This blog is dedicated to the baseball travels my brother and I have taken over the past 20 years or so. Each entry will include pictures, videos (where available), scorecards and stories about our experiences on the road.
- First visit: Sunday August 12th 2018
- Most recent visit: Sunday April 21st 2019
With so many baseball choices within an hour or so of where I was living in Maryland, it took until 2018 before we finally visited NYMEO Field at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick MD. NYMEO Field is the home of the Frederick Keys, the high A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, who played in the Carolina League until 2019. From my home, NYMEO Field is about 39 miles away, and the drive varies from 45 minutes to more than an hour, depending on the game time and resulting traffic. After clearing the DC Metro area, the drive becomes scenic in spots, and as long as the evening commute can be avoided, the drive is fairly stress free.
Main parking for NYMEO Field is located in the front of the ballpark, just off Stadium Drive, and is a short walk to the main gate. This parking lot tends to fill quickly, especially during good weather before evening games. If this lot is full, there is a secondary lot behind the right field wall, which requires a walk of less than one-quarter of mile to the main entrance. Unlike most ballparks we have visited, parking at NYMEO Field is FREE, regardless of the lot used.
NYMEO Field at Harry Grove Stadium is a modular ballpark, like many we have seen in our travels. Opening in 1990, it is one of the older minor parks we have encountered, yet its appearance does not bely its age. After entering the park through the main entrance, we crossed the upper concourse, which houses most of the concession stands in the stadium, as well as the team store. Once we emerged from the upper concourse, we saw that the main seating area at NYMEO Field was comprised of two levels, extending from third base base dugout behind home plate to the first base dugout. The lower concourse separates the two seating areas, with the lower seating area sporting orange seats, and the upper seating area adorned with navy blue seats.
Beyond each dugout, there is general admission seating consisting of aluminum benches. Finally, there is a row of luxury boxes atop the park, and a press level, which is flush with the upper concourse. In total, there are about 5,400 seats at NYMEO Field, which is typical of stadiums for this level of play. Ticket prices are reasonable, and all of the seats have good sight lines. There are four concession stands in the ballpark, with a number of portable stands all offering typical fare for baseball. The Roasthouse Pub and Kitchen Creations offer more in the way of variety, and I found myself going to the latter for my concession needs at the park.
Like many minor league (MiLB) parks we have seen, there is a portion of the park devoted to younger fans. Down the right field line is the Giant Eagle Fun Zone, which offers a carousel, a bounce house and water slides during the summer months. There is a distinct family friendly feel at NYMEO Field, and we saw more kids here than most other MiLB parks, especially when compared to the Orioles AA affiliate in Bowie MD. Sunshine and humid conditions during the early late morning gave way to more in the way of clouds as we reached the park, and there was a concern that thunderstorms might become an issue as the afternoon wore on.
As is typical for Sunday afternoon games following Saturday night contests, the attendance was comparatively light, and there were many good seats available. We sat just to the left of home plate, behind the protective screen in the lower deck. By game time (which was 205 pm), clouds had taken over the skies over NYMEO Field, and I became concerned that the game might be lost to the weather. The forecast was for thunderstorms, but I was hoping against hope that we could get the game in before the skies opened up.
As we kept a collective eye to the sky, the game started on time. Frederick played host to the Buie Creek Astros, the high A affiliate of the Houston Astros. The second batter for the Astros hit a home run, and the home team found themselves behind 2-0 before coming to the plate. In the bottom of the second inning, the Keys began to claw their way back into the game as second baseman Preston Palmeiro (the son of Orioles great Raphael Palmeiro) hit a home run to make the second 2-1. Rain started to fall in the top of the third inning, with lightning not too far away. Somehow the top of third inning was completed, but shortly thereafter rain and lightning chased most fans in the upper concourse (which was covered from the elements), and play was halted.
Rain and thunder continued for more than 30 minutes at NYMEO Field, and the outlook for the game to continue in these conditions was bleak. We stood with other fans in the upper concourse, vainly hoping we could resume play. While waiting, we perused the Keys team store, which offered standard fare, and listening to the sound of the rain pelting the roof of the stadium. When it became obvious that there would be no more baseball that afternoon, we prepared to leave. Just as we were walking to the exit, the game was officially cancelled. Rather than postpone the game, it was cancelled, since we were so close to the end of the MiLB season. Our first visit to see the Keys was washed out after just two and one-half innings. Disappointed, we pulled away from the stadium. Though the sample size was small, I was impressed with the stadium and its feel, and I knew we would have to visit again.
Fortunately, the weather was much more agreeable for our next visit on April 21st, 2019, as the Keys played host to the Salem Red Sox, the high A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Partly sunny skies and seasonable temperatures made for ideal conditions to see a game, and we arrived about an hour before game time. Having seen most of NYMEO Field during our previous excursion, we did not explore the park quite as extensively. Like most MiLB parks, the outfield was ringed by wooden advertising signs (with signs stacked two or three high in places). Sitting atop the the left field advertising signs was a small but functional videoboard and a small but functional scoreboard rose above the wall in right field. A smaller scoreboard and videoboard suited the ballpark nicely, functional and certainly unobtrusive.
Bullpens for the home and visiting teams were located about halfway down the foul lines, and like most MiLB parks, the bullpens were in foul territory. Because of the angling of the field, the seating area for each bullpen placed them in precarious positions for line drive foul balls. We found that pitchers did not occupy this area unless they were warming up to come into the game. More sunshine gave us a better feel for the ballpark, and increased my appreciation for it. In fact, I wished that it was located in Bowie (closer to where I live), since it seemed to be a much better facility than the one I frequented during the summer.
Visiting again on a Sunday, the crowd was fairly small, though the nice spring weather certainly wasn’t a deterrent. Because of the thin attendance, we sat in the first row directly behind the third base dugout, giving us a great view of the action. Unlike our previous visit, we were treated to a full game. Though the crowd was spread out across the seating area, they were enthusiastic. We learned that when the Keys were rallying, fans shook their keys (in addition to cheering), which seemed appropriate. To get a better feel for the atmosphere of NYMEO Field, you check out a video clip here.
The level of play in the Carolina League is better than the lower levels, but not nearly as polished as you would expect to see in MLB stadiums. At this level, hitting is usually better than the pitching, as the young arms are still developing. Talent on the field is unmistakable, but players are still, in some cases, working on fundamentals. The experience level in the Carolina League can be wide, as players as young as 18 years of age compete against former college players climbing the ladder through their respective systems. Keeping that in mind, baseball in the MiLB can be more fun than the MLB, watching players that you might see in MLB uniforms in the near future, in a much more intimate setting.
On this day, we saw a relatively well-played game, with fewer walks than typical for high A baseball, and the hometown Keys squeezed out a 4-2 victory. While NYMEO Field at Harry Grove Stadium is a modular stadium that resembles many MiLB parks we have seen, there is an family friendly atmosphere, which results in a pleasant baseball experience. A downsizing plan by MLB threatened to eliminate the Frederick Keys , as MiLB was slated to contract from 160 teams to 120 across the United States after the 2020 season. Given the cancelled season due to the pandemic, there was a distinct possibility that the Keys fans would have been robbed of the chance to say a proper goodbye to their team.
Fortunately, the Frederick franchise was spared the ignominy of oblivion, as they were chosen to host one of the teams of the MLB Draft League. The new league, featuring top prospects eligible to be drafted, will debut in 2021. Though the level of play may not as high as the Keys fans have come to expect, I would encourage you, if given the opportunity, to see a game at NYMEO Field.
Since the list of MLB stadiums to visit was becoming increasingly small, we decided to branch out and start visiting minor league (MiLB) stadiums. At first, the radius for visiting MiLB ballparks was limited to places within a three or four hour drive from central NJ. Being avid Mets fans, we set our sights on Binghamton, NY, the home of the Mets AA affiliate. Our first visit occurred in August of 2014, and rather than make it a day trip, we planned our weekend trip to cover the last two games of a three game set with the Akron RubberDucks. The drive from central NJ to NYSEG Stadium, the home of the Mets AA affiliate, was fairly easy, taking about three hours following a mostly interstate route.
After checking into our hotel, we headed out toward the ballpark ahead of a 705 pm game start. NYSEG Stadium is located in the southern part of Binghamton, nestled between the Chenango River to the west and the Susquehanna River to the southeast, about a mile from our hotel. Arriving an hour before game time, we parked in a private lot across from the stadium on Henry Street. With the businesses apparently closed for the day, parking here was plentiful, and the price was certainly right (a mere $5). This was not our only option, but it appeared first as we approached the stadium. There is a Binghamton team-run lot behind the right field wall of NYSEG Stadium (which is closed on Fireworks Nights). Parking there is also $5, and the walk to the ballpark is only a little bit longer than the private lots just across the street.
Located in a mainly residential area, there is not much in the way of activities or places to eat in the immediate vicinity of the park. As a consequence, our normal tour of the outside of a new ballpark was fairly short, and we entered the stadium through the home plate entrance.
NYSEG Stadium is a modular ballpark whose appearance is similar to the majority of the modular MiLB parks we have seen in our travels. There are two decks of seats extending from just beyond the third base line extending behind home plate to just beyond the first base dugout. The lower deck stretches from the main concourse down to the first seven to 10 rows, and the second deck rises up from the concourse to near the apex of the park. Atop the seating area are luxury boxes and the press level, which are covered by a small roof (as is the top of the second seating deck behind home plate). In total, NYSEG Stadium hold about 6,000 fans, which is on par with other AA stadiums.
Like most MiLB parks, wooden advertising signs span the outfield walls, and there is a relatively small video board/scoreboard in right center field. The layout of the video board/scoreboard is vaguely reminiscent of the old Shea Stadium scoreboard, and perhaps the likeness was intentional, as the Mets are the parent club. Overall, the ballpark itself seemed unassuming. It was surprising to learn that NYSEG Stadium opened in 1992, because in some respects the ballpark seems older. This was especially true of the park’s inner concourse, where the bulk of the concessions are located. After walking around the inside of the park (which is typical for a first visit), we obtained a baseball dinner and headed toward our seats.
