Part IV: Citizens Bank Park
(AKA: Finally On the East Coast!)
After finally getting back from Phoenix early Tuesday morning, I became too busy for my own good. I should preface this article with a short story. In the midst of this ballpark tour, I was slowly moving stuff back and forth from my old place in Rialto back to my mom’s house (temporarily) in Chino. Not having a rent to pay for now actually helped me a bit on this trip, and I was able to afford to do a bit more, and save a few hundred dollars by NOT paying a rent for a space I wasn’t going to be home for. However, before I flew out to Philadelphia, I had to finish packing up my old place and get everything out of there by Thursday. It was a bit tough, but I managed to get everything done, and still have time to re-pack for this two-week East Coast trip. I had to pack just enough so I could bring back some goodies for, not only myself, but for family. Oh, and I won’t get into the troubles I had transferring planes in Atlanta and nearly not making my connecting flight. I’ll just say, arriving 20 minutes before the next flight departs can give you a heartattack…
At this point, I want to give a huge thank you and shoutout to my friend, Kris, and his hospitality for putting me up for a few days. He was able to attend the game with me, despite not being much of a Philly fan…. er…. phan and even warning me about the crazy fans they have at that ballpark.
Ballpark 4: Citizens Bank Park, elevation 19 feet
The game: Diamondbacks @ Phillies on July 26, 2014.
Leaving from Kris’ place to get to the ballpark wasn’t much trouble, and the weather was incredbly nice, especially compared to the blistering Phoenix heat. We arrived plenty early that way we could peruse the food menus and take a look around the park. While parking, I noticed something on the ground that looked like a home plate. Kris explained to me that his first concert was at the Spectrum (LUCKY DOG!) and that both the old Vet and the Spectrum were now parking lots for the new sporting venues. Not long after he said that, I realized that what we just drove by was where home plate WAS located at the old Veterans Stadium where the Phillies used to play. How cool is that? I’m glad they still recognize their history.
Parking wasn’t too expensive at fifteen bucks, and was reasonable for parking right next to the Vet home plate site. All around that area, there are several statues dedicated to Philadelphia sports, including the legenday manager, Connie Mack. Arriving inside the park, we are greeted very warmly! We are told that there is a free Saturday autograph table with a former Phillies player. As we get in line, I’m asked if I had a ticket for the autograph. After replying negatively, a nice lady in a wheelchair offers us two tickets for an autograph, and I’m eternally grateful!
Today’s autograph is from Placido Polanco, former All-Star and ALCS MVP (for the 2006 Detroit Tigers). Already, off to a good start! I’m also told that I should go to fan services and get a first-timers certificate. I thought this would be a neat thing to have, since I got one from Wrigley Field the year before. I wound up getting one AFTER the game.
The food: I will admit, I’m a huge foodie, and there was only one thing I wanted to try because I’d heard about it: The Schmitter. My mouth is watering just thinking about it, but this thing packs quite a punch! It’s a packed sandwich with lots of cheese, excellent steak, and even fried onions all served on a Kaiser roll. Here is a picture describing everything that’s in the Schmitter. Yes, the price tag is $10.50 on this thing, but I always love a good Philly cheese steak, and this one ranks up there!
Ticket prices: I will come out and say this right now: I got these tickets for free. Since I’m a huge baseball fan, and a big fan of my home team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, I went ahead and applied for one of those Extra Bases MasterCard credit cards. Besides, my free gift was a Dodgers NLCS blanket, and a large amount of points, some of which I had already previously used once before on memorabilia. This time, I used some of my points on something a little more feasible, baseball tickets! When I received the tickets, I saw the price tag. We were in section 426 (Terrace Deck), row 6. These tickets are WAY up there, and they have a face value of $29. These are on the third base side, but I almost got a nose bleed from up there. If those tickets were $29, I shuddered to think of how much other tickets in that park costs! I heard StubHub is decent for tickets in that park, but with the face value already fairly high, those savings might not add up to much. Thank you, MasterCard. Again, this is not a plug.
The fans: The staff and workers and Citizens Bank Park are top notch, and do a great job dealing with the notorius Philadelphia fans. Yes, they have a reputation to hold up… and that’s with good reason. Keep in mind that this is the fanbase that once boo’ed Santa Claus, and Kris even warned me about the fans. When I arrived, I felt like this was any other old park… and then I got to my seats.
In our section, we had people who I can affectionately say were colorful characters. They cursed, screamed, and let out some bizarre yells not heard in any other ballpark. During this particular game, Ryan Howard came out, and was promptly met with boos when he would strike out. That huge contract isn’t paying off for the Phillies, and the natives are pissed. Otherwise, I thought there were some friendly fans and I felt fine there. It’s those few crazy fans that can stick in your mind for a while.
