First visit: exact date unknown, probably in spring of 2001
Most recent visit: Sunday, June 6th 2021
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 mapping 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, revealing 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 having cool, drizzly conditions 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 your 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: July 25th, 2021
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, providing 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, who tossed 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 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.
Due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, it was determined that the Toronto Blue Jays could not play their home games to start the 2021 MLB season. As they did in 2020, the Blue Jays would play their 2021 home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo NY. Home to their AAA affiliate (the Buffalo Bisons), suddenly Sahlen Field would NOT be available for the Bisons 2021 campaign.
Numerous press reports indicated that there was something of a scramble to find a home for the Bisons. Eventually, MiLB decided on Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton. Having lost their primary tenants to Somerset, the stadium was available for use. To my surprise, the Bisons would play in Trenton as the Thunder (the previous name of the franchise). Since the decision to place the Buffalo team in Trenton occurred quickly (and without much fanfare), it was not clear how many baseball fans knew about the relocation of the Bisons to Arm&Hammer Field.
My first visit to the see the new Trenton Thunder occurred on Saturday, May 8th 2021, as they hosted the Worcester Red Sox (the AAA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox) on a rainy and cool night. In accordance with New Jersey’s COVID-19 protocol, fans were seated in “pods” (groups of fans surrounded by empty seats), which ensured proper social distancing. To their credit, the fans followed the guidelines set forth by the Thunder and MiLB, and because of the guidelines, attendance was limited to about 25 percent capacity for the game. For the most part, there was not much different about the park, despite the new occupants taking residence with little notice.
It was strange to see the Trenton Thunder in action again at Arm&Hammer Field, this time as a AAA affiliate. Occasional rain during the first part of the contest put a damper on the evening, but since this was my first live baseball game in nearly 20 months, the weather was hardly a concern. Because of the pandemic, there were small but noticeable differences at the ballpark. First and foremost was the absence of Rookie, the Thunder bat dog. Rookie normally retrieves bats for the Thunder half of the first (to the great delight of the home fans), but he did not dispatch his primary duty this evening. Also, there were no bat boys/girls. This meant players had to retrieve bats near home plate, secure foul balls on the field, as well as keep the home plate umpire’s ball supply up to date. There were no on field games for fans between innings, a family favorite at minor league baseball parks.
Though the teams were now AAA, the level of play overall seemed a step down from the AA baseball we had seen at Arm&Hammer Park in the past. Despite scoring eight runs on 14 hits, the Worcester Red Sox struck out 18 times during the Saturday night game. Clearly the obsession with launch angle and hitting home runs has trickled its way down in the minor leagues. In addition, play in the field was not as crisp as it should be at this level, which was even more apparent during the Sunday afternoon game. Granted, the weather was inclement, and could have been a proximate cause for the sloppier than usual fielding, but I was surprised by what appeared to be a lack of concentration on defense. Even with the perceived deficiencies in the play, I was VERY happy to have live baseball back!
For now, it appears as though the team will play its home games in Trenton as the Thunder for the balance of the 2021 season. However, this is contingent on whether the government in Ontario continues to ban the Blue Jays from their home. Should that decision change, it is possible that the Thunder become the Bisons again in Buffalo later in the season. The Ontario provincial government lifted the travel ban for the Blue Jays effective July 30th, 2021, and the Thunder played their final game as the Triple A affiliate of the Blue Jays on Sunday, July 25th. This change allowed the REAL Trenton Thunder (a member of the MLB Draft League) to finish their inaugural season at Arm&Hammer Field in early August.
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 away (as long as traffic on the Beltway cooperated). 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 table 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. 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 often, 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.
During 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!
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.
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 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 ever 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 these 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), located 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 to explain why the umpires would allow this to occur. 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 beleaguered Mets bullpen, and the their chances for victory 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 could alter Fenway Park so much that the original stadium becomes unrecognizable.
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.
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 shutdown time 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 something 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.
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!
First visit: exact date unknown; some time in the of spring 1987
Last visit: WednesdayJuly 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 the 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 a concern. 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 advertisement 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.
Our first visit to Yankee Stadium took place on September 9th 1995, as the Yankees hosted the Boston Red Sox for a matinee contest. This visit was to the “second” Yankee Stadium, as the original configuration was renovated significantly in 1974 and 1975 (during which time the Yankees played at Shea Stadium, the home of the New York Mets). While still in the same physical location as the original “House That Ruth Built”, the renovations modernized the ballpark. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to visit the “old” Yankee Stadium.