Akron had been playing well for much of the season, and seemed to be a lock for a playoff spot. However, leading up the series with the Mets, they had been playing uneven baseball, allowing Binghamton to move to within striking distance of the RubberDucks for a playoff spot. Starting for the Mets that night was 26 year old righthander Greg Peavey. Leading the Binghamton staff in wins and ERA during the 2014 campaign, Peavy pitched well enough to keeping the suddenly struggling RubberDucks down for much of the game, with the Mets beating Akron 5-2.
In the Mets’ portion of the sixth inning, we saw something I had never seen before in person. With runners on first and second, a line drive off the bat of Mets second baseman Dilson Herrera was nabbed in right field on a great catch by the RubberDucks’ Jordan Smith. The Mets runners were on the move, thinking the ball would find a gap in the outfield, and both runners were unable to return to their bases after the catch, resulting in the first triple play I’d seen live. Later in the game, when RubberDucks manager Dave Wallace made a pitching change, we were close enough to see the desperation in eyes, as though he was witnessing the season slipping away. When the Mets pitching coach Glenn Abbott questioned a procedural error by Wallace, we could hear him say ” What the f**k? Just let it go!”
Following the game, we headed across the street to retrieve our car and head back to the hotel for the night. My first impression of the stadium was that is was fairly non descript, and that the crowd was tiny (far less than the announced attendance of 3,800) for a team that was fighting for a playoff spot. We would get a much better look at NYSEG Stadium during the Sunday matinee, the third and last contest of the three game set. Not surprisingly, the streets in Binghamton were nearly deserted as we made out way back for a good night’s sleep after a long day of travel.
We had some time on our hands on a bright sunny Sunday morning after breakfast at the hotel, so we walked along the the Chenango River (which runs alongside the Holiday Inn in Binghamton). We then walked the streets of Binghamton on the warm and dry morning. It was obvious that the city had seen better times, and Binghamton was beginning to show its age. With that said, I was impressed by some of the architecture of the city. There were hints of Art Deco, Neoclassic design and even some Modernism in the churches and government buildings, some of which were built during the Great Depression. Never having been here before, I had no idea what to expect, but I was impressed with the part of the city we explored before heading out to the ballpark.
Once again we arrived about an hour before game time, and we were able to secure parking across the street in a private lot. We wandered around the park a bit more than the night before, and discovered that there were some souvenir stands near the right field foul line, as well as some games for the kids. As is often the case for a Sunday afternoon game following a Saturday night game, the crowd promised to be fairly thin, despite wall to wall sunshine, pleasant temperatures and low humidity. Our seats for this game were very good, near the front row of the lower section just behind first base. From that vantage point, we were treated to a good view of the beautiful hills to the northwest of the ballpark, and the train track lying just behind the left field fence.
Part of the attraction of coming to Binghamton (along with seeing the ballpark) was seeing rising stars in the Mets minor league system up close and personal in their home setting. Fortunately for us, much heralded left handed starter Steven Matz was on the mound for Binghamton, and our seats gave a great look at someone who would be a member of the 2015 National League Champion New York Mets. Matz was impressive in the start, lasting five innings, and allowing no runs on three hits with six strikeouts. Akron struggled against Matz and a trio of relievers, as the Mets took the last game of the series 5-0.
With the win, the Binghamton Mets edged closer to an Eastern League playoff spot. This team loaded with young talent that would at least make an appearance with the parent club in the near future, and would ultimately win the 2014 league championship. As we were leaving for our three hour trip home, I reflected on what we had seen. Because NYSEG Stadium did not have any single outstanding attribute, I felt as though the ballpark took a back seat to the Mets AA team. Having seen the park and the city of Binghamton, I felt as though we had seen all there was to see there, and did not anticipate a return visit.
- First visit: exact date unknown, probably in spring of 2001
- Most recent visit: Saturday, June 8 2019
Growing up on the Jersey shore in the 1970s and 1980s, we did not have any local baseball. Our nearest ballpark was Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. During most of that time, the nearby MLB parks were difficult to reach, so we did not go to many live professional games until the mid 1980s. While we were aware of the minor leagues, we did not have any local minor league teams close to us. Had there been a local minor league team, we would have spent quite a bit of time at the ballpark, as thirsty as we were for live professional baseball. That would have been like a dream to avid baseball fans across central NJ.
Fast forward to 2001, when FirstEnergy Park, home of the Lakewood Blue Claws (the low A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies) opened. If you are not familiar with Lakewood, NJ, you are far from alone. Lakewood is a town in central NJ, about 15 miles from the shore, lying on the northern edge of the NJ Pine Barrens. Lakewood is about a 20 minute drive from where we grew up, and is easily accessible via the Garden State Parkway and US Route 1. The stadium is just a few minutes from either of these thoroughfares, and is not difficult to find the park using any of the standard apps. Parking is plentiful in front of the ballpark, and price for parking is very reasonable at $5.00 (paying attendants before entering the ballpark property). Depending on the crowd for the game, even the furthest most parking spots are just a few minutes walk to the home plate entrance.
FirstEnergy Park is a modular stadium, featuring a single deck of seats extending from just past third base behind home plate to just behind first base. Between the seats in left and right field and the walls, there are picnic areas, which tend to host families and groups of people in a more informal seating arrangement. A row of luxury seats sit atop the stadium, extending from dugout to dugout. All told, these areas hold about 6,600 fans, which is large for a ballpark featuring low A baseball. Beyond both the left and right field walls lie grass covered berms, which can accommodate another 1,440 fans, for a total capacity of 8,000. Again, this total is very high for a lower level minor league club, and would be more befitting of a AA team.
Unlike most minor league stadiums, the outfield is open, showing groves of pine trees, especially in left field, accentuating the suburban feel of FirstEnergy Park. In keeping with the “Jersey Shore” theme (though the park is about 15 miles from the nearest beach), there are lifeguard chairs at the top of the berms in left and right field. Finally, a nice video board (for the level of play) sits in left centerfield, between the berm and the batter’s eye. Food and drink at FirstEnergy Park is mostly generic, with standard offerings at the concession areas located on the main concourse above the seating area at reasonable prices. While the Biergarten in left field offers more exotic beer and alcohol choices, the cuisine in the remainder of the park is what you might expect.
FirstEnergy Park has a laid back feel to it, which fits the surroundings quite well. Not surprisingly, the Blue Claws draw fairly well, averaging about 5,350 fans per game, which is close to the top of the South Atlantic League. Though the date of our first visit to the park is unclear, it was in the spring of 2001. Weather in spring across central NJ (especially near the shore) can be fickle, with as many days of cool, drizzly condition as sunshine, and my memory of our first visit was the former. On those days, attendance can be quite low; in fact, it is possible to hear the players talking to each other when the weather is dank. During the summer months, hot and humid conditions can occasionally be modified by an afternoon sea breeze, which helps keep thunderstorms in the western part of NJ at bay.
Since Lakewood is a member of a league of younger, inexperienced players, the level of play is NOT the highest caliber in the minor leagues. Players are generally in their early 20s, but some are teens from other countries, and sometimes the level of play reflects that. However, there is talent in the league, and it often the second stop through the organization for players that you may see again in MLB. In fact, both Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels played in Lakewood on their way to MLB super stardom. If you understand that going into the event, baseball at FirstEnergy Park is fun in a relaxed environment.
Though very rare, it is possible to see MLB players on rehab assignments at FirstEnergy Park. Most likely, Phillies players working their way back from injury would play a few games here before returning to the major league club. However, my brother did get to see the next best thing. Tim Tebow, chasing his baseball dreams, played for the Columbia Fireflies in 2017. When the Fireflies came to Lakewood, the games were very well intended (as you might expect). Getting a glimpse of a sensation like Tebow in this intimate environment is impossible in larger venues like MLB, and access here is unparalleled. From a fan perspective, places like FirstEnergy park offer the best game experience for the money, and is ideal for families and large groups.
As part of the minor league realignment mandated by MLB, the Blue Claws were assigned to the new Mid Atlantic League for the 2021 season. Lakewood becomes the Jersey Shore Blue Claws, and moves up to A ball, which means more seasoned players and crisper overall play. There are other things to do and see when visiting central NJ and the Jersey shore, but if you are a diehard baseball fan, do you best to see FirstEnergy Park. It is a first class facility that is worthy of your time and effort.
- First visit: exact date unknown, probably during the 2011 season
- Most recent visit: August 18, 2018
Following a job change that took me from southern Maine (where I saw the Portland Sea Dogs at Hadlock Field) to southern New Jersey in 2010, I found that I had landed in an area that was teeming with baseball. The Philadelphia Phillies were 30 minutes away, and two minor league teams were within 45 minutes or so (the Trenton Thunder, the AA affiliate of the New York Yankees, and the Lakewood Blue Claws, the low A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies). Since my brother lives closer to Trenton, I chose to make the Trenton Thunder my new favorite minor league team.
Trenton plays their games at Arm&Hammer Park. Opening behind schedule in 1994 (as cold and snow the previous winter hampered construction efforts), the stadium was part of a larger complex containing office buildings and a night club, known as the Mercer County Waterfront Park. Though the ballpark is technically within Trenton city limits, it is located on the southern edge, away from the influence of downtown. Its location (just off Route 29, on Thunder Road) makes ingress and egress much easier than if the stadium was located downtown.
