Welcome to Flashback Friday: Take Me Out to 34 Ballparks, a celebration, critique and countdown of every major league ballpark one baseball fan has been fortunate enough to visit in a lifetime of going to ballgames.
BALLPARK: Citizens Bank Park
HOME TEAM: Philadelphia Phillies
FIRST VISITED: September 5, 2004
CHRONOLOGY: 28th of 34
RANKING: 14th of 34
Keeping an extra ballpark right where one can access it with relative ease is a great idea, and I thank the Philadelphia Phillies for hosting Citizens Bank Park so conveniently these past six seasons. It’s good to know it’s there if I ever need it.
OK, so it’s not there as an alternate venue for my own personal enjoyment, but it sometimes feels a little that way. All trolls can stand down now, for those are not intended as fightin’ words. I’m praising your ballpark is all. Except that it doesn’t seem practical, I’d almost like to come down one of these days and see the Phillies play somebody besides the Mets and get a handle on how it feels to be a disinterested observer as opposed to a partisan whose loyalties are not greeted warmly by the natives. Even as such (twice victorious, twice otherwise), I’ve enjoyed the place a great deal every time.
Sorry Phans, I make for a lousy archrival (just like the Mets…I know when I’ve tossed out a straight line). I have no “smack” or “trash” or whatever the kids are calling disparagement to talk here. If it makes you feel any better, the presence of a few jerks in your ranks makes these trips less than thrilling, perhaps, but in four visits to CBP — and three before to the Vet — I’ve never had a real problem. My sensibilities were a little put off, but I wasn’t. I’m a recidivist visitor and I’ll probably stop by again in the years to come.
Seriously, though, the proximity is a big help. Its 2004 opening served to keep my streak of visiting at least one new ballpark per year — new to me if not necessarily new to the landscape —alive at thirteen consecutive seasons. We had just bought our co-op that summer and our travel budget was restricted. But an Amtrak excursion was definitely doable, even if StubHub had to be called in to provide the game tickets. And I will tell you right away that attending a game at Citizens Bank Park exactly one week after attending a game at Shea Stadium was a revelation.
CBP wasn’t my first retro rodeo by any means, but it was such a breath of fresh air compared to my beloved Shea (let alone the Vet, no offense to its sainted memory). The timing couldn’t have worked better in the Cit’s favor on one note in particular. 2004 was the year the Mets opened a full-blown team store on Field Level. The aisles were cramped and the merchandise was ridiculously marked up, but that was Shea for ya. Stephanie and I each purchased an overpriced t-shirt and encountered two obstacles in appreciation for our patronage.
1) We had to present our receipt at the door, a few steps from the cash register, on our way out (as if we’d stolen the shirts and cleverly shoved them into Mets team store bags).
2) We were not — because we held Loge tickets — permitted to walk the maybe twenty feet from the store to the Daruma stand for our one and only favorite Shea culinary delight, the sushi. We could spend $70 or so in the store, but not another $10 at the stand…unless we agreed to take the escalator up a level and walk clear to the right field ramp and walk back down and approach Daruma from the other direction.
I had a few loud words with a few Shea staff people that day.
Anyway, it’s a week later: another park, another Sunday. Another team store, the Phillies’. Before we realized we were supposed to despise them, we decided we wouldn’t mind a couple of shirts associated with their ballpark and their history (Stephanie got a powder blue number with the groovy “P” from the ’70s, I went with one celebrating the Whiz Kids and another with an Inaugural Season stadium logo…no, they are not worn that often these days). We bought our stuff and pulled out our receipt for inspection.
There was no inspection. There was somebody stationed by the exit telling us to enjoy the game, but nobody asked for proof that we had just bought apparel or anything else. And — shocker of shockers — nobody demanded our tickets and told us to skedaddle to the Terrace level where we belonged. We were free to roam, just like people.
I have relatives who emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1979. One of them said that the first time she visited an American supermarket, she nearly fainted from the contrast to Russia. That’s how I felt at Citizens Bank Park in 2004 one week after engaging in a cold war with Shea Stadium personnel.
As attractive as CBP is, what I truly love about the place is the friendliness and the courtesy extended by those who run it. There are prettier ballparks, but none is smoother at making you feel welcome. I’ve had this discussion time and again with my Central Jersey friend Sharon, who lives closer to Philly than Flushing and has had more experience in that neck of the woods. No, we don’t care a whit for the team. No, we don’t much care for the Phans, at least en masse. But gosh yes, the Citizens Bankers do their jobs beautifully. It was true in 2004, it was true in 2007, it was true last week.
In this post-Shea, post-Vet world, amenties are amenities, bricks are bricks, retro is retro. While I was blown away by the service aspect of CBP, I had seen enough other parks by 2004 that the overall presentation was fine and dandy, but nothing groundbreaking. “The New Adequate” is the way I phrased it to a friend of mine with whom I compare ballpark notes.
