Philadelphia is not your average American sports town. While Americans love sports, Philly fans take that passion to a whole other level. They are borderline insane. I swear some must trade chromosomes for tickets. Go to a Flyers game and cheer to the visitors, and you will be heckled. Eagles fans are even worse. Phillies fans are a little more tempered (the length of the baseball season and the pace of the game calms even the most savage of beasts) but still the most aggressive in baseball. Which can make for an interesting day at the old ball yard.
They play in a nice stadium in the “Sports complex” area of south Philly sharing space with the basketball & hockey arena, as well as Lincoln Financial Field. Opened in 2004 near the end of the wave of red brick retro style ballparks, Citizens Bank Park is a really good yard with good grub and good drink marred by a so-so location.
Exterior aesthetics 6/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 10/10; Sightlines & seating 9/10; Amenities & entertainment 9/10; Flow 4/5; Celebrating history 4/5; Scoreboards 4/5; Grand entrance 4/5; Sense of place 8/10; WOW Factor 22/30. Total 80 points divided by 2 for 40.
The Philadelphia Phillies play in a great urban park. Unfortunately, it was built a full 4 miles from the city core, so it lacks the great urban view.
- The ballpark seats are set up in an angular way. Most stadiums use a curved design, but Citizen’s Bank Park arranged the seats in lines with fairly sharp breaks from line to line. It works well and is unique among ballparks, giving the place its own look. And it makes for good sightlines as well.
- Ashburn Alley in left field was baseball’s first “social area”. It wasn’t built to be that; it was meant to be a place to house some killer concessions, some team history, and provide a good outfield view. But fans would just hang out in that area rather than sit in a lousy outfield upper deck seat. This spawned the new trend of standing room social areas in other ballparks.
- The batter’s eye is very attractive: ivy-covered brick and shrubbery. Why all teams don’t use a more natural batter’s eye is beyond me.
- The concession areas are wide and open. The game is visible as you walk around the lower bowl throughout the ENTIRE stadium; there’s no break at home plate for a Club Area to obstructs the view. The upper deck is split which allows fans to walk around IT with a view of the field from the concession area. The Phillies want you to spend money at the concessions, and they make it easier for you because of their attractiveness and views.
- The maroon wrought iron throughout the park is unique and a cue to previous team colors
- The electronic Liberty Bell in right adds a little local flare
- The zigs and zags in the outfield and the rooftop seats pay tribute to old Shibe Park (they may be trying too hard, but I like the attempt)
- The Cooperstown Gallery in the Hall of Fame club features 30+ oil painting of Philly Hall of Famers
- The wiffle ball field, speed pitch and climbing wall provide some good entertainment options for the kiddies
- The new beer garden that replaced McFadden’s, Pass and Stow, is nice and includes the old 19-foot Liberty Bell that used to be at old Veteran’s Stadium
- The park is built to frame an amazing city skyline view. And you can see the full Philly skyline, so you get a bit of a sense of place. Alas, the view is distant and as a result, underwhelming. If you moved the park 20,000 feet north, it’d make a huge difference. To make matters worse, the view is partially blocked by a billboard.
- The exterior red brick feels out of place in a non-neighborhood and is fairly bland architecture to boot. The “signature” is the spelling of PHILADELPHIA in darker color bricks which feels a little Mickey Mouse.
- The sections feel wider than other parks with 20+ seats in some rows in the lower bowl and nearly 25 across in the upper bowl
- Ashburn Alley can get really crowded and cost you a few innings if you make an early game cheesesteak run
The Good outweighs the Bad, the location really hurts the “Wow factor”.
THE FOOD 10/10
This is one of only 5 ballparks with a perfect score here. Food was always great, but it just keeps getting better. It’s legitimately hard to choose since so much is good. Make sure your belt can loosen a notch.
- It’s one of 4 ballparks with a Shake Shack. This one even has seating for 120, so you don’t need to dribble your ShackBurger juice all over your vintage Mike Schmidt T-shirt.