Parking at Arm&Hammer Park is fairly straightforward. After entering the complex, the first parking area encountered is a surface lot to the right. Most times, these spaces are unavailable to baseball fans, as they are either occupied by state employees working at the complex, or by fans with mobility issues. Just down the street from the surface lot is a three-tiered parking deck, which most times offers an orderly exit after games. However, we have learned through bitter experience that most people don’t know how to exit a parking deck, and that fact can add a considerable amount of time when trying to leave the complex. Parking is a very reasonable $5.00, and the walk from the deck to the stadium is about one-quarter of a mile or so.
As the name of the complex implies, Arm&Hammer Park lies along the Delaware River, which divides New Jersey from Pennsylvania. Before games, we occasionally walk along a path paralleling the river, a stark contrast to the urban area not too far away, and a view most people outside of the area would not expect to see in New Jersey. There are three entrances into the ballpark (each of which has a not inconsequential set of concrete stairs to navigate): one adjacent to the river walk on the first base side, behind home plate and behind third base. Arm&Hammer Park has two seating decks that extend from just beyond third base behind home plate to just beyond third base, as well as suites near the top of the stadium, bringing to the capacity of 6,150 (which is typical of a AA ballpark). Bullpens are located along the left field line (visitor) and the right field line (Thunder), and the outfield is nearly ringed by wooden advertising signs located above and just behind the outfield wall.
While Arm&Hammer Park is a fairly typical minor league ballpark, it does possess what might be the largest video board in the minors. Located in right centerfield, the size and resolution of the video board is more reminiscent of a Triple A ballpark. Being an affiliate of New York Yankees probably factored into the decision to place such a large video board in the ballpark, and it is the most prominent feature of the stadium. Just to the right of the video board, the outfield wall is low enough to allow home runs to leave the park and head toward the river. Actually, it IS possible to hit a fair ball down the right field line that can land in the Delaware River. Though I am not sure it has been done, it might be possible to hit a home run far enough across the river to have the ball land in the Pennsylvania portion of the river.
Arm&Hammer Park offers the standard fare when it comes to concessions, though there are a couple of places worth noting. My favorite is Chickie’s & Pete’s, located on the main concourse on the first base side. Chickie’s & Pete’s serves crab house food, and I rarely pass up the opportunity to indulge in a cup of crab fires (large French fries covered with Old Bay seasoning). They also offer excellent cheese steaks, brats and hot dogs, which are cooked to order. On the third base side is Boomer’s BBQ, which, as the name implies, offers an array of barbeque meals. Personally, I do not frequent this place as often, but when I do, I usually get the chicken sandwich. Most times, though, I elect to get a baseball lunch or dinner (which generally includes hot dogs) before heading to our seats.
When attending a Thunder game, you definitely want to be in your seats for the bottom of the first inning. During that half of the frame, after each Thunder hitter discards of his bat, the Thunder bat dog retrieves it. Currently, the bat dog is Rookie, but he was preceded by Chase and Derby in the recent past. While Rookie sometimes has difficulty grabbing the bat in his mouth to bring back to the dugout, he is successful most of the time, to the delight of the crowd. After the end of the first inning, Rookie returns to the clubhouse, his task for the day completed. As a side note, when the Thunder played the Bowie Baysox for the Eastern League championship in 2019, Rookie made the trip to Maryland, retrieving bats in the first inning. Probably because he was in a new environment, rather than retrieve the bat after a Thunder player walked, Rookie instead followed the player to first base. Murmurs permeated the air when Rookie did his thing, and the Baysox faithful were enamored with the visitor.
One of the biggest perks of seeing Thunder games is the potential to see MLB players on rehabilitation stints. Being a Yankees affiliate, many past and present Yankees have made appearances at Arm&Hammer Park, and more than 9,000 fans were present when Derek Jeter did his rehab assignment during the Fourth of July weekend in 2011. In 2013, when Alex Rodriguez appeared with the Thunder, Trenton drew in excess of 8,000 fans for each of his two games there. More recently, perennial fan favorite Curtis Granderson made an appearance.
In addition to rehab appearances, my brother (who goes to many more Thunder games than me) and I have seen many current Yankees as they came up through the minor league system. Since the Mets AA affiliate Binghamton Rumble Ponies are in the same division of the Eastern League as the Thunder, they come to Arm&Hammer Park a couple of times a year. My brother and I do our best to wrap our plans around these times, and that allows us to see future Mets up close. In the past, we have seen Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard on the mound, as well as many position players (like Michael Conforto and Ahmed Rosario) on the field in Trenton. There is something satisfying about seeing future stars in the MLB in such an intimate setting, before they become household names. We were fortunate enough to see Michael Conforto play in Trenton before making the jump to the New York Mets the next day in July 2015.
Being such a big Mets fan, my best memories of Arm&Hammer Park are tied to visits by the Binghamton Mets/Rumble Ponies. Perhaps the most vivid memory occurred on Friday July 24, 2015. We had just finished a tour of New England minor league ballpark in time to attend all of the four games of the weekend series between the Mets and the Thunder. On that night, Robert Gsellman started for the Mets, pitching seven and one-third innings of one run ball. The run Gsellman allowed tied the game at 1-1, and eventually the game went into extra innings. Trading scoreless innings, the Mets finally pushed across a run in the top of the 17th inning, defeating the Thunder 2-1.
A total of 13 pitchers were used that night (seven by the Mets and six by the Thunder), and the Thunder sent two position players to the mound (DH Taylor Dugas and 2B Danny Oh) for the 17th inning. Dugas allowed a run in the top of the frame before recording an out, and Oh mopped up, allowing no runs and no hits. The 17 inning game (the longest I have ever seen personally) took four and one-half hours to complete, and we left the ballpark just short of midnight. Fatigue from the road trip, combined with the long game that night, made me grateful we weren’t far from my brother’s home.
Arm&Hammer Park also hosted the only professional no-hitter I have seen in person, as the Binghamton took on Trenton in an Eastern League playoff game on September 9th, 2017. After the Thunder took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, Rumble Ponies catcher Tomas Nido reached on a ground ball to third baseman Dante Bichette Jr in the top of the second. Initially, the play was ruled an infield single. Trenton left hander Dustin Sheffield then shut the Rumble Ponies down in a short but dominant performance.
In the sixth inning, a nearby fan asked me about the scoring of the hit by Nido, since I was keeping score of the game. When I told him about the hit, he directed my attention to the scoreboard. At some point, the official scorer changed the hit to an error, and suddenly we were witnessing a possible a no-hitter. Once the change was recognized by the crowd, there was an audible response at the prospect of seeing a no-hitter. Sheffield was lifted from the game after four innings (before the hit was changed to an error), and Taylor Widener threw five hitless innings to complete the no hitter. Because the scoring change occurred so late in the game, there was not the anticipation in the crowd that might have been expected to seeing a no-hitter, which was disappointing as a fan.
Though Arm&Hammer Park is a typical AA facility, it has grown on me over the years. Being able to see future Yankees (and occasionally future Mets when Binghamton visit) in such an intimate setting is enjoyable, and my experience in parks just like this has raised my appreciation of the minor league game over the MLB product. However, a disturbing change brought about by the New York Yankees organization has stripped the park of its association with the team. Instead, the Trenton Thunder will play the 2021 season as a founding member of the MLB Draft League. Even with the change, if you find yourself near Trenton NJ on a summer day, check to see if the Thunder are playing. You will be glad you did.
- First visit: unknown, sometime in the summer of 2013
- Most recent visit: Friday, September 13 2019
A job change in early 2013 brought me to the Washington DC area, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the wide array of baseball options that came with the move. The Washington Nationals were only a 20 minute train ride from home, and the Baltimore Orioles were just a 45 minute car ride north along Interstate 95. There was also a number of minor league options an hour away or less, with the Bowie Baysox (the AA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles) the closest, a mere 20 minute car ride (as long as traffic on the Beltway cooperated) away. Since the ballpark was easily accessible, I adopted the Baysox as my team in the new surroundings.
Though I do not recall the exact date of my first visit to Prince George’s County Stadium (the home of the Bowie Baysox) in 2013, I do remember a few surprises from the trip. The first surprise was parking. Because Prince George’s County Stadium holds about 10.000 fans, the parking lot for the stadium is huge. Not knowing where to park, I flagged down an attendant and asked him the cost of parking. With a wry smile, he told me that parking was free. If memory serves, this was first stadium I’d visited that had that perk. Arriving about an hour before game time, I was able to park right next to the ballpark. Not having a ticket for the game, I feared that I would not be able to secure a good seat so close to game time.
Asking for the best available seat, I received my second surprise. Despite arriving close to game time, there were great seats available. Not knowing anything about the layout of the park, I took seats near the on deck circle just to the left of home plate, about six rows from the field. At the time, I could not believe my luck, but after going to a few games, I realized that, despite easy access off Route 50 in Bowie, attendance was generally fairly light. That was both shocking and disappointing to me, but I eventually learned that Bowie did not aggressively advertise, which could a contributing factor to the low attendance. Quickly I learned to enjoy the relatively sparse attendance, as it virtually guaranteed me great seats any time I went to the ballpark.
Passing through an old styled turnstile, my ticket was torn by a friendly and knowledgeable ticket taker, leading me into the lower concourse. A quick walking tour of the stadium followed. Like most minor league ballpark from the 1990s, the ballpark was a cookie cutter prefabricated stadium, with seats in the lower levels, and aluminum bench seating in the upper sections. There were also enclosed club suites at the top of the stadium, stretching from the home dugout behind home plate to the visitor’s dugout (we never saw a game from these seats). Down the right field line is a kid-friendly play area, complete with a carousel, as well as other attractions. A lighthouse located near the play area blared following a Baysox home run.
Like most minor league parks, Prince George’s County Stadium featured a grass playing field, as well as series of wooden advertising signs perched above and just behind the outfield wall. In left centerfield there was a scoreboard, which seemed out of date and a bit worse for wear. At this time, there was no video board, which I found odd, as most AA stadium have at least a small but functional videoboard. Finishing my tour of the ballpark, I stopped for a baseball dinner before heading to my seat. Standard concession stands were available on the lower concourse, as well as specialty food and drink carts along the lower concourse. On this night, only the right field concession stand was operating, but the small crowd meant a short wait time. Walking back on the concourse toward my seat I discovered a stand that offered scorecards and rosters for both the Baysox and the visiting team. Being an old-timer, I keep score at games, and I found these offerings very useful.
