Altoona PA Part 2: August 20th and 21st 2022

Aerial view of the People’s Natural Gas Field complex, including the Skyliner Roller Coaster and go carts at Lakemont Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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 Saturday evening and Sunday evening.

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.

People’s Natural Gas Field from behind home plate.

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.

A view of batting practice at People’s Natural Gas Field in Altoona PA.

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.

The view from the upper deck behind home plate at People’s Natural Gas Field. Note the mountains in the background. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Great action shot from People’s Natural Gas Field, Altoona PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A closeup of the roller coaster beyond the right field fence at People’s Natural Gas Field. It had my attention for much of the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Night approaching at People’s Natural Gas Field in Altoona, PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Sunday, August 21st 2022

The Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona, PA (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Status board for the PA Railroad at the Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Old fashioned clock outside the Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona, PA (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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 one 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.

A rusting giant fading away in a lot behind the Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona, PA (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The view from the centerfield gate at People’s Natural Gas Field. Note the ominous clouds gathering in the distance, a harbinger of things to come. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The view from our seats for the Sunday evening game, featuring a good look at the roller coaster. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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!

Incredibly, we were rained out AGAIN at People’s Natural Gas Field, for the second time in three tries. The message on the centerfield video board says it all. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

PeoplesBank Park, York PA June 13th 2021

Welcome to PeoplesBank Park in York PA!

On a cloudy Sunday afternoon, with the threat of thunderstorms looming in the distance, my brother and I set out for PeoplesBank Park in York, PA, the home of the Atlantic League’s (ALPB) York Revolution. About 45 minutes from home for me, the ride was relatively simple, as traffic was generally light during the early afternoon. Parking at PeoplesBank Park is spread across the general area of the stadium, with the most popular lot across the Codorus Creek from the park at the Smalls Athletic Field (using Google Maps with this location should make finding parking fairly simple). At $4.00, parking was a bargain, with the walk from the lot to the stadium taking less than 10 minutes. For those fans with mobility issues, there is a parking lot next to the field, but you may want to check on availability.

My brother and I had been here once before, as we headed home following a trip to eastern OH/western PA to see ballparks out that way. Just ahead of some deteriorating weather, we walked around the outside of the ballpark, which did not afford much of a sense of the place. Leaving just as the rain began, we left without knowing much more than we did before we arrived. Since the ballpark was within range of both of us, we planned to visit PeoplesBank Park in 2020, but the pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the Atlantic League season. Our first proper visit to York would have to wait…until today

The view of PeoplesBank Park from the Smalls Athletic Field across the Codorus Creek in York PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

PeoplesBank Park is located on the edge of a neighborhood in York, and we saw row houses somewhat reminiscent of those found in Philadelphia. We found the architecture similar to what we saw in Harrisburg as well, so it seems to be a common theme across southeast and central PA. In fact, I would have been interested in walking through the neighborhood to get a better feel for the area, but we did not leave sufficient time for a side trip. Perhaps if time permits in a subsequent trip, we will investigate this portion of York more thoroughly.

Though we were briefly here less than two years before, my memory of the event is fuzzy at best, so it was as if we were seeing the ballpark for the first time. PeoplesBank Park features Brooks Robinson Plaza, located to the right of the main entrance to the ballpark. A statue of Robinson graces the plaza, along with a plaque outlining information about the Hall of Famer’s storied career. Opening in 2007, PeoplesBank Park was constructed to resemble Orioles Park at Camden Yards, the favorite MLB team in this portion of PA. Without much to see on the outside of the park, we entered the stadium through the home plate gate.

A statue of Brooks Robinson and young fans in Brooks Robinson Plaza at PeoplesBank Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Upon entering the stadium, we quickly walked around the lower concourse, which encircled the ballpark. Not knowing what to expect, I was immediately impressed with the park, which seemed colorful and vibrant, even on this cloudy Sunday afternoon. With only minutes before the first pitch, we quickly walked from right field to left field before finding our seats along the third base side. Though I did see why others thought PeoplesBank Park looked liked Camden Yards (especially the picnic area in right field), another ballpark came to mind: Regency Furniture Stadium, located in Waldorf, MD. Also home to an Atlantic League franchise (the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs), there was more than just a passing resemblance to that ballpark, which we would discover during the game.

PeoplesBank Park from the centerfield concourse. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Perhaps the most prominent feature in PeoplesBank Park is the wall in left field. Known as Arch Nemesis, the forest green wall stands 37 feet 8 inches tall (six inches taller than the Green Monster in Fenway Park), making it the highest wall in professional baseball. Creation of the highest wall in baseball was apparently in response to the short distance from home down the left field (a mere 300 feet), due to the presence of train tracks just beyond the wall. We saw the wall in “action”, as the ballpark held a couple of balls that may have left other ballparks with shorter fences. There is also a manually operated scoreboard at the base of the Arch Nemesis, which bares some resemblance to the one in Fenway.

The Arch Nemesis, located in left field at PeoplesBank Park in York PA. Note the hand operated scoreboard at the base, like the one at Fenway Park in Boston MA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We reached our seats in the lower level behind the dugout just as the first pitch was thrown. Minutes later, to our surprise, a beautiful sight appeared. A bald eagle passed nearly overhead, and it seemed as though the entire crowd noticed its passage. Based on the murmuring in the crowd, I got the impression that the eagle had been there before, and PeoplesBank Park could be on its normal route through the area. Quick reactions by my brother allowed him to capture the moment perfectly with his camera. Unfortunately, the eagle did not pass by again during the game.

