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Pirate fans step up to the plate for PNC Park's all-you-can eat seats

| Friday, April 11, 2008

The first big eaters to step to the plate in PNC Park's all-you-can-eat seats weren't afraid to go hog wild.

John and Sally Hall of Freedom in Beaver County made a half-dozen trips to a concession stand dedicated to fans who purchased the all-you-can-eat tickets for Wednesday's Pirates game, the first night of the promotion. The couple combined to eat four hot dogs, three hamburgers, three ice cream sandwiches, two orders of nachos and a bag of peanuts. They washed it down with five sodas.

All by the seventh-inning stretch.

"We came here to get our money's worth," said John Hall, 38, who would have spent about $47.50 on the food sitting in any other section. "It's kind of nice to have peace of mind as to what you're spending."

The Pirates unveiled the promotion this season and are one of 13 Major League Baseball teams to turn cheap seats into eat seats.

The $35 ticket in Section 147 -- $40 if purchased on game day -- includes an offering of all the hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, salads, popcorn, peanuts, ice cream sandwiches and soda a fan can stomach.

Antacids not included.

Fans are issued wristbands, which allow entry to a concession stand on the Riverwalk behind the right-field seats. Food is served from two hours before the game until the final out -- just like other concessions. There's a limit of four of each item per trip.

The seats previously sold for $17 apiece.

Justin Heddinger, 33, of Greensburg was one of the few fans who opted for a salad. He and his girlfriend, Terri Mawhinney, 36, of the North Hills said it didn't take them long to eat $18 worth of food.

Trips to the concession stand slowed by the sixth inning, but most fans said they were pleased with the deal.

"We knew we were going to eat when we got here, and things are kind of expensive, so we thought we'd come and see how it works out," said Merritt Pegram, 30, of Washington, Pa.

The Pirates sold 67 all-you-can-eat seats for Wednesday's game, Pirates spokesman Matt Nordby said. The seats are available for games Sunday through Thursday. About 1,500 tickets have been purchased for the remaining 52 available games, Nordby said.

Angelo Makris, 44, of Chicago, who arrived at PNC Park to watch his beloved Cubs, looked out at the mostly empty ballpark and said the promotion could really benefit the Pirates.

"Look around; it's the only crowded section of the ballpark," he said. "Truth be told, they had to do something to bring people to the ballgame."

Some hockey and basketball teams and NASCAR tracks offer similar deals.

"It's been a success at other Major League teams, so we're excited to see how it works out here," Nordby said.

Fans are on the honor system not to pass along freebies to those sitting in other sections, Nordby said.

The Halls, who snagged dessert around the seventh inning, said they had no eaters remorse.

"It's kind of like cookies," John Hall said. "You don't need to be hungry to have a cookie."

How I ate

The call came down Tuesday. The Chicago Cubs were in town, and I was to be the big-league chew at PNC Park's first all-you-can-eat offering the next evening.

I bit the bullet, bought my ticket and was psyched for a smorgasbord of stadium fare.

Pregame: No pregame jitters here. Just hunger. I hadn't eaten before what was supposed to be nine innings of complete gluttony so when I got to the stadium and found my seat, I was looking forward to the first bite as much as others were looking forward to the first pitch.

Top of the first: Cubs are at bat, but I'm at the plate. I bite down hard into what is supposed to be a nacho. Nope. All tongue. I'm writhing in pain with tears in my eyes and considering a stint on the 15-day disabled list. But I'm a pro. I work through the pain.

Bottom of the second: My dad would take me to a lot of Phillies games when I was a kid -- yeah, I grew up in Philly. He would always ask how I could eat stadium hot dogs, considering they're not the Rolls Royce of encased sausages. They're still one of my favorite foods. This one's for you, Pop.

Top of the fourth: I feel like I'm at a movie theater with this popcorn, but it's a welcome change.

Top of the seventh: OK. I caved. I bought a $7 IC Light draft. What can I say?

Bottom of the seventh: My mother says she is "allergic" to hot dogs. Basically, she just doesn't like them. This one's for her -- this time with onions and mustard.

End of the ninth: I thought there'd be no better way to finish the game than with some peanuts. Little did I know Jason Bay would hit a solo shot to center field to send the game into extra innings.

Top of the 11th: Extra innings means extra food. Another hot dog and soda. Oh, man, it's almost past my bedtime.

Top of the 13th: The mess of shells on my lap is evidence of a good time. The second bag of peanuts didn't go down as well as the first, but, hey, Cracker Jacks aren't free.

Final tally: Pirates lose. So do I. All this food -- $38 worth -- isn't sitting well.

--Adam Brandolph

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