re going to have to string some innings like that together. And if you haven’t been paying attention until now, just know that this is pretty much Cubs baseball now. Work deep counts, steal a bag (whether it’s an actual steal or going first-to-third) when you can, and hit the ball hard somewhere. The Cubs took advantage of Gerrit Cole, who missed high and wide with his fastball and really knocked the crowd out of it early.

A) The crowd was already in a weird place. The joint had some nervous energy. Remember all that talk about how the Cubs were better off not playing at home because of recent past experiences (e.x.: 2007, 2008) … well, the Pirates fans might have been feeling the same way. Couldn’t go anywhere without someone fearing that Arrieta was going to “Bumgarner us” as one fan put it. Add the “When Sid Slid” moment from earlier and it really made things a bit more tense. I had two Pirates fans to my right who really couldn’t handle the situation and — to be honest — I loved it. I felt as if I was playing with free money as a fan. No pressure … which says a lot considering my pre-game feelings. Still, the fan two seats to my right was losing his shit with every pitch. He complained that every pitch that was called a ball was a sign that Cole was afraid to throw strikes and every called strike was a mistake that was in a Cubs batter’s wheelhouse. That guy wasn’t long for the game, as he left shortly after the Schwarber homer and never returned to his seat. Very bizarre.

B) I felt as if I had put together a decent rapport with the young lady in the seat directly to my right in the early innings. She was a bit of a trash talker and I’m an awful trash talker. Which kind of made things tense for a second. After the first inning, she says: “You know one run isn’t winning this game, right?” and I responded: “You might be right. But Jake Arrieta is pitching, so…” I let the “so” hang there for a minute. She rolled her eyes and let out an audible “UGH.” I tried to mend fences after the Cubs took a 3-0 lead by buying her a beer. (See, I’m a nice person.) In retrospect, that was probably a mistake considering 1) beer cost ($8 for Yuengling…not bad, all things considered) and 2) she was way past drunk in the early innings because she was drinking vodka out of a water bottle she brought in. Hat tip to her. That’s the oldest trick in the book. She spent much of the early innings complaining about the fan next to her, who really was going to town with everything that didn’t go the Pirates way. Dude totally gave the bannister a workout with his fists. She remarked after the second inning: “He realizes we have seven more innings to go right? We play nine innings of baseball here in Pittsburgh. We have a lot of comeback wins.” I responded dryly: “How many against Jake Arrieta?” I’m not convinced that part of that beer wasn’t spilled on my sweater shortly thereafter. Alas, the young lady wasn’t long for the game. She left in either the fifth or sixth and did not come back. Hypocrite.

***I loved PNC, but there were a handful of things I didn’t like about it. I’ll be brief. I hate Kiss Cam, the noise meter and the constant reminders to make noise. Generic stuff like that bothers me at a game for some unknown reason. Also, it was interesting that they made an announcement to get up and make noise by telling fans that TBS was about to cut in with a live shot. That was the first thing that sparked the crowd. And one of the last until the middle-to-late innings. I felt as if the bathrooms nearest to my section was too small. Not a lot of space. Not a lot of stalls. I know that seems weird coming from a Cubs fan, but at least Wrigley maximizes its space with troughs. Love them or hate them, the troughs on two sides allows for the most people to use the restroom in the quickest manner. If you don’t like missing game time due to bathroom breaks, you should like troughs at Wrigley. I didn’t like that the signage at PNC didn’t tell you the pitch that was thrown, but I did like that it informed you what the horizontal and vertical movement was. That is something not for the casual fan, but for a guy like me, it helped me kind of figure when Cole or Arrieta was working with less than their best.

***Bases loaded, one out for Starling Marte after that Andrew McCutchen rocket had me feeling like…

Then the double play happened, which had me feeling like…

Taylor just gets me, you guys.

***Truly a remarkable effort by Addison Russell to turn the double play there. A few pitches after fumbling the hard-hit ball by McCutchen (107.3 mph off the bat) that might’ve been a double play, Russell was able to compose himself and start the inning-ending 6-4-3 twin killing on a ball that was hit even harder (109.4 mph) by Marte.

Truly impressive.

