A GREAT view of the field at AT&T Park in Chattanooga during their pre-season open house!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Spring Training in Arizona

The last few days the weather has been nice and cool. No jacket needed.
You know that March is coming up fast. In about a month, baseball games will be played everywhere. For now, they are training in Arizona and Florida.
A couple of years back, me and my wife went with our friends Nate and Holly to Arizona for Spring Training.
We all took a week off, got to Arizona, and rented a car.
I guess I should disclose here, before I get started, that I do like some things other than baseball. I mean, baseball IS all that matters, but there are some things in life outside of baseball that have some meaning. With this in mind, all parties agreed that the trip would not be totally about baseball. Nate and I agreed with our wives that we would do some "non-baseball" stuff.
We ended up seeing games at Surprise Stadium (Rangers vs White Sox), Tempe Diablo Stadium (Angels vs. A's), and Scottsdale Stadium (Giants and Cubs). We also spent a morning going over to the Peoria Sports Complex and watching the Minor League guys in the Padres and Mariners systems work out.
There were a lot of highlights during this trip. I can't even list them all.
At Surprise stadium, there was a lot of excitement around Sammy Sosa hanging out with the Rangers. He did his little heart bump peace sign thing to anyone that yelled his name. It was exciting seeing him.
Tempe Diablo stadium was unreal. We got there early. Their main guys were working out before the game at a diamond close to the main stadium. We walked around the complex for some time. No one stopped us, though we expected access would be limited at some point.
There were several more diamonds, and the further we walked from the main area, the more we saw people in Angels uniforms. Eventually, we were about the only people around in street clothes. It was really cool. I am not sure how this works, because no one with their staff told us to go away, or that we weren't supposed to be there.
The game was fun too. There was a great view here, and we just had a great time.
A memorable moment came when Gary Matthews Jr. fouled one right up in the air, and it looked like it was about to come right down on my wife's head! The thing looked to be 100 feet in the air and coming straight down. Forget about going for the souvenir, protect yourself! Everyone in our area was ducking with their hands over their head. Somehow, the ball came to a dead stop at my feet! Yes, I took that ball home with me!
Unlike the previously mentioned 2 spring training parks, Scottsdale was a bit more chaotic. Parking was tough. The souvenir guys were charging $40 for an MLB ball! Holy Carp!
It was just a tougher area to be in, and the experience was not as enjoyable as the other 2 parks. I did get a funny picture of Barry Bonds in the outfield on all fours with the ball a few feet away. A smile was on his face. Most guys don't smile when they botch a play.
We saw the Giants play in San Fransisco within a few months of that too. The vibe in Scottsdale was very similar to the one in San Francisco. The city and the team are big and loud, small venue or not. I hate black jerseys with orange too.
Peoria was a lot of fun. We squeezed this stop in, it was not on our original agenda. Even though we didn't see a game here, we spend several fun hours exploring. The Mariners and the Padres Minor League guys were working out this day. I got a ton of great pictures. This was a very informal place to be. I saw several players stop to sign a ball for a kid. While watching one work out, one of the coaches came over and casually chatted.
One player threw Holly a ball just to be nice!
The old guys in the gift shop and watching stuff around the facility were just happy to be there. If I can talk my wife in to another Arizona spring training trip, this will be a must stop.
We had a lot of fun. Now that the Indians are in Arizona, and the Reds are about to follow, this will be the place to be. I am sure Florida is nice for spring training, but Arizona is perfect.
Back to non-baseball stuff, Arizona is a great state. We all know Kentucky is the best state ever, then Tennessee, but Arizona is probably the greatest state that is not Kentucky and does not touch Kentucky. It is sunny fun. After several days of baseball, we went and hung out in Sedona. This place is beautiful The entire area is photogenic, but I have yet to see a picture that does it justice. The sky is perfect blue, the dirt is red, and its a very calming place to stay. The place lives up to its mystical reputation, and it does have a little bit of an X-Files feel to it.
I am eager to get back to Arizona for some baseball and for the pure beauty of the state.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book: Small-Town Heroes: Images of Minor League Baseball by Hank Davis

I picked this book up at a Half Priced Books a few weeks ago. I have read similar books before, and I could read books like this all day. I love your basic stories of players in the Minor Leagues.
The author literally travels to various ballparks around the minors, hangs out, talks to the players, fans, venue workers, etc. He is at each park for a game or so I guess, then he moves on.
Some of the book is about the players, and their desire to make it. Parts of the book describe the people who run the venues. He also discusses the cities, the teams, management, etc.

