NOTE: This post is the fourth in a series of Features describing the author’s first visits to various MLB ballparks around the country. After stopping in Pittsburgh on my trip across the country to take in a Pirates game at PNC Park, I finished my drive east at my birthplace of Philadelphia, where a week spent among my relatives culminated in a visit to the Phillies’ home, Citizens Bank Park.
My gameday experience at Citizens Bank Park was unlike my other ballpark visits this season, for several reason. For one, I was not alone in Philadelphia; I was joined at the Phillies’ game against the Boston Red Sox by several of my relatives. Indeed, one could fairly say that I joined them, as my aunt and uncle bought the tickets and treated me to the evening at the park.
That fact—that I did not buy my ticket—also meant that I did not choose my seat but took what was given to me. As it turned out, we were destined for the park’s “Hall of Fame” club area—a mezzanine level that fronts a high-end, restaurant-style facility that sits within a section of the concourse devoted to greats and memorable moments from the team’s past. All well and good, I suppose, but that’s the sort of thing one can appreciate on a leisurely second or third or thirty-eighth visit to the stadium; for my purposes, my primary interest lies in the fan’s experience in watching the actual game. And so my focus remains, for this as well as future reports.
Speaking directly to that focus, I can report that the fan’s experience watching a game at Citizens Bank Park is…OK. Not spectacular; just OK.
In true Philadelphia fashion—I am a native, after all—I could not help but find myself focusing on what went wrong on my first visit to the park, rather than everything that went right.
in fairness, it wasn’t just one thing that went wrong–or that, at the very least, did not live up to my expectations of what one should get from attending a game at a modern ballpark.
The chief problem, from my perspective, lay in the concessions—and the problems were multifold. For one, the food vendors in the aforementioned Hall of Fame club offered certain high-end food items, and little else. That will be viewed as a positive by most folks—particularly those who prefer watching (or not) a game from the club area; but given my preference for the basics, the offerings in the club were a problem. The ultra-composed nacho choices in the club—large servings covered with everything under the sun, for an equally large price—did not suit my tastes, so I had to go hunting for a standard serving of nachos.
“The Phillies need to polish up more than a few aspects of Citizens Bank Park to make it the kind of visitor-friendly experience that the city’s long-suffering fans deserve.”
And hunt I did. It turned out that I had to go down to the main concourse to find the basic nachos. Along the way, I picked up a hot dog from another stand—and that proved to be, potentially, a serious error.
Why? Because concession stands at Citizens Bank Park consist of a food counter, as is usual in all parks I’ve seen up till now, and then a separate cashier section off to the side—a feature that is, in my experience, wholly unique to Philadelphia.
Apart from being stupid and seemingly pointless, this set-up also presents the potential for major problems, as I realized when I finally found the stand that carries the regular nachos. That stand also sold hot dogs—just like the one I bought at another stand. When I went to pay for my nachos and soda—more on the drink later—I had to inform the cashier that I walked up with the hot dog already in hand. Fortunately, she believed me, or saw me walk up with it, as it was before the game and not particularly busy. In the midst of the game with a sellout crowd, how would that cashier possibly know that I had already paid for my hot dog? I certainly wouldn’t want to pay $6 twice for one hot dog, no matter how good it was. (The dog in question was, in fact, OK, though the onions I topped it with had a strange, somewhat off-putting taste.)
The separate-casher issue was hardly the only thing strange about the park’s concessions. When I asked for a soda at that same stand, I was told “you get that down there” by a worker who waved towards the left end of the counter. I was confused by this—get what down where? Was he not going to pour my drink for me? Well, no, in fact he was not, because at Citizens Bank Park, the concessionaire’s “innovation” is that drinks of all assortments are pre-poured and set out on the counter for the patrons to pluck up and take with them to the register.
This may seem like a good idea, in theory, but in practice it is problematic. What if there aren’t any cups left of the flavor you want? Also, if a drink sits there too long, you wind up paying for a drink that is mostly melted ice with a little bit of soda flavor mixed in—hardly what your five or six bucks should get you. And besides, why should you be forced to pluck your own (old) drink off a counter? They’re not paying the customers to work at the park; why should they be doing the stand worker’s job for him?
Put it all together, and the whole situation with the concession stands at Citizens Bank Park is a disgrace. And, naturally, you’re stuck with them, because I saw no vendors walking through the stands in CBP; certainly not anywhere near where I was sitting. (I had a similar experience at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.)
So much for the dining experience in Philadelphia.
As for the seat itself, the view of the game was fine; true to the modern ballpark ethos, there don’t seem to be many bad seats at Citizens Bank Park, if any. However, knowing that my Hall of Fame level seat cost $85—roughly $55 more than I am ever inclined to pay for a ticket to an MLB game—I must say that the view is not so good that it’s worth the price. I’ve had equally good looks at the game in San Diego and Pittsburgh for substantially less money.
Nor did our location provide a million-dollar view of the surroundings. Unlike other parks, the vista that unfolds beyond Citizens Bank Park’s outfield stands serves to display…pretty much nothing. At least from my seat, the only sights to behold beyond the outfield pavilions was a bland look at the neighborhoods of Philadelphia stretching out into the distance. If you want to see an impressive skyline view of the city, you have to get that out on the concourse (at least on the third base side of the stadium).
At the very least I can report that, whatever the price of the ticket or the other failings of the park, the game I got to see turned out to be worth the admission. The Phillies had lost eight straight coming into the night’s game against the Red Sox, yet somehow the team got a sterling pitching performance from starter Nick Pivetta and several of his bullpen mates to shut out Boston and win a 1-0 streak-busting gem.
The evening also came with a brilliant piece of local-flavored comedy when, in the midst of an inning change-over, the stadium’s fire alarms went off and the signage informed everyone to evacuate the ballpark. In true Philadelphia fashion, not a soul moved towards the exits. Every man, woman. and child in the place ignored the warning and remained seated in anticipation of the next inning. Believe me: that’s classic Philly right there.
All in all, I had a good time at Citizens Bank Park—but among parks I’ve visited so far, Philly’s digs may barely make the top 5, but only because of my limited experiences with other stadiums. Certainly, CBP is not in the same league with Petco, AT&T, nor PNC Parks. Is it an improvement over Veterans Stadium? Absolutely. An old barn would probably be better than that old monstrosity. But the Phillies need to polish up more than a few aspects of Citizens Bank Park to make it the kind of visitor-friendly experience that the city’s long-suffering fans deserve.
Up next: a report on Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark
Previous “A View From The Park” posts: