The mid-evening sun in August is scorching. It burns the retinas, the skin, the senses, and dulls the spirit -- perhaps because it tires the body driving it, perhaps due to something deeper within. The river augments both the imagery and intensity; the water is a double-edged sword: blinding to the eyes, but its breeze is relieving to the skin, if only for a brief respite.
This scene receives no national coverage, no extreme displays of fanfare, and offers no opportunity for a golden moment retained within the public persona. And yet, stationed within this barrage of heavy, soggy heat and obscurity, there they are -- the fans -- and there it is -- Highmark Stadium.
This, quite simply, is a Riverhounds game.
The surroundings alone show clear reverence for what the Steelers have done with Heinz Field -- not for its size or its overall grandeur, but for its serene position along the Monongahela as it splits from the Point. The rivers, despite their reputation for uncleanliness and exciting ride along a path of lead, are the wellspring of Pittsburgh's geographical heartbeat, and the Riverhounds organization did well in choosing a location that can connect to it. The crowd that amasses before the game, its humble numbers notwithstanding, seem to draw power from the three rivers, demonstrating the same ferocity, anticipation, and propensity for binge drinking as any fan of another local sports team. It's a heartening show of support for a team that must work desperately to make its imprint in a city that offers so many outlets for competitive sports.
|A view from Highmark Stadium. I had an incisive quip to shove in here, but decided to save it for later.|
Then there's also a soccer game.
That is, if I'm to be honest, a different story.
After witnessing two sinful attempts at a touch into space and several immediate passes that land directly in possession of the other team, the clean, modern design of the stadium and view of the river rushing by the city are quickly nullified. Chalking it up to cold legs and early-game jitters, the eyes forgive, though the mind is skeptical; "just getting warmed into the game," you concede.
Another thirty minutes of straight-line, obvious runs in attack, a disappointing commitment to textbook tactics, and goal-scoring opportunities that arise more from player error than a profound understanding of time and space, and a beer run becomes imminent by necessity.
Which, fairly, leads me to my next point and -- maybe, maybe not -- my greatest discovery about Highmark Stadium and Riverhounds game: relatively speaking, beer is affordable here. That's right, Magic Hat #9 16 oz. bottles are only $4 and serve to make this experience a more reasonable choice for a social gathering than, unfortunately, a showing of soccer acumen.
There is, of course, one final cause that can draw you to a Riverhounds game: the gratifying reminder that you are only (the refusal of) a couple orders of nachos removed from breaking the big time as a United Soccer League semi-professional soccer player.
Nothing is quite as smoothing to the spirit as attending a (semi-)professional performance event and being able to say with conviction, "A little bit of work, and I could do that," and a Riverhounds game can provide this sensation in staggering proportions.
Of course, you can't do "that," because you're several too deep and you've already been warned once by the part-time security guard about your excessive volume. But these warnings, these limitations can never suppress your ability to dream of the top -- the day you could play down at a stadium and then waste your salary later that night at Buckhead('s)*.
Don't let the dream die.
*By the way, it's called Buckhead Saloon, but I, as well as the rest of the city, depend upon the non-proper pluralization of or addition of a possessive 's' to proper nouns -- I know most of you just said "JCPenney's" and "Giant Eagles," or perhaps "Iggles," in your head -- to survive, so bear with me.