Citizens Bank Park

Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA

Number of games:  1
First game:  June 12, 2005 (Phillies 6, Brewers 2)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

Work brought me to Citizens Bank Park for the first time–taking student debaters to the National tournament in Philadelphia.  I’m glad it did, too.  Citizens Bank Park isn’t derivative of the 1990s new wave of ballparks; it didn’t exactly remind me of Coors or Jacobs or Camden Yards.  I was glad to see that–by the time this ballpark debuted in 2004, to copy those ballparks, as beautiful and wonderful as they are, would have felt like a cop-out.  Citizens Bank Park is its own park, and a gorgeous one.  It is unquestionably a top-ten ballpark.

There are subtle but significant differences between it and the others–differences that make the ballpark unique and charming.  For starters, there’s the red brick.  Yes, a lot of ballparks are made of red brick–San Francisco’s comes to mind.  However, the red brick isn’t central to the decor as it is in Philadelphia.  And, for reasons I can’t communicate properly, red brick is gorgeous in a ballpark.  Second, Citizens Bank Park has bucked a recent trend towards baseball green seats.  Don’t get me wrong–I love the baseball green.  But it’s been duplicated enough lately that the deep blue seats in Philadelphia are a refreshing, character-giving change.

Philadelphia also has an interesting reversal in design compared to Coors Field, Safeco Field, and probably a couple of ballparks I’m forgetting.  At Coors and Safeco, fans can look out onto the field from the concourse…but only on the first level.  The upper concourse is enclosed behind the seats, and fans can’t see the interior of the ballpark from there.  At Citizens Bank Park, this is reversed.  The lower levels are enclosed, and it is difficult to see the field from there.  On the third level, one can see the field.  It’s a refreshing difference–giving the folks in the

cheap seats a panorama of both the field and downtown Philadelphia wherever they are on the level.  (“Cheap seats” is a relative term, I’m afraid…the cost of a third-level seat at Citizens Bank Park was well above the cost at any park I’ve ever been to.  There are not “cheap seats” there.  Can we work on that, Phillies?)

Another creative touch in design is that fans can look directly down on the bullpen while looking at a sign that provide information about what various pitches look like.  It’s a nice touch, also, to be able to watch bullpen warm-ups from such a nearby vantage point, with no fence barrier.  All in all, the design of Citizens Bank Park is beautiful.  It integrates the texture of the game.

I was a little bit troubled by the atmosphere back in the kids’ corner…the carnival games were in danger of becoming flashy and distracting like those at Comerica Park.  But in

Philadelphia, it’s a little bit different…a carnival game (like the giant pinball game or the competition where kids–or adults–run in place as fast as they can to manipulate a player icon around the bases) is participatory in a way that a carousel or Ferris wheel is not.  For whatever reason, it felt like a celebration of baseball rather than an escape from it, so I don’t view it as a strike against the ballpark.

Part of the reason is that Citizens Bank Park celebrates baseball in a wonderful way throughout its center field pavilion.  There are plaques dedicated to great Phillies at each position.  There are bricks in the ground commemorating Phillies’ all-stars at each position.  There is a mini-museum behind

the brick wall in center field about Phillies and Philadelphia Negro League history.  “Ashburn Alley” is an excellent example of an open outfield pavilion area, all surveyed by a statue of Richie Ashburn.  Perhaps best of all is the bullpen.  This is consistent with the ballpark’s sense of history throughout…there’s a statue of Connie Mack outside the ballpark, put up by a group dedicated to promoting Philadelphia A’s history (what there is of it, anyway).

In addition to the design, the atmosphere in Citizens Bank Park further adds to its charm.  I’ll admit I had a preconception of Philadelphia and its fans coming into my visit.  I was expecting the fans to be rude and surly throughout.  It was in Philadelphia, after all, that Santa Claus was booed, J.D. Drew risked bodily harm, and even Mike Schmidt faced chants of “Choke!  Choke!”…from his child’s classmates on a school bus. So, when my smart and smart-alecky debater boy decided this would be a good place to root for the visiting team, I let him know he was doing so at his own risk.  It didn’t turn out to be a problem…we didn’t get a cross look all day.  Maybe it’s because the Phils were playing Milwaukee that day, and nobody could reasonably expect any human being to actually root for the Brewers.  They knew my student was faking it.  But I don’t think so.  I

think, quite simply, that these were genuinely cool baseball fans surrounding me on this unconscionably muggy Sunday afternoon.  Case in point:  As I walked to my seat, I passed a couple of Phillies fans talking on cell phones.  Usually, in other cities, this turns me off–I hear snippets of business deals or stupid “Yippee!  I’m at the ballpark!” talk.  Both of the individuals I passed at Citizens Bank Park were talking baseball…the day’s pitching matchups, the Phillies’ recent hot streak, and the like.  It was a fine group of intelligent, engaged, dare-I-say pleasant fans.  I hate to blow Philadelphia’s hard-earned reputation, but I’ve got to call it like I see it.

So, all in all, an excellent day at a fine ballpark surrounded by good baseball fans.  Who could possibly cry over the loss of Veterans Stadium when they have this gorgeous ballpark to replace it?

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