- There are great local options including Federal Donuts selling great chicken AND great donuts, Chickie & Pete’s serving their famous crab fries, and Philadelphia Water Ice serving a dairy-free smooth-as-silk summery treat. Rounding out the local stuff is PJ Whelihan’s serving wings and stuff, and Seasons Pizza.
- Bull’s BBQ, run by former Philly Greg “The Bull” Luzinski, is Philly’s answer to Boog’s BBQ in Baltimore. For those of us old enough to remember Luzinski, he still shows up to sign autographs and glad-hand at his eatery.
- Of course, being Philly, you can get an authentic cheesesteak. Citizen’s Bank Park offers the sandwich from not one but two Philly institutions: Tony Luke’s and Campo’s duke it out in Ashburn Alley. You can’t go wrong with either; I’d peg both as a top 20 ballpark food. As good as a Campo’s “Heater” is, I think I give the edge to my personal fave, Tony Luke’s wiz wit (i.e. Cheese Whiz and onions). You can also get a “fake meat” cheesesteak from Questlove’s and a decent Aramark version in The Cobblestone Grill.
You can also get the standard ballpark fare, but why?
I almost deducted a point due to the elimination of the Schmitter sandwich, which WAS one of the best items in baseball, rivaling the cheesesteaks. First created at McNally’s Tavern in Chestnut Hill, the sandwich featured roast beef, grilled salami, tomato, cheese, grilled onions and a “secret sauce” (ketchup, mayo, relish, Worcestershire) on a Kaiser. But after trying the place that replaced it, Federal Donuts, and with the addition of Shake Shack, it went back to a perfect score.
THE BEER 7/10
The Phillies have long been a good park for interesting local suds. While other parks have caught up and even surpassed, I appreciate the long-term dedication to better brews.
Local gems Troegs, Victory, and Yards Brewing offer many of their wares, and are available throughout the stadium. You can also get acclaimed craft beer from locals Flying Fish and Conshohocken, as well as New Belgium, Founders, and A-B owned Golden Road and Goose Island. The occasional import, including Kronenbourg 1664, can be had as well.
The nice thing here is you don’t need to haul halfway around the park for a good beer. Most stands carry something from Troegs, Victory and/or Yards. Bottoms up!
The park is located in the same area as all other Philly sports teams play in the outskirts of town. This creates some infrastructure efficiencies with parking and public transit but isn’t as good for pre-gaming.
Unlike other suburban parks, there are a few fun options here. The Xfinity Live bar complex amidst the stadia and arena offers some decent options; it’s like a Ballpark Village that spans all sports. And there’s a Chickie & Pete’s within walking distance on Packer that’s right beside a top-notch Italian deli (Pastificio) offering great “sangwiches” hot and cold.
But still, this ain’t Wrigleyville.
A good seat will set you back, but a good beer is a little cheaper than average. Given the quality of concessions, you may eat more and spend more. It’s slightly above average in total.
There’s a SEPTA station that serves the sports complex, making the subway a viable option for those staying downtown. The location on the outskirts of the city close to two major interstates makes it relatively easy to get to, though rush hour traffic may be a bit grizzly if you’re coming from points north. And with enough semi-affordable on-site parking to satisfy everyone, you don’t have to hunt for a spot.
Philly is a little further south than other Eastern Seaboard teams to allow for more comfortable early season games. But like the parks in Baltimore and Washington, rain is a concern. So it still gets the standard “undomed” Northern City score.
THE VIBE 16/20
This score moved around a little because evaluating a Philly vibe is complicated. On one hand:
- You have some of the most passionate fans in the game. They don’t necessarily show up come hell of highwater (there have been attendance dips as the team became less competitive), but when they’re there, you know it.
- It’s home to the Philly Phanatic, easily the best mascot in sports and worth a point or two on this list alone
- It’s very friendly to the average fan, especially for an East Coast team. There are no large clubs blocking the view from behind home plate from the concession area, lots of places to sit with some food other than your seat, and a fairly liberal policy allowing fans to seek autographs pre-game.
