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)

First National Bank (FNB) Field – Harrisburg PA

FNB Field in Harrisburg PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Yet another move placed me near Harrisburg, PA this spring, and I am once again in a hot spot for baseball. Just 11 miles away is First National Bank (FNB) Field, the home of the Harrisburg Senators, the Double A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. My brother and I visited FNB Field once before, on our way back from a baseball trip that took us to eastern OH and western PA during August of 2019. There was no baseball that day (as the Senators were out of town), but we were able to wander through portions of the park. Of course, we could not get the true essence of the ballpark that day, but we vowed to come back here at some point in the future.

Fast forward nearly two years, and we did indeed return. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of FNB Field is that it is located on an island in the Susquehanna River. Known as City Island, the mile long island is home to the ballpark, as well as other attractions. We approached City Island from Harrisburg, taking the Market Street Bridge to the main parking lot adjacent to the ballpark. Concerned about the availability of parking on an island, we arrived well before the first pitch. Despite my trepidations, there was plenty of parking available in the main lot, as well as a lot just over the bridge.

Google Maps image showing the location of FNB Field on City Island in the middle of the Susquehanna River.

A short walk from the parking lot to FNB Field ensued, which involved climbing stairs and an uphill walk before reaching the gate. The trek could present some issues for those fans with mobility issues, but free rides from the parking lot to the gate are available via bicycles equipped with a rider seat. Though I did not see anyone take advantage of this service, I imagine it would be helpful for those in need. Per our usual approach, we walked outside the stadium taking pictures. About halfway across the outside of the park, we entered through a gate behind first base. Pleasant staff members working at the gate welcomed us warmly as we presented our mobile tickets, reminding me we were in neither the New York City Metro area nor Maryland/DC.

Once inside the park, we wandered taking pictures. Our visit occurred during the pandemic, and masks were worn by most fans. Because of the continuing pandemic, I was concerned that our movements within the ballpark would be restricted to limit exposure. However, we were able to encircle the playing field, as the main concourse wraps around the park. The layout of the outfield and the seating along the concourse vaguely reminded me of Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, MD (home of the Atlantic League’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs).

The view of the outfield in left center field. Note the seats above the wall. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As we walked from the right field line to the left field line, I was surprised to discover than FNB Field held more than 6,000 fans. Even with a sizable seating area behind home plate. at first glance, I would have thought the maximum capacity was closer to 5,000, which would have been on the smaller side for a Double A team. However, when the bleacher seating along the first base side, and the “Cheap Seats” in the left field corner are considered, the ballpark holds about the average number of fans for Double A ballparks.

Located on the concourse near the left field foul pole was the Senators Team Store. Seemingly smaller than most team stores, it contained most of the standard fare fans would expect, and had much more of an Expos presence than Nationals Park (the Montreal Expos moved to DC following the 2004 season). After browsing in the team store, we headed down the left field course to our seats

The main seating area of FNB Field from the right centerfield concourse. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Seating in FNB Field was arranged in pods to limit interaction among fans. Unlike the pods we occupied the week before in Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton NJ, seating here was not as restrictive. Being closer to fans, we wore our masks, removing them only to eat and drink. Sitting in section 201 (near third base), we had a great view of the entire park. Our vantage point afforded us a view of the hills to the north and northwest of the stadium, reminding me of our visit to FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, PA. In addition to a standard videoboard/scoreboard in right centerfield, there was a supplemental horizontal videoboard in the left centerfield. This board contained information on the inning/score, the pitcher’s statistics, as well as the pitch speed. For avid baseball fans like us, the additional treasure trove of data was quite welcome.

The weather could not have been better, as remaining clouds melted away with the setting sun. Clear skies and pleasantly warm temperatures for mid May set the stage for a perfect evening for baseball. Though the crowd was necessarily small for the contest, that did not stop those in attendance from showing their affection for the Senators. Because of the pandemic, there was no minor league season in 2020, and the pent up frustrations of the faithful resulted in an almost raucous crowd.

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

Though there are a number of places to eat, we grabbed a standard baseball dinner at the concession stand on the concourse level behind the main seating area. Servers were friendly, prices were reasonable, and the service was relatively quick. After some of the BAD experiences we have had at other parks (especially MLB parks), cheerful faces were a welcome change of pace. Perhaps as I get a number of visits under my belt, I can comment further on the cuisine offered at FNB Field.

As evening blended into night, the view of the hills to the north and northwest disappeared, but the feel of the stadium unchanged. Unlike many Saturday night minor league games, the crowd did not leave early, as the game remained relatively tight until the end. Even with a small crowd, I became concerned that exiting an island from one parking area could take a considerable amounts of time. Reversing our course from the stadium to the parking lot, we took some time to admire the view of Harrisburg across the Susquehanna River. It was worth the detour; Harrisburg alit was quite a sight, especially since it was our first visit. If you have the time after a Senators night game, make sure to take in the skyline.

FNB Field at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As expected, exiting the parking lot was a slow process, as several lines that developed in the lot bottlenecked at the confluence of the lines near the turn onto the bridge. Having been in parking lots that were slow to clear in the past, we knew that patience was key, and eventually we managed to get out of the lot, heading back toward the east side of Harrisburg. FNB Field is an excellent minor league facility, providing a great fan experience among the passionate faithful. Since this facility is my new “home” ballpark, I was very pleased to find such a great stadium so nearby.

