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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Citizens Bank Park: A Nice Place To Watch Phillies "Baseball"

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to witness the first game in the history of Philadelphia's new Citizens Bank Park and game 3 of the Flyers-Devils conference quarterfinal. At least, I thought it was good fortune.

The day had such promise, but it rained all day long and both Philly teams lost. So while I was lucky to be able to attend both events, it turned into a big disappointment.

I'll write about the Flyers game later this week, because I should devote a full column to the beginning of a brand new era in Phillies baseball. The stadium, that is. Not the losing. The Phils have been doing that for years.

The first thing you notice when you get off the subway and walk toward the new stadium is the absence of the old stadium. My whole life I was accustomed to seeing a pile of cement on the corner of Broad and Pattison. Now it's just a less organized pile of cement.

Just kidding (sort of). The Vet is no more, and walking by where it once stood, it's really striking how much area the stadium took up. The demolition crews have already carted off much of the rubble, so instead of standing in front of the Spectrum and looking at the monstrosity that was Veterans Stadium, you can see the Philadelphia skyline in the distance. It's a little eerie.

But out with the old, and in with the new. If blowing up a baseball will allegedly end the curse on the Cubs, then blowing up a stadium has to reverse the Phillies' fortunes. Right?

So, Citizens Bank Park, then. I entered on the third-base side, since that's the side that faces the subway station and Broad St. I assume most fans will be coming into the park that way, too. There are statues at the four corners of the stadium - Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, and Mike Schmidt. Appropriately, Schmidtty's statue graces the third-base entrance. So I walked in, picked up my rally towel and commemorative baseball.

Right when you walk in, you can see the playing field from the concourse, which is standard in many of the new stadiums, but for someone who suffered through missed action while going to the bathroom at the Vet, seeing the field - natural grass, at that! - from the concourse is a huge upgrade.

It was pouring rain just about all afternoon, and I didn't want to miss any of the opening ceremonies anyway, so I shelved the idea of taking a lap around the park for a better day and went to my seat.

Now, my brother and I got crazy lucky - our seats were in the Diamond Club, which is basically the VIP section of the stadium. We sat two rows behind the Reds' on-deck circle. We had to get bracelets to get into our seating area. And we had admission to an indoor area that served all kinds of food, beverages, and overlooked the teams' batting practice cages. Best of all, the tickets come with a $30 food, beverage, souvenir voucher. The Phils are treating the high rollers right, that's for sure. And we were lucky to be the highest of the high rollers. I know the on-deck hitters could hear us.

The opening ceremonies featured a video tribute to Tug McGraw and Paul Owens, the two Phillies who died in the offseason, as well as a video recap of the building of Citizens Bank Park. That video included a high-speed replay of the demolition of the Vet, which was really freaky - one second the Vet's there, and then the minute-long implosion was done in under a second, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust.

The game balls were delivered by 10 Navy SEAL paratroopers who were decked out in Phillies jerseys - a nice touch. And the anthem was concluded with a fly-over (although the jets passed the stadium with a few seconds still remaning in the song, not after it was over).

The stadium itself looks really nice. The out-of-town scoreboard along the right field wall has two color screens on it, which is a nice touch. There are double-decker bullpens in center field. And there's a oddly angled part of the wall in left-center, which is called "the angle." I guess that's supposed to add character to the park, but it's a little unnecessary. The stadium is nice enough to speak for itself.

It's no PNC Park, which I still say is the best stadium I've been to, but it's pretty close.

Unfortunately, the game had to begin, and when the Reds' D'Angelo Jimenez scored the first run in the stadium's history on a wild pitch, it became apparent that only the stadium had changed drastically. The product on the field still has a long way to go.

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