Pittsburgh – We are Family!
I had a hard time writing this blog. I must have written it twenty times. With every edit, I knew I wasn’t getting it right. Until now. After watching SportsCenter of all things I realized the angle I needed to take. This my friends is the result, an epiphany of sorts, for me at least. Places aren’t made up of things but of people and Pittsburgh is a city defined by it’s people. If there is one person that embodies the spirit of Pittsburgh, it’s Andrew McCutchen.
In my original efforts I was going to tell you what made me excited about Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has enjoyed a modern renaissance of sorts. Historically a steel town with an industrial problem, Pittsburgh has made itself over with universities, medical centers and technology. While the rest of the country suffered it’s worst set back ever in real estate, Pittsburgh’s housing prices surged. Pittsburgh is a progressive city with green technology, museums and a thriving motion picture industry. At first, this is why I wanted see the city.
I was going to tell you about my hotel, the slightly above average Marriott City Center. Above average only because of the excellent service we received. In the last decade, Pittsburgh has added over 3,000 hotel rooms to the downtown landscape. Known as the “Golden Triangle” this area is also the hub for Pittsburgh’s light rail system. “The T” is an excellent and free way to travel. There are some really good hotels in Pittsburgh, including The Omni William Penn, The Renaissance and The Fairmont. None of that seemed to matter because I wasn’t satisfied. These hotels didn’t define the city.
I was going to tell you about the diverse neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, almost 90 of them and how we sampled them through our dining adventures. Like the restaurant Spoon located in the ultra hip neighborhood of Shadyside. Spoon has the best bread basket I have ever had, period. It’s sister restaurant BRGR even serves adult milkshakes. There’s Deluca’s in the Strip District where we had the most authentic breakfast experience complete with home fries, a Pittsburgh delicacy. Let me tell you, these people will put potato, namely fries on anything. (Which came first? The fry or the Heinz? You tell me…) In that same neighborhood we experienced the most authentic Italian market, The Pittsburgh Macaroni Co. and the most delicious Biscotti I’ve ever tasted at Enrico’s.
I was going to rave about the craft beer selection. Sharpe Edge Beer Emporium is home to at least 100 craft beers on draft, repeat, on draft! There’s even beer at a church! At Church Works Brewery, St. John the Baptist Church has been converted into the Best Large Brewpub in America as awarded at the Great American Beer Festival. Finally, we ventured over to the Carson St. fratfest. There we found Lava Lounge, home to the nerdiest karaoke night known to man. Think “She Blinded me with Science” and we have a winner.
Last but not least I was going to tell you how I attended Jameis Winston’s coming out party. We were in town for a football game after all. This was the single greatest performance by a freshman quarterback in FSU history. Stats? 25 of 27 passing (92.5%) for four touchdowns and eight carries for 25 yards and a touchdown. It is the best thing I have seen since Charlie Ward 20 years ago. Jameis is just jaw dropping amazing! Still… not the best thing I saw in Pittsburgh, not even close.
Now you and I know about Pittsburgh’s passion for sports. The black and gold, six Super Bowl Championships, three Stanley Cup Championships, The Iron Curtain, Mario Lemieux, Mean Joe Green, Franco Harris, The Immaculate Reception, Roethlisberger and the like. You may even know about the Pitt Panthers and their legendary QB Dan Marino. Yeah, you’ve probably heard of him. But there’s one team I overlooked, one that has been in exile for more than 20 years. They are The Pittsburgh Pirates.
What was the best part about Pittsburgh? It was PNC Park, The Pirates and in particular one player, Andrew McCutchen a 26 year old center fielder from Florida.
Embarassing! I call myself a sports fan and had no idea about this guy? When I first saw Andrew McCutchen I couldn’t believe how fast he was. He was like a spider monkey in the outfield robbing hitters left and right. I was immediately mad at myself for not knowing who he was. I knew the Pirates were leading their division but only because I am a Braves fan and the Braves killed the Pirates. 21 years ago in the slide heard ’round the world, Sid Bream ended the Pirates run at a World Series birth. I couldn’t have been happier at the time but who knew 20 consecutive years of losing seasons for the Buccos would ensue. Do you think the people of Pittsburgh forgot? No, they did not.
And then I watched SportsCenter. In an interview conducted by Buster Olney, Cutch as he is called, confessed that he wanted to be drafted by The Pirates. Not The Yankees, or The Dodgers, but The Pirates. Originally from the small town of Fort Meade, FL only 45 min away from The Pirates spring training home, Cutch grew up playing baseball. Instilled with a great work ethic by his parents, Cutch worked tirelessly sometimes at 4 or 5 in the morning on batting practice in hopes of earning a college scholarship to The University of Florida. With a .474 batting average his senior year, his hard work paid off and The Pirates made him the 11th pick of the 2005 draft. After success in the minors, Cutch made his MLB debut in 2009. Since then he has been a 3 time all star, a Gold Glove winner and NL MVP. How did I not know about this guy?
In 2012, one year before free agency, Cutch signed a 6 year 51 million dollar deal to remain a Pirate. He could have waited until the bidding wars began, probably commanding upwards of 30 million more but he didn’t, for the love of the game. In his own words, “Twenty years of a lot of pain, just trying to get up that hill. It drives me, it pushes me to want more, to be a part of that team, that all the naysayers and all the people that say it’s not going to happen. To just kind of show them that it is.”
And that my friends is Pittsburgh in a nutshell. On the surface, they may not be the friendliest bunch and tourism may be something that they are still getting used to. However, if you can crack that tough outer shell, tear down the iron curtain if you will, then you become part of the family. Once you’re family, that’s when the people of The ‘Burgh will do just about anything for you.
Of course I’m still cheering for my Braves. I can only hope, for sports sake, that a rematch of the 1992 NLCS comes to fruition. It sure is looking that way. If by chance the Pirates exact revenge, I know I’ll be disappointed but I’ll be overjoyed for the city of Pittsburgh and the hard working people in it. I think I’ll be the happiest for Cutch. I think a song just came on…
(High) high hopes we have for the future
And our goal’s in sight
(We) no we don’t get depressed
Here’s what we call our golden rule
Have faith in you and the things you do
You won’t go wrong, oh-no
This is our family Jewel
We are Family! Get up everybody and sing!
After reading this, Bill says he knows he HAS to go to Pittsburgh and that church, in particular. You distilled it down to its heart and found a face to put on it. Wow. Great work!