Why read it
If you are a baseball fan, this is just a fun read. I could read about ballparks and the Minor Leagues forever. I really like hearing about the parks, the fans, players, and the towns. I love road trips to towns that I don't know a lot about. I love exploring their down towns and their ballparks. I enjoy listening to others talking about their experiences doing the same.

The book really doesn't have a start or end. Its just a general book about the Minors. The author does talk in the end about the business behind the Minors. He talks about how you get attached to a player in your home town, then they get promoted, demoted or released. He also talks about the Darwinian nature of the business.

Why not read it
The book is outdated. It was outdated shortly after it came out. Many of the parks mentioned here are history. Davis mentions that some of the parks he is visiting won't be there by the time his book is published. The Minor Leagues are changing pretty constantly.
This is the kind of book that could be a classic in a decade or so though. I would love to read a similar book written in the 50s.
I did read a review on Amazon for this book. It was suggested that Davis should have made this a loose leaf book. That is a great idea. I would love a book like that that could be updated ever so often.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


My buddy Dave at work is a football fan. An NFL football fan. No Arena 2 football for him, he is too good for that. He is really in the dumps because the season is over.
I am trying to convince him that its OK, the better sport is about to start up! Baseball season is almost here! In fact, pitchers and catchers have already shown up in Florida and Arizona.
Its nice knowing that its all about to start again. Of course, around October, I am going to be bummed out just like Dave is now. Then, Dave will make fun of me the way I am making fun of him.
I love baseball. Its great watching prospects working their way up. I love big furry mascots. Nothing beats a free bobble head. I hate loud obnoxious announcers though. I am obviously not a purist, but the announcers can take a break.
I love goofy promotions. I am hoping to catch The Famous Chicken this year. I have seen Reggie the Purple Party Dude, and I love this guy. The Zooperstars are great, and I can watch a guy get eaten by one over and over and its still just as funny as the 1st time I saw it. I could watch Birdzerk all day long. Don't act like you're too cool to appreciate that stuff!
I love free stuff too. I can afford it! My favorite free stuff is anything. OK, I especially like free caps, shirts and bobble heads. I hate it when they just give the free stuff to little kids, because that means I am going to have to swipe the giveaway from a little kid later in the game (just kidding....maybe).
There are some promotions I want to see more of. What ever happened to Negro League Night? This used to be a common promotion, but I am seeing less of it. A lot of former Negro League players are thankfully still with us. Every pro baseball team needs to make sure they bring in one of these legends AT LEAST once a season. AND there is no reason not to sport a retro jersey honoring one of the old teams that played close to the park. Charley Pride songs should be the standard that night at the game.
I love it when a team brings in a retired player. Thats just cool.
Bring your dog to the park night is fun. My dog freaks out a bit, but you would too if everyone around you was at least 2 times bigger than you, you were naked, and just had a stuffed hot dog on your back.
The Legends hosted Star Wars night last year, and that was super cool. I would love to see that evolve into a tradition and exploited more. The only thing more cool would be Star Trek night. Oh, I just thought of this one.... horror villain night! Think about it!
I have never heard of a team doing "A League of Their Own" night. This is unforgivable. Like the Negro Leagues, MANY of the gals from the All American Girls Professional Baseball League are still around! MANY of them are in this area! I am certain they would be honored to throw out a first pitch and sign some autographs. A showing of the film could be arranged after a game. I would not advise the teams to wear retro AAGPBL uniforms though.
I think its the Altoona Curve who host "awful night". This sounds hysterical. I wish more teams would adopt this idea.
I like fireworks, a lot, but to me this is an overrated promotion. Its cool, but I don't have to see them every Friday or Saturday night. I must admit, I was once looking out of a 16th story window in downtown Lexington. I could see the Fireworks going off at Applebee's Park across town. It was just darn cool, and looked spectacular even from a distance.
I'm not impressed with local cover bands playing before and after a game. Some of the fun bands whose songs are being covered can probably be hired to play at the game anyway, for about the same price. You bring in Kansas or Foriegner, maybe the Guess Who and I am there! Just make sure there is at least one original member.
I love military appreciation night. This should be done at least monthly at every park. I love it when they go all out on this one too. A helicopter landing or taking off from a baseball field is worth the price of admission times five.
This isn't a promotion, but it is something I look forward to at a ball game, and that's the Star-Spangled Banner. I ALWAYS get goose bumps at the "our flag was still there" part. I am hoping some teams get a bit more selective about performers. It is OK to bring out the same performer more than once too if they are good. This isn't a reality show audition. This is the National Anthem. I will take a sincere, if not perfect rendition over an exaggerated over the top version any day. I saw a little girl, maybe 5 years old, do a perfect version at a Horsemen's game last year. Perfect. I saw some big guys get a little choked up. No showing off, no unnecessarily long, exaggerated notes. This was a highlight of my sports season.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Legends Caravan, Lexington, KY

