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.