Offseason face-lift complete at PNC

Offseason face-lift complete at PNC

PITTSBURGH -- Seeing John Russell's home debut as manager won't be the only new thing for Pirates fans to notice when they head to PNC Park for Opening Day on Monday afternoon.

The new Hall of Fame Club above the left-field bleachers highlights the list of upgrades and changes to the seven-year-old ballpark that has been named best in the country by ESPN.com.

"I was down in Spring Training for almost a month, and there's an extremely high level of optimism among the players down there, and we want to bring that north," team president Frank Coonelly said. "PNC Park has always been a great entertainment option, in terms of things like concerts, fireworks and promotional items, and those will continue this year. But we have added yet another entertainment option that makes for a more vibrant neighborhood and has made PNC Park a more vibrant place to come."

The Hall of Fame Club is located where the former Outback Steakhouse was positioned underneath the scoreboard. While the restaurant was previously open only to fans who held an exclusive ticket, now the area -- billed as offering "casual dining and a sports bar atmosphere" -- will be open to any ticket holder on all game days.

The club, which includes an outdoor patio with a bar, seating and views of the field, can be accessed from a new stairway in left-center. The club will open a half-hour before the regular gates open and stay open an hour after the game ends at minimum.

Walls were knocked down to make the space more open, a U-shaped bar was placed in the middle, 20 flat-screen high-definition televisions were added and the area contains a stage for pregame and postgame live entertainment. Part of the stylish all-new decor are replica Hall of Fame plaques for 12 different Pirates.

Also, windows in both the front and rear of the club (the back faces Federal Street and the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which are closed on game days to allow for pedestrian access to the park) have been replaced with large sliding windows.

"The most important part of this is that we opened up the space, both to the ballpark and Federal Street," Coonelly said. "The windows will now open so fans can see, hear, smell and feel the baseball game and all the action going on at the ballpark.

"We really think fans will enjoy this as a place to relax and to unwind after enjoying a game."

Joe Grushecky was booked for a postgame show in the Hall of Fame Club on Opening Day, and the area is available for rental on non-game days for weddings and other events.

The menu there includes more than a dozen new items, including such fare as old bay seasoned, fresh-cut fries, smoked turkey wraps, organic greens Greek salads, and 100 percent organic chicken breast with organic greens and organic vegetables.

The Hall of Fame Club isn't the only thing new this year, however. The televisions in the club and suite seating and in the Lexus Club have been upgraded to large flat-screen high-definition Sony units. An electronic point-of-sale system is now in place so that fans can pay for any concession with their credit or debit cards.

The "Bucco Bricks" that surround the Honus Wagner Statue in front of the home-plate entrance have been replaced so that the original fan messages will remain legible.

The much-ballyhooed all-you-can-eat seating section will make its debut for Sunday through Thursday games, allowing fans to sit in the right-field corner and consume all the hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, salads, popcorn, peanuts, ice cream and soda they wish for the $35 advance ($40 on game day) price of the ticket.

The Pirates Outfitters official team stores in the ballpark were completely renovated over the offseason and now will include a variety of Pirates game-used items for sale.

"We've come up with some new looks to kind of give it a complete face-lift to make it more shopper friendly," said Steve Musciano, general manager of ARAMARK at PNC Park.

A change to PNC Park this season that will benefit the environment is the kick off of the "Let's Go Bucs. Let's Go Green" campaign that will integrate environmental initiatives, sustainable business practices and educational outreach.

The most visible change for fans will be the 180 recycle containers, including 90 large bottle-shaped receptacles, throughout the ballpark. Those containers -- along with a so-called "Green Team" sweep after every game and before trash is collected -- are expected to capture the more than 760,000 plastic bottles and aluminum cans that are distributed throughout the baseball season.

The Pirates are making their environmental policies a priority, and the playing field is already a pristine green the first week of April with Opening Day just around the corner.

"I think it's in pretty good shape, really good shape," said director of field operations Manny Lopez. "We've just got some touching up to do, make sure all the mounds [meet proper specifications] and touching up some stuff, just making sure when they get home, everything's perfect for the guys and for the fans and for everyone."

Chris Adamski is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.