Last night the Lexington Legends hosted their annual Caravan stop at their ball park. They have been doing several dates on their "caravan" and this was their main one.
It is hard to call this a "caravan" because their stops have involved different people, and I don't exactly see the Legends gang getting on a bus and travelling around for a week the way the Reds, Pirates, and Indians do.
This was a great event, with a good turn out, but more fans should have been there. It was one of those things that made me think, "why aren't there more people here?" This event was mentioned on the Legends web site, 1300 am had mentioned it, and their guys were broadcasting from the event, before and during.
Local guys who are making good in the Minor Leagues, John Shelby, Ben Revere, and Michael Bertram were there. All three of these guys have legitimate chances of making it.
Michael told me he figures on being with one of my favorite Eastern League teams next year. John and Ben were both friendly and chatty. Ben embarrassed pitchers in the Midwest League last year, owning the highest batting average in the minors last year. Check out all of his honors at MILB.COM. No "of the week" awards here. His titles end with "All-Star" and "of the Year."
John Shelby is going through the White Sox system keeping around a .300 batting average.
Shelby and Revere were at this event last year, and both years seemed to be happy to chat, shake hands, and sign stuff. It was good to see them back again.
Also, of three of the local prospects made me proud of their Kentucky ties. They seemed humble, and even appreciative of the support shown on this night. I know that when they go somewhere else, when they talk to others outside of the state, they are going to make Kentucky look good.
Baseball legends/local guy Doug Flynn was there. Yeah, Doug turns up a lot around Lexington, and Lexington is lucky to have him. Always friendly and inspiring, he did not let down at this Legends event. I always want to ask him about the Reds of the 70s, the early 80s Mets.... then I open my mouth and say something like, "fjghflhjrpuyrpl".
John Shelby's dad, the OTHER John Shelby came out too. I briefly listened in on a conversation between John and Doug (I was trying to count the World Series rings between them). That was a bit surreal. John was just as friendly too. I said roughly the same thing to him that I said to Flynn. Shelby was funny, he jokingly told me not to sell the photo I took of him on Ebay!
Big L was there. I thought he had grown a bit, but my wife reminded me that I am just very short, and I always comment about how tall people are. She said Big L has not grown. I might have to research this. I love Big L, but I still hope he gets a muppet like side kick at some point.
Calistoga Cafe catered this event. Holy Carp they have good food! Someone from Calistoga actually came over and asked us what we thought of our sandwiches and salads! Classy!
You can see why I am a little confused that more people weren't at this event. It was free, we got the Calistoga hook up, we got to chat with several pro baseball players, and learn a little about whats going on with the Legends.
This was a great event. I have been to similar events for other minor league teams, and the Legends really pulled through. I think it might be hard for the Astros to provide a lot of support on a thing like this, because of the distance and all, but thats OK. I was impressed that all players present really have no formal association with the Legends or the Astros, but they all have a Kentucky connection. The Lexington Legends pulled off a great local baseball event without a lot of support from the parent club, once again showing how classy they are!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mahoning Valley Scrappers, OH.

