Heightened security faces Pirates fans at PNC Park

By Jason Cato

Those who arrived at PNC Park for this afternoon’s Pirates game against the Cincinnati Reds… Those who arrived at PNC Park for this afternoon’s Pirates game against the Cincinnati Reds faced increased security, the team’s president said.

The team heightened security all week in light of the Group of 20 economic summit across the Allegheny River at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. But measures at the North Shore stadium were particularly high today and will be again tomorrow, President Frank Coonelly said.

The Pirates added extra security inside and outside the ballpark, and fans were scanned with metal-detecting wands at the gates.

“We expect things to run smoothly and to keep our fans and our players safe,” Coonelly said before the game. “But it makes sense to us to have extra security.”

Despite widespread traffic restrictions Downtown, the fact many businesses are closed and the team enduring a major league professional sports record 17th consecutive losing season, the Pirates do not expect to break PNC Park’s record-low attendance mark today, Coonelly said.

About 12,000 tickets were sold for the game — well above the record low of 8,201, he said. Violent clashes between protesters and police at previous global economic meetings, including during the last G-20 summit in April in London, avoided the game.

“We hope we have many fans who are not scared off by the press,” he said.

Counterterrorism agencies warned earlier this week of “terrorist interest” in attacking sports stadiums, hotels and entertainment venues across the country.

A Reds spokesman said the organization is aware of the G-20 but declined to comment on its impact on the team. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who begin a four-game series against the Pirates tomorrow, changed hotels prior to Pittsburgh being announced as the G-20 host, said team spokesman Josh Rawich. The previous hotel likely would have included more restrictions, Rawich said, though he declined to identify the hotel.

“We have been made fully aware of the G-20 well in advance and have been in touch with Pittsburgh police, the FBI and Secret Service to ensure a safe visit to Pittsburgh,” Rawich said. “As of right now, the only thing that we expect to be different is an increased security presence at our hotel, which is understandable.”

The Dodgers have encountered scheduling issues with previous road trips but nothing on the scale of the G-20. Last week the team was forced to use a terminal instead of going straight to the tarmac in Phoenix because President Obama was using the airport at the same time. Last year the team waited in a hangar while then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin flew out of the same airport.

The Pirates are familiar with ramped up security measures, as the team hosted more than 40,000 fans during the 2006 All-Star Game. This week is not expected to approach that level, Coonelly said.

“As much as I wish all the excitement of the G-20 would have allowed us to pack the house for four or five nights,” he said, “that doesn’t appear to be the case.”