24 June 2008

Citizens Bank Park

Going into this trip, I was the most wary of the visit to Citizens Bank Park. The 43,000 seat park, which replaced the old Vet in South Philly, has been derided as a Johnny-come-lately bandbox. As another HOK project, I had fairly low expectations of the place. At the end of the night, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the experience.

Set in the massive South Philly Sports Complex, Citizens Bank Park is not a downtown ballpark. Yes, it has mass transit (light rail) servicing it, but it's quite clear that the vast majority of its fans arrive by car. And if you came from across the river in Jersey as I did, your choices are limited. Like the Coliseum, CBP is set amongst a vast sea of parking. Yet once come off the Walt Whitman Bridge and descend onto surface streets, there is abundant on-street parking that is predictably free.

I entered through the third base gate (pictured above). The gate's immense nature is only a hint at how large and spacious the place is. HOK and local architectural firm Ewing Cole Cherry Brott took advantage of available space. Friday's game against the visiting Angels was a packed sellout, but I didn't feel a crush of fans typical of a sellout.

Unlike most other new ballparks, the suite level is hung directly above the field level. The suite level is exclusive but not closed off from the rest of the stadium. This allows for an incredibly high ceiling along the field level concourse. The club level is above the suites and has its own sealed concourse.

Like the plan for Cisco Field, the upper deck is split into two smaller decks. Doing this provides views of the field from the upper concourse, which is quite good despite the distance from the field. Standing areas with drink rails are all over the place. There's plentiful wheelchair-accessible seating. I'm not sure if HOK came up with the open upper concourse idea, but it's prevalent in their latest designs and they deserve a ton of credit for implementing it.

This picture was taken from one of the staircases that leads from the upper concourse to the upper tier. It's a lot of steps to get from the concourse to the upper deck, though not more than from the old upper concourse to the view level of the Coliseum. The execution on a whole is similar to the rebuilt Stanford Stadium.

I had a seat on the second row of the upper tier (section 421). It felt a good deal higher than a similar seat in Oakland. The view was still good. One quirk in the design is the straight, not rounded, backstop. It's little more than an affectation and it makes the place seem that much more boxy and angular. The horizontal line you see cutting through the photo is the top of a plexiglas retaining wall, a line that is actually transparent in live viewing. Notice how for the lower tier of the upper deck, the first row has a stronger metal rail.

I'm not a big fan of the pricing structure at CBP. As part of an ugly trend occurring all over MLB, the Phillies are pricing any kind of field level seat as a fairly expensive premium. In older ballparks, it was generally accepted that seats in foul territory would have a premium whereas fair territory seats - typically bleachers - were cheapies. Nowadays, bleachers are something of a relic. Perhaps Cisco Field can buck this trend to some degree, but I'm not counting on it.

Speaking of the outfield, I had to visit Ashburn Alley before I left the venue. As mentioned in the last post about Camden Yards, Ashburn Alley is CBP's answer to Eutaw Street. There's an entry gate directly behind it in centerfield. There's a great deal of standing room areas. Restaurants and concessions line the alley, including a Tony Luke's cheesesteak stand (I skipped it and went to the actual Tony Luke's only a few blocks away after the game). It even has a second tier for more standing room and concessions. Despite the high level of activity, it all felt a bit too manufactured, and not terribly authentic. It's the same worry I have about Cisco Field, whose architects (360/Gensler) have their work cut out for them in this regard.

Despite the manufactured air, one feature of Ashburn Alley made it well worth visiting. Behind the batter's eye in center is a monument to Philadelphia baseball. Not just the Phillies, mind you. Both the Philadelphia A's and Negro League players and teams get nods. The exhibit is set up in two large timelines, the top being the Phillies, the middle for the A's, and the bottom for the Negro Leagues.

If you ever visit CBP, this is a must see. With that, I think it's time for me to mention that Lew Wolff brought up the idea of a baseball museum in his initial presentation for the Coliseum North plan, and we haven't heard anything about it since.

Lastly, what visit to a Phillies game would be complete without a mention of the Phanatic? During a break, both male and female Phanatics showed up on the field to enact Philly soul legend Billy Paul's classic "Me and Mrs. Jones." The show included some humorous albeit suggestive belly thrusting on the male Phanatic's part. At the climax, the male took a running start, leaping over the table at which the female was sitting, tackling her in the process.

Also, Philly's always had the best between-inning music selections of any ballpark, bar none. Overall, a pretty darned good place to see a game.

Next post: my final visit to Yankee Stadium.


Jeffrey said...

When he comes back now, it's not exactly the same. "I didn't grow up watching games in this stadium," he said. "Now it's a football stadium that they play baseball games in. When I grew up, it was a baseball stadium."

Jimmy Rollins today in the Chronicle. Kind of sums up my feelings about the stadium in Oaktown.