And if you’re curious to know how I reacted, just think of the Pedro Strop fist-pump .gif after his performance against the White Sox in Game 1 of the series at The Cell. That was me. A lot easier to pump fists with all the room in your area after fans start leaving.

***Tony Watson hitting Jake Arrieta led to some of the most awkwardly tense moments of the game. The immediate aftermath of the plunking in which benches and bullpens cleared was the only time I felt threatened as a fan. Which is a compliment, considering the game’s score and the high stakes that come with a playoff game. The on-the-field skirmish led to some loud verbal jawing between fans in the rows behind me, but luckily nothing came of it beyond words. Though, it felt like that had been bubbling all game.

And here’s the thing about what happened when the dust cleared. Pirates fans really seemed resigned to their fate when the game resumed — especially when Arrieta stole second on the first pitch after action resumed. I looked around. Slumped shoulders took over bodies and the look of resignation filled faces. After the seventh inning ended, fans began to trickle out. Many wished me good luck in the next round and in the future. Classy gesture, but there were still six outs to get and the Pirates were in grand slam range. “Getting Bumgarnered” was brought up again by Pirates fans in the section, but there was no way I was going down that road with the game still in the balance.

***There was something oddly poetic about Aramis Ramirez’s last AB being an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play. Something about the last great third baseman in Cubs history being retired by a great stab by the Cubs current star third baseman. Poetic. Yeah, that’s what I’ll call it. Some people worried about this kind of scenario. But Ramirez really wasn’t himself this year. And the guy who carried the offensive load in the Cubs last postseason win wasn’t walking through that door.

***The End Pt. 1

Jake Arrieta finished what he started. The Cubs won. And my text and replies were non-stop and kept rolling through in the first moments after the Cubs clinched it. A sincerest thank you to each of you who reached out via text, Twitter, Facebook and other social mediums. I had long-time Cubs fans check in, friends of mine who were Cardinals fans send messages of encouragement, White Sox fans who respect my fandom and who appreciated that kind of postseason game, friends and family who don’t even like baseball but knew what that win meant to me. It was surreal. I think I got to everyone at some point that night, later that morning or sometime on Thursday. If not, my apologies. Just know that I read it and appreciated that you thought to send me a note in that moment when you could’ve been doing something else.

***The End Pt. 2: Cubs fans gathered behind the Cubs dugout to celebrate with each other until the Pirates turned off the lights and security sent fans on their happy way. Cubs fans travel well and I can’t say enough about the kind of crazy commitment many made to be there. I talked to fans who traveled from the south, east, west who traveled that day to make it to that game. I talked to fans who came in from Philadelphia, Arizona, Denver, Florida that day. Obviously, one needs expendable income to make that kind of trip. But one also needs to be a little off-center to make that kind of monetary and emotional commitment. *tips cap*

That was fun. Let’s do that 11 more times this postseason. Sound good?

***Nuggets and tidbits: Church Brew was the No. 1 non-baseball highlight. It’s a brewery that used to be a church that had great brews (I went with their Pipe Organ Pale Ale and ThunderHop IPA. The food was good, too. I had their lunch pizza (which I could’ve totally shared, but ate it all because I was really hungry and hadn’t eaten anything all day) and it was some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. The crust was thin, but crispy. The cheese was plentiful and the pepperonis were tasty. Excellent brick oven pizza. … The Heinz Historical Museum was great. Six floors of fun, though I only conquered four. The sports museum was full of really awesome stuff. … I didn’t know that the walls of Forbes Field were on the campus of Pitt until I saw a Bruce Miles, so I cut short my museum trip to Uber my way to campus. I was lucky enough to get a driver who knew exactly where it was on campus and dropped me off right there. It was pretty awesome to see a piece of baseball history in the middle of a pretty nice college campus. … I hope to make a return trip to Pittsburgh. Hopefully, I’ll get to try Primanti Brothers sandwiches if I plan my trip better in a future trip.

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2 thoughts on “21 hours, 50 minutes in Pittsburgh: A first-person account of Wild Card Wednesday

  1. Pingback: Another Playoff Day for the Cubs and Other Bullets | Bleacher Nation | Unofficial Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary

  2. Great article, Luis! Thanks for taking the time to document all this! I feel like I was there with you.

    -Kenny (aka TNCubsFan on BN)

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