My first visit to Prince George’s County Stadium was an evening contest, which led to my third surprise. The lightning for the playing field seemed woefully underpowered, leaving portions of the outfield (especially centerfield) fairly dark. My brother and I would joke later that outfielders, rather than losing balls in the lights, would lose ball in the dark. Overall, Prince George’s County Stadium seemed like an average minor league park, with signs of aging that indicate that the park was older than its 20 years. Despite its shortcomings, I would grow accustomed to the “charm” the ballpark offered, and much like the old Shea Stadium in New York, it became like an old friend.
Sparse crowds like the one on that night gave me access to the action like I’d never seen. In fact, I was so close to the action that I couldn’t speak badly about the batter in the visitor’s on deck circle; he might hear me! My proximity to the field also allowed to see and hear the game in a way that isn’t possible in an MLB park. In general, minor league baseball is more about evaluating talent and less about strategy than the MLB. It is not unusual to see players (especially pitchers) leave ballgames seemingly without a logical reason; we would later learn that once a manager had seen what he needed from a player, that player could be removed from the game. Pitching changes during innings are scarce, as teams are interested in seeing what players do under pressure, rather than making moves designed to win games.
As a result, minor league games tend to move along more quickly that their MLB counterparts. In between most innings, the Baysox offered games and contests in foul territory (typically in front of the dugouts), plucking fans out of the stands to participate in the contests. Despite the obvious attempt to make the games there more family friendly, there were a strange lack of kids in the park. Perhaps with myriad options for entertainment in the DC area, and MLB baseball as little as 20 minutes away, families were opting for choices other than Baysox baseball. My recall of the first game itself is fuzzy at best, but it did remember that exiting Prince George’s County Stadium was made simple, as cones and attendants made sure that the traffic flow was smooth. In about 20 minutes time, I went from the parking lot to my home with little difficulty. Even with the shortcomings offered by the home of the Baysox, I knew that I would frequent this place often, as it appeared to be a fine way to spend a summer evening.
Over the years, my brother and I would frequent Prince George’s County Stadium, particularly on weekends when the AA affiliates of the New York Mets (the Binghamton Mets/Rumble Ponies) and New York Yankees (the Trenton Thunder) were in town. All told, I probably saw about 100 games at the ballpark between 2013-2019, usually near the on deck circle. Going as often as I did, I befriended many of the staff members, with whom I would swap baseball tales, talking about players we liked or ballparks we visited. My brother and I would be mistaken for scouts more often than you might expect, as I kept score, my brother took pictures, and we chatted almost non stop about the game. The only things (other than my job, which required shift work) that would keep me away when I could manage to go were rain and heat. DC and environs generally experience hot, humid summers, and this would occasionally keep me home. Thunderstorms were a nearly daily occurrence in the summer, and it seemed we had to endure rain delays more than any other place I had been.
Even with these distractions, we attended games at the park whenever possible, as prices were reasonable, great seats were almost always available, and fireworks occurred most summer nights (when weather permitted). Still, I was sad to see so few fans at the park. Occasionally, Orioles players would complete their injury rehabilitation at Prince George’s County Stadium, but attendance on these days/nights were surprisingly light. Perhaps my greatest memory of the ballpark was when the Baysox allowed fans to play catch on the field following a Sunday matinee. My brother and I brought our gloves and eagerly took the field when instructed. We were both surprised how good the turf in the field looked and felt, and we spent about 30 minutes on the field before being shooed away by management so that they could close the stadium for the day. That was only the second time I’d stepped foot on a professional baseball field, and despite being 52 years old, I was as excited as some of the kids playing catch with their parents.
In my time at Prince George’s County Stadium, I became an ardent fan of minor league baseball. In addition to the more intimate experience offered by the smaller ballparks, I found myself becoming invested in the younger players as they passed through Bowie. Many players I saw in Bowie would eventually make an appearance with the Orioles, or other MLB teams, and I felt a certain satisfaction in knowing I saw these players on the way up. My experiences at Prince George’s County Stadium rekindled what was flagging relationship with baseball, and because of that, now I prefer minor league games over MLB games. Thanks Bowie!
- First visit: Wednesday September 19th 2001
- Most recent visit: Sunday September 17 2006
Our first visit to PNC Park was not supposed to happen. This game was originally scheduled to be played at Shea Stadium in New York City, but following the attacks on September 11th 2001, the parking lot at Shea was used as a staging area to deal with the aftermath of the attacks. Since Shea Stadium would not be available for baseball in the near term, the games were moved to PNC Park in Pittsburgh PA. After a short break, baseball resumed on September 17th 2001, and the Mets played a three game set against the Pirates, starting on that date.
Since we had travel plans scrapped after the attacks (we were flying to Chicago to see the Pirates take on the Cubs, but the games and flights were cancelled), we both had some time off. We chose to attend the last game of the series, a Wednesday matinee on September 19th. Getting an early start from central NJ, we made the 365 mile drive in about five and one-half hours, arriving at the ballpark before noon. Because the game was supposed to be played in New York, there was not much demand for parking, which allowed us to park just across the street from the stadium for a reasonable price.
With time before the game, we briefly wandered around the park. Along the right field wall, we discovered a walking path adjacent to the Allegheny River. Dubbed Three Rivers Heritage Trail, the concrete path snakes along the river for about one and one-half miles. Given our time constraints, we did not amble nearly that far, but we did enjoy the view of downtown Pittsburgh from the riverside. Even if we were not taking in a ballgame that day, a simple trek along the river would have provided an early afternoon of peaceful vistas. Its proximity to the river enhanced the appeal of PNC Park, and we had not even seen the inside of the stadium yet!
During our exploration of the environs of the the stadium, we found a pair of Pirates greats immortalized in bronze. Both Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell were on display outside the park, with each statue larger than life. Roberto Clemente was just a bit before my time, as I was a toddler when he had his best years in Pittsburgh. Conversely, I was much more familiar with Stargell, with his trademark “windmill” bat twirl just before the arrival of the pitch. Two other statutes stood outside the ballpark (Honus Wagner and Bill Mazeroski) eluded our search, but perhaps we would view them on another visit.
PNC Park is a baseball only stadium, at the end of its inaugural season in September 2001. Since the game was not supposed to be played in PNC Park, there were few fans present was we ended our tour of the outside of the stadium before heading into the park. It seemed that, based on the number of New York jerseys we saw on people milling around near the home plate entrance, those who did attend the matinee were mainly Mets fans, making a drive similar to ours. Apparently a five hour drive did not deter the New York faithful, who seemed determined to see the game. Unfortunately, the weather was less than cooperative, with warm and humid conditions under mainly cloudy skies.
Once inside, we could immediately see that the view of downtown Pittsburgh was the focus of the new ballpark. Unlike its predecessor (Three Rivers Stadium), PNC Park was open in centerfield, providing a sweeping vista of the city and Allegheny in front of it. Rather than AstroTurf, the field was covered with Kentucky bluegrass, which looked a bit worse for wear after a hot Pittsburgh summer. As we started to walk along the lower concourse toward right field, I couldn’t tear myself away from the view beyond the centerfield wall! Beyond the ballpark, several of the bridges connecting the north shore of the Allegheny River to downtown Pittsburgh were painted Aztec gold. At the time, I did not understand why they were painted this hue, but research later indicated that the bridges connected surrounding areas to the Golden Triangle section of the city. In any case, even the overcast of the day could not hide the luster of the bridges, and I discovered that I’d found my new favorite MLB ballpark!
Following the lower concourse to the right field line brought us to the detached bleacher area, which extends from the foul pole to the 375 foot sign in right centerfield (where a hand operated scoreboard runs the length of the 21 foot high fence). Venturing up into the bleachers gave us a great view of the river and the city. Each seat provided a clean view of the action, due primarily to the elevated nature of the bleachers. Continuing counter clockwise on the lower concourse, we encountered a smaller bleacher area adjacent to the green batter’s eye in centerfield. Since the crowd was small, there were very few fans here, but given the sight lines here (as all seats in PNC Park are angled to produce the best view of home plate), these seats appear as though they would be almost as good as the seats in the right field bleachers.
Standing on the lower concourse behind the batter’s eye gave us an amazing view of the bridges and downtown Pittsburgh. Even the pictures we took on the cloudy and humid day (resulting in haze that partially obscured the city) could not do justice to the backdrop for PNC Park. Even if we did not see a game here, the view alone was worth the time and expense. Proceeding toward home plate, we got a close up view of the video board, which stood atop two tiered seating in left field. The video board seemed curiously small for a brand new park, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Light stands bracketing the video board were wrought steel, and looked similar those at Comerica Park. In fact, the placement and size of the video board at Comerica Park bore a striking resemblance to what we saw at PNC Park.
We completed the loop around the stadium on the lower concourse behind home plate, and went in search of a baseball lunch. Like most “newer” MLB stadiums, PNC Park has many places to eat, including outlets of many popular local restaurants, with premium services available in the club level provided by Levy’s Restaurant. Per my usual, I eschewed these choices, instead choosing hot dogs and drinks to bring to our seats. In keeping with the somber nature of the situation following the attacks on 9/11, there was a sense of sullenness in the crowd, and even the typically boisterous Mets fans kept their enthusiasm in check for the game. Mets players were wearing hats of the various first responder services (like the NYPD, NYFD, etc.) that gallantly answered the call during and after the attacks.
