Biertempfel: In left field, they have Pirates' backs
Jason and Stacy Kauffman of Ross have been Pirates season-ticket holders for five years. They have two seats in Section 320, just to the left of the press box in the upper deck of PNC Park. It's a great perch to see the action on the field and the panorama of Downtown.
Most nights, though, those side-by-side seats are empty.
“I've never sat up there,” said Stacy, with a look on her face like she just squashed a spider. “I've never even been up there.”
The Kauffmans are super-fans. They're on the North Shore every night the Pirates play, decked out in black and gold. They get into the park with their season tickets, then head straight for their favorite spot to watch the game.
“This is where the real fans are,” Jason said. “If you go upstairs in the Pittsburgh Baseball Club seats, you have to sit on your hands. I don't like to sit up there. We get a couple free games a year up there. We'll go up for a couple of innings, just to be there, then we come right back down here. This is where I want to be.”
Left field is not the most comfortable place to sit. You won't find plush, padded seats like in the Lexus Club area behind home plate. Left field has cold, hard, metal benches.
“The key is, we don't sit on the benches,” Stacy Kauffman said. “We stand.”
Left field doesn't have the best view of the game, unless you enjoy gazing at the backs of players' heads. You can peek at the city skyline but see only part of the Clemente Bridge and none of the Allegheny River.
None of that matters to the partisans who regularly gather around the bleachers and push up against the railings of the left field rotunda. They usually are the ones who cheer a little louder, live and die with each hit and stay until the final out.
“I think there's maybe a little more drinking here,” Melissa Kathryn Brawdy of Wexford said with a laugh.
“It's a completely difference experience,” said Tom Hoffman, who has season tickets in left field. “When my wife and I sit in other parts of the stadium, it just feels a bit too sanitary to us. That's the magic of the bleachers.”
Left field also offers the ability to be closer to the action than anywhere else in the ballpark. Left fielders chasing low-flying home runs often have close encounters with fans in the first row, inches from the 6-foot-high outfield wall.
“It feels like you've got a bunch of people behind you who've got your back,” Pirates outfielder Alex Presley said. “That's always encouraging. But it's got to be the complete opposite feeling for an opposing player.”
Ask Matt Holliday of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In the second game of a doubleheader Monday, Andrew McCutchen lined a shot over the left-field wall. Holliday leaped for the ball, but it skipped off his glove into the stands. A fan in a black T-shirt and gold cap taunted Holliday to his face as fans scrambled for the ball.
After that, fans in left field began chanting Holliday's name.
“We said, ‘Holll-iday' just like back in the day when we said, ‘Darrr-yl,' ” Jason Kauffman said, referring to the way Darryl Strawberry of the New York Mets was teased at Three Rivers Stadium.
“When a play like that happens ... I don't know what (Holliday) is thinking there, but you don't want to mess up again,” Presley said. “I don't want to say he was nervous, but it's hard to completely block it out when you've got a thousand people yelling at you.”
An inning later, Josh Harrison hit a liner off the wall, not far from where McCutchen's home run went out. Holliday took a lousy route and misplayed the ball. Harrison wound up with a triple.
Hearing echoes, perhaps?
“My stance is to ignore the whole thing,” Holliday said later, with a touch of defiance.
Yeah, good luck with that.