By Alex Stumpf, Point Park News Service:
While the Pittsburgh Pirates are down in Bradenton, Fla., preparing for their regular season home-opener, PNC Park maintenance workers and businesses located around the stadium are doing the same.
“In March you have a bigger push [to prepare the ballpark], more labor involved,” Dennis DaPra, executive vice president and general manager of PNC Park, said. “The last two weeks [of March] you will see a lot of folks in and around the ballpark.”
PNC Park’s preparation is a yearlong endeavor, but a lot of work is done in March in order to maximize sunlight and to avoid fighting the elements, officials said. Cleaning, maintaining the field and stadium and working with Pittsburgh’s emergency services are the norm this time of year.
Managers of The Beer Market, a new neighbor of the ballpark, also are beginning their final preparations in anticipation of the Pirates’ home opener against the Cubs on Monday, March 31. This is an ideal time to communicate with beverage distributors to make sure the restaurant has enough inventory for when it opens the patio when the weather gets warmer. It’s also a good time to hire and train new employees, Sarah Shaffer, the business’ manager, said.
“In the past month, we’ve been actively hiring for our seasonal help. We’re on a very low staff right now,” the Lawrenceville native, 26, said.
Jack Hunt, owner of Atria’s restaurant, which is located in PNC Park, said the offseason has been quieter than it was last year. A month before opening day in 2013, his restaurant was under renovation, giving the establishment a more modern look and adding more seating at the bar in preparation to accommodate the baseball crowds.
Hunt and Shaffer noted that business has slowed down since the end of the season, but there still has been a healthy stream of customers coming in thanks to a variety of sources, from Steeler games to events in the Cultural District. The main obstacle for Hunt’s business over the winter was the season’s elements.
“Weather has a big deterrent on restaurants because if the media is telling everyone not to go out and they see a snowflake, usually they don’t go out,” Hunt said.
Weather has been an issue for PNC Park’s upkeep as well. Although the park had gone under winterization, the record colds did create some complications that needed to be attended to, DaPra said.
“Even though we maintain and do winterization, you still have those chances of broken pipes,” he said. “It was something we were prepared for. As long as you are prepared for it, you can react to it in the proper manner and mitigate the amount of damage that could occur.”
The cold has been a bit kinder for John Sabitino, the co-owner of the sports apparel shop You’re in Steeler Country. Usually most of the transactions the Forbes Avenue shop makes this time of year consist of winter gear and St. Patrick’s Day-styled shirts, but Sabitino is starting to see his patrons’ interests shift to clothing of the boys of summer, and he knows that he will have to supply the demand.
“Normally in the offseason, there wouldn’t be anything,” Sabitino said. “It’s still a little early yet, but they’re starting to ask for stuff.”
Even though the team has been dormant for months, the area has not. DaPra credits that to the businesses around the park, which allows PNC “to breathe” during the winter and spring training.
“PNC Park is a destination point,” Hunt said. “Even when there’s no Pirates.”