Despite the air of melancholy in the air at PNC Park that afternoon, Mets players did sign autographs and interact with the crowd. Because the game was moved to Pittsburgh with little advance notice, we were able to get seats along the right field line just beyond the Mets dugout (PNC Park is one of the few MLB parks where the home team dugout is on the third base side). Though I was mesmerized by the ballpark and its surroundings, we were there to see a game. Following a World Series berth in 2000, New York, facing a depleted Pirates squad, overcame an early deficit to win the game, 9-2. We were treated to a Mike Piazza home run, and the game time was under three hours. Facing a long drive home, we headed straight to the parking lot. PNC Park was as advertised and much more, leaving me dazzled. We would have to return, if only to the the park and its views in better weather conditions.
Our second visit to PNC Park was not as hurried, as we planned a weekend visit to Pittsburgh to once again see the New York Mets. Unlike our previous stay, clear skies and pleasantly warm and dry conditions were expected for Saturday and Sunday. Our trip from central NJ to Pittsburgh was uneventful, and we drop off our bags at the hotel before heading to the park. Leaving ourselves plenty of time to explore, we crossed the Allegheny River on one of the bridges, where my brother got some excellent shots of the stadium, with the river in the foreground. Given the great late summer weather, we strolled along the riverfront, where we encountered scores of people walking, biking and sitting along the banks of the river.
Following our extended tour of the area, we headed into PNC Park through the home plate entrance. Of course, we wandered through the ballpark, though we didn’t spend as much time doing so, as we would get a better look at the park the next afternoon. After visiting the concession stand in the lower level behind home plate for a baseball dinner, we headed to our seats. Because the Pirates were playing out a disappointing season, tickets for the game were plentiful, and we were fortunate enough to secure good seats just to the right of home plate in the lower level.
Sunshine, though decreasing with time, afforded us a better look at PNC Park and downtown Pittsburgh. The Aztec gold of the bridges crossing the Allegheny seemed more vivid in the waning daylight, and the overall feel of the park was much lighter, a stark contrast to our previous visit, when skies were gray and the country was still reeling from the attacks on 9/11. PNC Park has a two tiered seating area extending from the left field foul pole behind home plate to the right field foul pole (minus the luxury boxes and the press level). When combined with the bleachers, there were just over 38,000 seats in the ballpark (which is the second smallest capacity in MLB), and almost all of the seats in the stadium offer a view of downtown Pittsburgh.
PNC Park offers one of the smallest distances from home plate to the backstop (51 feet), giving fans nearly unprecedented closeness to the action. Clearly, the stadium was designed with a maximum fan experience in mind. When combined with the spectacular views of the city and the river, my opinion that PNC Park was the best park in MLB (though my brother would disagree, as he is partial to Comerica Park) was cemented. Even after the game started, I found myself scoping out the park and scenery beyond it, instead of paying more attention to the action on the field. More than once, I found myself envious of the Pirates home, wishing and hoping that the Mets would construct a ballpark with similar magic.
Though 25 games under .500 coming into the game, the Pirates kept pace with the visiting Mets (who were destined for a division championship and a trip to the 2006 NLCS), as evening blended into night. Surprisingly, there were few lights emanating from the buildings in downtown Pittsburgh, as I expected the coming of night might allow the downtown area to shine. That was probably the only negative we encountered on our visit to the park that evening. Had the game been a nationally televised broadcast, it is possible that the city might have obliged with more lights from the structures, producing a spectacle for the fans in attendance and those on TV.
Between the time we entered the ballpark before the game and the third inning, the crowd filled out nicely. Even the four level steel rotunda in left field, used primarily for standing room only, was filled with fans. Officially, there were more than 37,000 people in the ballpark that night (nearly a sellout), but the actual count was almost certainly less. In any event, the fans in attendance made their presence felt, and the game was deadlocked at two going into the bottom of the ninth. Pittsburgh scratched out a run in the bottom of the frame, beating the Mets and their closer, Aaron Heilman 3-2. As the jubilant Pirate fans filed out of PNC Park that night, I quickly scanned the ballpark while we waited to exit. As we left, I remember thinking that I hoped the Pittsburgh fans appreciated the park they were lucky enough to call home.
Sunday September 17 2006 was a mainly sunny and pleasantly warm late summer day, and after breakfast we headed out to PNC Park to see the finale of the series. Early morning fog was begin transformed into cumulus clouds as the sun shone over the park, and the filtered sunshine showed that we were indeed headed toward fall, despite the warm weather. We did not spend as much time outside of the park as the previous day, but we did focus our attention on the river. Much like we saw in Cincinnati in 2004, there was quite a bit of river boat traffic this Sunday morning, and it reminded me what life might have been like on the river long ago. Leftover haze gave the river and its surroundings a softer hue, and somehow this seemed to add to the appeal of the area.
Upon entering the park, we conducted one final walkthrough of the stadium with the best conditions we had seen so far. Based on the number of fans milling around outside, the crowd promised to be much smaller than the game the previous night. Our experience has taught that Sunday afternoon games were usually more lightly attended than Saturday night games, and it seemed that trend would hold for the afternoon contest. In addition, we had entered football season, which meant the part of the crowd that might have come to see a poorly performing Pirate team instead stayed home to watch gridiron action. Regardless of the reason, we expected to have more elbow room for the matinee contest.
Before getting a baseball lunch and heading for our seats, we headed up the upper deck to get some pictures of the stadium with downtown as the backdrop. From that vantage point, my brother took some of my favorite ballpark pictures, and even those picture did not do the scenery justice. Though we did not have pristine conditions, the panorama my brother constructed from those pictures qualify (in my opinion; his may vary) as his best work at baseball stadiums, and helps to shape my opinion of PNC Park being the best ballpark in MLB.
Our seats were very similar to those of the previous night, in the lower level just to the right of home plate. For the New York Mets, the game was not particularly meaningful, as they were on their way to the NL East title, but most of the regular starters were in the lineup. On the mound for the Mets was right hander John Maine, who was the number five starter in the New York rotation. For the hometown Pirates, left hander Zach Duke took the mound. Duke was the ace of the Pittsburgh staff, and we were not quite sure what to expect out of either team, with so little at stake for either team this late in the season.
Pittsburgh scored two runs against the Mets in the bottom of the first inning, and as it would turn out, that would be more than enough for Duke, who tossed eight shutout innings against a formidable New York lineup. Despite the second straight flat performance by the Mets, the game was again almost superfluous, as the fine late summer conditions made PNC Park shine even more than the night before. In between innings, I spent my time shifting my attention from one feature to the other, while my brother’s camera was busy capturing the nearly perfect baseball environment. As we suspected, the crowd was quite thin, nowhere near the announced crowd of nearly 30,00. Later I would learn that the Pirates’ attendance in 2006 was 1.8 million, which was next to last in the NL. Apparently, a poorly playing team trumped the beautiful ballpark, which had been racking up accolades since it opened its doors in 2001.
Time passed quickly during the low scoring game, which clocked in at about two hours and 30 minutes, which was shorter than the league average. Before I knew it, we were leaving this baseball palace, headed out for a five hour drive back home to central NJ (during which we would listen to the Jets lose another game). To say we thoroughly enjoyed the ballpark would be a great understatement. Though we were split as to whether we thought that PNC Park was the best MLB park, we did agree that it was a great baseball experience that we would have to repeat as soon as possible. If you find yourself near Pittsburgh during baseball season, check to see if the Pirates are home. If they are, GO! You will be glad that you did.
- First visit: Sunday April 18th 1999
- Most recent visit: Sunday May 24th 2009
Our first visit to this baseball cathedral came in April 1999. We did not arrive together; my brother came up to Boston with some friends, and I traveled south from Yarmouth ME (just northeast of Portland). For me, the trip took about two and one-half hours traveling south along Interstate 95. While the drive to Boston was uneventful, the drive through Boston was anything but. Since Fenway Park is nestled within the city, I had to navigate my way through downtown to reach it, which took longer than I expected. Having been to Fenway Park before (in 1996), I knew that there was precious little parking around the stadium, and I was not quite as shocked by the price of parking (which was about $30 back then), leaving my car in a gas station parking lot.
As expensive as the parking was for the Fenway, I was just across the street from the oldest MLB park. Not surprisingly, the neighborhood around the ballpark was packed, as vendors sold food, drinks and programs outside the park (often at greatly reduced prices). Fans milled around outside the stadium, as legions of others debarked from the “T” train (shorthand for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority or MBTA). This would be the last time I would drive to Fenway; taking the T from outside the the city to the park made so much more sense, with the Fenway Station stop a mere 500 feet from the park. If I wasn’t in a baseball mood coming up to Fenway, the sight of the venerable stadium and the buzz of the crowd would have certainly set the mood for me!
Entering the stadium from the home plate entrance, I emerged into the bright milky sunshine of Fenway Park. Much like I had seen on TV for so many years, the view of the stadium was dominated by the Green Monster. Almost a mythical presence, the Monster is one of the most recognizable ballpark features (along with the ivy in Wrigley Field) in baseball. Part of Fenway since it opened in 1912, the Monster has changed its appearance over the years, most notably adding seats at the top for the 2003 season. Beyond the Monster lies the iconic Citgo sign, another instantly recognizable feature to baseball fans. Unbeknownst to me before visiting, the sign is about one-quarter of a mile from Fenway; it looks much closer on TV.
After meeting up with my brother and his friends, we toured the ballpark. While the playing field and walls of Fenway Park are kept in good shape, the same cannot be said of the concourse stretching behind the seating areas from left field through home plate to right field. Actually, I was surprised to see how much this area has aged in comparison to the rest of the ballpark. In any event, we saw the staff at the concession stands standing with their arms crossed, not looking particularly friendly; I later read that this is a normal pose for them when not occupied. As was typical for me, I purchased hot dogs and a Coke before heading to our seats.