Much like Shea Stadium in Queens, Yankee Stadium, located in the Bronx, is not easy to access coming from central NJ. Driving to the stadium was not deemed an option, as parking was limited and expensive, and exiting the region after the game was a nightmare. Instead, we chose to drive into Manhattan, park at the Javits Center parking lot, and hop on the C subway train to the ballpark (which took about 30 minutes). Without much to see in the immediate vicinity of the park, we entered the ballpark from the gate behind home plate.
Crossing from the darkness of the tunnel to the light of Yankee Stadium, it was instantly clear that we had entered a baseball cathedral. Seemingly immense in size, many of the landmarks I had seen on TV came within view. By this time, the outfield walls had been brought in considerably, especially in centerfield. Monument Park (an outdoor museum containing plaques and busts of Yankee greats), which was once in the playing field at the stadium, was adjacent to the visiting bullpen beyond the left centerfield wall. Bleachers in left center and right field bracketed the batter’s eye in centerfield. Dubbed the “bleacher creatures”, fans in the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium had a reputation for occasional vulgar behavior (which rattled opposing right fielders), as well as tossing D batteries at visiting players.
Perhaps the best known landmark in this hallowed ballpark was the white façade stretching atop the bleachers. Made originally of copper (which would occasionally turn green as the copper became exposed to the air), it was scrapped during the renovation in the mid 1970s, replaced by a concrete version which was in place when we visited. Even though we were not Yankees fans by any means, we could help not being overwhelmed by the air of history within this place. It is mind boggling how many Hall of Famers called Yankee Stadium home, and how many championships were won in this park.
During 1995, the Yankees were emerging from a decade long slumber during which time they did not appear in the playoffs. As the team improved with rising young stars interspersed with veterans, the attendance at Yankee Stadium rebounded. Because of this, we were often relegated to upper deck seats, particularly when the Red Sox (and later the crosstown Mets) were in town. We were surprised by how steep the seating area was in the upper deck, and there were times when I felt uncomfortable walking up and down the seemingly harrowing concrete stairs. Though it did not happen to us, I could see other battling vertigo when trying to navigate the upper deck at Yankee Stadium.
Luckily for us, we were able to catch a game during the final season of the Yankees captain, Don Mattingly. By this time, a degenerative spinal condition had eroded his once considerable skills, and during this visit to Yankee Stadium, Mattingly played first base and batted seventh. On this day, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox 9-1, with rookie lefthander Andy Pettitte securing the victory with 8 2/3 inning of one run ball. Some of the pieces in place that day would comprise the penultimate dynasty of the 1990s.
Visits to Yankee Stadium for the next decade or so were infrequent, usually scheduled when the Yankees hosted the Mets. We DID try to get tickets to the Subway Series in 2000, but not surprisingly tickets were scarce, and at that time, prohibitively expensive from resale vendors. After that time, the Yankees were perpetual contenders, as the Mets slid downhill for a few years. That downturn for the Mets made it somewhat easier to secure tickets at the stadium, though generally in the upper deck. One of my most vivid memories of Yankee Stadium occurred in 2002, when the Mets Roger Cedeno completed a straight steal of home plate (an exceedingly rare baseball event).
Fortunately for us, our upper deck seats (just to the left of home plate) gave us a fantastic view of the action. Taking a large lead off third base, Cedeno made a mad dash for the plate. Not sure of what I was seeing, I asked my brother what he was doing; it was, after all, the first straight steal of home I had seen in person. Though the Mets fortunes against the Yankees were generally disappointing, they did allow us to see Hall of Famers in pinstripes through 2008, including Derek Jeter and Wade Boggs, as well as players on the outside looking in, such as Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriquez. No matter what you may think of the last two players, Yankee Stadium was a great place to see these premiere athletes compete.
The “new” Yankee Stadium – September 16, 2017
Ground was broken for the “new” Yankee Stadium just across the street from the second incarnation of the “old” Yankee Stadium in 2006. Completed in time for the beginning of the 2009 season, the latest version of Yankee Stadium looked and felt like its predecessor. Much of the design was inspired by the original stadium, with Monument Park making the trip to the new park. After demolition of the old ballpark, the space was turned into parkland named Heritage Field.
Rather than transport the façade from the old stadium, new facade was crafted from steel instead of concrete for the new ballpark. The high definition video board in centerfield was the third largest in the world when it debuted, providing nearly twice the area of the video board in the old stadium. With fan comfort in mind, the stadium was laid out like a bowl, which made the seating more accessible, eliminating the nearly vertigo inducing steepness of the upper deck of its predecessor. Approximately 1300 pictures from various sources are scattered throughout the stadium. Dubbed “The Glory of the Yankees Photo Collection”, Yankee players and moments from the teams fabled past were featured in the photos.
