Friday, October 19, 2012

Pittsburgh's Moustache Man

Pittsburgh could be home to the next winner of the Robert Goulet Memorial Moustached American of the Year Award.  A Mount Washington gentleman, aptly named Adam Paul Causgrove, is in the running for a prestigious national facial hair award with his finely groomed handlebar moustache.   Mr. Causgrove beat out nearly 900 entrants to qualify as a finalist by the American Moustache Institute (AMI). 

Who is Adam Paul Causgrove?  Well, according to his profile and diligent interviewing skills, he is a fixture in the nonprofit scene around Pittsburgh.  For example, he has run Tailgreat for over six years; a yearly tailgate which benefits charities such as Steps to Independence and the Pittsburgh Animal League. Adam also spearheaded the creation of Mt. Washington Olympia dog park and is a founding member of Side Project, Inc., a group committed to helping local non profits receive government grants and funding. Causgrove's infamous upper lip has also become the real life mascot, Sir Reginald, of Old Frothingslosh beer and Penn t-shirt company.  The 28-year-old University of Pittsburgh graduate can also be seen umpiring softball games for the Pittsburgh Sports League.  This moustache is totally genuine as Mr. Causgrove has dedicated several years of grooming and ordering countless jars of Captain Fawcett's Moustache Wax from England to perfect the look.   Men around Pittsburgh absolutely love the stache, going out of their way to give him a high-five or buying him a beer.   

Pittsburghers, Adam Paul Causgrove needs your help: voting for the Robert Goulet Memorial Moustached American of the Year is taking place a and ends on October 27, 2012.  The winner will be announced at ‘Stache Bash 2012, presented by Wahl Trimmers.  Adam faces tough competition as longtime NFL coach Jeff Fisher, MLB umpire Jim Joyce, and Indiana Gubernatorial candidate John Gregg are among 14 finalists this year.  Past winners include Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford (2011), and Tim Galvin (2008), a retired New York City police detective.  This honor also places Causgrove among the pantheon of great Pittsburgh celebrity staches as The Blast Furnace has added him to the acclaimed Famous Pittsburgh Mustaches list.  The handlebar style pays homage to the Pittsburgh's classic Industrial Revolution look worn by robber barons and mill workers alike.

Follow-up October 29, 2012:  Adam Paul Causgrove was named the winner of the Robert Goulet Memorial Moustached American of the Year Award receiving 66% of the 1.3 million votes cast.  Adam was announced the winner at 'Stache Bash 2012 in ArizonaCongrats to Mr. Causgrove!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Witnessing a No-hitter


The Pirates and Reds headed into the sixth inning on a cool autumn Friday night and a buzz began throughout the PNC Park crowd of 34,796.  Reds pitcher Homer Bailey had not allowed a single hit to the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates.  As the game progressed more excitement began to generate. 

Some typical Pittsburgh fans of course began their traditional early exit from the park. My friends and I figured that they either were totally oblivious to what was happening or they were worried that their car was going to turn into a pumpkin at 10:00pm.  We were not surprised.  Sitting in the stands, I was conflicted on how to react to a potential no-hitter.  On one hand I wanted the Pirates to get that one hit to avoid another embarrassment in yet another disappointing season.  On the other hand, I wanted to witness a no-hitter in person since it is such a rare feat.  The ninth inning arrived and I decided to root for Bailey. 

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Pirates outfielder Alex Presley came to the plate, fans were on their feet to witness history.  Presley quickly popped out to the outfield grass to Reds second baseman Brandon Philips to clinch the no-hitter.  This was the seventh no-hitter this season and 279th all time.  Homer Bailey's final line was 9 IP, 0 runs, 0 hits, 10 K, and 1 BB.  The Reds right-hander had allowed only two base runners during the course of the game, a walk and another Pirate reached on a fielding error. 

The Pirates had not been no-hit since Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson performed the feat in 1971.  Being a huge baseball fan, this was one of those moments that any enthusiast had to see once in a lifetime.  Friends and I took the opportunity to savor the masterpiece that we just witnessed, snapping photos of the throng of Bailey's teammates congratulating him near the mound and the scoreboard displaying the 0's lining the Pirates line score.  Sure there were some fans who seemed upset and displayed apathy to the event as this was an exclamation point to the Pirates historic collapse. 

This rare accomplishment is something I may never see again in person so it was appropriate to soak it all in.  I just cannot imagine the thrill this would have been had a Pirate tossed a hit less game.  What's next to cross off on this baseball fan's bucket list?  A perfect game? Visiting classic ballparks around the country?  A World Series win by the hometown team will suit me just fine.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Mon Valley and the Whiskey History of Pittsburgh

This piece is contributed by a family member who did some research on Pittsburgh whiskey, specifically Schenley, for which his mother worked in the 1930's. Thanks Highland Park Pete!

All of this was prompted by a curiosity I found online about a San Francisco micro-distillery, High West Distillery and Saloon, bringing back the Schenley brand.

The topic is Monongahela Rye whiskey--you may remember it from a school course in colonial Pittsburgh history.

Mon Rye was first distilled by the Scots-Irish frontiersmen, that great Presbyterian majority who first settled the Monongahela Valley, after the founding of Pittsburgh in 1758.

Why rye? The flood plains of the Mon River, where the many now-dismal steel towns sit, were fertile lands, and the fur traders and such first noticed that the Indians grew there corn on these sites. Queen Aliquippa, ironically who ruled from what not McKeesport (where the Yough meets the Mon), had a large corn plantation there. But the European settlers grew old-fashioned grains, especially wheat and rye. Even though Mon flour brought a good price (one booster historian quotes that in 1800 Mon grain flour "is celebrated in foreign markets, for its superiority, and it generally sells for a dollar more per barrel in New Orleans than any other American grain.")

That said, converting rye to alcohol was even more profitable than milling flour (or trading animals furs and ginseng root, the other two main activities of the early French and English traders here).

By the 1770s in the Mon Valley there were more than 1200 stills, says one historian, run by the Scots-Irish, who had learned the trade back in the Highlands of Scotland. Beyond the local market (themselves), they shipped their whiskey downriver to St. Louis and to New Orleans, and from there by ship first to the East Coast, and some eventually to Europe, via a trading network with their clansmen back in Glasgow, Scotland. (There were also pack horse caravans running the whiskey back East to Philadelphia, to Ben Franklin and his cronies I suppose, but the shipping by water was cheaper, they say.)

This is the first Western Pennsylvania economic boom. Alexander Hamilton, who in New York was trying to figure out how raise revenue the new federal government, still indebted by the cost of the American Revolution, first thought to tax the frontier whiskey trade, thus causing the famous Whiskey Rebellion in Pittsburgh in 1794, the first use of federal troops to crush it. This is thought to also be the first use of federal force to suppress American people.

So the Mon Valley was the Whiskey Valley before it was the Steel Valley. That's an under-appreciated thought, even for me.

Mon Rye whiskey remained famous along the American East Coast, especially among sailors, who had experience carrying to Europe as well as drinking in port.

So here's where the great American novelist Herman Melville enters the story. I only read this novel, "Moby Dick," recently.

