Our first mini road trip of 2022 took us to see the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders (Triple A affiliate of the New York Yankees) at PNC Field in Moosic PA. Located in northeast PA, the stadium is located about 105 miles from my home in central PA, so it seemed like a logical choice to kick off our 2022 baseball road trip season. We left from my home in the early afternoon hours of Saturday, July 16th, anticipating a 400 pm arrival time at our hotel near the park. However, nearly blinding rain with storms moving along I-81 north slowed our progress considerably, with traffic at a near standstill during the peak of the storm.
Once we cleared the storms, the remainder of the trip was uneventful, which allowed us to make up for time lost to the storms. Luckily, virtually all of the travel to the stadium was along I-81 north, as both the hotel and the stadium located just off the interstate. Though clouds threatened from time to time, particularly shortly after arriving at the hotel, the remainder of the day into night was dry. With little to see or do near the hotel, we dropped off our bags, and headed to the ballpark.
PNC Field is located off a local highway, and at first, it was difficult finding the main entrance, as it was obscured by trees. Once located, the entrance lead us to a VERY large parking lot in front of the park. Like most minor league ballparks, parking was $5, and there were multiple lanes of attendants collecting the fee. Note – PNC Field is a cashless facility, and credit cards are accepted for parking payment. Though we paid with cash this evening, we were encouraged to pay with a credit card the following afternoon. Arriving about 45 minutes before the gates opened (which was, like most minor league ballparks, one hour before the scheduled game time), we had intended to launch a drone and obtain some images and pictures of the ballpark. However, the ballpark is VERY close to the airport, severely limiting drone activities. Give proximity to the airport, and the potential to alarm fans, we scuttled the idea of a drone flight and toured the outside of the stadium. Without much to see outside, we waited until the gates opened at 500 pm.
After clearing security (which was quick and courteous), we ducked into the team store. Following a look through the RailRiders and Yankees merchandise (nothing was purchased), we began our pre-game tour inside the park. Despite the fact that the stadium was a prefabricated park, PNC Field obviously had a personality of its own, which is rare for this type of construction. Unlike many minor league parks, the concourse at PNC Field encircles the playing field, giving a 360 degree view of the stadium. Walking down the concourse on the right field side, we encountered the Budweiser Railhouse near the right field foul pole. The seats in front of and adjacent to the RailHouse were bleachers, offering a better view of the action than the seats in far right field (which did NOT face the plate).
Moving toward centerfield, we saw an expansive lawn seating area, with the batter’s eye located on the far left hand side. Since it was still early, we did not see many people here yet, though the lawn seating did begin to fill in closer to game time. As we walked toward center field, we crossed into Homer Zone. From our perspective, it would take a prodigious blast to reach the Homer Zone in right field, given the distance from home plate. Beyond the concourse, the original rock face was left in place, affording PNC Field a signature look. The decision to keep the rock in place was a good one, as it can be seen from just about everywhere in the ballpark.
Other than the exposed rock face in right field, perhaps the most interesting attribute of PNC Field is the advertising billboards sitting atop the bullpens. Like most minor league fields, there is a two tiered advertising deck, but here the advertising billboards are above the playing field. It seemed like an elegant solution to what has been a problem of placement in other stadiums (with deleterious effects in some ballparks). The advertising is simultaneously visible yet unobtrusive sitting over the bullpens. Residing beyond the left field wall, it was refreshing to see the pens out of play, where they can be a hazard for players. Just to the right of the bullpens is the main scoreboard/videoboard. Surprisingly small for a Triple A venue, the video capability seems subpar, which was especially noticeable during replays of the action on the field.
Finishing our tour of the concourse, we headed to the concession stands for a baseball dinner. As is the case in most minor league stadiums, there was a wide variety of food choices in PNC Field, including Smokehouse BBQ (behind the Budweiser Railhouse), the Electric City Grill and Chickies and Pete’s (which we had seen at Arm and Hammer Park in Trenton NJ – great crab seasoned fries!). However, we settled for fare from the concession stand behind home plate. Not having eaten since breakfast, I chose the hot dogs (which were fried, not boiled), a choice I soon regretted.