All of the amenities of the new stadium were well done, creating an atmosphere similar to the old ballpark, updated for the 21st century. However, there was one huge step backward (in my opinion) with the new ballpark. In an obvious attempt to generate scoring, the outfield dimensions are smaller than the “old” stadium, giving the park the feel of a “bandbox” (a term denoting a ballpark that favored home runs). While the left and right field lines in the older versions of Yankee Stadium were (relatively) short, the remainder of the park was large enough to deter “cheap” home runs. Having the bleachers extending into left center and right center does enhance the fan experience (placing them closer to the action), but it also seems to invite more home runs. While this is typical of many “newer” MLB parks, in my opinion these changes were implemented chiefly to facilitate home runs.
During our pre game tour of the new Yankee Stadium, it was clear that the organization delivered a significant upgrade to the old stadium, with this version feeling much cozier (with the capacity right around 50,000). Gone was the history of the old stadium, but the newer facilities afforded a better overall fan experience, including myriad places to eat scattered across the stadium. With the Yankees on their way to yet another playoff berth, there was large crowd in attendance to see the late Saturday afternoon contest against the Baltimore Orioles.
On this clear and seasonably warm afternoon, the hometown Yankees sent left hander Jordan Montgomery to the hill to face the young Orioles lineup. Montgomery, a prized pitching prospect, was finishing a very effective rookie season. Baltimore sent veteran right hander Jeremy Hellickson to the mound to face the potent Yankee offense, which featured right fielder Aaron Judge. Judge was putting the finishing touches on a record setting rookie campaign, which would earn him AL Rookie of the Year honors. Shadows were a factor early in the game, due primarily to the 410 PM start (presumably to accommodate the Fox broadcast).
Once the shadows crept beyond home plate and the pitcher’s mound, New York used the long ball to score seven runs through the first five innings. Meanwhile, Yankee starter Jordan Montgomery consistently mowed down the Baltimore lineup. Montgomery left after six innings’ work, surrendering no runs on just four hits, while striking out six. His counterpart, Orioles starter Jeremey Hellickison, lasted a scant three innings, allowing six runs during his time of the mound. A trio of Baltimore relievers allowed three runs in mop up work, as the Yankees took a commanding 9-0 lead.
Despite the scoring, the pace of the game was comparatively quick, which left us little time to enjoy the atmosphere of the new ballpark. As late afternoon blended into early evening, Yankee Stadium took on a different hue. The ballpark appeared to soften under the lights, revealing that the once swelling crowd had diminished to a smattering of remaining faithful, with the game well in hand for the Bombers.
Entering the ninth inning, Yankee pitching held the young but improving Baltimore lineup in check. However, the Orioles did not go quietly, scoring three runs on a lead off home run by CF Austin Hays, followed by a series of walks, punctuated by a balk that allowed a run. Left hander Chasen Shreve, who had been enjoying a successful 2017 season as a bullpen stalwart, lost his command, giving up four walks before exiting the game. Those that remained for the top of the ninth became frustrated, audibly moaning and screaming after each walk. Finally, Yankee fans were treated a merciful end to the top of the ninth, as New York claimed a 9-3 victory. As quickly the first part of the game passed, the last three innings were that slow, with the ninth inning requiring nearly 30 minutes to complete.
In total, the game time was in excess of three and one-half hours, leaving just a few thousand fans to file out of Yankee Stadium into the streets around it. As we exited, I reflected on the new stadium. Overall, we were impressed by the stadium, (minus the smaller dimensions than its predecessor), as the organization successfully recreated the feel of Yankee Stadium, while updating it to make the ballpark more modern. Being in just about the same location as the old ballpark, it remains difficult to access from central NJ, so even though we enjoyed the atmosphere, I am not sure how often we will visit in the future.
For much of my life as a baseball fan, the New York Mets (my favorite squadron) were bad or awful, and 1982 was no exception. Though I was a lifelong Mets fan, I had not been to the venerable Shea Stadium. My MLB baseball experiences to that point had been relegated to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia PA and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY. Since we did not have access to a car in the early days, we took bus trips to see MLB games, and until 1982, we did not find any bus tours to Shea.
My brother and I decided to change that, and arranged to see the Chicago Cubs against the hometown Mets on August 15, 1982. Not having a car, and with no bus tours available for that game, we concocted what I now recognize as a risky plan to get to Shea Stadium. We took a NJ Transit bus from our hometown on the Jersey Shore to Port Authority in Manhattan. From there, we walked around the corner to catch the Number 7 train to Shea Stadium. Though this doesn’t seem particularly risky, I should add that I was 17 years old, and my brother was 10. Neither of us had ever ridden the subway, so we learned as we went. Of course, even at 17 I did not realize the precariousness that I placed both of us in with the trip. It was until many years later that my brother told me that I told our mother that we were taking a bus tour to Shea, so she had NO idea what we were doing. Mom would have NEVER allowed us to do anything so foolhardy, and I assume that’s why I lied to her.