I will give them credit for sticking through their team in the good and bad times and still coming out to the games. This season has been nothing but bad for the Phillies, and the fans are not afraid to show their displeasure. There was almost constant boo’ing throughout the game, but especially for Ryan Howard who has fallen out of grace with the fans. However, these are knowledgable fans who were, at least, rewarded with a championship a few years ago. Overall, I didn’t find them as bad as many people made them out to be! They have the passion and knowledge for the game that gives these fans a plus in my book. In the grand scheme of things, I’d rather have a tougher but loyal fanbase instead of a laid-back and fair-weather fanbase.
The game: Only 29,000 showed up for a Saturday night game?? I knew their attendance had been going down, but I didn’t realize it could hit under 30k for a Saturday night. Anyway, the Phillies had a 4-run 2nd inning started by a 2-run shot by Cody Asche.
Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley also drove in runs with one out. Then Ryan Howard happened. After already striking out in the 1st, he then grounded out to an inning-ending double play that drew a cavalcade of boos from nearly everybody in the park. Talk about a mood killer! The Phillies were more than poised for a huge inning, and they could use every run they can get. The next inning, the Phillies notched two more runs including a solo homer from Marlon Byrd. The home runs for the home team are accompanied with the sound of a “Liberty Bell” ringing through the stadium, and the lit-up Liberty Bell in the outfield. Pretty neat! Philadelphia had scored six runs in the first three innings.
They needed more than that.
Slowly, Arizona kept chipping away at the deficit eventually tying the game in the 7th inning at six runs apiece. I knew I could be in for a long night as the game came to a screeching halt. Since the game moved at a snail’s pace, I looked around the park at some of the nooks and crannies and noticed their out-of-town scoreboard had a vintage feel to it, but also detailed runners on each base. Also, in a nod to classic stadiums, an analog clock was used in left-center field next to the giant scoreboard.
Another neat feature is a two-tiered bullpen for both teams with the Phillies pen closer to the action. Aside from all that, there are some funky dimensions in this park with a very short wall in center field and a taller wall everywhere else. One other weird quirk I noticed… it is 330′ to the right field pole and that is marked on the wall. It is 329′ to the left field pole… but that’s marked on the POLE?
Anyway, this game would go into extra innings and half the crowd left. Some of them even said, “We KNOW what’s going to happen, I just don’t want to be around to watch it.” Sure enough, the Arizona D’Backs scored four runs in the top of the 10th inning to put them up for good, and they ended up winning the game, 10-6 in ten innings. The boos were loud and plentiful during that entire inning. But, these fans actually care.
Overall, this is a great park, albeit a little expensive. This place is built more vertically, so the top terrace seats really do feel like you’re far from the action. However, the experience was a good one, especially since I got a couple freebies… and didn’t have to pay for the tickets! Oh, this is also the town that masters its namesake chesse steak. Naturally, the food is top-notch here if that’s what you’re ordering. I highly recommend that sandwich, and this place is worth visiting at least once. Onwards to the next region of my trip, the Baltimore/DC area. For now, I hope you have a good day and hope to see you at the ballpark!
Part III: Chase Field
This is pretty much the epitome of going from one extreme to the other. After a great ballpark experience down in San Diego with the beach only a few hundred feet away, I had to switch gears to get used to triple-digit weather and lots of desert sand. I’ve been here a few times before, also. This place used to be affectionately called “The BOB” as it was previously called Bank One Ballpark until the 2007 season. (Heh, who here actually remembers the nickname of “The BOB”?) Arizona used to have their dollar seats in the upper outfield sections, and even that seemed like a great deal because of how good those teams were. My last visit to Chase Field was actually for two games! A friend and I drove out to see the team’s first (and so far only) planned doubleheader against the Marlins two years ago, and that brought some excellent memories. How would this game fare?
Ballpark 3: Chase Field, elevation 1061 feet.
The game: Tigers @ Diamondbacks on July 21, 2014.
After leaving fairly early from my now-former place, I had to make sure I was going to be okay to put up with these temperatures, so I froze some more water and just kept getting drinks at every stop. My route was pretty much a straight shot down the 210 freeway to the 10 freeway, and just took that all the way to Phoenix and my next stop, Chase Field. This ballpark was built in 1998 for the then expansion team in downtown. The field sits right next to what used to be called America West Arena, now the US Airways Center where the Phoenix Suns NBA team play. Thus, this area is now called the “Sports Complex” according to most signs around the area, so finding Chase Field is NO problem. There are no subways to get there, only buses. Public transportation isn’t the best way to get there. Fortunately, parking prices are not too expensive around there if you can find it. There are plenty of $10 parking lots a block or two away, and there are a plethora of restaurants if you’re hungry. Also, there are plenty of street vendors outside the field selling cheaper bottles of water. I suggest getting a pair, because it IS Phoenix in the middle of July, and you are allowed to bring in bottled water… as long as it is closed. Despite the roof being closed, it is still 80 degrees inside the stadium. Hey, it beats the 106 outside, right?