The Mahoning Valley Scrappers are the NY Penn League single A team of the Cleveland Indians. A lot of the big name Indians players have been through here. With Cleveland's farm system, I am sure several of today's Scrappers will be in the Majors before too long.

This park is a little over an hour away from Cleveland so, like many of the Indians farm teams, they are pretty close to the big team.
The park itself is really not spectacular, but it is great by low A standards. This stadium reminds me a lot of the Frontier League's park in Washington PA. Like the Washington park, the Scrappers play right behind a mall, almost in the mall parking lot. My wife loves the fact that we can hang out at the mall before a game. I like that too.
It's a small, intimate park with a family feel. I have talked to the person setting next to me about baseball more than once here.
There is a fenced in lawn area where the players come on to the field. This is a very autograph friendly area, and most of the players walk through this area.
Negro League legend Ted Toles has been an usher at this park. How cool is that?
Scrappy, the teams mascot is visible during most of the game. He is a dog wearing a construction worker type hat.
The Area
The Scrappers play their games in a cool section of Ohio. It is rural, but still fun. The mall next door has a lot going on for it, and is a great place to hang out before a game. There is a book store near by, several restaurants, etc. Even though there is a very nice mall here, this area feels very rural.

Why go
This is low A ball, and you are going to see a few prospects (I once saw Josh Hamilton play here against the Scrappers right before the Reds got him). You are going to see some mistakes here too, which you won't see at the higher level parks... which, in my opinion, makes the game more fun. The promotions here are fun too. I have been to their last game of the season a couple of times, and they emptied out their giveaways closet.
Looking past the outfield walls, you see a lot of green. I love that at a ball park.

Why not go
There is a lot of baseball in this area. I think the Scrappers are a bit more secluded than the other farm teams in the area. If you are a baseball fan and find yourself in the Warren Ohio area, this is the place to be!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Book: Minor League Baseball Towns of Michigan- Mark Okkonen

Minor League Baseball Towns of Michigan: Adrian to Ypsilanti : The Teams & the Ballparks of the Wolverine State from the 1880s to the Present

Mark Okkonen put this book together as a labor of love. This is an amazing book full of info. My copy is dated 1997, and I don't think this book is still in print. Several copies are available on Amazon as of this writing.
So much changes in minor league ball. Teams change their names, stadiums, affiliations, etc. Heck, independent leagues come and go too. A lot has already happened in Michigan in the last year alone.
This book is great. It wasn't put together with lots of cutting and pasting in a word document. There are photo copies of newspaper photos. I think Mr. Okkonen spent a lot of time dealing with old papers and microfiche.
There is an index in the back. Endless info in the book, with attention paid to the Negro Leagues and the All American Girls. I have seen a lot of modern books on baseball with more flash and slicker paper, but with a lot less info.
I hope someone else in the near future will update this book. I would love to see a book put together with as much passion for Ohio, Kentucky, PA, and Tenn.
I am not sure that this is the kind of book you would want to read straight through, but it is a great one to keep on the shelf, and to flip through the next time you read about one of the greats spending time on a farm team in Michigan.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lake County Captains, OH

The Lake County Captains are the Sally League team for the Cleveland Indians. They are the closest minor league team to the Indians, so there is a chance to see one of the guys from the main team rehab here.