I read it in Chapter 84, a crazy chapter in which the narrator fantasizes about that the whale they've just harpooned, who is spouting red blood, should rather be sprouting Old Monongahela whiskey. He'd actually make a punch of it in the hole carved into the corpse of the beast.

So this is the proof text, which I now had time to find, the first literary reference that I've ever found to the Mon's Valley's pre-industrial whiskey fame:

MOBY DICK; OR THE WHALE by Herman Melville (1851)
Chapter 84:

. . . Look now at Stubb; a man who from his humorous, deliberate coolness and equanimity in the direst emergencies, was specially qualified to excel in pitchpoling. Look at him; he stands upright in the tossed bow of the flying boat; wrapt in fleecy foam, the towing whale is forty feet ahead. Handling the long lance lightly, glancing twice or thrice along its length to see if it be exactly straight, Stubb whistlingly gathers up the coil of the wrap in one hand, so as to secure its free end in his grasp, leaving the rest unobstructed. Then holding the lance full before his waistband's middle, he levels it at the whale; when, covering him with it, he steadily depresses the butt-end in his hand, thereby elevating the point till the weapon stands fairly balanced upon his palm, fifteen feet in the air. He minds you somewhat of a juggler, balancing a long staff on his chin. Next moment with a rapid, nameless impulse, in a superb arch the bright steel spans the foaming distance, and quivers in the life spot of the whale. Instead of sparkling water, he now spouts red blood.

"That drove the spigot out of him!" cried Stubb. "'Tis July's immortal Fourth; all fountains must run wine today! Would now, it were old Orleans whiskey, or old Ohio, or unspeakable Old Monongahela! Then, Tashtego, lad, I'd have ye hold a canakin to the jet, and we'd drink round it! Yea, verily, hearts alive, we'd brew choice punch in the spread of his spout-hole there, and from that live punch-bowl quaff the living stuff."

Rye whiskeys remained popular in the 19th century, although Kentucky whiskeys made from corn became the new fashion.

In 1900 a Pittsburgh chemist named "Frank Sinclair found an underground stream above the junction of the Kiskiminetas and Allegheny Rivers in Pennsylvania. With his charcoal expertise, Sinclair concluded that this stream water was ideal for making whiskey. Around 1900 he acquired the land from Mary Schenley and began what later became known as a Schenley distillery." [This junction is also where the flotsam & jetsam of the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889 fame, floated by, and where early Ford Citians went to watch it float by.)

Schenley--not the high school, is an unincorporated place on the Allegheny just 8 miles south of Ford City and nearly opposite from Freeport. Remember, in 1933 Prohibition had been repealed. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took over the liquor monopoly, and to ease fears about the safety of alcoholic beverages--too many people had died from moonshine, right?--so the state affixed a seal over the whiskey bottle's cap, as a sign of safety, purity, etc.

In the early 20th century Schenley and Seagram's whiskey were the big brands, I've read, and they each morphed or died off in the 1970s and the Schenley plant was closed and abandoned shortly thereafter. The Schenley whiskey of the 1960s was a "blended rye" imported from Canada.

So, a Canadian import using an "olde formula" from the 18th-century Mon Valley.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Pittsburgh Bucket List

The Pittsburgh Skyline from Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington / Incline - take an incline up to Mt. Washington for a breathtaking view of the city of Pittsburgh. Enjoy the fine dining atop the Mount

Kennywood Park - classic American amusement park, complete with wooden roller coaster, Potato Patch fries, nostalgia and lasting memories

Cathedral of Learning - the tallest educational buidling in the western hemisphere. Take tour the Nationality Rooms found inside the University of Pittsburgh's crown jewel, also take a ride up to the top and see the entire city of Pittsburgh

Phipps Conservatory - historic flora gardens located in Schenley Park.

Carnegie Museums: Oakland - The Natural History museum features a fantastic collection of dinosaur fossils, gems and minerals, and artifacts from ancient worlds. Museum of Art displays collections of traditional art from Europe and the United States.

Heinz History Center - located in the Strip District this museum tells the story of Western PA and also features changing exhibits, and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

Andy Warhol Museum - the Pittsburgh native's best collection of original Warhols anywhere in the world.

Carnegie Science Center - hands-on exhibits, live demonstrations, and spectacular movies that teach us a lot about how we work and how the world around us operates.

Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium - one of the major zoo and aquariums in the nation, exhibits more than 4,000 animals representing 475 species, including 20 threatened or endangered species. Located in the Highland Park section of the city

National Aviary - America's largest aviary and home to over 600 animals representing about 200 species located on the North Side

Visit the Children's Museum

Visit the Frick Art and Historical Center - also known as "Clayton" located in Point Breeze, this was the home of the controversial Gilded Age industrialist, Henry Clay Frick, and now serves as a museum complete with a cafe

Station Square - indoor and outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment complex

South Side bar crawl -  the quintessential Pittsburgh night life scene, it is said to have more bars per block/capita than almost anywhere else in the U.S.  Classics like Mario's and Jack's are good starters for tourists and you can certainly find some diamonds in the rough in this bar paradise

Strip District - shop for food at the wholesale markets, ethnic grocers and street vendors.  Wholey's, Benkovitz,  Parma, and Pennsylvania Macaroni Company are just some of the classic places to shop.  Restaurants, clubs, and live music also dominate the neighborhood.

Attend a Cultural District event - watch the Pittsburgh Sympothy Orchestra at Heinz Hall, see a show at the Byham Theater, Benedum Center, August Wilson Center, or O'Reilly Theater, and fine dine in this section of Downtown Pittsburgh

Tour the neighborhoods - eat, drink, shop, and walk the unique neighborhoods (90 total) that make up the city of Pittsburgh: Bloomfield, Downtown, East Liberty, Highland Park, Lawrenceville, Mt. Washington, North Side, Oakland, Regent Square, Shadyside, South Side, Squirrel Hill, Strip District.

Attend a Steeler game - get to the Heinz Field parking lots early to tailgate for the big game on Sunday.  Few NFL teams can match the gameday experience of Pittsburgh's historical professional football franchise.

Pirate game at PNC Park - The Pittsburgh skyline, one of the greatest backdrops in all of baseball.  This park always makes national top 5 ballpark lists.  Great food, beer selection, affordable tickets, and finally what looks to be a good baseball product.
Attend a Penguin game

Attend a Pitt football game

Attend a Pitt basketball game - be a part of the Oakland Zoo and root on the perennial Top 25 Panthers

Attend a high school football game - always a chance you'll be watching a highly recruited star and future NFL player from one of the many Western PA powerhouse programs.

Travel to Bradenton, FL for Pirates Spring Training

Watch Steelers Training Camp at St. Vincent College

Attend the Big East Basketball Tournament in New York's Madison Square Garden - The 2012-2013 season will be the last BET as we have come to know and love over the years as Pitt and Syracuse exit the conference for the ACC.

Own a Terrible Towel

See a U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club

Ice skate at the PPG Ice Rink

Sandcastle - waterpark located along the Mon featuring waterslides, a wavepool, and a lazy river

Shop at the Waterfront - catch a movie, shop, or dine in this vast open air shopping center built over the former site of US Steel's Homestead Steel Works plant.

