I was trying to think of one word to describe my visit last night to Altoona, PA to see the Curve in action, and immediately “friendly” came to mind. And I don’t just mean that as a throw away. PNG Field was the 15th stadium I’ve visited this season, for both blogging and personal travels, and includes spring training, minor league, and major league games, and I have yet to be in a friendlier place! From the front office staff to the ushers to the press box folks, and especially the fans, this experience was truly awesome! Even their website has something I haven’t seen before – the walk-up music choices for their players! Not to mention PNG Field has one of the most picturesque settings in all of minor league baseball.
I want to start by giving a HUGE shout out to Trey Wilson, Communications and Broadcasting Manager. I reached out to Trey earlier in the week to let him know I was coming to Altoona, and he offered me a tour of the ballpark prior to the gates opening. After giving me a bit of history of the team and the park (more on that later), he took me around to every section of the park, and then we made it upstairs to the press box area. Keep in mind he still had to finish his prep work for the game with his broadcast partner, Nathan Bowen. This is Trey’s first year with the Curve, taking over for Mike Passanisi, who left to take a job with the Mets. Trey has jumped in with both feet, and had to overcome some serious adversities early in the season, including a couple of laptops crashing that had all the images and photos needed to do his job. Looking at the website and programs, you’d never be able to tell. In addition to broadcasting, he works on the programs given out at the games. Unlike most teams who only update their programs a couple times a year, Trey and his team update the programs with EVERY series!
Trey showing me around pre-game.
The Curve are the Class AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and all roads to the majors go through Altoona. Altoona began play in 1999, and being in the railroad history filled Altoona area, are named after the famous Horseshoe Curve, a nearby 180 degree railroad curve that was completed in 1854 as a way to lessen the grade to the summit of the Allegheny Mountains. The park has definite railroad themes, including their mascots Steamer (named after the K-4 steam engine) and Loco. Besides the beautiful backdrop of the Allegheny mountains, the park is adjacent to Lakemont Park, home to the world’s oldest roller coaster. This provides a fantastic backdrop to the outfield views.
Outside the ballpark, there’s an awesome statue dedicated to the children of Pennsylvania’s fallen warriors. They also do something really classy with recognizing all the POW/MIAs. While many stadiums have one seat that always goes empty to honor the missing and POWs, the Curve have this seat directly behind homeplate, so it’s always visible on every TV broadcast. Very classy!
Food, Fans, and Fun!
The food choices were plentiful and I had a difficult time choosing which of the more famous delectables to partake in. Cinnamon roasted nuts? Kettle corn? The walking taco?? In the end, the first choice had to be their Curve Burger, as these were being grilled before the game and smelled delicious! This is quite possibly the best burger I’ve ever had, ballpark or otherwise! It made for the perfect pre-game meal!
Later in the game, I decided to try the BBQ pork nachos. Wow!
It’s a good thing I took the stairs quite often during the evening!
The fans and staff of the Curve are second to none. Everyone I met during the evening was more than willing to chat and gave me some kind of nugget about Altoona and the Curve. During my pre-game tour, I ran into GM Rob Egan. This is Rob’s second stint with the club. He was their broadcaster from 1999-2004, then came back a couple of years ago to assume the role of GM. Once inside the stadium for good, I ran into usher Duane, who was quick to give me a brief history of the stadium and the Curve. Later I met usher Lenora, who has been an usher since the park opened in 1999. This evening she was stationed outside the press box, and while she doesn’t work as many games as she used to, she still loves coming to the park. Oh, and I had my first encounter with Loco the mascot there!
The highlight, of course, was the fans. I sat next to George, who was there with family and work friends. He filled me in on all that Altoona has to offer, and its history. I really appreciated all he had to offer. In his group was Brianna, who sang “God Bless America” in the middle of the 7th inning and came with her own fan club. She really brought the house down with her rendition!
I also ran into young Charlotte taking some time out in one of the many kid friendly play areas of the park.
And 22 month old Liam was attending his first game with his dad, Brady
The fans were incredible in another way. The park was splashed in pink, both fans and players alike, to support the Making Strides effort. Players wore commemorative pink jerseys, which were auctioned off during the game, and used pink bats, which were auctioned off. At the end of the game, Curve fans had donated over $7,000 to the cause, and the players gave them the shirts right off their back.
During the game, Trey invited me up to the press box to see behind the scenes. This was my third trip to a minor league press box, and this visit did not disappoint! I chatted with the official scorekeeper of the evening, Chris. Many fans don’t know that the official scorer is allowed to consult instant replay if needed to make a call, although they aren’t allowed to listen to the commentary. I asked Chris how often this happens, and he replied usually less than once a game. I also chatted with PA announce Rich, who was pulling double duty operating the scoreboard. He said everyone pitches in at game time.
Official scorer Chris hard at work
The rich baritone sounds of Rich are heard throughout the park
The view from up here ain’t bad either!
The production room
Radio Announcers Nathan and Trey calling the game
Trey even keeps a pretty mean scorecard!
The game and post game
The game was a real pitcher’s dual. Curve starter Steven Brault tossed 7 scoreless frames while striking out 7 and scattering just 5 hits. He certainly proved why he was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Week last week.
The Curve got on the scoreboard first with a sixth inning round tripper by Max Moroff to go up 1-0. They added an insurance run in the seventh to round out the scoring. Brett McKinney pitched a scoreless eighth to get his third hold of the season, and closer Jhondaniel Medina recorded his fourth save of the season by pitching a perfect ninth, including striking out Hunter Cole to end the game.
Moroff rounds the bases with his fifth round tripper of the season
Sebastian Valle in for a double
Medina in for the save
Cole goes down swinging to end the game
Following the game, the Curve put on an incredible fireworks show over the roller coaster. This was one of the best fireworks displays I’ve seen in a long time, and the view over the roller coaster was so cool!
Kids got to run the bases after the fireworks, and it was truly a family affair!
Yours truly with Steamer
I couldn’t have anticipated the great time I had at the game. As I left PNG Field for my 3 hour drive home, I put my iPhone music on shuffle. One of the first songs that came up was Johnny Cash’s “Blue Train.” The lyrics made it seem even more appropriate as I would love to come back to see the Curve again:
Conductor, go and tell the man to shovel on the coal—
It doesn’t seem half as bad as long as I can roll
Give me another ticket and I’ll stay and ride with you
There’s nothing left to live for in this world we’re rollin’ through.