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05/30/06 4:14 PM ET

Pittsburgh sheds rust-belt image

All-Star Game gives city chance to showcase changes

PITTSBURGH -- This isn't your father's Pittsburgh, folks.

When baseball fans from around the world gather together along the banks of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers for five days in July to take part in the 2006 All-Star Game festivities, they'll discover a city that has done a brilliant job of shedding its rust-belt reputation.

Pittsburgh, which was once so well-known for the pollution caused by the steel mills that dominated the local landscape and economy, has transformed itself into one of the cleanest, most academically inclined, culturally rich and breathtakingly beautiful urban areas in the United States.

The industrial jobs lost when many of the mills shut down have been replaced by those in the fields of higher education and medicine. The decaying mills have been replaced by enough green space that Pittsburgh now boasts more trees than any other city in the United States. Pittsburgh's three rivers are now so clean and the fish are so plentiful that the Bass Masters recently held their annual tournament here.

"It has gone from a rust-bucket city to a city that is safe, clean and green," said Dick Skrinjar, director of communications for the city of Pittsburgh.

Not the outdoors type? Pittsburgh also boasts the largest cultural district outside of New York City, with six theaters and several museums, including the world-renowned Andy Warhol Museum located on the north shore of the city, just a block away from PNC Park.

"On any particular night in Pittsburgh, you can go see the Pirates, the [NHL's] Penguins, the symphony, the ballet or any one of four or five different theater companies," Skrinjar said.

To be sure, much has changed in Pittsburgh since the city last hosted the All-Star Game in 1994. The most notable difference for baseball fans, of course, has been the replacement of the cookie-cutter, cement ashtray that was Three Rivers Stadium with the "Jewel of the North Shore" that is PNC Park.

Opened in 2001, PNC Park was selected by ESPN.com as the best ballpark in the big leagues for good reason. The open outfield offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the city's skyline, rivers and bridges that is unmatched at any sports venue. The amenities and seemingly limitless food and beverage options are top-notch. And with an intimate seating capacity of less than 40,000, there is not a bad seat in the house.

"This ballpark," said Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig, "is spectacular."

The Pirates and the local officials plan to make the most of their time in the international spotlight. They hope to shed, once and for all, the city's rust-belt reputation.

"It's a great time for us to take advantage of," said Allegheny County Commissioner Dan Onorato. "We get to show off our city, we get to show off the people who live here, we get to show off this ballpark and we get to show off what's great about southwestern Pennsylvania."

"For a five-day period, it lets the rest of the world take a fresh look at our city and what a great city we have," added Pirates CEO and general managing partner Kevin McClatchy.

Several steps have been taken to ensure that the city puts on its best face for the thousands of baseball fans who will flock to Pittsburgh in six weeks. PNC Park received a cosmetic touch-up prior to the season and will be at its pristine finest for the festivities. And the city works department has already collected over 300,000 tons of debris in an effort to make certain that Pittsburgh sparkles more than ever for its out-of-town visitors.

"We're [readying up] up for this All-Star Game," said Pittsburgh mayor Bob O'Connor. "We're using the All-Star Game to take it up a notch. We're very, very proud of what's going on here. It's a tremendous asset and we're all taking advantage of it."

Skrinjar, though, does offer a note of caution for those baseball fans who will be visiting Pittsburgh for the first time.

"People visiting here will find it to be one of the friendliest and accommodating places that they've ever visited," he said. "They may find it hard to leave."

Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.