On that afternoon, we saw the Red Sox host the Tampa Bay Devils Rays, sitting near the right field foul pole. Though the view from the seats was not exactly fan friendly, I was just glad to be there. Sunshine and relatively light winds allowed temperatures to rise into the lower 60s (17 degrees C), which is pleasantly warm for northern New England in mid April. While the game was mostly unremarkable (as the Rays beat the Sox 5-1), my most vivid memory of the game (outside of finally visiting Fenway) was Jose Canseco’s solo home run in the top of the sixth inning. Fenway Park has short fences in both left and right field (though the Monster takes away some home runs due to its height), but no park (outside of Yellowstone) was going to hold the ball hit by Canseco. That home run was one of the longest home runs I have ever seen personally, easily clearing the top of the Monster, sailing over Lansdowne Street into the parking lot behind it.
For much of the rest of the game, I was marveling at the fact that I WAS AT FENWAY PARK! Along with Wrigley Field in Chicago, this ballpark is steeped in baseball tradition that dated back to World War I. As a kid, I watched the 1975 World Series from Fenway, which was one of the best series every played. As a young adult, I saw the New York Mets sweep the games played here in the 1986 World Series on TV as well. Many Hall of Famers called Fenway home, and over a 40 year period (from the early 1940s through the early 1980s), only three players manned left field on a regular basis, and each one of this players is in the Hall of Fame. Though some changes had been made to the ballpark since my youth, it was still very much the stadium I remember from TV for all of those years.
Our second trek to Fenway Park together occurred on Sunday, May 24th 2009, as the Red Sox were hosting the New York Mets for the final game of a weekend series. My brother was visiting me in the Maine, and we drove down to Suffolk Downs (a racetrack) outside of Boston. Parking there, we took the Green Line of the MBTA rail system to Fenway Park. Though the train ride was about 30 minutes, it was still faster (and cheaper) to park and ride than to drive to Fenway Park and attempt to find parking. As was the case a decade ago, the area outside of Fenway Station was buzzing with Sox fans, and that continued through our short walk to the ballpark. With a little more time to explore than our previous sojourn, we wandered through the neighborhood immediately around the park.
Jersey Street was reminiscent of Eutaw Street in Baltimore, with a wide variety of restaurants and food vendors near Fenway, serving practically any type of cuisine you could desire. Like Eutaw Street, we did not partake in the local food, but based on the number of people indulging, it appeared as though you could have a good afternoon simply sampling the food and drink the area has to offer. Instead, we chose to walk around the park. This time, my brother armed with his camera, we lit out, taking picture of the exterior of Fenway Park.
As we past the left field wall, we saw a cab pull up to the curb. As the occupant exited, there was an audible murmur from the people nearest the vehicle. As we got closer, we could see that it was Mets centerfielder, Carlos Beltran. It seemed odd that (a) Beltran would get to the stadium so late (as I was sure the remainder of his teammates were already in the clubhouse), and (b) that the perennial All Star, who was near the end of a seven year, $119 million contract, would opt for a cab, and not a limo. Beltran disappeared quickly, not interacting with any of the cadre of Mets fans who were at Fenway for the weekend series.
After finishing our tour of the exterior of the park, we entered Fenway through the home plate entrance. Because the Red Sox were playing so well, tickets to the park were nearly impossible to obtain outside of third party resellers, and those prices were exorbitant. A coworker offered us his standing room only (SRO) tickets for the game. Since we NEVER choose the SRO option for games, we were not aware of the potential pitfalls of those accommodations. Once you enter the park with SRO tickets, you need to stake your claim at the rail of your choice and hold onto it for the remainder of the game. Had I known what an SRO ticket entailed, I would have paid the bloated prices for seats, even if they were obstructed (as there are still obstructed seats at Fenway, most of which are blocked by support girders in the lower levels).
Though it had been a decade since our last visit, I was just as excited to be there that day, especially because the Mets were in town. We wandered the lower concourse toward right field after visiting the home plate area. It was still fairly early, but we noticed there was a fairly large contingent of Mets fans lining the right field line, which was a bit surprising considering the availability of tickets for the game. Walking to the right field bleachers, we reached the extent to which we could explore in that direction, so we headed toward the left field line and the Green Monster. We weren’t able to visit the seats of the Monster, as they section had a separate entrance from the street below.
Having explored as thoroughly as possible, it was time for us to find a place from which we would view the game on this warm and humid afternoon. Not surprisingly, most of the rails already had a couple of lines of spectators near them, which meant we would have to keeping looking for a spot, finally settling on a mediocre view of the action down the left field line. About 15 minutes before game time, a thunderstorm made its presence known north of the stadium. Though the storm was still a good distance away, it was clear that it was strong, and heading our way. Despite the clear and present danger, the decision was made to start the game, even as the ferocious storm neared.
As the Mets took the field for the bottom of the first inning, the storm struck. Gusty winds, torrential rains, vivid lightning and continuous thunder accompanied the squall, sending the sellout crowd scurrying for cover. While it was clear this storm was going to impact the stadium, the game was started anyway, and I was at a loss why the umpires would allow this to happen. A 45 minute rain delay ensued, as the fans in the tightly packed concourse waited increasingly impatiently for the storm to pass, if for no other reason than being able to get out of the concourse. When play resumed, both starting pitchers came back out, but had the rain delay lasted much longer, that might not have been the case.
In 2009, the New York Mets were on the decline, after having some success earlier in the decade, while the Red Sox were a bit more than a year removed from their latest world championship. That did not bode well for the Mets, but both starting pitchers were ineffective (due to the rain delay?), resulting in a mini slugfest through the first half of the game. After that time, the potent Sox offense feasted in the Mets bullpen, and the Mets chances faded after that point. All the while, we were relegated to viewing action from a couple of rows from the railing, which was a dismal experience. With the Mets losing, and tiring of the poor vantagepoint, we did something we have only done a handful of times in the nearly 40 years of seeing baseball games together; we left before the end of the game.
Disappointed by the bad look at the action, we headed out to catch the “T” back to Suffolk Downs. Though this experience was not as good as the first, it WAS still Fenway Park. With so many features, quirks and landmarks, it would be difficult to cover all of them in this missive. It is one of my favorite parks (even more so than Wrigley Field, its contemporary), even though it IS aging. In need of a facelift at least, perhaps it is time to consider a new home for the Sox, leaving Fenway Park in place as a living museum, a reminder of what baseball once was. This opinion does NOT align with most fans, but I would prefer that the ballpark NOT go through the same changes as Wrigley Field, which may have alter its character such that the original stadium becomes unrecognizable.
- First visit: Sunday June 8th 2008
- Most recent visit: Sunday May 20 2018
After moving from Montreal following the 2004 season, the newly minted Washington Nationals (known locally as the Nats) played their first three seasons in RFK Stadium. During that time, its replacement, Nationals Park (known locally as Nats Park), was constructed on the southeast Anacostia River waterfront, not far from the Navy Yard section of Washington DC. An ambitious construction schedule projected completion in time for the start of the 2008 baseball season, a mere 23 months after groundbreaking in May of 2006. Fortunately, weather and other circumstances were kind to the project, and Nats Park opened as scheduled in late March 2008.
Our first visit to Nats Park occurred on Sunday June 8th as the hometown Nats hosted the San Francisco Giants at 115 pm. From central NJ, the drive took about three hours, and we didn’t have much difficulty finding the stadium, after driving around DC first. Sunday morning traffic was light, so the detour did not cause any problems arriving at the park with time to spare before the first pitch. Not knowing much about the park (as it was still fairly new), we were not presented with a multitude of parking options. Finally, we parked on the site of an old foundry down the street from the stadium. During our drive through that section of DC, it was evident that just a couple of blocks north of the park, the neighborhood changed fairly drastically. This was something we would verify on subsequent trips to Nats Park.
As is our custom, we walked around the perimeter of the stadium prior to entering the ballpark. Nats Park was built on the banks of the Anacostia River, which lies beyond the first base side of the ballpark. A walking trail along the river provided excellent views of the river and the boat traffic. Due to time constraints, we did not spend much time on the banks of the Anacostia, but with what little we did see, I made a mental note to visit this spot the next time we were there.
As we rounded the right field section of the park, we saw the DC Metro station serving Nats Park. It was a short walk from the stadium, and seemingly most of the fans were arriving via the train. To this point, most of the parks we had visited did NOT have easy access to subway or rail lines (outside of the New York City, of course). Having easy access to mass transit seems to be the key to a better fan experience, and we were pleased to see that DC planned well. Once we completed our tour of the outside of the park, we entered through the home plate entrance. Being in DC, we expected security to be thorough, but it was my opinion that the security at Nats Park was aggressive, rude and surly. Because of that, getting through the security checkpoints has always been the biggest downside of seeing games there.
Strolling along the lower concourse of Nats Park, we stadium was vaguely reminiscent of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, which opened four years earlier. Each stadium as three (or four, in left field of Nats Park) tiers of seats, as well as bleacher seats near centerfield. Both parks are open in the outfield, though the view of centerfield here is MUCH nicer than Citizens Bank Park. Rather than a large videoboard in left field (as is the case in Philadelphia), the large videoboard here is in right field, though it is smaller in DC. Both ballparks have an out of town scoreboard/auxiliary videoboard running the length of the right field wall. Though it was still very early in the visit, I thought that while the views from Nats Park were FAR better than those of the Phillies home, Citizens Bank Park had an edge with respect to the interior of the park.
One of the earliest comments we had heard about Nats Park was the height of the press level. Listening to Mets broadcasters describe the TV broadcast booth as the highest they had ever seen, I was curious to see what was so different about this park. As we walked out into centerfield, we found that the press levels is indeed at the top of the stadium behind home plate. We did not appreciate the height until we climbed up to near that level to get pictures for a panorama. While not as high as some of the seats of the multipurpose monsters of the 1960s and 1970s, it was surprising that the press level was that far away from the action.
