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The Great American Ballpark Tour: Citizens Bank Park Review [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
May 26th, 2010 by Dan

Citizens Bank Park facade

Home of the (evil) Philadelphia Phillies

Believe it or not, I didn’t always hate the Phillies. One of my earliest baseball memories is watching Darren Daulton in the 1993 World Series, don’t ask me why that name sticks out, but it just does. I was even on a little league team that took the name Phillies (even though I desperately wanted to play on the Marlins). My childhood hatred was mostly directed toward the Atlanta Braves, the most dominant team in the NL East, and baseball in general, throughout the 90s. It wasn’t until I was in college that I began hating the team, mostly due to a co-worker’s insane degree of love for the Phils. Now that I live in Maryland, the proximity of the state of Pennsylvania doesn’t help things either, meaning I have to deal with fans of Philadelphia teams all year round. Couple in their bad fan reputation and their winning ways the past five years and you’ve got yourself genuine hatred for the division rivals.

Phillie Phanatic on the wall of Citizens Bank Park

The face of evil?

All that preamble just to say that I wasn’t exactly looking forward to going to Citizens Bank Park. I decided that I would wear my Marlins jersey to the park, but I was genuinely worried that I’d have to weather insults, jeers, thrown beer, or possibly worse. I mean, three days before I was set to visit the park, a fan was arrested for vomiting on an off-duty police officer and his children. I had no idea what I was in for, but after coming out of it alive, I’ll begrudgingly admit that Citizens Bank Park is one of the nicest parks I’ve ever been to.

Center Field at Citizens Bank Park

The batter's eye is really nice looking.

Like all ballparks designed after Camden Yards, CBP (as it will be abbreviated from here on out) was designed with that faux-retro aesthetic in mind. It means lots of brick, lots of open spaces in the concourses, and plenty of sight lines pointed toward the plate. When you’ve got a nice, historic organization like the Phillies, you can afford to go this route. I think that’s the chief reason why Nationals Park stands out among its peers. The team had no real history, so there was no reason to call back to the olden days of the Senators (although they probably should have). Philadelphia’s park features statues of Phillies greats scattered throughout the entire park, a restaurant dedicated to Harry Kalas, and whole regions, like Ashburn Alley, named for the organization’s greats.

Ashburn Alley

I always want to call it Crashburn Alley because of the Phillies blog with that name.

It’s an unspoken rule that all of the new ballparks need some kind of gimmick to make them stand out, architecturally, from their peers. Camden Yards has the warehouses, Citi Field has the Ebbets Field rotunda, Nationals Park has that weird, circular scoreboard, and CBP achieves this with a giant, replica Liberty Bell beyond center field. Whenever a home run is hit by the home team, the Liberty Bell actually rings, kind of like the Big Apple that rises out of the outfield after Mets home runs. It’s a neat little quirk that does give the park some flavor.

Liberty Bell at Citizens Bank Park

This one is cracked too?! What are the odds?!

Another little visual thing that I love are the flower planters along the left field wall. There’s not much more to say about them other than that they’re very pretty and add much needed color to the otherwise dominant red and green in the park.

Flowers in right field at Citizens Bank Park

I like flowers. So what.

Also like other new ballparks, a lot of CBP’s food options are actually local restaurants. There is a Chickie’s & Pete’s stand, one local cheesesteak restaurant is rotated into the park each year, and the ice cream comes from the local Turkey Hill Dairy. Unlike some other parks, CBP has a super liberal policy about food from outside the park. So long as there’s no glass, they’ll allow it in the ballpark. I saw a guy who was bringing in three boxes of pastries. The people sitting next to me pulled out sandwiches from a local deli, an entire bag of potato chips, and drinks to go with their meal. I’d like to see more blue collar policies like this with respect to out of park food. Sure, you lose a few sales at the concessions, but you earn so much goodwill I think it’s worth it. I wish I’d known how liberal their policy was, I had a whole cheesesteak hidden in my pockets.

Chickie's & Pete's at Citizens Bank Park

I didn't know I was supposed to try the Crab Fries here. Next time, I guess.

This year Nationals Park started having a starting nine group of children come out before the players to add some local flavor and help introduce the team. I saw the same thing in Japan a few times, but in Japan and at CBP, they intelligently have the players each come out holding a baseball. When they reach their tiny counterparts, they sign the ball, give it to the kid, and then the kids leave the field after the National Anthem plays. Everyone loves kids. This is always a success no matter where I see it done.