Shop at Ross Park Mall - the premier upscale mall located in the North Hills where all of the new money resides

Take a ride on the Gateway Clipper - docked at Station Square, cruise the Three Rivers through locks and dams on either the Majestic, Empress, Good Ship Lollipop, Princess or Countess

Ride the "T" - take a trip to the South Hills of Pittsburgh on Pittsburgh's Light Rail System

Ride the PAT Bus

Gotta Regatta - Get dahn to Point State Park for the annual motorboat and river festival.  Eat, watch fireworks and be entertained.

Watch fireworks - Pittsburghers love fireworks and there's plenty of opportunities to see them.  New Years Eve, Pirate games, 4th of July, Regatta, Light up Night, etc.  Watch them from Mt. Washington, the Point, or PNC Park

Idlewild Park - amusement park in Ligonier that also features a water park - Soak Zone, Storybook Forest and Jumping Jungle

Visit Fallingwater - house designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 located in the Laurel Highlands.  Listed among Smithsonian's Life List of 28 places "to visit before you die."

Visit the Laurel Highlands - located in Fayette County:  go whitewater rafting at Ohiopyle, visit Ft. Necessity, the site of a French and Indian War battle in 1754 that saw George Washington surrender to the French, and tour the largest cave in PA, the Laurel Caverns

Drink Local - Local Beers to sample include:  Iron City, Duquesne, Penn Brewery, East End, and Church Brew Works.

St. Patrick's Day Parade - Said to be the 2nd largest St Patrick's Day Parade in the country and where where it is socially acceptable to crack a beer or ten by 8am, bars, restaurants and streets vendor's serve up green beer for all of the "Irish"

Attend Oktoberfest - drink mass quantities of seasonal beer at Penn Brewery, Church Brew Works, or Hofbrauhaus in late September

Attend a fire hall wedding - complete with rigatoni, friend chicken, and of course, the cookie table

Watch a Rick Sebak documentary - mostly filmed in the late 80s and 90's these documentaries really capture the people, places, history and spirit of the Steel City.  Some of the classics include:  Kennywood Memories, Something About Oakland, The Strip Show, South Side, Things That Aren't There Anymore, Pittsburgh A to Z and Stuff That's Gone

Sit in traffic - your bound to find major congestion in and out of the city during rush hour whether it be sitting on the Parkway East waiting to get into the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, gridlock at the intersection of 51 and 88, constant construction on Rt. 28, coming to a grinding halt on the Parkway West atop Green Tree Hill, or navigating the confusing and congested Downtown streets.

Listen to 102.5 WDVE while sitting in traffic - classics like the Morning Show, Electric Lunch, or legendary DJ Sean McDowell for your requests and afternoon drive home.

Gamble at the Rivers Casino

Little Italy Days - Bloomfield, Pittsburgh's Little Italy; a three-day festival held every September that celebrates Italian-American culture and heritage with music, contests, dancing, children's activities and food.

Swim in Dormont Pool - every year community members must pony-up to "Save the Dormont Pool" from being closed due to lack of funding so enjoy a nice swim off of Banksville Rd.

See a concert at Star Lake Amphitheatre - as of now called First Niagara Pavilion.  Where concert goers travel more for the party than the music.  Legendary tailgates are found in the vast parking lot. 

See a concert at Stage AE - Pittsburgh's newest concert venue, the perfect size to see a show

Take a walk in the park(s) - Schenley Park, Frick Park, North Park, and South Park make for a great time to enjoy the fresh air

Visit Hartwood Acres - see a concert, summer theater, and the outdoor holiday light show - the Festival of Lights

Pittsburgh Parking Chair - Place a chair on the street to save your parking space

Go to Light up Night - Each November every downtown building lights up to celebrate the upcoming holiday season accompanied by a fireworks display and the Christmas tree display

Shop for chocolate at Sarris Candies in Canonsburg - No better place to shop for Easter candy, delicious, creative molds of your favorite cartoon characters, sports, and everyday items.  Also treat yourself to some ice cream at their adjoining ice cream parlor

Visit Overy's Country Christmas at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds - where else can you find a light-up jail house, and a random dinosaur while sipping hot chocolate over an open fire.  The display is topped off with a giant light-up Snoopy watching over baby Jesus in his manger.

Read Out of this Furnace - a historical novel set in Braddock, PA following a Slovak immigrant family's struggle working in the steel mills.  Describes working conditions, typical family life, and idealism of early 20th century working class Pittsburgh.

Dress in Pittsburgh Casual for school, work, church, or a night out on the town

Pick a pumpkin from Trax Farms - spend an autumn evening in the Finleyville farm then sample some delicious apple cider

Walk through the Three Rivers Art's Festival - annual event held in Point State Park and Gateway Center that includes outdoor concerts, art market, and food.  Don't forget to bring an umbrella.

Kick off the fall season at the Rib Festival - whether it be at Heinz Field or the South Park Fairgrounds one can expect this.

Visit the Roberto Clemente Museum - this little known museum is nestled in Lawrenceville honors the legendary ballplayer.

Watch the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix in Schenley Park

Watch the Delvin Miller Adios - one of the biggest harness races in the country held at the Meadows Racetrack and Casino.  Bet and get up close to the racing action at this yearly event.


Primanti Brothers - meat, lettuce, tomatos, french fries and cole slaw in between two slices of Italian bread, a Pittsburgh classic.  Featured on countless food and travel shows and tourist attraction
The Original Hot Dog Shop - eat a hot dog and have a heaping helping of fries

The Original Oyster House - eat a Pittsburgh favorite, the fish sandwich

Eat'n Park - Pittsburgh chain known for their Smiley Cookies

Mineo's Pizza House - Always ranked as one of the top pizza joints in the burgh with two locations, the original in Squirrel Hill and Mt. Lebanon

Quaker Steak & Lube - original location in Sharon, PA, but Pittsburgh has adopted the restaurant that is known for their wings

Pamela's - The hotcakes were given the Presidential Seal of Approval by President Obama as he makes this a stop on his visits to Pittsburgh.  Owners Gail Klingensmith and Pamela Cohen were even invited to the White House to cook for a Memorial Day Event

Deluca's - featured on the Travel Channel's Man v. Food this Strip District joint is known for their dessert like pancakes, breakfast burritos, and monstrous omelettes

The Triangle Bar & Grill - eat a 26" Battleship sandwhich that can feed a family at this Swissvale bar.  Once a haven for steel workers employed at the neighboring mills.

For other places to eat click here


Chipped Ham - buy this depression era creation of thinly sliced ham at the local deli.  Good for sandwiches and ham barbecues.  This lunch meat is sorely missed by displaced Pittsburghers.

Fish Fry - during the lenten season, many Catholic churches serve up jumbo fish sandwhiches with sides of macaroni and cheese and haluski

Pierogies -  they don't hold pierogi races at PNC Park for nothing

Kielbasi and sauerkraut

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Krazy Dogz: A Delectable Treat

On any typical night on the South Side once the bars are beginning to close many Yinzers are always happy to stop for a slice of pizza, gyro, or a Primanti sandwich before heading home. What does not usually come to mind is stopping for a Hot Dog. Out of coincidence a few Blast Furnace members happened to pass Krazy Dogz on Carson Street before heading into Kopy's and later Bar 11. As the night was winding down we were a bit hungry and decided to check out Krazy Dogz to see what they had to offer. This was one of the best decisions we have made for late night snacking in quite some time and we are all sure to stop back.