We sat in section 23 (infield box seats – get the tickets online; you will save some money versus obtaining the tickets from the box office), on the third base side. With clouds winning out, we did not have to contend with the sun much before the 605 pm start. During the pregame ceremonies, a star was born on the field. Wilson, a service dog in training, had finished his service with the RailRiders, and was being honored before the game. Though there were other activities occurring, Wilson stole the show.
The RailRiders were hosting the Louisville Bats (the Triple A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds), a team we visited in June of 2021. Like most Triple A games, there were familiar names in the lineups, especially for the RailRiders, as we occasionally see games in Somerset NJ (home of the Patriots, the Double AA affiliate of the Yankees). Two of the starters for the Bats this evening were on rehab starts from the Cincinnati Reds (outfielders Aristides Aquino and Jake Fraley).
The Louisville Bats struck early, scoring two runs in the first inning off RailRiders’ starter Jhony Brito The RailRiders tied the game in the bottom of the frame on solo home runs by Oswald Peraza and Josh Breaux . However, the Louisville offense poured on the runs in the middle innings, essentially putting the game away by fifth inning. Meanwhile, Bats’ starter Justin Nicolino recovered from a rocky first inning to pitch seven innings. With the game outcome decided fairly early, we turned our attention to our surroundings. From our seats, we had a great view of the entire park, yet my attention was drawn to the rock face in right center field. The region is hilly, and the rock face was a good indication of the surrounding area.
PNC Field has a capacity of about 10,000, and the announced crowd this evening was about 5,600. At first, I was skeptical of the capacity of the stadium, but after reviewing the seating area (which spans from foul pole to foul pole), as well as the second deck and the lawn seating, that number seemed to be about right. During the daylight, it was difficult to discern the output of the auxiliary scoreboard/videoboard in right center field, but it came alive after sunset, displaying pitching information, as well as celebratory graphics when the RailRiders scored.
My initial impression of PNC Field was very favorable, with great sight lines from our seats, the bountiful fan amenities and the a palpable baseball atmosphere. As the game ended, we were prepared to make a quick getaway, since it was a Fireworks Night. Normally, we do not stay to view the display, but as we made our way into the parking lot, my brother turned back to take some pictures of the fireworks exploding over the ballpark. We had seen the stadium at night, and tomorrow we would see the ballpark in sunlight.
Sunday, July 17th 2022 – Downtown Scranton
Sunday morning was clear, warm and humid, but nothing out of the ordinary for the middle of July in northeast PA. Both our hotel and the ballpark are located between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, so we did not get a flavor of either there. Since we had a couple of hours before gates opened at PNC Field, my brother suggested we visit downtown Scranton. Located just a few miles away from the park, we arrived quickly in the light Sunday morning traffic.
Not knowing much about the layout of the city, we searched for the most convenient parking. Shortly after getting a space, we lit out for looking for town hall. Not surprisingly, Scranton was quiet, but it was clear that we were in one of the older sections of town. Wandering without a clear understanding of where were headed, we found the Lackawanna County Courthouse. Architecture in Scranton was not much different than Harrisburg, and seems to be a theme throughout much of eastern and central PA.
Adjacent to the courthouse stands the Gettysburg Monument, which I did not expect to find so far from Gettysburg. Following North Washington Avenue to Biden Street, we saw several other monuments, including a statue dedicated to Columbus as well as the Pulaski statue. Working our way back toward the vehicle, we found that Scranton has a sense of humor, as demonstrated by the name of a local bar. Finally, we passed by the iconic Scranton Times building, admiring some of the older buildings along the way. Time passed quickly during our abbreviated visit, as the time for us to leave had arrived. Scranton reminded me of a PA from a different time, and I was happy my brother suggested that we see at least some of the largest city in northeast PA.