- Hearing the dong of the fake Liberty Bell after a home run is a neat tradition
- The ushers are good at their craft
- The song they play after a win, late broadcaster Harry Kalas’ version of “High Hopes”, makes me smile
On the other hand, the passion of the fans can sometimes spill over into boorish behavior. We all know the well-documented story of the fan who purposefully threw up on a 13-year-old girl in retaliation for her father asking him to watch his language. That’s the extreme, and really doesn’t reflect the Philly fan. A more appropriate example came from a game in which I was attending. It was an early season interleague game against the Royals in a year when the Phillies were coming off a .500 season, and the Royals stunk; i.e. about as low stakes a ball game as there is. A player named Chris Getz goes to the on-deck circle for the Royals, preparing to hit for the pitcher in the top of the 7th. I was sitting close to the visitor’s dugout just a few rows up. Some leatherlung from the expensive Diamond Club seats two sections over yells to the player (who was no more than 20 feet away from him), “Hey Getz. Suck my d*ck!”. Now forget passing judgment about using juvenile profanity and the unoriginality of the heckle. I ask, “How can you have that much pent up anger at a player you likely don’t know playing for a team you likely don’t hate, in Game 5 of 162 and afford those seats?” THAT’S Philly.
The Phillies have lost more games in their history than any team playing any North American sport. There’s bound to be cynicism, something to which I can readily relate. But sometimes that cynicism transcends to a curmudgeonly meanness. I can never understand how a small but vocal minority of these fans can be that angry in a place this nice.
I still think the vibe is better than most. And the Phanatic truly does give it a boost. But if the Phillies are playing bad baseball, be prepared to hear some f-bombs used as verbs, nouns, adjectives, determiners, adverbs and interjections.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Three fun Philly eateries:
- Pat’s/Geno’s (These two famous joints near Passyunk Square are the best known “cheesesteakeries” in America. Good debates can be had as to which is best. Pat’s was there first. Geno’s has more flare. Go for a late breakfast/early lunch to beat the crowds and try both and decide for yourself. Locals may warn you that tourists have taken over, but I still say go.)
- John’s Roast Pork (South Philly. Another really good cheesesteak, though their famous roast pork, consisting of juicy, thinly sliced pork, sharp provolone and spinach, may be the best sandwich in town)
- Dalessandro’s (Manayunk. A trek up to North Philly leads you to my choice for the best cheesesteak in town, and I’ve tried 10 different highly-rated spots).
Three places to imbibe before the game:
- Chickie and Pete’s (Stadium area. A short walk west on Packer is this sprawling sports bar and eatery that has better than average grub.)
- Xfinity Live (Stadium area. The complex has 9 different bars and eateries under one roof to help get the pre-game mojo going.)
- Monk’s Café (Downtown Philly. Incredible upscale craft beer haven with a top-notch selection of some of the truly best, and not widely accessible, regional and national beers on tap. This is a cheat since it’s not really in the immediate stadium area, but it’s an easy subway ride straight down Broad street from the Walnut-Locust Station 4 blocks away.)
One bar in the area worth hitting:
Grey Lodge Pub (NE Philly. A cozy pub with a fabulous tap list.)
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- Yards Brewing (Spacious modern facility 6 long blocks north of the Liberty Bell.)
- Crime and Punishment Brewery (Industrial taproom with Russian foods 1 mile north of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, home of the famous Rocky steps)
- Evil Genius (Fishtown. Popular and lab-exclusive beers in a funky space.)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- Independence Hall/Liberty Bell (See where the country started as well as a famous cracked bell.)
- Reading Terminal Market (Bustling City Center market with some great eateries for on-the-go noshing.)
- National Constitution Center (A truly top-notch exhibit just north of the Liberty Bell. Some of the live performances are incredibly powerful. Brings to life what could have been a very dry subject matter.)
Citizen’s Bank Ballpark is a great structure with baseball’s best concession areas featuring great food in an inviting space. It’s a park that would be perfect in the middle of the city center; alas, it sits in a giant parking lot. But with some of baseball’s most colorful fans and the wacky antics of the Phanatic (or is it the colorful Phanatic and the wacky antics of the fans?), you’ll have a memorable time.