In many ways, the style of Citizens Bank Park is a mix of the old and the new. On one hand, the stadium is situated a few miles outside of downtown Philadelphia, adjacent to Lincoln Financial Field and Wells Fargo Arena, and follows the cookie-cutter era strategy of placing the ballparks outside the town itself. That strategy provides easier access and parking, but tends to make the ballpark feel isolated from the city and its unique culture. On the other hand, Citizens Bank Park is actually one of the newer stadiums in the league, built in 2004 in the retro-modern style made popular by Camden Yards. Once you're inside, the ballpark is immersive enough that it's pretty easy to forget that you're actually a few miles outside of Philadelphia.
I made my first visit to Citizens Bank Park this past Tuesday night. It was the 14th park I've visited (12th active), and I've now visited every park on the eastern seaboard except the two stadiums in Florida.
I was visiting my friends Dan and Brittany in New York City, and the three of us drove from their apartment to Philadelphia via the New Jersey Turnpike. Approaching Philadelphia from the turnpike, you see the skyline in the distance but don't get especially close to it before arriving at Citizens Bank Park.
Philadelphia's four sports teams are all housed in three buildings that are relatively close to each other and share parking lots, but apart from that, there isn't much development in the area, and the rest of the complex looks pretty desolate. This initially turned me off: one of my favorite attributes of great stadiums is their view of the skyline from the seating bowl, and I was worried the sea of parking lots would detract from the view. On the other hand, these parking lots are designed to handle simultaneous home games for both the sold-out Phillies and the sold-out Eagles. With the Phillies not doing so well this season and the Astros being far from a marquee opponent, this game was far from a sellout and there were thousands of parking spots to spare.
Inside the park, the concourses were wide open and had great sight lines to the field throughout the entire lower level. I've never understood why all these new stadiums don't have similar visibility on their concourses, but it turns out it's surprisingly easy to mess this up. We got into the stadium about a half hour before first pitch, so we did a lap before finding our seats, but more on that in a bit.
Our seats were in the first row of the upper level. My only complaint with them was a weird smell that seemed to indicate that they could use a good cleaning, but apart from that, they were a good value and provided a great view. I was also pleasantly relieved to see you could still see the skyline behind the batter's eye, even if it was a bit recessed.
The weather that night was incredibly humid, and some low clouds sprinkled some light rain onto the park in the early innings, so we decided to walk around and find some food. Concessions on the concourse were both varied and branded, so rather than “Cheesesteaks”, Citizens Bank Park featured “Tony Luke's Cheesesteaks”, which I'm assuming is a franchise of a local establishment. Most of the concessions were spread throughout the park but there were a few concentrated beyond right center field, clustered around a good-sized seating area.
Speaking of cheesesteaks, the stereotypes totally hold up. There were four or five different cheesesteak stands, all of which had long but quickly moving lines. We decided that it wouldn't be right to go to a Phillies game and not get a cheesesteak, so we each got one from Tony Luke's. I have to be honest: it was among the best ballpark food I've ever had. It's both more interesting than just a hot dog and native to the city, and the cheesesteaks at the park tasted authentic and delicious. We also sampled something called “Crab Fries”. As far as I could tell, they were just crinkle-cut French fries with seasoned salt, but judging by the line to buy them, they're a big hit among the natives and it's tough to mess up French fries.
Walking around the stadium provided some pretty stunning views from just about everywhere in the ballpark, but my favorite was the porch just above the batter's eye. Batter's eye views are fairly uncommon, since stadiums are required to provide a static, dark backdrop against which the hitters can see the pitch clearly. In this case though, the porch is just above the actual batter's eye and has a bar and some seating to fully enjoy it.
The game didn't have a lot of offense and so it moved along quickly, at least at first. In an effort to make it back to New York before the next morning, we left in the 8th inning, and it turns out we were right: they went 15 innings, with the Phillies walking off with a 2-1 victory. Getting out of Philadelphia was just as easy as getting in, and by the end of the night I was pretty okay with their decision to build outside of downtown.
Like Turner Field, I found myself liking Citizens Bank Park more than I expected to. For sure, the area around the park could use more development, but the experience once you get inside the park is top-notch. Philadelphia sports fans are legendary for being passionate about their teams, and with Citizens Bank Park, it feels like the designers shared that passion. One question remains though: what the heck is a “water ice”?
You can check out the rest of the photos I took here.