Upon arrival, I was stunned by the size of Shea Stadium, as it was MUCH larger in person than on TV. We walked around a bit before looking for our seats. Not having a good idea of how the stadium was laid out, we found the correct seats numbers, but after consulting with an usher, we found that we were on the wrong level. Instead of the Loge, we were in the Mezzanine, one level up. We marveled at the fact that were were actually there, after talking about it for so long. By that time, Shea Stadium was 18 years old, and was beginning to show its age. The Mets were still sharing Shea with the New York Jets, and maintaining cleanliness within the stadium itself was a monumental challenge. Despite that, the playing field was in great shape, and we were set to enjoy the game.
Back in those days, Sunday afternoon games typically started at 130 PM, and we were a bit perplexed as to why this game was starting at 100 PM. We discovered that the Cubs and Mets would play a doubleheader that day, with Banner Day occurring in between games. My brother asked if we could stay for both games; from my perspective, we were doing fine, and I said yes without first checking to make sure we could make the necessary connections to get us back home. Though the Mets were stumbling toward the end of yet another dismal season, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Shea Stadium was a multipurpose facility that was built as a home for the New York Mets and New York Jets. Opening in 1964, it underwent MANY changes from that time to our first visit some 18 years later. When we first saw Shea in 1982, it was already looking a bit haggard, and at times unkempt. With a seating capacity of over 56,000, Shea was an open air behemoth. Because of its size, it lacked the intimacy and accessibility of the “newer” parks. When the team was bad (which was often), the place seemed empty, only amplifying the hugeness of the venue. However, Shea Stadium housed our favorite team, and when the Mets were playing well, the place would literally SHAKE, making it feel like home.
At times, when Shea looked more drab and lifeless than usual, I would refer to it as a “toilet” (which the smell would occasionally bear out). But it was OUR toilet! While the ushers were helpful and generally polite, the same could NOT be said of the concession staff. Aramark was the vendor at Shea for many years, and seemingly each and every member of that team was surly and uncooperative. That feeling was verified when we began traveling, finding that the behavior of the vendors at Shea was unique to that park. Conversely, the vendors that hawked the food and beverages through the seating areas were typically more helpful. Hearing the calls of the beer vendors at Shea on TV was one of my first baseball memories (BEER HERE!).
Located a mere three miles from LaGuardia Airport on the shore of Flushing Bay, players and fans alike were subjected to the seemingly unending air traffic during games. As winds turned to the south across western Long Island, the air traffic was routed directly over the stadium. That switch resulted in the roar of departing aircraft every minute or so (at least during the day). When this occurred, it was not unusual for players (especially visitors) to step out of the batter’s box and step off the pitching rubber to let the cacophony subside before resuming play. After a while, at least as a fan, you could begin to filter out the noise, or at least become accustomed to it; that was just a part of the experience.
We did not often go to big games in Mets history. Early on, just getting the Shea was difficult, and when the Mets were good, tickets were either difficult to come by, or we were priced out of the market. However, a few moments do jump out at me. Perhaps one of my very favorite memories was watching Tom Seaver strike out Pete Rose (then playing with the Philadelphia Phillies) to open the 1983 season. Others include seeing Kevin McReynolds hit not one but two walk off grand slam home runs, as well as the Mets winning the last game for us at Shea in 2008, keeping their slim playoff hopes alive. Much of my joy was just seeing the games in a place I grew to love, even though my team was not good very often.
Of course, I could write an endless story when it comes to Shea Stadium. Far from the nicest ballpark we have visited, it grew on us over the years, and by the time it was ready to be replaced, I lamented its loss. Fans were unruly, stadium staff could be unpleasant, early season night games were almost interminably cold, and the team was not very good for much of the time we visited. Even with all of that, it maintains a special place on my heart. It WAS a toilet, but it was OUR toilet. RIP Shea Stadium!
Citi Field (2009-2015)
First visit: Saturday May 9th 2009
Most recent visit: Sunday August 16th 2015
Our first visit to the newly minted Citi Field (built in the parking lot of Shea Stadium) came on Saturday, May 9th 2009, about a month after the doors opened for the first time. While wandering around the ballpark, we noticed that the Mets denoted the locations of the mound, home plate and each of the bases of the recently departed Shea Stadium with plaques in the Citi Field parking lot. Featuring a much nicer exterior than Shea, it seemed as though New York Mets baseball had finally joined the 21st century. Entering the ballpark through the rotunda (which was a replica of the rotunda that adorned Ebbets Field), the Mets Hall of Fame is located to the right of the spiral staircase. A quick visit revealed various displays and exhibits, including a couple of Tom Seaver’s Cy Young Awards, as well as a nod to the 1969 and 1986 World Champions.