Classic Park is all that and a couple bags of chips. This is a very nice park full of fun. You can walk all the way around the park (I think every park should have this feature). There is plenty of lawn seating. You can set on the hill in the outfield, right under the scoreboard.
We were season ticket holders here for a while, and I really love this park. It has a family atmosphere to it. We became very good friends with other regular attendees here. Phil in front of us became a good friend, and Dave, Mary and their young son Rocco were a blast. That family has been season ticket holders since day one at Classic Park.
The Captains have one of the single coolest mascots around, Skipper. Skipper is a very animated, big green muppet style mascot.
The Captains are very unique in their other representative, Captain Tony. Captain Tony looks just like the Captain on the teams primary logos. There is a lighthouse at the park too, which is totally cool. Captain Tony keeps a lookout there during the games. Let me stress, Captain Tony is not a guy in a Captain costume, like a bit stuffed animal. He is a real guy who talks to people, hands out promotions, etc. The Captains have a real Captain!
They also have Clipper, a big Zooperstar style Captain. He is big and balloon like. He is cool, but not as cool as Captain Tony.

The park is close to the very happening Mentor area. There is a nice mall here, and some other cool attractions. Downtown Cleveland is a 20 minute drive. Mentor is worth exploring though. I would suggest a Mentor weekend trip, if you are driving up from Kentucky. The very mysterious Kirtland is right here too. Grab your "Weird Ohio" books, read about Crybaby Bridge, or the Lemon Heads from this area!

Why go
The Indians have a good farm system. Some of these guys are going to make it. Skipper is a great mascot and makes the rounds. There are plenty of opportunities for a photo opp with Skipper or Captain Tony. The Captains play some great video clips on their scoreboard too, which is entertaining. For you autograph collectors, there is a far corner of the park fans can go to. Players on both teams have to pass within a few feet of it to get to the field. This is a very autograph friendly park.
There is a cool pedestrian bridge going from the park to a parking lot which is really cool. This has become a bit of a trademark of the stadium.

Why not go
If you are doing a ballpark road trip, and you will be in this area, this is not a park to pass on. It's not one of the most flashy or colorful parks, but don't let that scare you off. There are several other parks within about an hour of here though, and all are great. If I only had time to go to one of them, it would be a tough choice. This area would be a great one for a road trip, there is plenty of baseball to see in northern Ohio. The only reason not to go to a Captains game would be to see one of the other near teams.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cleveland Indians, OH

The Cleveland Indians, as the Cleveland Indians, have been around since 1915. They have an endless amount of history and notoriety. The most politically incorrect sports team around, it does seem that requests for a name change have died down. The socially minded part of me thinks it might be good for the Indians to take a look at what some of the other Minor League "Indians" teams have done. The Spokane Indians have kept their name, but redesigned their logo with the help and support of the Spokane Tribe. A secondary logo was even designed written in the language of the Tribe. Former Frontier League team, the Chillicothe Paints embraced a logo and theme that was very respectful of Native American traditions.

Bob Feller, who made his debut for the Tribe in the 1930's still hangs out in the area. It's easy to find him around the area, and I hear he is very present at spring training. I have met him a couple of times and he still seems to be in great shape for a guy in his 90s! He is a Hall of Famer, and a great guy. Get his autograph if you see him, and thank him for his service. He missed 4 seasons of baseball VOLUNTEERING for the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Bob Feller is a legend in Cleveland, and a true American hero!

The Indians have sold out to the whole "naming rights" game. They are playing in the same stadium previously known as Jacobs Field, but it has been retitled Progressive Field. In fairness, I guess they sold out before the name change. The stadium is nice, it offers a great cool skyline view of downtown Cleveland. There is a nice view of some of the other downtown scenery in the upper levels away from the field.
The stadium does have some drawbacks. If you get upper level seats, you really feel like you are looking down on the action. It feels very steep.
Security can be tough here too at times. Still, this is a stadium to see.
Slider is one cool mascot. Also, their pretzels are shaped like a cursive Indian "I".