Fresh from our tour of downtown Scranton, we arrived at PNC Field about 30 minutes before the gates opened. Bright sunshine and moderate humidity levels made for an increasingly warm late morning, so we relaxed in seats under a tree, awaiting the signal to enter the ballpark. Once inside, we retraced our steps from yesterday, as the sunshine offered an opportunity to get a better view of the park. However, not long into our tour, higher clouds began to filter the sunshine, mitigating the brightness, which dimmed as we walked.
Unbeknownst to us, fans were playing catch on the field. We later learned this is a Sunday tradition, and had we known, we likely would have partaken of the chance to toss the ball in the outfield. In the daylight, the rock face was even more impressive, and I became convinced that it was my favorite amenity of PNC Field. As we trundled along the concourse in the outfield, the brilliant mid July sun was becoming obscured by the high clouds. On the plus side (since I am not a fan of the heat), the thickening clouds would put the brakes on the amount for the game, even as the clouds dimmed the pictures we took.
After we completed our tour of the ballpark, we headed to the concession stand to grab our baseball lunch. It was Champ’s birthday (the RailRiders’ mascot), and mascots from near and far attended to help him celebrate. While at the concession stand, my brother spotted Rowdy, the mascot of the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, purchasing what might have been an adult beverage for the games.
The first pitch occurred at 105 pm, marking the last game of the series between the Bats and the RailRiders. Once again, there were some MLB players in the lineup for both teams. Starting for Louisville was right handed pitcher Justin Dunn, on a rehab assignment. We recognized Dunn as a former Met farmhand that was part of the trade that brought closer Edwin Diaz and 2B Robinson Cano from the Seattle Mariners to the Mets in 2019. Once considered a blue chip prospect, Dunn’s tenure with Seattle was unremarkable, and he was looking to reestablish himself with the Reds. Miguel Andújar and Tyler Wade were in the lineup for the RailRiders, both having MLB experience with the Yankees. RailRiders starter Clarke Schmidt be called up to the Yankees less than a week following his appearance here.
For this afternoon’s contest, we were again seated in the infield box section, this time behind the RailRiders’ dugout on the first base side. Like most ballparks, PNC Field has netting extending from dugout to dugout. We learned the night before that perhaps the netting needs to be extended even further, as a line drive down the right field line injured a child. Though we were not in an area that was susceptible to line drives, I was cognizant of the danger of line drives in this park. If you plan to sit beyond the netting on the left or right line, BE ON THE ALERT for line drives.
Dunn’s appearance for the visiting Bats was rocky from the start, as he allowed five runs in the first inning, capped by a Armando Alvarez two-run home run. Following a smooth top of the first, Schmidt allowed four runs in the top of the second inning. However, Dunn’s poor start continued, as he surrendered single runs during the next two innings. Neither starter survived past the fifth inning, but by that time, the outcome of the game was all but decided.
Lower clouds started to shroud the sunshine at PNC Field by the middle innings, which capped the temperatures. Had the sunshine dominated, conditions could have become brutal, but luckily that did not occur. That was good news for the participants of the Legends Race. Four Yankees Legends (Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly) raced along the warning track dirt from left center field to the third base dugout. Many MLB and minor league teams have similar races, with similar themes, but my thoughts were with the people in the suits, having to run in the mid July heat.
With much of the scoring in the game complete by the middle innings, once again my attention turned to the ballpark. My second visit to the park confirmed my initial assessment: this is an interesting venue, even though it is a modular stadium. Allowing the rock face to play such an important part in the character of the ballpark was a great move, and the placement of the advertising over the bullpens allowed the pens to be moved from the playing field, which is always a plus at this level. Attendance for the game this afternoon was announced at 5,400, which is impressive for a Sunday afternoon. Clearly, the RailRiders fans appreciate the ballpark as well as the team. If I had a criticism of the park, it would be that the main scoreboard/videoboard is too small and seemingly antiquated, particularly for a Yankees affiliate (the videboard at the previous Double AA affiliate could serve as a guide for a new scoreboard here; it is certainly deserving).
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre maintained the lead built in the early innings, and beat the Bats 8-6. We left shortly after the last out, having an hour and 45 minute drive home. This was our first visit here, and based on my very favorable impression, it may not be the last.