Pittsburgh Sports Tour | City Guide | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Sports Tour

Follow the Bouncing Ball

You can't visit Pittsburgh without someone asking you about sports, telling you about sports, or asking you if you want them to tell you about sports.

But there's no reason you can't go out and see a little bit of it for yourself.

The first stop for a good Pittsburgh sports once-over is the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Senator John Heinz History Center (1212 Smallman St., 412-454-6000). Sure, you can see things like Mario Lemieux's hockey skates and the shoes that Franco Harris wore when he made the Immaculate Reception during a 1972 playoff game But you can also see lesser-known items -- like the boxing gloves and championship belt of former Pittsburgh pugilist Billy Conn, or the Olympic medals won by members of the Homestead Library Athletic Club swim team of the 1920s and 1930s.

The place where those world-renowned swimmers trained is still standing. The Carnegie Library of Homestead (510 East 10th Ave., Munhall, 412-462-3444), which houses a pool along with bookshelves and auditorium, still flourishes today. The building's Athletic Club is open to members only, but the library is public, and so is the historical marker outside honoring the swim team.

While the museum features some fine Pittsburgh Steelers artifacts, no sports tour of Pittsburgh would be complete without a trip to Heinz Field, on the North Side, the center of the Black and Gold universe. Even if there's not a Steelers or Pitt Panthers game, walk-up tours of the facility and its Coca-Cola Great Hall are available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through September. The tours are offered at 10 a.m. and noon; you can also schedule a tour for groups of 10 or more through October (412-697-7150, ext. 5). Among the highlights are the Great Hall's Super Bowl trophies, which are surrounded by jerseys and other memorabilia from the great eras of Steelers and Panthers football. Tickets are $6.50 for adults and $3.50 for children.

For the die-hard Steelers fan looking for something a little different, there are two infamous stops that may pique your interest. Head into Downtown, and drive past the county jail on Second Avenue toward the intersection of the 10th Street Bridge and the Armstrong Tunnels. You are now driving over the infamous spot where Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had his helmetless motorcycle accident in June 2006.

If that little brush with mortality has your nerves a little rattled, head across the bridge into the South Side and grab a beer at Cupka's tavern (48 S. 27th St., 412-481-6262). This is the bar where Steelers fan Terry O'Neill also made headlines -- for suffering a heart attack after Jerome Bettis' near season-ending fumble against the Colts in the 2006 NFL playoffs. (A Colts touchdown was averted thanks to a tackle by Roethlisberger himself -- while wearing his helmet.)

While on the South Side, check out George K. Cupples Stadium, at 930 E. Carson St. Besides being the home to city-league high-school football action, it's also the home field for the world-champion professional women's football team, the Pittsburgh Passion.

If baseball is your thing, a quick walk around PNC Park on the North Side will give you a view of statues honoring some the city's and the game's greatest players -- Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente.

Speaking of Clemente, one of the city's greatest players, and biggest heroes, has an entire museum dedicated to him in Lawrenceville. The Roberto Clemente Museum (3339 Penn Ave.) is the brainchild of local photographer Duane Rieder and located in a former firehouse. Rieder opened the facility in 2007, and it not only features Clemente memorabilia, but also a plethora of photographs. Hours are by appointment only (412-621-1268).

If baseball history is your thing, then you know who hit the first Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history and where he hit it. The section of the Forbes Field wall that Bill Mazeroski's home run flew over during the 1960 series still stands in Oakland. Mazeroski Wall is on Roberto Clemente Drive, on the University of Pittsburgh campus, across the street from Posvar Hall. There's also a Forbes Field historical marker. (The home plate from Forbes Field also still exists, encased in Plexiglas beneath the floor of Posvar Hall).

Another facet of Pittsburgh's sports history not to be missed or forgotten is the impact the city had on baseball's Negro Leagues. Two legendary teams, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords, once called the area home.

A few reminders of that great era remain. But the most emotional and uplifting is Josh Gibson Field (2217 Bedford Ave.), named for one of the league's and the sport's biggest stars. Located in the Hill District, the field is being renovated with money from the city, the Pittsburgh Pirates and others. The field is still home to two PONY League baseball teams, and the hope is to use it as a draw for tournaments and other games. It's where Gibson, the "black Babe Ruth" who played with the Crawfords, started, while it was still known as Ammon Field.

Finally, for something sports-related but off the beaten path: If you want to live out your own athletic dreams and get a little exercise in the process, head to the UPMC Sports Works, across from the Carnegie Science Center on the North Side (1 Allegheny Ave., 412-237-3400). There you can check out the science behind sports, measure your vertical leap, practice your golf swing, see how fast your fastball is ... or just jump around on a bungee cord trampoline gizmo.

They have everything you need to get yourself in tip-top shape for your own professional sports career.