Kids at Citizens Bank Park

Like all other ballparks, they grab (cheap) local talent to do things like sing the National Anthem.

No article about CBP is complete without mentioning the most ostentatious feature of the ballpark, the Phillie Phanatic. The green monstrosity is one of the more controversial mascots in baseball. His antics have made a few enemies, most notably Tommy Lasorda, formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they’re mostly harmless pranks that seem to go a few steps beyond what mascots in any ballpark would do. It’s the kind of thing that fits the city of Philadelphia and their team aesthetic well and it’s insanely funny 99% of the time. In the one game I witnessed, I watched him mock Marlins players throwing, attack the Marlins broadcaster, get shoved by Hanley Ramirez, steal fan caps, mess up countless people’s hair, and ride all around in his little car. He’s a pretty cool mascot, even if he is evil.

Phillie Phanatic speeding along

This is my absolute favorite picture that I got of this evil bastard.

Citizens Bank Park is a great place to see a game, what can I say? The fan base is passionate and devoted to the team, the park is nice and new, and they have great food policies. They’re also ridiculously close to Maryland, so if you’re a local reader, you really should just pop up there if you’re interested. I was there and back before midnight after the game.

Gaby Sanchez on the Citizens Bank Park scoreboard

Another reason I'm sure I loved this park: Check out the Marlins score right now. This gap did not appreciably close all night.

Citi Field vs. Yankee Stadium [WMQ]
Aug 5th, 2009 by Dan

It’s time for Wednesday Morning Night Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

Instead of the usual sports roundup today, it’s going to be a battle of the new stadiums. That’s right, it’s Yankee Stadium vs. Citi Field!

A view of Citi Field from the parking lot

A view of Citi Field from the parking lot

VS.

Yankee Stadium from the subway platform

Yankee Stadium from the subway platform

Yankee Stadium

When you’re the New York Yankees, you’ve got certain expectations attached to your new stadium project. Yankee Stadium, even with all the revisions and reconstructions throughout the ages, stood for baseball history, really. Its departure was significant. Along with Fenway and Wrigley, Yankee Stadium stood tall in the face of the new ballpark craze. Yankee Stadium was the House that Ruth Built. You don’t get to be much more important than that. So it goes without saying that there was plenty to be said against building a new ballpark in this era of retro-new baseball stadiums. It would have to ostensibly be exactly what it was while trying to improve itself in every way. As someone who’s never been inside old Yankee Stadium, I can’t definitively say that they succeeded on that front, but anecdotal evidence seems to support that fact. Looking at the shell of the old park right next door, I’d be hard-pressed to argue with that assessment. The Yankee organization succeeded in taking the old and turning it new, but it begs the question. Why?

A view of the old. Tough shoes to fill for the new.

A view of the old. Tough shoes to fill for the new.

Make no mistake, Yankee Stadium is a joy to visit. It’s state-of-the-art and every surface almost sparkles, it’s so new. The fans seem mostly enthusiastic about the new park and they come to see the games in droves.

The fans are always excited to visit.

"I sold my kidney to afford a ticket!"

Right when you enter the ballpark, you see precisely where the millions have gone. There are bright, high definition televisions everywhere and an overall regal atmosphere throughout the interiors.

Yankee Stadium is very shiny and new. It certainly looks like a lot of money was spent.

Yankee Stadium is very shiny and new. It certainly looks like a lot of money was spent.

Unfortunately, all those shiny new additions to the ballpark seem to have taken its toll on the common man. In the current global recession, it seems rather ridiculous that the cheapest seats in the ballpark cost $14. Doesn’t seem that outrageous until you realize that those $14 seats are right next to the batter’s eye, a huge restaurant that obstructs the view of the opposite end of the outfield. You read that right. You pay $14 and you can’t even see Damon on the left if you’re sitting on the right. There are TVs up on the walls to allow you to see what’s going on the other side, but it seems like a major oversight. The next cheapest are the nosebleeders in the outfield for $23 and it goes up from there to over $1000 the closer and lower you get. It seems designed to bring in more money to the already bloated franchise, but at what cost? Do you think the working man with his two kids can afford a day at the ballpark at these prices? $92 just for admission, not to mention any food (which is also overpriced) and you’re looking at an expensive night just for three hours of entertainment.

A beautiful screen, but at what cost?