Harrisburg at night from the banks of the Susquehanna River just outside of FNB Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Richmond, VA, May 20th and 21st, 2017

The first baseball trip of the 2017 was a short one, at least with respect to distance. Our target was The Diamond, home of the Flying Squirrels in Richmond, Virginia. From home in Maryland, Richmond is just two hours away on Interstate 95 South, making it an ideal choice for the first baseball trip of the season.

Being a member of the Eastern League, the Flying Squirrels are a familiar team, as both of the us live near Eastern League teams and see the team at least a couple of times a year. Since The Diamond was so close, we didn’t leave Maryland until early afternoon to arrive in Richmond early enough to check into our hotel and get to the ballpark.

1. The Diamond, Richmond Virginia, Saturday May 20th

The Diamond, Richmond VA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Arriving about 60 minutes before game time, we found that parking was not an issue at The Diamond. Like many suburban ballparks, there is parking on site, and the price was average for a minor league park ($5). Walking from the parking lot, The Diamond looks huge, due in part to the concrete construction of the seating area stretching from foul line to foul line.

The view of The Diamond from the parking lot. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Originally constructed for the Triple A Richmond Braves, the capacity of nearly 10,000 is larger than the typical Double A Stadium. Though the ballpark has undergone a few renovations, the stadium has the feel of a 30+ year old structure, which is not necessarily a bad attribute.

After walking the concourse taking pictures of the park, we perused the concession stand closer to home plate on the field level. The main concession area offered standard fare, though there was a wider food selection in concession locations located on the field and upper levels.

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

We settled into our seats behind the visitors dugout about 30 minutes before the first pitch. The Flying Squirrels’ opponent was the Harrisburg Senators, the Double A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Mainly clear skies and temperatures in the 70s set the stage for a pleasant evening for baseball in Richmond.

The Diamond was somewhat reminiscent of Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton, New Jersey with its two tiered row of advertising billboards in left field. The ballpark has a modest video board/scoreboard in left center field; otherwise, the ballpark was unremarkable. In some respects, the lack of multiple video boards was a blessing, allowing fans to concentrate on the game, rather than the technology.

The video board/scoreboard in left center field of The Diamond. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

It is typical for Saturday night minor league games to draw well, and this evening was no different at The Diamond. While the crowd was sizable for the contest, the number of people in the ballpark that evening was nowhere near the announced attendance of just over 9,000.

After the Squirrels scored a run in the first inning, the Harrisburg Senators took the lead in the third inning, scoring three runs. The Senators tacked on two more runs in the fifth, taking a 5-1 lead as the evening gave way to night in Richmond.

The Flying Squirrels completing a 1-4 sacrifice during the third inning, as the Senators took a 3-1 lead. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though the Squirrels scored single runs in the sixth and seventh innings, the Senators held on for a 5-3 victory. As often happens when the home team fall behind, the crowd started thinning out after the seventh inning, and by the time of the last out, the stadium was almost empty. The parking lot was nearly deserted, allowing for a quick getaway to the nearby hotel.

The Diamond at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. The Diamond, Sunday May 21st

During the night, a cold front pushed through the Richmond area, and the morning dawned with cloudy skies and drizzle. Temperatures were cooler than Saturday, and humidity levels increased as well. With the game at The Diamond scheduled for a 1200 pm start, we decided to spend a part of the morning exploring Richmond.

The cool, humid and occasionally drizzly conditions precluded a walk through Richmond, so we opted to conduct a driving tour of the city. Being the capital of the Confederacy for the bulk of the Civil War, Richmond is replete with historical sites, which deserved more attention than a driving tour could afford. Being a history buff, I will need to return here in the future to better appreciate the history of Richmond.

The Diamond on a cool, overcast late Sunday morning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We arrived at the Diamond about an hour before the first pitch. Unbeknownst to us, fans were invited to play catch on the field prior to the game. Unfortunately, not knowing about this opportunity, we were not prepared to take advantage of it. So, rather than take the field, we spent the time before the game wandering around the park, taking pictures and exploring the offerings of the concession stands on the field level.

For the Sunday matinee, the Flying Squirrels donned alternate home jerseys. Sporting their “waffle” jerseys, the Squirrels took the field for the first pitch, which occurred just after noon.

Jordan Johnson, sporting the “waffle” jersey, delivers a pitch in the first inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The clouds and cool moist flow made watching the game this afternoon a bit less enjoyable than last night, but not that out of line for weather just prior to Memorial Day over the Mid Atlantic.

The matinee’s lineup cards posted on the wall of the Squirrels’ dugout. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As often occurs for Sunday afternoon minor league games, the crowd was much smaller than the night before, though the weather might have had an influence of people’s plans. In any event, the starting pitchers dominated the much of the game, with the Senators taking a 2-1 lead into the the top of the seventh inning.

The view from our seats. Note the sparse crowd on this cool and drizzly afternoon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Senators broke the game open in the seventh, scoring four runs and putting the game out of reach. By this time, the bulk of the crowd had left, leaving few people in the park when the final out was recorded. Rather than linger to get more pictures of the park, we headed north back to Maryland.

Though The Diamond has some interesting aspects, it is an unremarkable ballpark in a city with a rich history of baseball. Based on my impression of the ballpark, I felt that one visit would suffice. However, we would visit again about a year later, the last stop on a longer baseball tour.