Less than a week after our trip to Charlotte NC and Atlanta GA, we decided to take a quick trip to Reading PA to visit FirstEnergy Stadium. Since the ballpark was about 90 minutes from central NJ, we didn’t feel the need to spend the night near Reading.
The trip was rather uneventful, slowed only by occasional heavier traffic endemic of travel on interstates across the Northeast. We arrived about an hour before game time, just as the gates opened. There didn’t appear to be onsite parking at FirstEnergy Stadium, but parking was plentiful surrounding the ballpark, much of which was less than $5.00.
From the first look, it was clear that we were visiting an old school ballpark. While the outside of the park had a more modern look, the inside presented a much different feel. Though there have been a series of upgrades to the park over the years, seemingly much of the vibe of the stadium remained from when it opened in 1951.
Nothing brought that point home more clearly than our seats. The seats were formed plastic, like something you might find in a baseball museum. Created in a different era, the seats were relatively small, especially for plus sized people. Sitting in these seats was uncomfortable, requiring me to shift positions often. After some adjustment, I was able to get comfortable, sitting in seats that seemed to be from decades in the past.
Aisles between the seats were unusually narrow, again apparently a relic from another time. There was little room between our seats and the seats in front of us. In fact, the space was so tight that we didn’t bring concessions back to the seats for fear of having no place to put them or worse, spilling them on the fans in front of us.
Once settled into our seats, we were able to take in the ballpark. Unlike many minor league parks, FirstEnergy Stadium had a more bucolic backdrop, with the Reading Prong visible beyond the outfield. Discomfort with the seats aside, there was a charm to the place. The ballpark seemed compact, though FirstEnergy Stadium has a capacity of over 9,000 seats. There was an retro style scoreboard in right field, which seemed as though it could have been from when the placed opened.
The Fightin’ Phils, the Double A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, hosted the Trenton Thunder, the Double A affiliate of the New York Yankees, with the first pitch slated for 635 pm. As is typical for a Saturday night game, there was a good crowd on board. The starter for the visiting Thunder was 21 year old Justus Sheffield, a highly touted left hander in the Yankees system. However, on this night, Sheffield was merely average, allowing seven runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings.
The Fightin’ Phils starter, Mario Sanchez, fared better, giving up one run in three innings of work. Sanchez left after the third, though there was no apparent injury. We have learned it is not uncommon for players, especially pitchers, to leave games without obvious reasons. In this case, it’s possible the Phillies management saw what was necessary in his outing,
The Fightin’ Phils started the scoring in the second inning via a solo home run by 3B Mitch Walding. The Phils tacked on three runs in the fourth, including another home run by Walding, and as well as three runs in the fifth. This offensive outburst put the game out of reach for the Thunder, who managed a pair of runs in the third and eighth innings.
With the game decided fairly early, as evening turned into night, fans started leaving. This is something we have seen often at minor league games, as families with younger children take the opportunity to make it an early night. The darkness shrouded the backdrop, though the ballpark retained its charm. It was refreshing to see a game in a ballpark without pretense, proving that less could be more when it comes to environment.
With a 90 minute drive ahead of us, we left shortly after the last out. Though the ballpark was tight in spots, it was a great place to see a ballgame. The throwback feeling was a nice change of pace, after seeing so many newer stadiums that seemed to be too concerned with style while missing out on the substance. If you find yourself near FirstEnergy Stadium during a home stand, take the time to check out a ballpark from an earlier era.