A beautiful screen, but at what cost?

That being said, you can’t blame them too much for the extravagance. The park is beautiful and the Yankees are a rich team with rich fans. In the back of the park, by the bullpens, lives the Monument Park, commemorating the greats in Yankees history. In fact, the whole park is filled with historical reminders that go a long way in reminding the fan that this team is serious business. I’m making it sound worse than it is above, it’s really a solid location to catch a game of baseball. I’ve gone into the home run business plenty on this site, but let me say that I personally saw two go over that infamous right field wall (one by Cano and one by Rodriguez). It’s funny to me that this park can give up so many while Citi gives up so few. As of this post, no Met has more than six home runs in their own ballpark.

Its really a solid location to catch a game of baseball. -Dan Mesa

"It's really a solid location to catch a game of baseball." -Dan Mesa

Citi Field

Unburdened with a stadium fondly remembered, Citi Field also stands right next to the park that housed the team since the 1960s, the abomination known as Shea Stadium. That place was such a generic, character-less hole that the public was more than happy to see it torn down and replaced. Thanks to the lack of love for Shea, the ballpark designers were free to get creative and they came up with this unfortunately named little gem.

Ill bet not one of those says We will always miss Shea.

I'll bet not one of those says "We will always miss Shea."

Corporate sponsored names pretty much stink for all ballparks (I don’t mind Tropicana Field for some reason, maybe it’s because that’s synonymous with oranges for me?), but what doesn’t is the inspiration for the new ballpark (what a crappy segue…). Modeled after Ebbets Field, former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first thing you see after you are padded down or EM wanded by security (I kid you not, they were padding down incoming fans), is the Jackie Robinson rotunda, a beautiful callback to Ebbets and a worthy celebration of the man to break the color barrier in baseball.

A monument to Jackie Robinson is nice, but all the Dodgers gear can confuse. Hey Dad, arent we here to see the Mets?

A monument to Jackie Robinson is nice, but all the Dodgers gear can confuse. "Hey Dad, aren't we here to see the Mets?"

My friend Lee pointed out that a monument to a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Mets stadium is kind of out of place. I’m inclined to agree, but the space is so beautiful and the cause so important that I can neither fault them nor be mad about the inconsistency.

Toilets from the future!

Urinals from the future!

I don’t really have anything bad to say about Citi Field. Prices are still more expensive at the ballpark than others in smaller markets, but that’s just New York, I guess. The urinals look kind of funny, I guess, the outfield wall is colored black and orange, making it look like the Giants play here, and they’ve still got the same problem with airplanes flying over and disrupting the calm of the game.

Wouldnt be a Mets game without planes taking off and landing.

Wouldn't be a Mets game without planes taking off and landing.

The park feels smaller than Shea, and for a reason, they cut out about 15,000 seats, but it really does the ballpark some major good. Gone are the super steep stairs and feelings of vertigo up in the nosebleed section. The diminished size and the warm feeling that brick evokes gives the park a homey, intimate feeling that the cold concrete of Shea just didn’t offer and the aloof, superior atmosphere of Yankee Stadium just can’t match. One of the major tenets of the retro-new ballpark craze is to have ridiculous corners and unique parts of the park that really bring the home to home-field advantage and make for a unique park. One look at right field in Citi and and rational right fielder would faint. There are so many odd angles, an overhanging patio (hitting it counts as a home run, even if the ball bounces back into the field), and super-high walls that help keep the home run numbers down, but will undoubtedly increase the number of triples given up in the park.

Right field is full of insane angles. BONUS: Clay Zavadas mustache is on the big screen.

Right field is full of insane angles. BONUS: Clay Zavada's mustache is on the big screen.

Even the backstop is made of brick, making getting home on a wild pitch that much harder. BONUS: This picture is following Angel Pagans game-winning, first career grand slam.

Even the backstop is made of brick, making getting home on a wild pitch that much harder. BONUS: This picture is following Angel Pagan's game-winning, first-in-his-career grand slam.

The best thing I can say about Citi Field is that it rekindled my love for baseball. Entering the ballpark I was feeling some fatigue from the long season. By the end of the game, I was pumped for my upcoming baseball trip to Japan and I couldn’t wait to get back home and watch more baseball this season. How can you not love a ballpark that reminds you of everything you love about the game?

