If Citizens Bank Park had been built in downtown or on the shores of a river it might be the best ballpark in baseball. But even without a perfect natural setting, the Philadelphia Phillies new home is probably the top physical structure in baseball and definitely one of the most fan friendly.
As a result, of all the stadiums that have been replaced in the retro ballpark building craze, the Phillies replacement of Veterans Stadium has turned out to be the biggest upgrade.
Citizens Bank Park sits next door, technically east, to where Veterans Stadium stood until its demolition on March 21, 2004. The only real drawback of the ballpark is its location four miles from downtown in Philadelphia’s Sports Complex, which has four stadiums and arenas standing next door to each other. Only a sea of 21,000 parking spaces in the Sports Complex separates Citizens Bank Park from Lincoln Financial Field (Eagles), the Wachovia Center (76ers, Flyers) and Spectrum.
The Phillies’ ballpark looks small from the parking lot – an obvious change from the massive Vet - and is dwarfed by the Eagles’ neighboring stadium.
Built primarily from brick, Citizens Bank Park exudes charm inside and out. The main ballpark entrance is the 3rd Base Gate, which features a statue of Mike Schmidt. Once inside, I was amazed at how open and unique the ballpark truly is, while being surprised at how much the Phillies encourage fans to watch the ballgames from a multitude of vantage points.
At least some of the playing field is visible no matter where you are in the ballpark. The lower deck features a splendid 360-degree concourse that wraps around the entire ballpark and turns into Ashburn Alley in the outfield.
Named in honor of Phillies legend Richie Ashburn, the Alley is home to many of Citizens Bank Park’s many treats. Included in the mix are a few great food options, beginning with Geno's Steaks, which serves up their world-famous cheesesteaks, and Chickie's & Pete's, where Crab Fries are available.
But the best of the bunch is probably Bull's BBQ, where pulled barbecue pork, ribs and turkey are served in an outdoor picnic area while the Bull himself – former Phillie Greg Luzinski -.signs autographs from a booth located near the check out line. The barbeque was absolutely wonderful and according to Luzinski he sold the Phillies on the idea, which traces its roots to Boog Powell’s BBQ stand in Camden Yards, where a similar atmosphere exists in the outfield walkway.
Located above the buildings in Ashburn Alley that house the food and drink options are a small section of rooftop bleacher seats, which were patterned after the seats that were built on the street behind Philadelphia’s Shibe Park in the 1920s.
Directly above the rooftop bleachers, and 100 feet above street level, is the 35’ x 50’ Liberty Bell Home Run Spectacular, which sways, rings and lights up whenever a Phillies player goes yard.
A long elevated walkway is located next to the rooftop bleachers and this second story area is packed with fans during the game. Behind the walkway the retired names and numbers of Phillies greats are painted on brick.
Back on ground level, Ashburn Alley’s paved walkway lists the names of all past Phillies All-Stars by position, dating back to the first All Star game in 1933.
Philadelphia’s baseball history is chronicled on a brick wall behind the batter’s backdrop and the
bi-level bullpens were built next door, giving fans standing on the concourse a bird’s eye view of pitchers from both teams warming up. On the other side of the brick batter’s eye is a porch that extends into the center field seats, bringing fans even closer to the action.
The Phillies didn’t forget about fans in the upper deck when designing their ballpark. Instead they produced a couple of interesting architectural features, of which the most notable is a “break” in the upper deck that lowers the entire right field Pavilion deck approximately 20 feet. This moves those seats lower and closer to the playing field, a cool feature that is nearly identical to Detroit’s Comerica Park.
The bulk of the remaining upper deck is split into two levels, with the 300 level known as the Pavilion Deck and the 400 section called the Terrace Deck. Although they look fairly seamless from afar, the two decks actually have a gap between them and are connected by sets of stairways in the upper concourse.
Thanks to this gap Citizens Bank Park actually has an open concourse that wraps the upper deck. I’ve never been to a ballpark that has so many great places to stand and watch the game, and the upper concourse between the Pavilion and Terrace decks are an inviting place to take in a ballgame with a view unmatched by the open concourses on the lower level.
To the Phillies credit, they really encourage fans to mingle in the concourses and have gone so far as to place bar-like metal counter tops directly behind the last row of seats in each concourse, giving fans a railing to rest their food, drink or scorebook.
The actual seats in the upper levels feel close to the playing field and a lot of that has to do with the angular design of the upper deck, which is a refreshing contrast to the traditional arced seating arrangement. Another nice touch is the use of brick surrounding the press box.
Besides the other Philly stadiums and a sole Holiday Inn there isn’t much in the vicinity of Citizens Bank Park and that would be my only gripe. The downtown skyline is visible from much of the upper deck, but the skyscrapers and bridges are rather hazy from their distance of four miles away.
Parking is plentiful and at $10 not too expensive, but traffic is a headache after ballgames. Fortunately, the ballpark is directly accessible from the Broad Street subway line and walking to it after the game takes you past the Spectrum, where fans flock to pose with a statue of Rocky that stands on top of the steps.
Besides being known as the home of the fictional boxer played by Sylvester Stallone, Philadelphia has a reputation for rowdy fans. It was well known that the Vet had a holding cell for those arrested at Philllies and Eagles games, but fan behavior at Citizens Bank Park has cleaned itself up with the arrival of the new ballpark.
The crowds are still boisterous but within the boundaries of acceptable behavior, as the Phillies’ home now has a family friendly atmosphere that Veterans Stadium always lacked. And to my pleasant surprise the ushers and ballpark staff was as friendly and helpful as any that I’ve ever encountered.
You can’t see a game in Philadelphia without the presence of the Phillie Phanatic, although he only makes one on-field appearance during the game, so remember to stay in your seat for the 6th inning.
Over the years Phillies fans have been accustomed to the antics of the Phanatic and a baseball team that never quite reaches expectations, but Citizens Bank Park has given the franchise a new appeal. As columnist Bob Ford wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer, it’s "a fun place, angular and open, inviting the fans to wander around the various levels and search out interesting vantage points."
In just about every way possible the ballpark wows fans with an openness that makes Citizens Bank Park one of the true gems in Major League Baseball.