Even though the seating capacity of Nats Park is listed at 41,000+, the three tiers of seats (as well as the bleachers in the outfield) made the park seem somehow bigger. In my opinion, the size of the ballpark detracted from the intimacy of the stadium, which has become a hallmark of the “newer” MLB parks built during the 2000s/2010s. Like most of the newer parks, Nats Park featured a large array of restaurants and bars, as well as a very nice lounge area in the 200 section behind home plate. Since my tastes at the ballpark are more traditional, I did not indulge in any of the specialty eateries, relying on the more standard fare available from the concession stands.
Once we found our seats in the upper deck behind home plate (one of our favored seating locations), we discovered we could see the dome of the Capitol (an unexpected treat). Though the weather was sunny with light winds for our game, it is not hard to imagine that strong or gusty winds in the upper deck could detract from the experience, especially near the top of the stadium in cold weather. Nats Park offers great sight lines from just about all seats, and fans are much closer to the action than the old multipurpose stadiums. While not quite as intimate as Camden Yards just up Interstate 95, Nats Park provides a great place to see a game nestled within the DC city limits.
More impressed with the ballpark than I expected, the game that occurred that afternoon was almost an afterthought. Behind a strong outing by the Giants’ left hander Barry Zito, San Francisco bested the hometown Nats 6-3. Perhaps my best memory of the game was the President’s Race. Its origins reach back to RFK Stadium in 2006, as people dressed in president’s costumes engage in a foot race around the warning track, starting at a gate in centerfield and ending just before the 1st base dugout. In total, seven presidents have run in the race, which occurs in the fourth inning of each home game. There have been some bizarre endings to the race, but none more interesting than when the Easter Bunny leapt out of the crowd, disrupting the race and allowing William Taft to win.
Having a long drive home after the game, we did not take much time to further examine the ballpark. However, on the way out along the upper level concourse, we did catch glimpses of two of DC’s famous landmarks. Both the US Capitol and the Washington Memorial were clearly visible, and despite traveling across the United States a fair amount, this was my first actual look at both (though from a distance).
Living far enough away from DC to make the trip an all day affair, we did not visit Nats Park again until 2013, when I moved to Maryland, just a few miles away from the park. Living less than a mile from the Green Line of the Washington Metro, I quickly discovered that taking the train to the ballpark was cheaper (as parking near the park could cost in excess of $40) and easier than driving. In a surprise to me, the Washington Metro service stops running at 1130 PM. That relatively early shut down meant that if Nats games went into extra innings, you had to consider when you would leave the game. A miscalculation could easily result in a taxi or Uber fare of $60 or more.
Since the train ride to Nats Park was only about 20 minutes, it became my preferred location to see our favorite team, the New York Mets. Most of the games we have seen at the ballpark have been against the Mets, and as my brother reminded me, we saw plenty of games with the Mets on the losing end. Unfortunately for us, the Nats were better the Mets most years. In fact, we had the misfortune to see Bryce Harper hit a walk off home run in the 13th inning on a Thursday afternoon in August of 2014. Perhaps the most memorable game (for very bad reasons) we have seen at Nats park was April 30th, 2017.
The Nats lineup scored five runs off Mets starter Noah Syndergaard in the first inning, and his fastball was uncharacteristically flat. After facing one batter in the second inning, Syndergaard exited the game. It was clear from the expression of concern by Syndergaard and the Mets coaching staff that the injury was serious, and he ended up missing much of the remainder of the season with a torn lat muscle.
After the departure of the Mets starter, the Nats packed lineup feasted on the New York bullpen. Things got so bad for the Mets that they sent backup catcher Kevin Plawecki to the mound in the eight inning. Though he did give up a few runs, his pitching performance that afternoon was not much worse than the rest of the New York pitching staff. The Mets went down quietly in the top of the ninth, mercifully ending a 23-5 romp. In the game, the Nats Anthony Rendon went 5 for 5 with three home runs and 10 RBI. Though the defeat smarted, the loss of the fireballing Syndergaard was one from which the Mets could not recover.
Nationals Park has grown on me over the years. Once I moved to Maryland, and the park was a mere short train ride away, we visited at least a couple of time a year. However, my love for the minor leagues cut down on the number of trips to Nats Park through the 2010s, as the minor league experience is much more intimate than the MLB experience. If you plan to see a game at Nats Park, I would recommend taking mass transit, since parking is expensive, and the getaway after the game could take a considerable amount of time, especially following an afternoon game during the week.
- First visit: Sunday June 6th 1996
- Most recent visit: Wednesday August 30th 2017
Our first visit to Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore MD occurred June 6th 1999, more than seven years after the park opened. A two and one-half hour trip from central NJ, we found the ballpark with little difficulty. Parking was plentiful, with lots near the park, as well as adjacent to M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL Ravens. With plenty of time before the scheduled 135 pm start, we decided to explore the environs. After entering the ballpark area, we strolled down the south portion of Eutaw Street, which runs between stadium and the Baltimore and Ohio Warehouse. A carnival like atmosphere brought Eutaw Street alive early that afternoon, with plenty of places to eat and drink. We were STUNNED to see the prices of the offerings along the street, unaccustomed to paying that much for food or drinks near a ballpark. Rather than indulge, we kept walking, eventually surrounding the stadium on our way to the home plate entrance.
Of course, what we did not yet understand is that we were witnessing the birth of the “new” way of seeing baseball games. Oriole Park at Camden Yards (also known as Camden Yards) is generally acknowledged as the first of the new wave of MLB ballparks, and Eutaw Street was our introduction how the environment around the stadium would become a vital part of the overall experience. In fact, MLB parks that followed would adopt this approach, offering a wide variety of food and beverages, whether outside the park or inside with restaurants and bars.
Camden Yards was designed as a replacement for Memorial Park, the home of the Orioles since their arrival in 1954. Designed to vaguely emulate the new Comiskey Park in Chicago, Camden Yards was the first MLB stadium since Ebbets Field (the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers until the late 1950s) to incorporate an existing building as park of the architecture of the stadium. B&O Warehouse, extending the length of Camden Yards’ right field wall, gave the ballpark an unmistakable landmark recognizable to even the most casual baseball fan. On the way back toward the home plate entrance, we discovered statutes outside of the park. Orioles greats Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray were immortalized in bronze, as were Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken. Though new to us, this type of tribute would become nearly ubiquitous in the cadre of new MLB parks that would follow.
Once inside, we wandered the lower concourse, which wrapped around the playing field. We discovered that Camden Yards had three tiers of seats extending from left field behind home plate to right field foul pole, which comprised most of the 48,000 plus seats in the ballpark. Unlike older MLB parks, the seats near the left and right field foul poles were angled toward home plate. This simple gesture greatly increases the fan experience in these areas, and would become the norm for new stadiums during the next decade.
Walking along the lower concourse, we found the picnic area in right field, just above the auxiliary scoreboard/video board extending the length of the right field wall. This was the first dedicated fan gathering area we had seen in an MLB, and again it would serve as a model for ballparks to follow. Of course, the B&O Warehouse dominated the view in right field, becoming synonymous with Camden Yards. Just to the right of the green batter’s eye in centerfield was the main videoboard. Located atop the bleachers in centerfield, the board was surprisingly small for a new park, though in this case a smaller video board was not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than presenting an overbearing presence, the smaller videoboard was adequate as well as unobtrusive.
Continuing along the lower concourse toward the left field foul pole, we encountered the bullpen, which was composed of two levels. At the time, Camden Yards was the first MLB park to sport the two tier bullpen, and this layout would be copied by other newly constructed parks. Finally, we climbed to the upper deck behind home plate to get pictures to create a panorama of the stadium. From that vantage point, we realized that portions of the outfield wall blocked the view of downtown Baltimore. We didn’t think much about it at the time, but featuring a city skyline would become the centerpiece for stadiums that followed (most notably PNC Bank in Pittsburgh and Busch Stadium III in St Louis). Apparently, there was some criticism concerning the blockage of the view of Baltimore, but from our perspective, it did not detract from the beautiful ballpark.
We did not have a camera for our first Camden Yards visit, and I cannot recall where we sat that day. Baltimore hosted the Philadelphia Phillies for the afternoon contest. Philadelphia prevailed in what would become a slugfest, and my scorecard for the game survived the trip home. Considering that we had only visited multipurpose stadiums (as well as Yankee Stadium), digesting what we had seen at Camden Yards was almost overwhelming. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were seeing the future of MLB parks, a blueprint that was employed by other MLB clubs when planning and building their new homes.
We have returned to Camden Yards on a number of occasions during the following two decades. During one our visits, we ventured away from the park, wandering down to the Inner Harbor. Originally a shallow water port used mainly for commercial shipping, the Inner Harbor gradually transformed into a visitor’s haven, complete with recreational facilities, shopping and dining. My attraction to the Inner Harbor consisted mainly of the boat traffic in that portion of the Chesapeake Bay. On this occasion, we were fortunate to see the USS Constellation, a ship from the 19th century. She was designed and built for use in the Mediterranean Sea and Africa in the 1850s, but was summoned home during the Civil War to patrol for Confederate ships. The Constellation served various roles afterward, before finding a permanent home in the Inner Harbor. This find was particularly satisfying for me, as that trip combined two of my passions: baseball and American history.
Each visit to Camden Yards was like greeting an old friend, and quickly became one of my favorite parks in MLB. Most of our visits were on weekends, as my brother came down to visit me when I moved to Maryland in 2013. Most games were against either the Phillies or other AL teams, but to date none of the games were important to the playoff fortunes of the Orioles. One of the games that does stand out was against the Boston Red Sox in July of 2013. David Ortiz had just grabbed national headlines by assaulting a dugout phone with his bat after a called strike three with which he did not agree. During this first at-bat of the game we saw after that incident, we was booed mercilessly by the large partisan crowd. To the chagrin of the hometown fans, Ortiz hit a two run homer run in the third, as Jon Lester and relievers shut down the Orioles offense in a 5-0 Boston victory.
