Sunday, August 23, 2015

On Andrew McCutchen, faith, and seeing PNC Park, the most beautiful park in America

The view from the PNC Park press box.
There is something exhilarating about going on a mission that most of the people in your world won't know about until it is over. That is what happened to me this week, when I went to Pittsburgh to interview Andrew McCutchen, the superstar center fielder for the Pirates, for Guideposts magazine.

This interview had been a goal of mine that I had been working toward for months, but it all came together very quickly in the last week. I didn't want to jinx anything, so I only told a few people about my trip before it happened! I even stayed off yakking on Facebook during the trip so I didn't reveal anything.

Me on the field during batting practice.
Plus, I kind of liked the idea of being a woman of mystery, if only for a few days!

Anyhow, I spoke to McCutchen for an hour early Thursday afternoon before the team's Faith Night game. Now, I can't say exactly what Cutch, as he is commonly known, told me in our interview -- you will have to read the Guideposts article when it comes out for that -- but I will say this: he is a very intelligent and well-spoken man motivated by his faith.

The schedule date of the interview was no coincidence. Faith Night is an annual event that the Pirates do, in which McCutchen and other players, coaches, and manager Clint Hurdle speak about their religious convictions. (More on that later down in the Squawk!) And McCutchen wanted me to see what the event was like.

So let me get started with Part 1 of my trip report. I also went to the Andy Warhol Museum, and to the two Pittsburgh inclines, but I will be saving the full recap of those things for a future Squawk:

Consol Energy Center. And a hockey statue.
Pittsburgh is very big on statues!
Wednesday, August 19

I rook an 8 1/2 hour Greyhound bus ride to Pittsburgh. The bus was surprisingly comfortable -- much more so than flying is these days. We had two stops -- one in Philadelphia (that bus station is a complete dump!) and one at a nice rest area in Sliding Rock somewhere in the middle of nowhere. And unlike in the Twilight Zone episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?," the bus drivers do not count to make sure everybody is on board before leaving the rest stop!
The Cambria's hotel lobby.

I read a lot on my Kindle during the ride, including reading Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon -- twice! I was very excited by what the author had to say, and have already incorporated some of his ideas to foster creativity into my current life.

At around 12:30 a.m., I arrived in Pittsburgh. I had gotten a Priceline deal for the Cambria Inn and Suites in downtown Pittsburgh. The hotel was supposed to be only four blocks away from the bus station. However, the GPS map function on my iPhone went awry and sent me on a wild goose chase around downtown Pittsburgh!

The view from the bed in my hotel room.
Finally, after over a mile of walking around in the middle of the night with my wheeled suitcase and my backpack, I looked for signs for the Consol Energy Center (my hotel was next door.) Finally, I found the hotel and went into my room, which was pretty plush. However, the air conditioning wasn't working, and the room was 78 degrees! (I can't sleep in such a hot temperature; I prefer a very cool room.)

So I called the front desk and complained, and said that they needed to put me in another room. At this point, it was 1:30 a.m., and by the time they could get the AC working, half the night would be over!

The view from my hotel room.
They found me another room, but then the entry card didn't work, and the replacement card didn't work, either. Finally, at about two in the morning, I got into my room. It was worth the wait. It turned out that the second hotel room even nicer than the first -- it had three rooms instead of two, with a big bedroom, a nice living room area, and a huge bathroom, with two separate shower heads.

The hotel room was bigger than my apartment, and I do not have a tiny apartment! The king-size bed was amazing, and I have a luxury Duxiana bed at home, so I have high standards! Even the view out the window was much better. I didn't get to spend much time in the room other than sleeping, but the room was the nicest I have ever stayed in!

Thursday, August 20

What Heinz Field looked like during my run.
My training for the Staten Island Half-Marathon in October didn't stop because I was out of town. I got up on an overcast Thursday morning and ran around downtown Pittsburgh, then over the Roberto Clemente Bridge and along the river on the North Shore, past PNC Park and Heinz Field. Then I turned around and ran in the other direction and back to the hotel, putting in a total of six miles.

After that, I headed back to the hotel and got ready for my interview with McCutchen at PNC Field. I have known John Fuller, McCutchen's marketing and publicity person, via social media for several years, but this was the first time we have met in real life. John is a great guy and the best in the business at what he does, IMHO! We met outside PNC Field and he escorted me in via the media entrance. Then we went into a lounge area, where I would be interviewing McCutchen.

The lounge area where the interview took place.
I notice sometimes when hearing interviewers that they get so focused on rattling off a list of questions that they miss following up on interesting things that their subject says. So while I did have a written list of questions for McCutchen, I ended up never looking at the list. Instead, thanks to all the research I had done on him, I had the questions in my head, and did followups based on what he said. He is a very good interview; no cliches, just sincere explanations of the role faith plays in his life.

After the interview, John brought me on the field to check out batting practice. What an awesome feeling to be on the field and see the players at work! I walked around a lot, just soaking in the great atmosphere, and even got to go in the Pirates' dugout.

Seeing batting practice was awesome!
When Squawker Jon did a baseball stadium road trip a few years ago, he said that PNC Park was his favorite. He was right; I think it is the most beautiful park in baseball.

Yankee go home? Oh, no! 
After batting practice -- I stayed on the field long enough not just to see the Pirates but also the San Francisco Giants, who were playing Pittsburgh that night -- I got to have dinner in the press dining hall. And it was one of the best meals I have ever had in a ballpark! For just $10, I had pan-seared sage-rubbed chicken breast, barbecue pork loin with peach chutney, roasted corn in a thyme cream sauce, and a spring mix salad. Oh, and soft-serve chocolate ice cream for dessert. No wonder so many sportswriters are overweight. If I were a beat writer, I would end up being 300 pounds!

I got to watch the game from the press box, which was another first-time thrill for me. The view from there is exquisite. And because you are higher up, you can see the rolling hills of Pittsburgh, as well as the bridges and skyscrapers. Amazing.

They also have snacks for reporters in the press box, as well as complimentary soda and coffee. And tons of printed information for members of the media, with pretty much anything you would need to know about each team. Next time you hear somebody on a broadcast rattle off some statistic or tidbit, chances are they got the information from one of these reports.

PNC Park is exquisite.
You know the saying "no cheering in the press box"? It is true -- and enforced! I saw two men -- one of them wearing a Pirates jersey -- in the press box. At one point, when the Pirates scored, they started cheering. About a minute later, they were told to leave!

The atmosphere for the game was pretty electric -- it was a sellout crowd, thanks to it being Faith Night. It was also Military Night, so the Pirates wore camouflage uniforms.

After the game, I went into the stands to watch Faith Night, but then John Fuller was able to get me onto the field and into the visitors' dugout, where the players' wives watching, to see the players' talking up close

Andrew McCutchen (l.) and other Pirates players
during Faith Night.
McCutchen, Clint Hurdle, Sean Rodriguez, Charlie Morton, Joakim Soria, Chris Stewart, Pedro Alvarez, Travis Ishikawa and others were among the Pirates talking about their faith. They all had different stories about what their beliefs meant to their lives, and the stories were very moving.

About 12,000 Pirates fans stayed for Faith Night. I don't want to get preachy here, but the event was really well done, and gave fans a look at players in a different light, showing how they have worries and concerns just like the rest of us.

After Faith Night, I headed back on the Roberto Clemente Bridge back to my hotel and called it a night after a spectacular day.

Click here for Part 2 of my Squawk.

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