This was not the first time we were graced by the presence of a bald eagle. While exploring Lock #1 on the Mississippi River in St Cloud MN on an overcast and cold late September afternoon, a bald eagle passed overhead, flying south along the river. That time, we were caught completely off guard by the eagle’s passage, and neither of us managed to snap a picture before it disappeared into the distance.

A bald eagle passing overhead on a cloudy Sunday afternoon at PeoplesBank Park in York PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following the excitement of our unexpected visitor, we turned our attention back to the game. For this Sunday matinee, the York Revolution were hosting the Long Island Ducks for the finale of their series. There is a strong tie between the Ducks franchise and the New York Mets. Ducks manager Wally Backman was the starting second baseman for the the 1986 World Championship team, and the Ducks starting left fielder, L.J. Mazzilli, is the son of perennial Mets fan favorite Lee Mazzilli. Coming into the action this afternoon, the Ducks held a three game lead over the Revolution in the North Division of the ALPBA.

Settling into the game, I began to take a better look at PeoplesBank Park. As mentioned earlier, I felt as though it had more than a passing resemblance to Regency Furniture Stadium, and the more I examined my surroundings, the more I saw the similarities. Like the ballpark in Waldorf, MD, the bullpens were located in foul territory just behind the bases. Seating for the respective bullpens is near the railing, with line drive foul balls putting the relievers in a precarious spot. On this day, most relievers were either in the dugout or further down the line, a testament of the danger these players face sitting in prime line drive areas.

Most of the chairs in the Revolution bullpen area were empty, as line drive foul balls off the bats of right handed hitters puts the pitchers in danger. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In addition, the main seating area was structured similarly to Regency Furniture Park, with seats on the left and right field lines angled such that they faced the pitcher’s mound. When the seating in left and right field along the rail is considered, PeoplesBank Park hold about 7,500 fans, which is large for an ALPB stadium.

In addition to the hand operated scoreboard, there is a more modern scoreboard, located in centerfield, just behind the picnic area. Modest in size and resolution, this scoreboard was mainly informational, with occasional video replays presented. During the game, I noticed to auxiliary video boards near centerfield (that seemed to play mainly advertisements). Finally, sandwiched between the Arch Nemesis and the centerfield score board was a tightly packed kids zone. Complete with a carousel and several slides, these facilities offered something else for the kids to do while the adults enjoyed baseball.

The kids zone at PeoplesBank Park, nestled between the Arch Nemesis and the centerfield picnic area. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though I did not exactly know what to expect as we drove toward York, PeoplesBank Park far exceeded my expectations. The more I saw of the park, the more I liked it. Placed along Arch Street (on the edge of a neighborhood), the ballpark has an urban feel to it, providing the stadium with an appealing backdrop. Not long after the first pitch, I felt as though PeoplesBank Park was possibly my favorite ALPB ballpark (sorry Southern Maryland Blue Crabs).

During our brief tour of the ballpark, we did notice places to eat, especially on the concourse in right field. Given our time constraints, we did not examine any of the cuisine at PeoplesBank Park, instead choosing standard baseball fare (sodas, hot dogs and pretzels) at the nearby concession stand. Considering that my palette is relatively unsophisticated (and I do not drink alcohol at ball games), it is likely that I would be unable to render an intelligent review of food and drink at the park. For that, you are on your own.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following a quiet top of the first, the Revolution scored three runs in the bottom of the frame. After that outburst, the game did not see any more scoring until the top of the sixth inning. However, due to the 16 walks issued by both teams (as well as a number of deep counts), the pace of play slowed to a crawl at times. This is not atypical for an ALPB game, as the rosters mainly consist of ex MLB/MiLB players, as well as those that went undrafted. For comparison, the level of play in the ALPB is roughly similar to that seen at the Double A level in affiliated baseball, though players (with the notable exception of pitchers) are typically more polished in the ALPB, due to the experience level of the players.

It is not unusual for ALPB rosters to have familiar names on it, which helps with attendance in most cities, but many of these players are past their best days. Some hang onto the notion of being picked up by an affiliated team (which happens fairly often, given there is a player development deal in place between MLB and the ALPB), while others play baseball for as long as they can before hanging up their spikes for good. The ALPB also brings baseball to underserved areas, in places where there are no MLB or MiLB teams close by.

A view of the scoreboard/video board in centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though the crowd was not particularly large (as often happens for Sunday afternoon games), the fans were vocal, especially those close to us. That enthusiasm was also evident on the field, as the Revolution third baseman pretended to swat at the York shortstop who got too close on an infield popup. Though the sample size is admittedly small, there seems to be a good repertoire between the fans and the team, and that is refreshing. All too often when teams play badly, so called fans seem to turn on them, but that does not seem to be the case here.

Revolution shortstop and third baseman converging on a popup. Feeling the shortstop got too close, the third baseman playfully swatted at him after making the catch. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In the top of the sixth inning, the Ducks scored two runs, drawing within a run of the Revolution. However, York tacked on another run in the bottom of the seventh inning, and a trio of Revolution relievers held off Long Island for a 4-2 victory. Unlike most crowds, many Revolution fans stayed until the last pitch. Thankfully, the threat of thunderstorms held off, providing a cloudy but dry experience at PeoplesBank Park. As we filed out of the park, I was still surprised how much I enjoyed the place. Obviously, a great deal of thought went into the design of the stadium, and the place still looks great years after first opening its gates. Being just 45 minutes away, I plan to visit this beautiful ballpark as often as it feasible.

Walking back to the parking lot after the game, I once again enjoyed the surroundings. Being relatively new to the area, I found this part of York fascinating, and could spend time here simply exploring. The entire visit was enjoyable, and PeoplesBank Park is worth a visit if you are within range during the ALPB season.

The York Train Station, just outside PeoplesBank Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)