Following our excursion to the Mets Hall, we headed out to explore the new park. Unlike Shea Stadium, the lower concourse of Citi Field encircled the ballpark, allowing us unfettered access to the park. One of the most notable features of the stadium was Shea Bridge, located beyond the center field wall. Named as a tribute to William Shea, the driving force behind the return of National League baseball to New York City, the wrought iron bridge was immediately a fan favorite. Just below the Shea Bridge were the bullpens, with the Mets bullpen covered from the elements. In centerfield there were bleachers, something Shea never had, and above the bleachers was an impressive video board. Obviously designed as a Citi Field centerpiece, the video board was a significant upgrade to the video system located behind the left field wall at Shea Stadium. Completing the circuit along the lower concourse, we crossed behind the left field stands moving toward home plate.
Rather than follow the trend of the “newer” MLB parks, Citi Field was built with four decks extending from foul line to foul line. Accommodating these decks robbed the ballpark of intimacy, though many of the seats were closer to the field than Shea. In addition, only a portion of center field was open, with the remainder of the park enclosed by seats. To be fair, there isn’t much to see outside of the ballpark, but enclosing the stadium made it feel confined, reminiscent of the multi purpose stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s.
After reaching the rotunda once again, we climbed the staircase to the 300 level, where we had seats just to the left of home plate. Not surprisingly, there was a good crowd for the Saturday matinee, and it appeared as though most of the 42,000 seats were occupied before the first pitch. While waiting for the start of the game, I was surprised to see all of the seats across the park were forest green. While I didn’t expect to find the seats colored by level (as Shea was), it might have been better to have Mets blue for the seat color. It then struck me that there was not a clear indication that Citi Field was the home of the Mets. Citi Field’s size and lack of character was disappointing. Clearly, this was our first glimpse of the Mets new home, but I was NOT impressed.
Unbeknownst to me, the first pitch that afternoon was going to be thrown by a member of Howard Stern’s SiriusXM crew. Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate was representing an autism awareness group, and graciously agreed to throw the first pitch before the start of the 110 PM contest. Dell’Abate confidently strode to the mound, toed the pitching rubber, and delivered the pitch. Unfortunately, the toss was VERY wild, hitting the home plate umpire, who was a few feet to the left of the plate. At first, I believed that Gary had intentionally thrown the ball that way, for comedic effect. Based on the reaction of the umpire, as well as the players on the field, it quickly become evident that the pitch was no joke. Dell’Abate appeared to shrug off the bad throw, waving to fans as he departed the playing field.
Thinking that the poor first pitch would be confined to Citi Field, Gary would later be horrified to discover that the pitch would become fodder for mainstream media. Any Howard Stern fan would tell you that Dell’Abate would receive the worst of the teasing from his compatriots, and that pitch is still celebrated on the show, more than a decade later.
While the ballpark was something of a disappointment (at least compared to Nationals Park in DC and Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia), it was a breath of fresh air for Mets fans, and hopefully a harbinger of good things to come. However, almost immediately I found myself missing Shea Stadium, as Citi Field lacked anything with which I could easily connect. The stadium felt almost sterile at times, and we found ourselves less drawn to this place as we were to its predecessor.
At first, we managed to attend a handful of games at Citi Field each year. As time passed, with little in the way of attraction to the ballpark, our visits became less frequent. Getting to Shea Stadium/Citi Field from NJ was never an easy task. Driving was far more trouble than it was worth, and taking the train to Manhattan, then catching the Number 7 subway to the ballpark often required three plus hours to complete (each way). Thus, a visit to Citi Field was a significant investment in time and energy, and eventually we would make the trek once a year (preferring to see the Mets in Philadelphia, which was closer and arguably offered a better baseball experience within the confines of Citizen Bank Park).
Our most recent visit to Citi Field was Sunday, August 16th 2015, to see the Mets host the Pittsburgh Pirates. As can happen during the summer, the game was marred by weather delays, as storms developed over the ballpark itself (providing an alarmingly close look at the lightning!), requiring us to take shelter several times during the game. We DID have tickets to Game 5 of the 2015 National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, but quite unexpectedly the Mets swept the Cubs, and the game didn’t happen. Since then, we decided that the time and effort to see the Mets at home was not worth it, and have not been back.