For my 93rd major league ballgame, I visited my 18th major league ballpark. Sunday afternoon, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, Phillies vs. Expos.
It was indeed a gorgeous day for a ballgame. Sunny, an impossible blue sky, about 70 degrees with a light breeze. I entered the park through the right-field gate, right near the chaos that is Bull’s BBQ — Greg Luzinski’s stand — and the surrounding picnic tables and benches. To my right was Ashburn Alley, a stretch of local and unique food stands, attractions for the kids and a jersey customization shop. I walked to the right down the Alley looking for my lunch options. It was about 12:30, an hour before the first pitch, and already the lines for the cheesesteak stand were long.
I kept walking.
On the left were the tiered bullpens, then right field. Fans snaked their way through the Phillies Hall of Fame above the bullpens and hung out along the railing, eating their recently purchased food and awaiting the pitchers’ warmups. Once I passed center field and turned the corner to left, I found myself beneath the gigantic scoreboard (with Harry K’s restaurant embedded in it) and looking out through the gates at the desolate sand pit that was once the site of Veterans Stadium. As antiseptic and plain as that stadium was, it seemed to have more character in its surrounding areas than this scene did. But that assessment is not fair, since that site is now a construction zone as they continue to clear it. I’m sure that once that work is complete, the landscaping will return.
I was also walking in the shade of the scoreboard and, moments later, beneath the right-field stands. Here, the wind became cold, and I was glad, despite the warm sunshine and near-70-degree weather, that I wore jeans. I wondered if I should’ve put on that long-sleeved shirt beneath my Lakewood BlueClaws jersey. I bought a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke and walked over to the standing-room ledges at the back of each section along the concourse to watch the final pregame preparations while I ate. Groundskeepers watered the infield and players from both teams stretched and sprinted along the foul lines and in the outfield. When a touching tribute to Tug McGraw and Paul Owens played on the scoreboard, I had to duck to see the screen beneath the overhang and I cursed the TV montiors hanging over the seats that were showing ESPN’s football pregame instead of the Tug tribute, set to Jackson Browne’s “All Good Things.”
Anyway, like Eric Neel, I think the ledges along the concourses are one of the best additions to any newly built ballpark. It allows for pregame strolling and eating, with a good view of the field, before heading up to your seats in the upper deck. Same would apply to in-game needs for sustinence. Overall, though, I wasn’t as impressed with the Cit. Or the ‘Zen. Or whatever you want to call it (and why is the corporate name of San Diego’s new park banned, as the column said at the top, but Philly’s isn’t?). I think my impressions were tinted by the seat in the upper deck, just beyond the right-field foul pole, that obscured the out-of-town scoreboard from view and left me with a backdrop outside the stadium of the pit where the Vet once stood. Yet, even during my pregame stroll around the concourse, the downtown skyline out beyond center field was far off and distant, making the city seem even more distant that it actually is. Or maybe I’m just too impressed by PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
After eating, I stopped in the main team store even though I didn’t really want any Phillies gear. But when the first thing I saw upon walking through the doors was a red t-shirt with “FLOYD 41” on the back, for Gavin Floyd, I had to make an exception. Just three weeks in the majors, one win (to that point) in his career, and already the first Lakewood BlueClaw to make an impact in the majors and a former No. 1 pick had joined the ranks of THOME 25, BURRELL 5, MILLWOOD 34, WAGNER 13 and even BELL 4. I bought the shirt, then a scorecard along the first-base concourse, and then climbed the stairs up to my seat in the sky.
I wore the BlueClaws jersey because my seat was with a group of fans and employees of the Phillies’ Class A team from the Jersey Shore. I spent the game in an aisle seat next to octagenarian fan Mildred, who told me she’s now known as Mrs. Claws and, during the team’s inaugural season, had stitched a quilt commemorating the first campaign. Since I covered the team at the time, I believe she took my picture one day when I chatted with her and her husband on the concourse and incorporated it into the quilt.
Thankfully, we were in the sun. Unforunately, I’d forgotten my sunscreen and returned with two pink forearms, a red neck and a flushed face. Because of the angle of my seat and the location of the sun, the left side of my face and neck were more cooked than the other. Gorgeous. Kevin Millwood was off the DL and making his first start in like two months. He did OK, but lasted only two innings, which suited us just fine. When the Phillies took the field for the top of the third, out from the bullpen strolled Gavin Floyd. We stood and cheered and sections near us must’ve first wondered if we were friends and family, then probably realized that there was no way that could be the case considering how far we were from the field.
The Phillies went on to win 7-2, and Gavin got the win for his three innings of relief. Mike Lieberthal homered, giving us a chance to see the big Liberty Bell in action, and Billy Wagner closed out the ninth with two strikeouts. I suppose the atmosphere was a little subdued considering the disappointing season the Phillies have had, considering the expectations back in March. Not yet mathmatically eliminated, but for all intents and purposes, they were done, and here they were playing a glorified AAA club in the Expos.
As for the ballpark, it will be a great place to be some October night when they host a playoff game in a year or two, particularly when the Vet site is groomed a bit. I’m sure it’s a great place to spend a summer afternoon or evening. But the location can’t compete with Pittsburgh’s and Ashburn Alley, while a wonderful attraction on its own, is no Eutaw Street in Baltimore — for one thing, it’s not as wide. And — something else Eric Neel pointed out — as I was sitting in my seat high above the field, looking down at the new ballpark, I wondered how great it would look if the 42,000 blue seats before me were a bright, brilliant Phillie red. I realize blue is one of the Phillies’ official colors, but it’s not the first one people think of, and were they red instead, they might look more impressive (and more filled) on TV when those late-season wide shots show a less-than-full ballpark.
But hopefully, I’ll be back in the coming years for more Gavin Floyd victories and more BlueClaw alumni appearances in the bigs.