Needless to say, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was a trailblazer from the very start, sparking a revolution in the way ballparks were built that lasts to this day. In addition, it should be noted that the Inner Harbor is just a short walk from the park. If you find yourself within range of the ballpark during baseball season, check to see if the Orioles are in town. You won’t be disappointed!
Veterans Stadium (1987-2003)
- First visit: exact date unknown; some time in the of spring 1987
- Last visit: Wednesday July 3rd 2002
From the Jersey shore (where we grew up), Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, PA was the closest MLB park. However, we did not visit the ballpark until sometime in the spring of 1987. Our first visit came as part of a bus trip from the local high school, as driving to Philadelphia at that point was not an option. During the mid to late 1980s, the Mets teams were competitive, which made getting seats at Shea Stadium was nearly impossible. In order to see the best Mets teams in more than a decade, we had to see them at the Vet (as it was referred to often). Phillies teams during that era were becoming progressively less competitive, which meant good seats for Mets games at the Vet were much easier to obtain.
Veterans Stadium was a multipurpose behemoth, home to the Phillies and the NFL Eagles. Like most multipurpose stadiums of the time (such as Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh PA or Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati OH), the Vet was an enclosed, multi tiered park with a nearly symmetrical outfield. The Vet held over 56,000 fans for baseball (and over 65,000 for football), with many of the seats for baseball much further away from the action than “newer” MLB parks that followed in the 1990s. There were times, when sitting in the upper deck in centerfield, we would see a ball put in play by the batter, only to hear the crack of the bat a split second later. As a budding scientist, I was intrigued to discover that we were seated so far from home plate that the speed of sound was a consideration while following the action.
Debuting in 1971, the Vet featured an AstroTurf playing surface (except for the home plate area, cutouts around the bases, and the pitcher’s mound). With a thin artificial surface sitting on a concrete base (for stability), heat radiating from that surface would often exceed 110 degrees F (and sometime approach 125 degrees F) during the hottest part of the summer. In addition, the thin turf provided little protection to players on the field, and long term play on that surface caused many injuries, resulting in the shortening of players’ careers. Why did teams use AstroTurf, even with its obvious shortcomings? Like most things, it was all about the money. Two teams sharing a natural grass playing surface (like Shea Stadium) would put serious stress on both the field and the grounds crew, occasionally resulting in a subpar playing field. An artificial surface eliminated that problem.
Veterans Stadium was a generic park, with an adequate if unspectacular scoreboard and video board. Unlike ballparks that would follow, food and beverages were obtained from concession stands or wandering vendors only, with specialty foods and in-house restaurants gradually appearing toward the end of the Vet’s tenure. As mentioned earlier, there were seats that were fairly distant from the action, and engineering for optimal fan viewing was not yet available. This meant that fans down each line spent an inordinate amount of time leaning toward home plate, which could become fatiguing. However, Phillies fans were treated to possibly the best mascot in sports, the Philly Phanatic. While I found most team mascots uninteresting, the Phanatic would often push the limits of what mascots should do on the field. Luckily, most players (and at least a few umpires) were in on the joke, and would play along with the Phanatic to entertain the fans.
During our early visits to the Vet, we did NOT have a camera, so most of the information about the stadium comes from personal experience, rather than a digital record. For the most part, Veteran Stadium was a decent place to see a baseball game, though it lacked any sense of intimacy because of its immense size. We did get to see Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt toward the end of his career, as well as many battles between the Mets and Phillies. We saw Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions take on the Eagles at the Vet in the early 1990s, and Pink Floyd, the Who and the Rolling Stones between 1989 and 2003. Perhaps the most memorable event we saw at the Vet was when Phillies shortstop Dickie Thon hit a game winning home run against the Mets Don Aase on September 12th 1989. That loss essentially ended the Mets playoff hopes for the 1989 campaign.
A discussion of Veterans Stadium would be incomplete with including details about the courtroom and jail housed within it. If you are not familiar with the sports fans in Philadelphia, they can be a raucous bunch, especially when alcohol is involved. Philadelphia fans have booed Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and have been known to be ruthless to visiting and home players alike. Through personal experience, we learned NOT to identify ourselves as fans of the visiting team, lest we incur the wrath of the hometown fanatics. Fan misbehavior became so frequent that Philadelphia County officials found it necessary to place holding cells and a courtroom within the stadium. Individuals committing offenses would be held in the jail cell, awaiting arraignment and adjudication of their misdeeds.
Perhaps the worst aspect of Veterans Stadium was parking and traffic after the game. While there was more than enough parking for the stadium around the Vet, at times finding acceptable parking was difficult. The neighborhood surrounding the park was sketchy in places, and returning to that spot after a night game had to be considered when choosing where to leave your vehicle. We never had a problem with parking, but it would not be a stretch of the imagination to believe that safety could be an issue. Once the game was over, it always felt like you were on your own exiting the area. In the early days, police did NOT direct traffic after games, and leaving became a test of wills. It was not unusual to wait more than an hour in traffic at the Vet after a game before you could get on one of the many highways out of the region. In later years, the police did direct traffic after games, and the process of leaving became much more palatable.
Veterans Stadium, like other multipurpose facilities of the time, was an acceptable place to see a ballgame, but by no means a fan friendly environment. After the completion of Citizens Bank Park, Veterans Stadium met an ignominious end, as it was imploded (on live local TV) March 21st, 2004. We frequented the Vet as often as we did because it was easier to see the Mets in Philadelphia than Queens NY. Unlike Shea Stadium, I do not miss the Vet.
Citizens Bank Park (2004-2019)
- First visit: Saturday April 17th 2004
- Most recent visit: Saturday August 31st 2019
Philadelphia authorized the construction of separate stadiums for baseball and football in the late 1990s, a significant departure from previous policy concerning spending tax dollars on ballparks. Originally slated to be constructed in downtown Philadelphia (like other new MLB ballparks during this time), protests from residents of the Chinatown section of Center City ultimately resulted in the new baseball stadium being located near the site of Veterans Stadium in South Philadelphia. Ground was broken for Citizens Bank Park (the future home for the Phillies) in June of 2001, and during our visits to the Vet, we would check on the progress of the new ballpark.
Citizens Bank Park opened its doors on April 3rd 2004, and we our first visit occurred a scant two weeks later on Saturday April 17th, as the hometown Phillies hosted Montreal (in their last season as the Expos). There was not much to see outside of the stadium quite yet, so after a cursory look around, we entered the ballpark through the home plate entrance.
Upon entering, we could immediately see that Citizens Bank Park was a vast improvement on its predecessor. Instead of a behemoth, the ballpark was smaller and more intimate, clearly designed with the baseball fan experience in mind. A wide open centerfield offered a glimpse of Center City Philadelphia, though a very unfortunately placed sign ruins the view to some degree. A three tiered seating area stretches from left field foul pole into right field, where an auxiliary scoreboard spans the length of the lower deck. Beyond the foul pole in left field was a detached bleacher section, with a very impressive videoboard above it. Obviously constructed as a signature of the newly minted ballpark, it doubles as a scoreboard, filled with any stat a diehard baseball fan could imagine.
After drinking in the new park (and its natural grass playing field, a welcome departure from the Vet), we walked along the concourse, which encircled the playing field. Lined with places to eat and shops with Phillies merchandise, the lower concourse snaked through the rear of the lower level into centerfield. From this vantage point, we got a good view of the bullpens. Arranged vertically, the Phillies bullpen, originally placed on the top, was subsequently moved to the lower level, in part to reduce the amount of heckling from rowdy Phillies fans (this is Philadelphia, after all).
Next to the bullpens was the batter’s eye in centerfield. Adorned with shrubbery amid a small field of grass, the batter’s eye featured a brick wall that was slowly being consumed by an ever expanding area of ivy. One of the quirks of Citizens Bank Park, “The Angle”, was located on the left side of the batter’s eye. It marked the deepest part of the park, a nod to the “imperfections” of ballparks from the past. Moving toward the left field foul pole, we encountered the Phillies Baseball Walk of Fame. Nearly three dozen plaques arranged on the wall paid homage to Phillies greats, labeled as the Phillies Centennial Team.
Finding our seats for our first visit to the new ballpark, I couldn’t help but feel as though the Phillies organization “got it right”. Following the template forged by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Citizens Bank Park gave fans a much better experience, bringing them closer to the action than ever before. The open air feel to the stadium, as well as clean sight lines, made for a truly enjoyable visit. Unlike Veterans Stadium, there were myriad places to eat, with many restaurants offering virtually anything you could want to eat or drink at the ballgame.
Making a nearly clean break from the past, I did not see anything brought over the the new ballpark from the Vet, save for the Liberty Bell located outside of the stadium. However, this IS still Philadelphia, and unfortunately, unruly fans did make the trek from the old stadium to the new one. In fact, we experienced our most harrowing fan interaction at Citizens Bank Park, when a group of Phillies fans engulfed us, preventing us from exiting our seats until the remainder of the fans in that section left. Being outnumbered, we had little choice but to capitulate, reminding us that this place was NOT safe for fans of visiting teams.
Other than the less than affable Philly crowds, the only aspect of Citizens Bank Park I did not like was the small outfield dimensions. Unlike the Vet, which was cavernous, this ballpark was a “band box”, which promoted home runs. Had Mike Schmidt played in this smaller park his entire career, he might have approached Hank Aaron’s career home run record. Though home runs are appealing to most fans, from my perspective, more home runs make them less exciting.
Being much closer to central NJ than Shea Stadium (and later Citi Field), Citizens Bank Park was our first choice to see New York Mets games, even if they were the visiting team. Other than some forced quirks designed to introduce some character to the stadium, and the raucous fan base, the ballpark offers a first rate facility for baseball, and we visit as often as time and circumstance dictate.