Krazy Dogz is conveniently located at 1220 East Carson Street right in the heart of all of the night time shenanigans of the South Side. Upon entering we were welcomed by three friendly employees who chatted with us about how long they have been open and the highs and lows of business. The service was quick and they were helpful to point out the different ways that we could design our dogs.

The menu is very extensive.  Krazy Dogz has a wide variety of their own unique creations and a topping bar which patrons can use to design their own dog as well. All hot dogs are 100% pure beef franks and come on a nice soft bun. I was tempted to design my own dog, but since it was my first visit I decided that I would try one of their own signature creations. I went with the "Hot" Dog and the Fiesta Dog. The "Hot" Dog was covered in jalapenos, nacho cheese, diced hot peppers, and your choice of hot sauce. This dog has a great burn to it and made you want to eat another. The toppings were loaded onto the dog and not an inch was bare. Even if you don't like spicy foods, this is able to be handled and is an enjoyable experience. The dogs were two for $5 so for my second I had the Fiesta Dog which is loaded with chili, cheese, salsa, corn chips, lettuce, tomato, black olives, and onion. Think of it as a taco on a hot dog. This dog was so unique that eating one would have you repeating this order many times in the future.  I can't wait to try some of their other items.

Not only were the dogs delectable, but the price was perfect. How can you beat two gourmet Hot Dogs loaded with toppings for $5? The toppings and price are what separate these dogs from the rest of the pack. As someone who has sworn allegiance to The Original in Oakland everyone can admit that their prices and toppings can both be improved. Krazy Dogz beats out all of its competition in these two categories.  Krazy Dogz is sure to become a staple for Yinzers craving a great food experience that will satisfy their taste buds after bar-hopping, taking a lunch break, or taking a stroll dahn Carson Street in the middle of the day.

Bigelow_Blvd gives Krazy Dogz 6/6 Irons and hopes to return soon.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Pittsburgh: Yinz Probly Think Dis Song Is Abaut You

It sure has been a busy year for Pittsburgh.  Even when our sports teams are not winning championships, the city is earning accolades that may trump them all.  Most Livable City, Worst Dressed, Home of the Cross-dressing Beauty Queen are just some of the recent crowns to be proud of, but pride is the theme of the newest notch on the belt of Pittsburgh as Pittsburgh has just been named #6 on Men's Health Magazine's "America's Top 10 Vainest Cities."

That is right Pittsburgh now sits alongside of some of its arch nemeses such as Dallas (5), Tampa (1), and Plano, TX (2). At first, I thought that this moniker was kind of ridiculous considering the fact that we were named one of the worst dressed cities, but I suppose this just adds to the fact that even if we dress poorly, we think we look great. Some of the reasons cited for being vain include the number of tanning salons, number of people going for hair-dye jobs, and the high per-capita volume of plastic surgeons. Take a walk dahn da South Side or the Strip and I'm not sure that we would really see super models, but apparently the facts speak for themselves.

I am sure that Yinzers far and wide will have varied views of this new title for the city, but as Miyoshi Anderson, a model and executive director of Pittsburgh Fashion Week, says, "When you hear staggering number of diabetes and obesity, it makes people more aware of their appearance and the importance of looking great and feeling great."

Could our unhealthy food addictions and heavy beer drinking have been the driving force to becoming vain? We may never know. So the next time someone says that Yinzers are full of themselves, just say, "damn right yinz jagoffs."

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's a NHL Draft Night in Pittsburgh

View of Pittsburgh on Draft Eve
After all the celebration and fanfare, the 2012 NHL Entry draft is set to begin tonight at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

Many of the sports finest young talents will descend on Pittsburgh tonight to find out what team they will be playing for in the near future.  Some of that talent is located close to home, with potential first-round pick Michael Houser raised in Wexford.  It is unlikely that Houser will be drafted by his childhood dream team Pittsburgh Penguins, as his position is that of goaltender.  Pens GM Ray Shero all but ruled out taking a goalie in the first round, stating "I don't think so...I don't think that's what we'd do."

In any case, the major news of the day is the likely departure of fan favorite Jordan Staal, who turned down a 10 year extension worth reportedly $60 million last night. Rumors are now circulating as to why he turned it down and his potential future.  Will he go to Carolina to be with his two brothers?  Or will he land in Toronto, near his hometown of Thunder Bay?  These answers could potentially be answered before tonight's draft begins, and the anticipation is very high.

Time to sound off.  In your opinion, what should the Penguins do?  Trade him right now, for some potential draft talent?  Or hold on to him the whole year for one more cup run?  Whatever happens, it will be front page NHL news.  Staal is set to be the second hottest unrestricted free agent behind Rick Nash next summer, so something is bound to occur.  Enjoy the draft.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Needles Pricks Pittsburgh and the Nation

Add yet another honor to the city of Pittsburgh. This time Pittsburgh has shown that it is not only the most livable city and the new trendiest city in America, but Yinzers can hang their hat on the fact that the 'Burgh is home to the winner of the most recent edition of RuPaul's Drag Race. Winner, Sharon Needles is a Bloomfield resident who has been seen as not only the winner of the popular TV show, but also as a symbol for Anti-Bullying and LGBT pride.

Needles was honored by the Pittsburgh City Council on June 12. Outside of the drag circle Needles is otherwise known as 30-year-old Aaron Coady. Needles has used her position throughout her life to push for LGBT rights. This has not come without risk as the fire department is currently investigating a suspicious fire at her residence and she has even thought of moving out of the city due to peoples’ unwillingness to be tolerant and hateful towards the way she lives.

Needles has brought another honor to the city of Pittsburgh further exemplifying Pittsburgh as a hip, modern city that is open and progressive. Congratulations to Sharon Needles on her accomplishments as she moves forward as a symbol for the LGBT community.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Concert Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers "I'm With You" tour made its way to the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on May 30 and they did not disappoint.  Although this was the first appearance by the Chili Peppers in the 'burgh since 2003 legendary bassist Flea made sure to remind the crowd of their history in the city going back to the days of playing Graffiti, "We've been coming here for 30 years now, and every time has been better than the last!"  Hearing from others this may indeed have been a true statement.  The buzz from friends and media it sounded as if the Chili Peppers weren't a great live band.  After hearing criticism and seeing a few live concerts on TV my expectations were a bit tempered going in, but this show was great.  Fellow Blast Furnace contributor Ben State who had seen them twice before believed this was the best that they have sounded as well.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers opened the show with "Monarchy of Roses" a hit single from 2011's "I'm With You" album.  The setlist consisted of hits from the majority of their popular albums from the 90's through 2011, the most being from 1991's classic "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" and their newest album "I'm With You."  Absent were songs from "One Hot Minute."  Personally I would have liked to hear a few more songs from one of my favorite albums "Californication," but the Chili Peppers covered most of their classics.  There were a couple of jam sessions mixed into the setlist as well, featuring Flea, new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, and Chad Smith on drums.  Flea was definitely the highlight of the show by displaying his slap and slide techniques which were incredible to watch and hear live.  Newest addition Josh Klinghoffer filled in admirably for the departed John Frusciante.  A few of the older songs you could tell Kinghoffer didn't have the same skill as Frusciante, but Frusciante is considered one of the all-time great guitarists making him difficult to duplicate.  Frontman Anthony Kiedis displayed his range and talents by making the smooth vocal transitions between rock, hip-hop, and funk; the sounds that made the Chili Peppers a legendary band.  The show lasted approximately two hours and the band played almost non-stop without much chatter or interaction with the audience. 

