Ballpark Breakdown: Citizen Bank Park

By Brendon McGirr


Prelude

Ever since I was a child, I have loved baseball. My 3rd grade seminar project was on how Ricky Henderson changed baseball, my 10th grade required speech was a biography of Cal Ripken, and I own an entire bookcase of baseball stories and lore. And when I think of the majesty of baseball, the one thing that comes to mind is the 30 cathedrals that dot our country where America’s pastime is played at the highest level. One of my goals in life is to visit all 30 of these stadiums, and experience the game at the highest level. While I am not there yet, I am making progress. One of the questions I always get when I bring this up is “What is the best stadium?”

I always think how that is an unfair question. It's like asking what your favorite movie is. While I can easily say Schindler’s List is a fantastically well made movie, I have definitely watched Dodgeball more often in my life. So what I would like to do is take a chance to break down my thoughts on stadiums, not necessarily give a ranking. So in some way this will be flawed, but still I think will be valuable in giving an idea on how each city experiences baseball.


Citizen Bank Park

Opening Date: 2004

Capacity: 42,792 (as of 2019)

Visiting Date: Several times, most recently Phillies 8, Mets 2 (2021)

My photo of Citizen Bank Park


History

Make no mistake, Philadelphia fans loved Veteran Stadium. Home of the Eagles and Phillies for 33 years and located on Broad Street, many iconic teams and plays took place on the concrete and AstroTurf. However, Veteran Stadium was a relic of the time of the multi-purpose “donut” stadiums that became a trend in the late 1960s- early 1970s. In 1999, both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh sports teams began the process of leaving Veteran Stadium and Three Rivers Stadium respectively. The collapse of the Vet during the 1998 Army-Navy game that led to injuries to eight cadets sped up the process, with the Eagles moving to Lincoln Financial Field in 2003. The Phillies, on the other hand, were looking to replicate what other newer stadiums like Colorado and Baltimore had been doing in building in downtown Philadelphia proper. A site in Chinatown was actually initially agreed to to the point it was officially announced by the Phillies organization itself. However, several protests from Chinatown residents led to the Phillies retracting on that plan. Eventually, the Phillies would join the Eagles in South Philadelphia which would be known as the “Stadium Complex”, which now includes the Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, and Flyers. (The Union, which came later, would not be able to build in this area and would eventually move to Chester, PA. While a beautiful stadium and a great place to watch soccer, its location outside of Philadelphia proper makes travel difficult).

EwingCole’s Stanley Cole would be given control of the design of the stadium, and groundbreaking began on June 28th, 2001. Citizen Bank was quick to jump on the naming rights to the stadium, inking a 25 year, $95 million deal shortly after. The design follows closely to the retro-modern design of other ballparks through the 1990s-early 2000s, with brick and steel used to blend the tradition of baseball with modern amenities. At each corner of the ballpark, an open air concourse was created, with each concourse giving its own unique flair to fans as they enter the stadium. The first regular season game on April 12, 2004 saw the Phillies drop a game to the Reds, 4-1, in front of a sold out crowd.


Surrounding Area

Philadelphia has a unique situation in which all the professional teams (minus the Union) are located in one area in South Philly. Taking over some old food processing plants that occupied the area, there is still a disconnect between downtown proper and the stadium district. Essentially, the area is surrounded by a sea of parking lots for people to park for various sporting events, with little to actually experience as a neutral fan. There are only really two major landmarks around the stadium: Xfinity Live! and the Live Casino.

Xfinity Live! is best described as a series of bars connected by a common area, almost like spokes on a wheel. This 80,000 square foot area is worth a quick drop in to see the variety of options and fan interactions. Between the various bars, the plethora of TVs, and the mechanical bulls that dot the inner common area, there is enough to find some entertainment. In my personal experience, it is a little too “busy” for my taste, but it is difficult to argue that it is a highlight with little else nearby.