The only welcome holdout from Shea, the home run Big Apple

The only welcome holdout from Shea, the home run Big Apple

Verdict

New York City is lucky to have not one, but two great new ballparks this season and they both succeed at the goals they were shooting for. Yankee Stadium is everything it was, almost down to a ‘T’ and to its own detriment while Citi Field was allowed to be something completely new and chose to embrace its past. Maybe I’m just a sucker for brick (I love you Camden Yards!), but Citi Field just feels more like baseball to me.

Winner: Citi Field

Nationals Park Review [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Apr 22nd, 2009 by Dan

It’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

The American Ballpark Tour continues this month with my first visit to a relatively new baseball stadium, Nationals Park. First opened for the 2008 season, the park is home to the struggling Washington Nationals (3-10 as of today) and actually presents one of the better baseball stadiums I’ve ever been to.

As part of the new park boom kicked off by Camden Yards, Nationals Park features a lot of those quirky design choices that are standard in new ballparks. The new “it” thing is to give each stadium something unique to them to make them stand out from everywhere else. This is clearly an inspiration from the most classic and iconic baseball parks, like Wrigley Field with the Ivy or Fenway with the Green Monster. This is why Minute Maid Park has a bizarre hill in center field, Camden has those great warehouses, and Citi Field has that Ebbets Field-esque rotunda and facade. The Nats didn’t go as much for the retro-feel of Camden or any of those brick ballparks like Citi, but instead went with a more modern, clean, American look. In the shot below you can see some of its features, the curly W mowed into the field, the blue seats, red, white, and blue banners, the glass walls, and the Presidents Race, but the American feel is completed with cherry blossom trees, view of the Potomac, Capital Building, and Washington Monument, depending on where you sit, and statues of baseball greats Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson, and Frank Howard.

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

In the top-right of this shot you can see the Red Loft, a bar section of SRO seats that has a pretty neat circular LED display that shows varying information about the game. This shot also shows aforementioned cherry blossom grove.

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

The scoreboards are state-of-the-art and have a pretty neat glowy, curly W clock on them. You can also see the out-of-town scoreboard in the bottom of this shot.

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

One of the best parts about the park that isn’t really conveyed in my pictures is the open feel of it. There exists only the bare minimum of outer walls to keep the park structurally sound to keep an open air feel within the park. This allows a refreshing breeze to flow into the park (a little too refreshing on Sunday for the upper decks…brrr) and also ensures that you, more or less, have a view of the ballpark no matter where you are in the complex as you walk around. The lower decks also have neat little SRO counters that you can lean against to enjoy your food and get a more intimate view of the ballgame than your $5 tickets might allow in the grandstands.

The Nationals, back when they played at RFK, birthed the greatest event ever with the Presidents Race, which continues in Nationals Park today. At every home game, during the fourth inning, the giant caricatures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt come bounding out from center field and go racing toward the home dugout. Here’s an idea of what the caricatures look like, but with smaller heads:

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

In this shot you can see what Jefferson actually looks like on the field along with part of Lincoln:

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

As you can imagine, ridiculous antics usually ensue. At the game I went to, Jefferson totally checked Lincoln into the wall, allowing Washington to take an easy win. For some hilarious reason, the organization decided that Teddy Roosevelt should never win. For the three seasons that the president caricatures have been racing, Teddy has NEVER won a race. The few times that he’s managed to actually not get distracted and make it in first, he’s usually disqualified for cheating by driving a golf cart or taking a zip line in. He’s also been sabotaged by various other mascots to keep him from winning. Another hilarious personality comes from Lincoln. Turns out that Honest Abe isn’t so honest when it comes to a footrace. Lincoln has a strong desire to win and will do whatever it takes to get his way, cheating by tripping or even, as some suspect, juicing! You can see more pictures and footage about the Presidents Race at the Let Teddy Win blog.

Is Nationals Park more charming than Camden? No, but I get the feeling that it’s on purpose. Rather than go with the traditional retro-baseball look of Camden, the designers opted to architecturally match DC instead and create something uniquely American in their ballpark. There are also tons of great food options in the ballpark, many of them are even restaurants that you can find throughout Maryland, Northern Virginia, and DC. I’d rank this ballpark up there with the best on my list. It’s a far improvement to RFK and it’s close to Camden on my list of favorites. For $5 a ticket in the grandstands, you really have no excuse not to go.

Nationals Domo

Oh yeah, Domo-kun made his way to this park too.

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