The Consol Energy Center has hosted several legendary musical acts in its first two years of existence and the Red Hot Chili Peppers delighted the sold-out crowd.  Being a teenager in the 90's, the Chili Peppers were one of those bands that you just had to see and they certainly lived up to their Hall of Fame status on this night.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Avengers: Reignition of Comic Book Genre

It has been quite some time that I have walked out of a comic book genre movie and been as satisfied as I was after seeing The Avengers last week. Like I stated in most of my comic book movie reviews I consider myself a fringe fan of comics, but am sure to check out the majority of their movie counterpart upon release. I could not have told you off of the top of my head who all of The Avengers are or why and how they come to work together, but that did not stop my enjoyment of this spring blockbuster.

Joss Whedon did a spectacular job writing and directing The Avengers. The plot was intense most of the time and allowed me to engage with each one of the characters' personalities. With so many Avengers, I thought that it would be hard to do so, but Whedon was able to interweave each of their stories so that the casual comic book fan (such as myself) would be able to understand the motives behind each of The Avengers attachment to the group as a whole. Comedy was well placed and the struggle between each of the dominant characters was never too much.

It took a while for the heart of the plot to really get going, but this allowed the beginning of the movie to introduce the purpose of The Avengers.   Basically, the government enlists the help of each Avenger in order to fight off what we can't.  Each Avenger holds back at first, but once their emotions are plucked it is game on for the movie.  I really enjoy the genesis of the super heroes; although this was slow it was an integral part of my movie experience.  Once that passed the plot took great turns and the 2.5 hour movie seemed like only an hour. It never bored me nor left me wanting more...I was satisfied upon completion.

From my perspective there was no real main character, but Iron Man played by Robert Downey Jr. seemed to steal the show even though Loki, who is the villain, is the brother of Thor. Speaking of Loki, Tom Hiddleston did a wonderful job in this role and allowed me to see him not as the whining twit he was in Thor, but a demonic figure instead.

The Avengers was a great start to the traditional summer action movies and is one that should not be missed.

Pills gives The Avengers 5/6 Irons.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Obituary of a Legendary Eatery II: Vincent's Pizza Park

It looks as if another part of Pittsburgh's history has gone and passed. Now all that remains of Vincent's Pizza Park in Forest Hills are the memories of arguably the best pizza in Pittsburgh. Vincent's closed its doors for the final time as the current owners B & C Pizza Inc. had not paid rent since June 2011.

Vincent's has been a landmark in Forest Hills since Vincent Chianese first opened on Ardmore Boulevard in 1950. Chianese began tossing pies in 1947 in San Francisco alongside his uncle. He returned to Pittsburgh and worked nights as a fireman for the Union Railroad and after saving up enough money Vincent opened his own pizzeria. Chianese worked constantly at the Pizza Park until he sold the controlling interest of the business in 2005. Chianese died in March of 2012 from complications of ailments related to old age. Vincent's was a place of character as can be summed up by a sign over his oven that read, "This isn't Burger King; you take it our way, or you don't take the sonofabitch at all."

Unfortunately, I was never able to make it to Vincent's very often, but I have some great memories of delicious pizza that I wish I could have tasted one last time before it closed. There was nothing better than eating a burning hot pizza loaded with toppings, unevenly cut slices, and enough grease on it to cause a heart attack. I can remember the first time I had a Vinnie Pie after an amateur league ice hockey game. Arriving dying of hunger and pulling up to the pizzeria I had only heard stories of the greatness. We walked in to hear loud shouting, smoke-filled dining area, and the jukebox was pumping. We quickly sat down and ordered without a menu. I saw that pizza and my eyes lit up. Never had a tasted a pizza like that before.  It was always speculated that the ash from Mr. Chianese's cigarette was the secret ingredient in the tasty pie.  Some will say that Mineo's and Aiello's are tops in the city, but Vincent's had the character that neither can compare.

It is unfortunate that a second legendary eatery has closed its doors in the last year, but hopefully the legend will live on even though the pizzas will not. A slice of history is gone, but will live on in every clogged artery for years to come. Here's to you Vincent's Pizza Park. You will be missed.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Disturbance in the Stands: Part Deux

PNC Park had another episode of unruly behavior as a security supervisor lost his finger on Saturday night as he was escorting a father and daughter out of the stadium.  It all began when Rachel George, 21, of Hempfield was taken to the park's security office for smoking in her seat.  As security supervisor Joseph Risher was escorting Ms. George out of the park, her boyfriend assaulted Mr. Risher and ran away.  According to the complaint, Ms. George then jumped on Risher's back and started to pull him backward.  Rachel's father, Christopher George, 50, joined in the attack pushing the security supervisor up against a fence.  While trying to defend himself, Joseph Risher's left hand got caught in the fence and his middle finger was almost totally ripped off; left only hanging by a piece of skin.  Surgery reattached is finger. 

When Pittsburgh Police arrived, Rachel George cursed and spit on city police Detective Francis Rende, and kicked Sgt. Sean Duffy as he was placing Rachel George in a holding cell at the ballpark.  This prompted him to use a "palm strike" to the left side of her face. Sgt Duffy was treated at UPMC Mercy for a sharp pain he felt in his right shoulder after striking her.  The George's were taken to the Allegheny County Jail where they posted bail. 

Rachel and Christopher George were charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy, harassment, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness and face a preliminary hearing next week.  They have not identified Ms. George's boyfriend who fled the scene. 

This is the second publicized disturbance at PNC Park as a fan wearing a USA windbreaker was tasered and beaten by police in the stands for using excessive foul language and disrupting other fans' enjoyment of an April 2011 Pirate game. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Pittsburgh Baseball Fan in Chicago

When I found out that my job was going to be sending me to Chicago, the first thing I did was to check to see if the Cubs were in town. I've never been to Chicago before, so this was my first opportunity to check out the second oldest ball park in the Majors.

It was a Tuesday night game against St. Louis, and thanks to the Cubs stinking this season, tickets were cheap. For $12 bucks, we were able to get seats just a few rows back from the front of the upper deck, just to the first base side of home plate.

I've read in various places that Wrigley Field is a dump and should be replaced with a modern stadium, but that's anything but the case. It's different for sure. You have to enter the stadium through the correct entrance because not every entrance has access to other areas. To get to the upper deck, you have to climb some narrow staircases and catwalks. Of course, there's also the ill-placed pillars that make any seat a gamble and you can't even see the entire field from the back reaches of the lower deck because of the overhang. I'm not typically the kind of person who buys into tradition for the sake of tradition, but this place legitimately had good character.

