Since Itinerant Fan is a site about being a sports fan and this particular entry is about seeing a game in Philadelphia, perhaps it’s best to get this out of the way first: There’s nothing to be scared of.
Sports fans in Philadelphia tend to get a bad rap around the country as being boorish, angry, etc. — it gets mentioned a lot on TV, usually with the example cited that fans once booed Santa Claus. Certainly there are a few incidents that can be used to justify this reputation, but in my opinion it’s really been overblown. I have the benefit of having lived in the region for four years (and believe me, I had my problems with it considering I’m from laid-back California, and if you try being laid-back anywhere in the Northeast region of the country you’re bound to get run over by a train or a car or a person or anything else that doesn’t have time for you) and attended my fair share of games in Philadelphia. Fans there are intense and can go a little over the top, yes. But they’re also some of the most knowledgeable fans you’ll find, and if you know your sports then you’ll get along with them just fine no matter who you root for.
(By the way, why do people still bring up this booing Santa Claus thing? How long ago did that happen, anyway? Again, you can cite any number of things to justify calling the Philadelphia fan boorish, but let’s just retire the Santa Claus thing already. Pretend for a moment that you went to your high school reunion, and despite the fact you got good grades, played four years of varsity football and were homecoming king your junior AND senior years, all anyone wanted to talk to you about was that time you pulled the fire alarm and set the sprinklers off in science class. How would you feel? Probably not much different than a Philadelphia sports fan would feel every time someone says, “But you guys booed Santa Claus!”)
OK, now that that’s done, let’s get to Citizens Bank Park. Mrs. Fan and I were in town in late May to visit old friends from our time there. One side effect from living there is that she’s now a die-hard Phillies fan (that championship in 2008 probably helped, too), and so we took in a Phillies game against the Reds as part of our visit.
If you’ve been to Philadelphia, you probably know that they have all their sports venues in one area (well, that’s not entirely true now that they’ve built a Major League Soccer stadium down in Chester, about 10 miles down Interstate 95). This area is called the Sports Complex, and it’s in South Philly, about five or so miles south of downtown… excuse me, Center City, which is what Philadelphia calls its downtown. Anyway, the Sports Complex used to consist of just Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum, but those humble stadiums are gone and in its place are the Eagles’ behemoth Lincoln Financial Field, the Flyers’ and 76ers’ Wells Fargo Center (formerly Wachovia Center, formerly First Union Center, formerly CoreStates Center — gotta love corporate takeovers) and good ol’ Citizens Bank Park, which in its short history has already seen moments like this.
The Sports Complex is just over the bridge from Philadelphia International Airport, which is nice because if you’re visiting, it’s really, really hard to get lost. In fact, if you’re flying in, do yourself a favor and choose a window seat on the right side of the plane. Most of the time (not all the time, mind you) the plane’s approach will allow you to catch a glimpse of all the stadiums. Then rent a car, hop on I-95 and you’re literally two exits away.
The subway takes you there too, and as long as you get on the right line, it’s also hard to get lost. The line ends at Pattison Street, right where the old Vet used to be — except now it’s called AT&T Station, which just goes to show you that anything can be sponsored. As for us, we had spent the day in Center City and got back on I-95 to get to the stadium, a trip that would’ve taken 10 minutes if we hadn’t missed our exit and wound up having to turn around at the airport. So the moral there is, don’t do what we did and you’ll be fine.
If you can’t find parking at a game in Philly, you’re not trying. There are vast lots on all sides of Citizens Bank Park, and if you don’t feel like paying full price, you can actually find street parking about half a mile away if you get there early enough (on the other side of Broad Street there’s a big park, next to which folks often stash their cars). We parked our car in a lot near where the old Vet used to be for $15, and it was an easy walk into the ballpark from there.
And really, once you get out of your car, there’s nothing else to do but go into the ballpark. Independent of the stadiums, there is nothing to do within a good half-mile radius of the Sports Complex, with the possible exception of a rather seedy-looking Holiday Inn that, if memory serves me right, houses an off-track betting facility. Go a little further and you’ll find a few restaurants and pubs — and a few of the city’s famous cheesesteak joints are within a couple miles — but other than that it’s mostly neighborhoods.
This is supposedly going to change in a few years. They recently demolished the Spectrum with the idea of building a retail-entertainment complex in its place, and if they execute it properly, then it’ll be a welcome change. For as much as Philly residents love their teams, I’ve always thought it was a missed opportunity to not have some way to keep the fans there well after the games have ended. [Update: This retail-entertainment complex has come to fruition. It’s called Xfinity Live, and though we haven’t been back since it opened, it sounds like it’s doing well and has plenty to offer early-arriving and late-leaving fans.] As it is, driving out of there after the game is a bit of a nightmare — which we experienced first-hand after this game.
Perhaps the greatest triumph in the design of Citizens Bank Park is that it compels you to want to be in the outfield. There aren’t many seats beyond the foul poles, but the concourse out there — lovingly named Ashburn Alley — is full of stuff to see and do (not the least of which is stand above the visitor’s bullpen and jeer the opposing relievers), and the best part about it is you can hang out there and still see the game from most areas. Plus the alley is visible from most other parts of the stadium, so it’s hard not to gaze out there during a break in the action, see all those people out there and not feel like heading down there yourself to see what’s going on.
If you’re a first-timer to the ballpark, and to Philly itself, you’ll probably want to try a cheesesteak, and there’s a local favorite there in Tony Luke’s. If I were you, though, I’d skip the cheesesteak and get a roast pork sandwich instead — I think it’s a tastier sandwich, and a lot of native Philadelphians would agree with me. You’ll also find Bull’s BBQ, the obligatory barbecue-joint-named-after-a-beloved-former-ballplayer that you find in a lot of newer ballparks, and a stand serving something called the Schmitter, which I won’t bother to explain. But to me the gem of the outfield concession stands is Chickie and Pete’s, which serves an item called crab fries — really just french fries dusted with Old Bay, but they give you a heaping pile of them for $7, with cheese dip for an extra $2. When I walked around the ballpark, both before the game and in the middle innings, I could not go more than 15 feet without seeing someone eating crab fries, so try to resist when it keeps getting shoved in your face like that. I finally broke down around the fifth inning, and found a queue that wound around about 10 times over. Luckily it moved pretty quickly.
Our seats were in the lower rows of the upper deck, first-base side, about in line with the third-base line. Pretty good seats considering the Phillies’ recent success has them on a sellout streak — but I snagged them by getting online the morning single-game tickets went on sale in early March. Waiting until days before the game you want to attend is not advisable with the Phillies, at least until they miss the playoffs for a season or two.
I should also mention that the game we went to was a Dollar Dog Night, which the Phillies hold from time to time (I thought for sure this would mean the Phanatic would come out at some point and shoot hot dogs out of a gun, but alas, he didn’t do that this time). Mrs. Fan bought a dollar dog early on, but I just couldn’t bring myself to eat a run-of-the-mill hot dog for a dollar when there were so many other things worth trying. I didn’t save any money, but I think I made the right choice. And after the Phils, bolstered by a seven-run third inning, finished clobbering the Reds, I could walk out of the park under my own power along with a very happy Mrs. Fan.