Ticket prices: I didn’t have any tickets coming into Phoenix, which meant I had to get there early and buy tickets at the box office. I did that because there is a very small secondary market for tickets at Chase Field. Since this is a bigger stadium, I know how far some of those upper seats are, so I went ahead and sprung for the lower level seats which are a bit pricier at $43 each, but are still great seats, and not as expensive as some other stadiums. At least there are free game programs available to everyone on small newstands around the main concourse, so that is a small plus.
The upper deck seats really are that far from all the action. Foul balls never get up there, and you might get a nose bleed 25 rows up in the top deck. To me, I thought they were worth it, especially getting to see an excellent team like the Detroit Tigers. I’m sure most people that attended the game felt that way…
The fans: Oy, what can I say about the fans in Phoenix? The Valley of the Sun has a reputation of having some of the most fair-weather fans in the country. Lately, I’ve seen Phoenix fans constantly make “top 10” lists on having the worst fanbase. Remember how I said most people wanted to see an excellent team like the Tigers? That’s because most of the fans there were actually rooting for the road team. This is not an exaggeration when I say this, but there were probably more Tigers fans than there were Diamondbacks fans. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. Once upon a time, Phoenix had a decent following for their baseball team when they still had star power in Luis Gonzalez and Randy Johnson. After the team fell on hard times, the fanbase just vanished. This season, there is only a hollow shell of what used to be a decent team, and the fans just look sad. Even during batting practice, there were more Tigers fans that showed up early. I was seated on the first base side (gasp, what a shock!!) surrounded by… you guessed it, Tigers fans! Oh my!
The game: Because of the higher elevation, the ball tends to fly off the bat more than most other ballparks. However, because the ball flies off the bat so effectively, the dimensions are a bit deeper in Arizona. The deepest part of center field is only 407 feet away from home plate, but the distance to deep left and deep right is at 413 feet…. so you need to hit it good to get any ball out of here.
Torii Hunter had no problem crushing one (and I mean, absolutely hammered) to the left field seats in the 2nd inning, and then Austin Jackson clobbered one close to deep left field… they were both easily over 400-foot home runs. The Tigers fans exploded with joy with each Ruthian shot, and that gave the Tigers an early 3-0 lead. But the D’Backs chipped away the lead scoring two in the 4th inning.
It was at the midpoint of the game that I noticed how fairweather the Arizona fans really are. I’m deeply sorry if you’re an Arizona fan reading this, but I try to remain as impartial as possible, and I’m calling it like it is. About a dozen fans of the home team barely waltzed in during the bottom of the 5th inning claiming that the food took too long.
Oh! THE FOOD. Is it just me, or does it always smell like buttered popcorn when you walk in through the main entrance? The last three times I’ve visited that ballpark, I’ve noticed the smell of popcorn, and it permeates through the front part of that concourse. The variety of food there is not nearly as vast as the prior two ballparks. I mean… how many “FatBurger” stands must there be? Why not mix things up a bit? I only had a cheeseburger and fries because that sounded best to me. The regular burger at any old stand is far better than the more-expensive FatBurger. If you walk around the entire lower concourse, the food choices get stale and repetitive. However, some of those restaurants offered up value choices like a $1.50 corn dog, which is not a bad deal at all! However, those were already gone by the time I wanted one. Maybe those signs should read in big, bold letters: WHILE SUPPLIES LAST. If one place was taking a long time to serve food, there are probably three others exactly like that one! I really don’t buy the excuse that you waited for food for over an hour. Not in that ballpark, especially when there were only 25,907 there… and most of them were Tigers fans who not only got there early, but mostly remained in their seats! Sorry that got a little ranty, but the bottom of the 5th? Really?
During the bottom of the 6th inning, Gerardo Parra hit a home to the right field seats, and the game was back to a tie. NOW we started hearing the Arizona faithful cheering and the ever-present chant of “Let’s Go D’Backs,” but this chant usually drew some chuckles or laughs from the Detroit fans. That’s because when muffled out, it almost sounds like the “lazy fans,” according to a Tigers fan next to me, would say, “Let’s Go D’Bags!” I don’t know who agreed to that shortened nickname of the Diamondbacks, but I hope they realize how much they are made fun of by other franchises and their fans.
Those home chants were soon drowned out in the top of the 7th inning as Miguel Cabrera nearly hit a homer, but it just missed getting out of the deepest part of the park. Either way, it scored Austin Jackson to keep the Tigers up for good. By the time the game ended with the Tigers winning, most of the Arizona fans had already left leaving behind a sea of blue and orange. It almost felt like a Tigers home game!
Yes, this ballpark has a pool, and a closed roof with air conditioning… but this ballpark currently lacks a soul. The lack of variety in food choices is a minus for this park, and its fair-weather fans are a couple big minuses. Also, the cavernous bleachers and high upper-deck seats don’t help. Then again, it is very hard to top Petco Park when the Padres’ pitcher is four outs away from a no-hitter. If you’re going to check out a game, expect to pay a good amount, or be very far from the action. Arrive early for batting practice… because you might have a better chance to catch a ball here than at other ballparks. At least now I’m out of this heat! East coast bound for the next few updates!