A personal side note (actually I am just bragging here). My wife and I were once the "seat upgrade" fans of the game. We had cheap seats (actually, free seats through a team shop promotion) in the upper levels. We were asked if we would like to get the seat upgrade treatment by one of the Indians promotions people. They filmed us and another couple walking from our upper level seats to our new seats, not too far behind home plate! They later played the video of us walking on the scoreboard in fast motion. It was funny. My favorite pitcher Cliff Lee allowed one run and beat up the White Sox that night too!

The area
The stadium is in the downtown Cleveland area, and there is a lot going on. Tower City is walking distance. Check this place out. It is several floors of mall stores under a couple of office buildings. This place is active. Also, if you are a fan of the movie, "Christmas Story" several scenes were shot in this area. There is a Hard Rock Cafe here too.

Have lunch or dinner over at Fat Fish Blue. This is one restaurant I miss in Cleveland. Cajun food, and a fun atmosphere. They have live music in the evening. I saw my all time favorite band Equation here many times.
You are also right next to where the Cavs play. You are a short drive from the Rock Hall, and Browns Stadium. The Rock Hall is cool to do once. If you are on a time limit, but really want to see cool rock stuff, I would suggest going to the Hard Rock.

Why go
This is the Indians, and they have brought up a ton of talent through their farm system, like CC, Sean Casey, and Jim Thome. This is a fun team to watch. There are several players on the team now who, if they keep it up, will go down in the history books as legends.
I can be hard on Cleveland sometimes (Cleveland was hard on me for many years) but I love this team. The players have character, and are playing to win. This is my team.

Why not go
If you are a baseball fan in the Cleveland area, Cleveland's biggest competition is itself. 2 of it's farm teams are a very short drive away. There are several minor league teams peppered throughout this area. All of the teams in this area are worth checking out. I love the Indians, but I must say that if are are staying between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and you can only go to one park, I would head for PA.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Washington Wild Things, PA.

The Washington Wild Things play their home games in Washington, PA. This is a great little area. In fact, this would be a nice area to retire. Its a very rural area, but not far from Pittsburgh. Its sort of situated in that West Virginia, Ohio, PA section of the country that is very casual and friendly, and has a lot of charm. My in-laws lived near this area for some time. This area does have a very Kentucky feel to it.
Washington is in the Frontier League. I really enjoy seeing a game in the FL.

The team
Frontier League teams are mostly made up of ball players who have been dropped by affiliated minor league teams, or guys who were not drafted, but they are all still hoping to catch on with affiliated baseball.

The park
The park is pretty much in the parking lot of a mall. If you have been to a Scrappers game in Ohio, the set up is similar. It's not literally in the parking lot, but almost. The team used to have a team shop in the mall which was pretty cool. The area is hilly, and very scenic.
Though the park is right next to a mall, it is facing green. It is next to the interstate too, but it faces a big hill of trees. This is very relaxing. Similar to the Florence Freedom, though you are in an immediately urban area, you feel like you are very secluded.
The park was originally called Falconi Field, but it is now CONSOL Energy Park. The park holds 5,000, but it feels a little smaller to me. Like most parks in the 5,000 range, all seats are good. Also, a lot of locals attend a lot of games. Everyone seems to know each other here. The ushers are friendly. I have always found myself talking ball with the friendly staff.
There is a cool vibe before games too. Players are running laps around the park, batting balls, etc. I once literally bumped in to manager Greg Jelks while purchasing tickets for that nights game. This is a very casual park, and relaxing.

The area
I really like Washington a lot too. With the hilly landscape, it is very photogenic. My wife and I were driving around some back roads and ended up visiting a cemetery. I got some great photos of deer there.
This is a cool mall too. It is your basic shopping mall with a food court, but its not overwhelming. Also, a couple of hotels have recently sprung up next to the park.
Oh, if you are a horror movie fan, the 1st remake of "Night of the Living Dead" was filmed in this area. Of course, the original was filmed not far from here too, along with some sequels.

Why go
If you are in the area, you should see the Wild Things because its pro baseball in a small town. The atmosphere is very pleasant, and your blood pressure is going to drop. A 3 day weekend trip to this are would be great for catching a game here one night, and a Pirates game the next. The Wild Things have a ton of merch too. I have seen several AA teams with less merch. If you like to collect items of minor league teams you see, get ready. Their prices are reasonable too, and they usually have some great sale items.

Why not go
The Pirates are right up the road from here. The Pirates play in the most beautiful park in the Majors. Plus, Pittsburgh is a town that has really shaped up over the last 10 or so years. I would hate to only have 1 day to spend in this area, and have to choose between seeing the Pirates or the Wild Things.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pittsburgh Pirates, PA

The Pittsburgh Pirates began play as the Pirates in 1891. The team has been around for well over a hundred years. The team has 5 World Series trophies, and volumes of history.

One of my personal favorite teams ever assembled would be the 1971 Pirates. This team won the World Series, and became the 1st team to field an all black starting lineup. Anyone interested in baseball knows that Roberto Clemente was on this team, and would die at the end of the following year in a plane crash. He was flying with relief supplies to be given to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. His friend and teammate Steve Blass who had pitched brilliantly in the 71 Series was unable to pitch effectively after Clemente's death. He had to retire shortly after that.
One of the most human stories in baseball (and one that is not as well known) is that Clemente's friend and Pirate's catcher Manny Sanguillen was the only member of the Pirate's team to skip his friends funeral. He skipped so he could go diving in the waters where Clemente's plane went down hoping to find him.

PNC park has been around since 2001. I did not get a chance to see the old stadium, but that's fine. PNC is flawless. I do prefer going to games in the minors, but I would never pass on an opportunity to see this park again. I have seen many reviews calling this the greatest park ever, and I cannot think of a reason to argue.
I have set near 3rd base here several times. The skyline is unbelievable. Seriously, it is perfect. You can't take a bad picture here either. The view is perfect. The seats are comfortable and spaced out. This stadium does not have that looking down feel to it that many other parks have. Here, you feel like you are looking straight ahead at the field. A seat here 25 rows back has a much better view than a seat at any other park 25 rows back (and up).
For a stadium in the Major's, the staff here is friendly. I don't think I have had a problem with any one here ever. The staff in general seems to have helping you as a priority over making sure everyone is in their appropriate seat and not standing in an isle.
This park is affordable. In the past, I have bought good seats close to the field for around $30.
I like the way the Pirates do things too. We have been to Piratesfest a couple of times and have had a lot of fun. There are always lines for autographs, but the setting and the other things to do are a lot of fun. We went to an open house at the park once a couple of years ago, and their GM was greeting fans, answering questions, etc. The Pirates are a classy organization.

The area
Pittsburgh is one cool town. I didn't always think that though. It is a big city, and it is rough in some areas, but it is a town that seemed to me to be going down hill once, but it picked itself up. Pittsburgh went from being a big, rough, and dirty city to a really nice happenin' town that takes a lot of pride in itself. The area right around the ball park is alive. Check out the bridges, and the access for walking there during the game times. Check out the boats passing by. This is a scenic area.

why go
This is the nicest park in baseball. They really went out of their way to make sure it was perfect in every way. A great weekend trip would involve getting a room in downtown Pittsburgh, seeing some sights around town (the Andy Warhol museum is walking distance from the stadium!) and getting to the game early to see some batting practice. Oh, the previously mentioned Manny Sanguillen has been at his BBQ stand there at the park signing autographs at every single game I have ever been to. Go buy a sandwich and ask Manny to sign your ticket!
Oh, and the Pirates are generous with giveaways. Check out the promo schedule. I have scored caps, bobbleheads, statues and backpacks at games.

why not go
The only reason not to go to a Pirates game is that, for some reason, the Pirates can't put a winning team together. You should still go though. Some of the guys on the Pirates this season will be star players once they are traded away to a better team.