That is to say Citizens Bank did everything right and little badly. In that light, it was The New Adequate to me. The stakes had been raised in the generation that followed Camden Yards. It wasn’t enough to be not round and have a playing surface that was not artificial. The standard, thus, had become this in my mind: If you’re at least as good as Citizens Bank Park, you’re doing something right. If you’re better than Citizens Bank Park, you’re doing most things right. And if you’re not up to the level of Citizens Bank Park, then you aren’t trying.
If you’re following the rankings in this series, you’ll note I have Citi Field two notches below Citizens Bank. To be honest, through last year, I thought they were close. But returning last week reminded me how distant the two are. (Yes, yes, just like the two ballclubs.)
While I didn’t think CBP broke much new ground in 2004, it wears very well in 2010. It has a nice, easy slope to it. Its architecture doesn’t try too hard. It feels not like a drawing board project gone awry in the transition to real life but an actual ballpark, comfortable for its purpose, civilized in its approach. It’s intimate without the claustrophobia. It emits a lighthearted sense of self. The statues and other heritage-minded tributes (Ashburn Alley, Harry the K’s) burst with the kind of pride a fan — even an “enemy” fan — feeds off. I’ve sat in four different areas on my four trips, and they all have something to recommend them. It all looks good, it all sounds good — the PA is crystal clear and the music selection’s superb (though the announcer is overbearing) — it all tastes good and it all feels right. I also love that getting there from 30th Street Station via SEPTA is pretty much a breeze.
The Phans…some are better than others. The noise they make when something good (for them) happens is unique. It’s an explosion, almost. When the game is not going well (for them), it’s not all that raucous, which is fine with me, because I can hear the music even better. I’ve noticed a higher ratio of older fans, 60+, than I’m used to on my two Sunday visits, owing, I’m guessing, to a fan base with deep roots in the franchise. In 2004, I picked up a bitter, fatalistic vibe, which seemed to come with the territory of pulling for a team whose legacy was mostly losing.
Come 2010, locals of all ages seemed happier, but there was still some residual resignation in the air. Stephanie and I met a man, maybe 65, who joined us to linger over a model of Connie Mack Stadium/Shibe Park on the gorgeous Hall of Fame level (which itself devoted ample space to, among other Philly touchstones, the Athletics, a nod that struck me as appropriate and sporting). He started telling us, without our asking, what it was like there, how the grass was kept immaculate, how you had to pay somebody to “watch your car” lest it not be there after the game, what a great place it was to watch baseball. I liked that guy. And I’ve had nothing against most of the folks with whom I’ve shared rides on the Broad Street line to the Pattison stop.
Those I haven’t cared for? Oh, probably the kid who sat behind us in 2004 and screamed that Mike Piazza was a “homo” and Todd Zeile was something even more unprintable during the national anthem; or the kid I crossed paths with in 2007 who started in on the Mets’ home borough’s name which happened to be on my t-shirt that day (yeah, it’s Queens — what about it, schmuck?); or the onslaught of well-wishers last week who waited for Roy Halladay to get through the seventh with a one-run lead before running over to our little party to let us know their team was still winning; or some dude three years ago who just kept calling out to several rows of us in orange and blue, “Mets…BOO!”
Maybe it’s my age or just a different vantage point on how one enjoys a game that makes me find this behavior — non-violent, to be sure, but confrontational just the same — a little tiresome. I’m all for yelling at the players. Yelling at fellow fans, even fans in different colors, does not appeal to me. I like to believe we’re all kind of in this together, that we’re all fans of a great game, and that we’re more alike than different if we’ve bought a ticket to the same event. Unless provoked, I’ve never yelled anything at a fan of another team at Shea or Citi. It’s just not what I do, perhaps because I’m too busy harnessing my anger and frustration regarding my own team and my own stadium’s shaky customer relations policies.
I’ve worn my Mets gear to Mets games in Montreal, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, Arizona, the Bronx, Cincinnati and Washington and (except for the Bronx, obviously, and D.C., a little), it was greeted either benignly or good-naturedly — and believe me, Cubs fans didn’t let a little thing like the calendar get in the way of still holding 1969 against us decades after the fact. There has definitely been a sharper edge to the reaction at Citizens Bank than anyplace else I’ve rooted for the Mets, including the Vet.
My 2007 trips were prior to the Met-Phillie tipping point. It was late June and everything was going misleadingly well for us, less so for them. We were the invading hordes as we had been regularly since the ’80s (the Phillies used to advertise to us on Mets broadcasts and we took them up on their hospitality) and I remember thinking I’d probably generate an unreasonable hate toward the other team’s fans if so many of the other team’s fans were coming into my house that frequently and their team was doing better than my team as a rule. Now that the home team — in Philly — is doing better than the Mets, I don’t fully fathom the continued edge as regards our presence, but if the seniors can still seem bitter from 1964 or whenever, then I guess old feelings die harder in some places than others.
Me, I wear my Mets shirt and my Mets cap and I applaud my team and I may chant a little LET’S GO METS, but I’m a polite guest. Politeness ain’t exactly the coin of the realm in the stands at CBP, however, certainly not the way it is valued by its management and put into practice by its employees. Oh well, you can’t have everything.
If you could, I’d pull Citizens Bank Park a lot closer to where I live so I could get there more often. It’s just that nice.