As for Live Casino, I will reserve judgment simply because I have not been to it and it is so new. Opening in 2021, there is little I want to add to the review because of my lack of experience in it. If anyone has anything to add to it, please feel free to add!

Citizen Bank is approximately 3.5 miles from downtown Philadelphia, but Philadelphia itself is bustling with nightlife. One place I have really enjoyed after Phillies games is 2nd Story Brewing, which has a very welcoming environment, good beers and some decent post game snacks.


Getting to the Stadium

I have only experienced Citizen Bank Park from driving to a local parking lot, but for the sake of reviewing the stadium, I will list public transportation. SEPTA’s Broad Street Line drops people off a 7 minute walk from the stadium and by all reviews is fairly reliable. One way fare starts at $2.50, and has several stops in the surrounding area before going north. In my personal experience (simply getting around Philly), SEPTA is not the best transportation. Trains and buses are pretty dirty, and route times are more suggestions as opposed to assigned times.

When I have attended Citizen Bank, I have always parked near the stadium. You can use the team assigned lots, but many locals use the Jethro Lot at 3899 S Darien St Philadelphia, PA 19148. At this lot, you will find cheap parking and many local Philly fans tailgating the Phils. Almost all of my Phillie experiences started at this lot eating some local hoagies and socializing with Phils fans about the upcoming game. Perhaps it is because as a Orioles fan tailgating is not a major part of our culture, but I love rolling into the lot and looking at the grills and cornhole sets being used before a game of baseball.


In the Stadium

The main attraction to Citizen Bank Park is Ashburn Alley, named after Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn. Ashburn was a .308 hitter who played for the Phillies from 1948-1959. Throughout this concourse you will find many of the food options of the park, the main team store, and the main team store of the stadium.

One of the defining landmarks of the stadium is the giant Liberty Bell that stays lit up during the game in center field. When the Phillies hit a home run, the bell lights up and rings signaling the success of the Fightin Phils. This is based off the original bell that hung in Veteran Stadium and hangs near the 3rd base gate for fans to see.

I feel this is also the best place to mention that the Phillie Phanatic is indeed the best mascot in baseball. I have argued with my wife for years that the Oriole Bird and Astro are better, but I’m gonna be honest. There is no one that epitomizes fun in the ballpark like that green furball and his shenanigans. Make sure to get a photo as he makes his way through the concourse.


Food of Choice

Welp, I am about to make some people angry. Philly is known for several foods, but I’m sure the one you associate with the city is the Philly Cheesesteak. In the stadium, you can get one of these delicacies at Tony Luke’s. While Tony Luke’s is fine, it is not my personal recommendation for the best cheesesteak in Philly. For my tourist opinion, I love Pat’s over Gino’s, but being married into a Philadelphia family, I cannot recommend Steve’s Prince of Steaks enough. That said, if Tony Luke’s is your only chance of getting a cheesesteak, do it.

My one regret when measuring food at Citizen Bank is that I have usually had a local deli hoagie at Jethro before going into the stadium, so I have not been exposed to most of their food options. That said, Bull’s BBQ has great pulled pork that really holds up for stadium food, and Federal Donuts offer some fantastic sweets to munch on as you walk the stadium (I actually had a friend use Federal Donuts as his wedding cake once). And of course, almost every stand has a Philly soft pretzel to offer as you wander the concourse.


Final Verdict

Citizen Bank Park has a lot of positives. They have built a great ballpark vibe based on those that walked before it (Camden and Coors especially). When you go to a game in the stadium, you will be transported to a great experience and it can be easy to put this in the upper echelon of stadiums. That said, the location south of downtown where you will need transportation to get to Philadelphia proper does hinder its appeal. I like Citizen Bank, and do recommend it for any ball park traveler, but understand that some of the charm is lost due to its location. It came in the later age of retro-modernism, and does have some flaws due to local politics. But when the Bank is rocking, it's definitely worth a visit.

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