Instead of having a old-timey feel, a la PNC Park, Wrigley is the real deal. The brick and mortar construction with exposed steelwork have the feel of being less-than-perfectly hand built in a good way. The kind of place that was built to suit a purpose and to last for as long as possible. Everything felt well-maintained and still capable of handling a 40,000+ capacity crowd.

Once in your seats, the biggest difference from most stadiums is that everything is focused on the baseball. There's no big screen, no music, no between inning entertainment. Just lights, an old school organ, and PA announcer. I also made sure to have an Old Style and Chicago dog to complete the authentic viewing experience.

Almost as good as the ball park experience itself was the trip to the field. A nice cab ride from downtown along Lakeshore Drive went quick and it was impressive to see the scores of people out enjoying the nice weather. As you near the stadium, you drive through an upscale neighborhood of rowhouse and then, bam, there's the stadium, right in the middle of a residentail neighborhood. Makes me wish I could someday retire on a side street near to PNC, hit up a bar on my walk to the park, and catch a game most summer nights.

Chicago was an impressive city overall, but more than any of the attractions I saw when I was there, going to Wrigley was the highlight of the trip. I'd recommend making it your first priority while in Chicago the next opportunity you get.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bar 11, Chaos in a Bar

Ever wonder what celebrating New Year's, Halloween, and being at a rave party (without the crappy music) at the same time would be like?  Bar 11 will fulfill that desire almost every night of the week.  Bar 11, located on Bradish Street in Pittsburgh's South Side, may just be the craziest bar in the 'burgh.  Two blocks from the intersection of 12th and Carson sits a nondescript two-story building which looks to be part of an apartment building.  The only distinction between the main entrance of the bar and the rest of the doors is a plastic curtain that is attached to an awning.  The scene of a quiet street instantly transforms into a raging party atmosphere upon entrance.  Music of many genres blares throughout the narrow, hot, and crowded bar.  Neon lights constantly flash and the occasional fire ball is being blown from a bartenders mouth.  In most cases Bar 11 would be considered a dive if you could possibly see the floor or the walls, but the black lights, smoke machine, and laser lights blinds the customer to the dump this place actually is.  Festive decorations plaster the walls and ceilings which could probably be considered a fire hazard.  Although the bar is filthy don't be alarmed when you walk to the bar and the bartender is wearing a hazmat suit; this is typical attire for employees.

I cannot recall the Blast Furnace's first gathering in Bar 11, but it was definitely after being in our favorite spot, Kopy's, which is close by, but it was recommended that we try Bar 11's infamous Flaming Dr. Pepper.  Being unaware of what the Flaming Dr. Pepper consisted of we thought we'd give it a shot (pun intended).  The concoction consists of 3 parts Amaretto and 1 part 151, which is set on fire and dropped into a half pint of beer and chugged.  After preparing the drinks the bartender poured 151 on the bar, set it on fire, then blew a big fireball from his mouth.  We loved it.  We also noticed drums and symbols hung from the bar.  The bartender, possibly the owner, was pounding away on the drums to the beats of the music of the moment.  All of this contributed to the binge drinking atmosphere that this bar intentionally or unintentionally promotes. 

This is a fun bar.  Candy necklaces are routinely being handed out to customers and highlighters are available to use to draw on friends or strangers which show up only in the black lights.  A small dance floor is also a feature of the bar.  Bar 11 is a very friendly atmosphere.  You can make absurd comments to random people or draw on them with a highlighter and not worry about getting into a fight.  There is however, a police officer stationed outside just in case it gets a little too rowdy inside of this insane asylum turned bar. 
Bartender/possible owner beating away at the drums

Bar 11 is definitely the cherry on top after an already fun night out on the South Side.  Recommendations include:
1)  Do not start your night here
2)  Order a Flaming Dr. Pepper
3)  Partake in the activities (i.e. candy necklaces, highlighters, dancing) 
4)  Clorox wipe your shoes when you get home 
Bar 11 makes the inevitable hangover that you will get the next day all worthwhile.

Crepes Parisiennes: A Delightful Surprise

Being a student and living in Oakland since I graduated from Pitt in 2005 I have walked Craig Street too many times to count. There are many unique eateries and shops that always have enticed me to enter. One place that I always wanted to enter, but never did was Crepes Parisiennes located at 207 South Craig Street. There were many reasons that I never entered mainly because crepes were not something that I craved, but also because of its seemingly limited hours. That all changed this weekend as my wife suggested having a Sunday brunch there before heading out to do some shopping at the mall.

We arrived at Crepes Parisiennes at around 12:00 and were I glad that we did. From the outside Crepes is very unassuming and looks like it is not busy. Its charming exterior is really what invites customers in to a great place to brunch. The small space is very well planned with a few outside tables on Craig Street and roughly 12 tables inside. The inside is well decorated with great lighting and has the feel of a European eatery. Even though most of the tables were full, the atmosphere was quiet and calm.

Approaching the counter the customer is greeted by a large menu of sweet crepes, salty, crepes, Panini’s, salads, coffees, and other beverages. Keep in mind that Crepes is cash only so be sure to stop at the bank before entering. The menu is priced very well with the crepes being priced around $8 and sandwiches the same. A small house salad is included with the crepes or sandwich. After placing your order, select a table, and quick service results.

I ordered the Breakfast Crepe which consisted of sausage, egg, and cheese with the house Soytang sauce while my wife ordered the Mixed Vegetable and Cheese Crepe which had mushroom, spinach, and tomato with the Béchamel sauce. Both of us very more than pleased with our orders and surprisingly there was a lot of food which filled us up. The food was not heavy in the way which many American breakfasts are and made me feel full while not being bloated. The coffee was excellent (I like to consider myself a coffee connoisseur). This was a great meal and I would definitely return to try some other options.

Pills give Crepes Parisiennes 6/6 Irons. I am sure that anything on the menu is excellent, the space is open and inviting, and the price is great as well. Just be sure to have cash on hand and don't forget to leave a tip as this is truly authentic Paris because no tips were left at the table. I am sure that I will be back to this wonderful eatery on Craig Street.  Also, be sure to check the hours as they are very limited.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Hunger Games: Merely an Appetizer

Over the weekend I went to see the much hyped and anticipated movie, The Hunger Games at Loews Waterfront Theater. I was expecting a packed house even though the movie has been out for a few weeks and being at 10:40 on a Saturday night. Surprisingly, I was one of 12 in the theater. Regardless, I was eager for the movie to begin. The Hunger Games is based on the book by Suzanne Collins and from what I was told previously, "you should read the series of books before seeing the movies."  I am not sure if I was fortunate or not, but I did not invest the time in the books simply because I wanted to see what the brew-ha-ha was about.

I can separate The Hunger Games into 3 distinct parts:

Part I: The Set-up: Through a few short readings the viewer was put up to speed with the background of what the Hunger Games are, how and why they are played, and how "tributes are selected."  I always like any movie that begins or ends with a reading of the background or what happens after a movie finished so my hopes were high. Following this, the main characters emerge and we are quickly brought into the training for the games and the characters concerns. At this point I was very excited and getting into the movie.

