Following an ill-fated visit to People’s Natural Gas Field in August of 2019 (the details of which are available here), my brother and I scheduled another visit for the end of August of 2022. From my current home, the ballpark is about two and one-half hours away, which would have been a long day combining travel and seeing the game, so we opted for a weekend visit, attending games on both Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Leaving my home in central PA in the early afternoon of Saturday, August 20th placed us at the hotel in Altoona about 400 PM. Since the gates did not open until 500 pm (ahead of a 600 pm first pitch), we had some time to relax before the game. However, I recently acquired a new drone and was eager to use it on the trip. Heading out to the park early, we parked in the nearby parking garage (where the fee was a very reasonable $3.00) and climbed to the top deck. From there, we launched the drone, and since we were so early, not many people were around to witness the flight. You can see a short video from the flight here.
Batting practice was underway, and has become the custom across baseball at all levels, the public was not permitted to view it. With the drone, we were able to view batting practice and more. People’s Natural Gas Field is one component of the larger Lakemont Park facility, which includes a roller coaster and go kart track. After capturing video and images from the air for about 25 minutes, we returned to the vehicle to secure the drone and grab the camera equipment.
The parking deck, just across the street from centerfield, is a longer than expected walk to the front of the stadium, leading me to believe the walk could be uncomfortable during hot or inclement weather. We were blessed with sunshine and seasonable temperatures for late August as we waited in line for the gates to open. Once inside, we eschewed our normal tour of the ballpark, as we had been here once before. Instead, we explored the upper deck, which we neglected on our previous visit, due to a lack of time. This brief visit allowed us to get a better look at the Kids Zone, located behind the right field bullpen, as well the excellent auxiliary scoreboard (which I did not notice during our last visit).
For this game, we chose seats in the upper deck, just to the right of home plate, giving us a different perspective. The seats did not disappoint, as there does not seem to be a bad seat in the house, and sitting behind home plate gave us a great view of the Allegheny Mountains in the distance. Rather than procure a baseball dinner (there are a number of good choices for food at the park), I chose to focus on the game and the location. People’s Natural Gas Field has one of the best views I have seen in a minor league ballpark, perhaps third behind Truist Field in Charlotte NC and Canal Park in Akron OH. In fact, our initial visit was based primarily on the word of others stating that this minor league ballpark was the best they had ever seen. Our view this evening was surely a validation of those recommendations.
This evening’s matchup featured the Harrisburg Senators (my newly adopted minor league home team, and the AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals) and the Curve, the AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Senators sent right hander Ronald Herrera to the mound, who was in the midst of a disappointing 2022 campaign. Altoona countered with right hander Luis Ortiz, who was also experiencing a down season. Despite the seemingly underwhelming starting pitching, no runs were scored in the first three innings, which took only 34 minutes to complete. Harrisburg scored twice in the top of the fourth inning, as Herrera was cruising along through the fifth inning.
Altoona broke through with five runs in the top of the sixth inning, ending Herrera’s night and effectively putting the game out of reach for Harrisburg. Even as the competitiveness of the game waned, my rapt attention turned to the surroundings. As evening slipped into night, I could not help but admire the beauty of the ballpark and the terrain beyond it. We saw both the go karts in action, as well as people enjoying the roller coaster, the subtle lighting accenting the visually pleasing structure.
Despite the outcome of the game having been decided, the large Saturday night crowd remained, probably due to the promise of fireworks following the final out. As is our custom, we used the fireworks as cover for a quick getaway, essential when using a parking garage. Our visit today went a long way toward washing away the memories of a rain out last time we were here. Hopefully the weather would cooperate tomorrow, and allow us one more game in this impressive stadium.
Sunday, August 21st 2022
Overnight thunderstorms left cloudy and humid conditions in their wake Sunday morning. Based on the radar, it would not be long until the next round of storms approached Altoona, forcing us indoors for our plans. We decided on the Railroaders Memorial Museum, located in downtown Altoona. Our choice fed into my latent obsession with trains, which has been growing since my relocation to central PA. Resembling a train station (though it is actually a Master Mechanic’s Building during the height of train operations in western PA), the museum houses a wide array of displays and exhibits.
Perhaps my favorite part of the museum was the section dedicated to the science of better (and safer) train travel. Several of the exhibits depicted rail accidents that resulted in lost lives, and others showed just how dangerous it was working for the railroad was during the first half of the 20th century. An entire section was devoted to the problem, and I must admit to marveling at the amount and variety of research that was on display here. My brother and I are both scientists, which allowed us to truly appreciate the effort and dedication employed to improve the rail experience. While the tools may seem primitive now, they were state of the art at this time, demonstrating the commitment of the PA Railroad. To my great surprise, we learned that the results of the research conducted was given to rival companies free of charge, something that seems unimaginable now.
Following our exploration of the main facility, we visited Harry Bennett Memorial Roundhouse, which housed trains and equipment in various states of repair. On the way, we saw locomotives and cars in decay, aping the decline of train ridership since its peak so long ago. Seeing these once majestic machines rusting in the elements also felt sad, as warriors from the past slowly faded away. Finally, we were prepared to visit the World Famous Horseshoe Curve, an outdoor exhibit featuring excellent view of trains cast against the terrain of the Allegheny Mountains. Unfortunately, impending weather drove us back inside, as storms would have marred the visuals of the area.
Just ahead of the storms, we headed back toward the hotel, choosing to eat lunch at La Fiesta Mexican Bar & Grill, just steps away. The food was good and reasonably priced, but I soon discovered that the food was indeed too rich for me, and I would pay the price. In the wake of the most recent storms, the sun reappeared. Rather than relax after the big meal, my brother suggested another drone flight over the stadium, from a nearby park. Skies had become almost sunny, allowing us to fly over the deserted ballpark and Lakemont Park. As might be expected, the humidity was high during our flights, and we could see storms already developing off in the distance. The forecast for game time was problematic, but we hoped to squeeze the game in before the next round of storms arrived.
Following the drone flights, we headed back to the room to relax before heading out to the ballpark. During that time, storms had formed and began their approach. Arriving just before the gate opened, it was clear that we would have to contend with at least one rain delay, but because we were staying in Altoona that night, we were prepared to stay as long as necessary. To pass the time, we explored the center field area of People’s Natural Gas Field, an area we had not yet visited. By the time we found our seats on the 3rd base side of the ballpark, it was becoming increasingly apparent this would be the only time we sit in those seats.
As the rain commenced, people abandoned their seats and headed for the concourse. Knowing it would be a long rain delay (based on the radar trends displayed on our phones), we found a bench on the outer concourse, near some open windows. For more than an hour, we listened to the rain falling, interspersed with the occasional peal of thunder. Occasionally, the rain fell so hard that we needed to close the windows or risk becoming soaked. After about 45 minutes, it was obvious that the field had absorbed more water than it could handle, and the inevitable announcement followed; the game was canceled. Because it was so late in the season, there was likely no time that would fit the schedules of both teams for a makeup game, so the contest was simply cancelled.
We waited for a time to leave the park after the official announcement, and it was still raining when we headed back to the vehicle. In fact, it rained all the way back to the hotel, heavily enough at times to obscure traffic. Though the Curve did what they could to play the game, we were destined to miss yet another game to rain. In total, we saw only one complete game of the three that we had hoped to see. While .333 may be a good baseball batting average, it is poor average for seeing baseball games. However, we did not let the weather ruin what was a good visit overall, and we did get to see the park at its best Saturday night. People’s Natural Gas Field (and surroundings) was worth the trip and then some. If you find yourself within range of this beautiful ballpark when the Curve are in town, do yourself a favor and GO!