Part II: The Hunger Games: This is where the movie lost me. The Hunger Games are played in an "arena" for all people in the Hunger Games world to view and cheer on their "tribute."  This part contained little to no meaningful dialogue and really frustrated and bored me. I really dislike extended fight scenes and I grew tired and choose to close my eyes and hope to take a snooze. I asked my wife to wake me when any dialogue began. She did and I was glad that we moved on. Although, I did watch some of the fighting I was disappointed that there was no killing actually shown and most people seemed to die of events not related to the Hunger Games. Also, the arena was strikingly similar to where the vampires and werewolves meet to fight in the Twilight saga.

Part III: The Conclusion and Love Story: This is where I really lost all hope for this movie. I can't stand when good stories (or bad stories) needlessly turn into love stories. The movie had a chance to salvage itself, but alas teen love blossoms and becomes the focal point of the movie. Now I know why high school girls were so in love with a post-apocalyptic society with fighting to the death. Enough is enough.

I went into The Hunger Games with very high expectations and that may have been why I was so disappointed with this movie or it could have been that I am not a 16 year old girl. I am also glad that I did not spend time on the books after this flop.

Pills gives The Hunger Games 2/6 Irons.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Restaurant Reviews: NOLA on the Square

Trying to figure out a place to meet someone on a first date is sometimes tricky for a Pittsburgher on a chilly spring evening.  Do you play it safe and go somewhere everyone has been? Or try one of the newer trendier spots that have been sprouting up throughout revitalized Pittsburgh neighborhoods?  Well, I chose the latter and suggested NOLA on the Square located in Market Square.  Market Square has undergone some major work over the last couple of years and this work has led to the transformation of the square into a European style piazza.  The $5.1 million renovation project that was completed in the fall of 2010 consists of new restaurants mixed with classics like Primanti’s and the Oyster House, facelifts to existing buildings, and the rerouting of vehicle traffic to promote outdoor seating and social gatherings.  NOLA is just one of the many recent additions to the historic square.
NOLA on the Square is a New Orleans themed restaurant that opened during the summer of 2011.  Features of the restaurant include outdoor patio seating, spacious bar area, and quieter dining room.  My date and I decided to go for drinks and chose the bar area to converse.  The bar was very lively, a jazz band was playing and Downtown Pittsburgh was surprisingly crowded on a Wednesday evening.  The drink menu was very diverse.  Bourbon St inspired cocktails made for an interesting and fun activity.  My date went with a Hurricane to start then went with the Bourbon Street Blues.  The bar service was exceptional, upon noticing her dislike for the strong flavor of bourbon the manager took it back and removed it from our bill.  I on the other hand selected beer from their large selection of draft and bottled beers.  We did not order meals, but we did notice Crispy Fried Alligator listed on NOLA’s appetizer menu.  Upon seeing this we immediately decided to order a plate.   The appetizer of alligator was very good with a different taste and texture that was foreign to me; it did not just “taste like chicken.”  The taste is difficult to describe; it was a bit chewy and sauce made it a little spicy.  Louisiana style entrees make up the remainder of the menu and curiosity in this cuisine is making me want to go back for a full meal. (For reviews of food click here)  NOLA is a bit on the pricey side but is on par with other trendy restaurants located in the Cultural District and Market Square.

Crispy Fried Alligator
NOLA on the Square is a nice compliment to the new-look Market Square and is a place I’d be willing to try again sometime.  I really enjoyed the atmosphere and design of the restaurant.   It was also nice to see a bustling Market Square on a weeknight.  Is the image of Downtown Pittsburgh as a ghost town after 6pm now a memory?  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves but additions like NOLA are a good start to resuscitate downtown nightlife.
Cheers! Hurricane, pickle and all

Pittsburgh Craft Brew Week!

Pittsburgh Craft Brew Week
Celebrate with some suds -- It's the beginning of Pittsburgh's craft brew week

Stretching from April 20th to the 28th, there's plenty to do including beer tastings and tasty meals.

Make sure to add the calendar of events to your schdule, it's sure to offer many fun times to the newcomer and the grizzled 'brew week' veteran alike.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pirates Season Preview

Coming of last year's surprise run to first place in July and subsequent epic collapse to a typical 4th place finish, this year's season looks to be a pretty pivotol point for the current era of Pirates baseball.

On the one hand, there is still some lingering excitement over last year. McCutchen is locked up until at least 2017 and seems like the safest option for buying a jersey since Jason Bay. And the additions of A.J. Burnett, Erik Bedard, Clint Barmes, Nate McLouth, Casey McGehee, and Rod Barajas offer the most tangible example I can remember of actual offseason upgrades.

On the other hand, the 2011 collapse was pretty impressive and only reinforced much of the entrenched cynicism in the minds of many could-be fans. Pedro Alvarez, who desperately needs to work out if a postseason run into August or September is going to happen any time soon, is walking a perilously thin line between potential breakout candidate and certified bust. And, the arrival of the best prospects in the system still look to be a few years down the road.

In my mind, the Pirates season is going to be defined by whether or not they can avoid looking like a joke at any point. While last year's run was great and was the perfect spark plug for re-igniting the interest of lot of people in the city, I think a lot of people look at the 19-42 record after the devastating loss to the Braves on a bad call in the 19th inning as more representative of the "real" Pirates. Even if the Pirates could just equal last season's 72-90 record via a more balanced path, I think the perception in the city would be that of a maturing team that is on the right path. An early stumble that puts them immediately out of contention or a late season collapse that undermines the reast of the season could kill any goodwill that's been built up with the local fan base since Clint Hurdle's arrival.

With that said, here's my quick take on how the season could go:

If things go right:
  • The additions of Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett allows the staff to maintain through September. When things were clicking last season for the starters, the Pirates were at their best. It was their inability to stay good that ultimately killed us last season. Injuries, fatigue and inexperience ultimately proved too much in the last third of the season. While Bedard is a Pirate only because of his inability to stay healthy, if those two can be the steadying presences that were lacking late last year, you have to like our chances of winning more than 8 games in August. Plus, by exchanging those two for Maholm, the Pirates have a seven-deep rotation of Bedard-Burnett-McDonald-Morton-Karstens-Correia-Lincoln, not to mention a few promising candidates at AAA Indianapolis.
  • McLouth and McGehee give the Pirates the luxury of depth. Depth is one of those underrated factors that the Pirates have been missing for years. Recently, if a starter went out with injury for even just the minimum 15-day stint on the DL, that pretty much spelled doom. There was no competent option waiting in the wings. So while Barmes and Barajas may or may not be upgrades over Cedeno and Doumit/Snyder, having better spare parts may be the more meaningful upgrade.
  • Pedro is at least competent at the plate. Since Pedro was drafted, he's been counted on to become the slugger the Pirates need him to be. A majorly disappointing 2011, however, has a lot of people ready to write him off. Maybe he's not destined for superstardom, but he can't be a strikeout machine and liability defensively at third base. If he can just become a competent hitter in '12 with the ability to go deep at any time, the added depth to the lineup alone that he represents would be a boon to the team's chances to win on any given day. Turn it around completely and become the middle-of-the-lineup power hitter we so desperately lack, and the Pirates chances at .500+ and late season contention become that much closer to a reality.
If things go wrong:
  • Pedro is a black hole in the lineup. I may have only listed him third amongst the keys to success, but his potential for failure could be the most significant factor in a season flop. If Pedro can't hit and can't field, the team is eventually going to have to do something about it, most likely by starting McGehee. Not only does this scenario mean our lineup is just as impotent as always, it significantly downgrades the depth that is so key to success.
  • Presley-McCutchen-Tabata don't take another step forward. The starting outfield looks to be the one area that this team might actually be ahead of the MLB curve. If those three starters mature, plus McLouth as the fourth outfielder, and prospect Starling Marte waiting for a late season call up, the Pirates suddenly find themselves with a position of strength. Include Gorkys Hernandez in that equation and maybe there's even an opportunity to exploit another team's OF need to win a trade, a la the Penguins flipping Goligoski for Neal last year. However, if Presley and Tabata in particular can't take the next step into real major leaguers, and we're still just mediocre everywhere.
  • Neither Morton nor McDonald emerges. Both have potential to be a top three starter, but neither have shown they can do it for more than brief flashes of time. You gotta think that at least one of them needs to really take a step forward if the staff is going to be asset that it can be. If both flounder, things could unravel quickly.
Other things to look for this season:
  • With a new collective bargaining agreement constraining draft spending, do the Pirates lose the one edge they've had over the past five years? We'll find out in June.
  • With Pujols and Fielder gone and the division's biggest douche, Ryan Braun, possibly off the juice, does a weaker division possibly mean a few extra wins just based on strength of competition? That'd be nice.
  • With as promising of a top 10 prospects list that we've had in years, can the organization actually develop talent? I know I'll be keeping an eye out on the farm system, particularly last year's top two picks Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell and the other potential top-of-the-rotation talents Jameson Taillong and Luis Heredia.
So there's a look at the 2012 Pirates season. I'm a big believer in depth and that's where I think the Pirates finally have done something meaningful for the short term prospects of the big league team. That, and some optimism that McCutchen, Pedro, Morton, McDonald, Presley, and Tabata can be better in aggregate in 2012 than in 2011, and I think the team exceeds last year's win total of 72 wins. And if I'm in for a penny, I might as well go in for a pound. I'll say the Pirates finish the 83-79, finally break the 20 year losing streak and finish just ahead of the fourth-place Brewers, just behind the Wild Card winning Reds.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Van Halen 2012

When Van Halen comes to Pittsburgh, it's more than just a concert. It's a rare event that, alongside stadium implosions and any day at Kennywood, allows for a fully immersive experience within true Yinzer culture. With that in mind, let's recap the Blast Furnace experience attending Van Halen 2012 this past weekend.

The scene is set at Shale's Cafe on 5th, just across the street from Consol. The bar is packed, the bartendering service is lousy, and most people are paying $3 for Coors Light instead of taking advantage of $2 Duquesnes and PBRs. Van Halen classics are playing loud (with the occasional Kool and the Gang hit mixed in) and the buzz is building. In addition to a girl wearing a VH-branded racing jumpsuit, a guy in a Pittsburgh Polish T, and a table of very guidoish-looking types, there was this guy:
Wearing a mesh belly shirt and performing constant air guitar, this was exactly the guy you'd hope to encounter at Van Halen. By the time we decided to move over to Consol, he had managed to end up on some guy's shoulders, taken the pit guard off of our friend's crutch and used it as a fake penis, and got yelled at by the bar tender for using the crutch to smack the ceiling fan.

As for the show itself, it was mostly what you'd hope for. We were entering the area just as Kool and the Gang were wrapping up their set, so our timing was pretty impeccable. Van Halen rocked loud and hard through a set of mostly just their hits, with a few songs from their new album thrown in for good measure. Nothing from the Van Hagar era.

I'd venture to guess that if you were going to see Van Halen for the first time in the post-Hagar era, now was as good as any time to do it. Eddie Van Halen is apparently still on the wagon and the reviews say this tour is more polished than their previous reunion tour in 2007.

The show may have been the loudest concert I've ever experienced. I think that's typically a badge of honor for both the band and the fans, though I think I prefer the volume down just a notch if it means I can hear the guitar just a little bit clearer. After all, seeing Eddie play live is the real attraction. For audience members such as myself, who appreciate Van Halen, but aren't the biggest fans in the world, we mostly wanted to be able to say we've seen one of the greatest guitar players of all time perform live. And in that regard, the show did not disappoint.

Highlights for me mostly revolved around the guitar moments: an opening of Unchained followed by Runnin' With the Devil, well-known hits You Really Got Me and Hot for Teacher, and the culminating moment, EVH's Eruption guitar solo into Ain't Talkin' Bout Love and Jump. Eruption alone was worth the price of admission.

Lowlights included a 10 minute interlude in which David Lee Roth strummed acoustinc guitar and narrated home video of himself training his dogs (really) and just the overall feeling that the show is very tightly scripted, best highlighted by the quick run off at the end and immediate raising of the lights to let you know that there would be no encore.

All in all, seeing Van Halen live in town is something every self-respecting, rock-n-roll loving Pittsburgher should take the opportunity to do the next chance they get. And don't forget to wear you concert tee and denim jacket.

For a more nuanced, musically-appreciative look at the concert, make sure you check out Scott Mervis's review in the PG.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Blast Furnace's One Year Anniversary

Pittsburgh it's time to celebrate.  The Blast Furnace turned 1 on March 25.  We started slow and ended slow, but had a lot of fun in between.  We had over 20,000 page views over this time period from countries all over the world.  Over the year, we have seen some of our favorite restaurants and bars close, sports teams win and lose, profiled some of our favorite 'celebrities,' reviewed our hot spots, and reported on strange Pittsburghers acting well, like.....Pittsburghers.  Surprisingly our article Furries Invade Pittsburgh was our most viewed.  So to recap, here are some of this contributors favorite and most popular stories.

1.  Famous Pittsburgh Mustaches:  This one drew national attention when it was referenced by the Huffington Post's article on America's Most Mustache-Friendly Cities.  This article was very enjoyable to research and write about, seeing all these glorious mustaches on a daily basis and having celebrities showcase their upper lip hair to a national audience.

2.  Lenten Fish Fry Reviews - It is that time of year again for a true Pittsburgh sandwiches.  Former Pittsburghers just can't seem to find a great giant fish sandwich in their new town, well Pittsburgh has plenty of them.  We have our favorites and many are reviewed here.

3.  Where have you gone Matrix? - One of the Blast Furnace's favorite meeting places in our 20's, sadly it is no more.  Dancing, 50 cent drink night, and all around good times. 

4.  The Best Bar in the Burgh......Kopy's - Another classic hangout.  Cheap drinks, darts, jukebox, and friendly service make this South Side bar our favorite.

5.  Gene's Place, an Instant Hit - Wondering around Oakland in our early 20's and discovering Gibbons Beer.

6.  Pittsburgh RibFest Underwhelms and Infuriates - We've all seen and experienced the annual RibFest, this article describes the event perfectly.

This Blast Furnace blogger hopes year 2 will be just as exciting as year 1.  Pittsburgh is a special place with unique people so there will never be a shortage of stories and experiences which we all can relate.   I challenge all contributors to keep on researching, writing, and commenting to make this a regular stop for curious Pittsburghers.