I see great things in baseball.
– Walt Whitman, American poet, essayist, journalist, and humanist
When we were planning our summer vacation, it was a foregone conclusion that Citizens Bank Park for a Phillies game would be a prime destination. As I looked at the map of Pennsylvania, I wistfully eyed Pittsburgh and dared to envision seeing a game at PNC Park, with its beautiful bridge and skyline view beyond the outfield, but we couldn’t justify adding three-plus hours of driving to get there – specifically for a baseball game. We could have thrown in a Washington Nationals game at Nationals Park, which by a Californian’s driving standards wasn’t far away. Going all out, we could also have caught both New York teams, also an hour or so away but in the opposite direction. While three out of four of us would have been in baseball heaven, we begrudgingly acknowledged Isabella’s dislike for the sport and understood that she couldn’t pack an entire library to read during the games, so we settled for two, back-to-back night games, in Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
For knowledgeable baseball fans out there, you know that being at an Orioles game for an Oakland A’s fan is akin to entering enemy territory, that is, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, or simply Camden Yards. But I had to see the first retro-style baseball stadium (333 W Camden Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, 410.685.9800), opened in 1992, that had become the rage of all new ballparks – state of the art and yet old-fashioned and quaint in feel and design, tucked within a historical neighborhood.
Okay, I was envious. The park, which seats 45,971, is beautiful. The images on the HD jumbo screen were sharp and huge. We were high up behind home plate, not quite nose-bleed seats. When we got to our section, our usher led us down the row and sprayed and wiped down our seats. Such customer service! We splurged on the soft-shelled crab sandwich, crab roll, and waffle fries, which was only fitting in Baltimore. The game itself was not that exciting, unless you’re an Orioles fan. Baltimore hit six home runs, winning 12-2 against the lifeless St. Louis Cardinals. The O’s Chris Tillman pretty much dominated over Justin Masterson. I much more prefer a balanced game, a pitchers’ duel, spectacular defense, a win for the home team and a loss for the rivals.
I had to get used to different forms of entertainment. Instead of the dot race I’m accustomed to at O.co, the Orioles have a hot dog race. When we were at Fenway in 2010, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the 8th inning tradition of singing Sweet Caroline as Neil Diamond’s voice blasted out of the speakers. At Camden Yards? It was John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy. Seriously. I thought for a second I was in a Midwest ballpark. But the two older men next to us explained that the Orioles have been playing that song since the early 1970s and it stuck, and during the 1979 World Series, John Denver made a surprise appearance. The crowd was really into it, and hey, so was I.
How fortunate were we to take in a game in which the Orioles were celebrating their 60 years of existence? After the game, we were treated to a star-studded program, which included a very loud fireworks and laser light show. I was in awe of the big names who were being honored, including Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Ken Singleton, Brady Anderson, Rick Dempsey, and (former Oakland A) Mike Bordick. Many were from my youth when I watched baseball games on TV with my dad and oftentimes with the whole family. I’m glad we got to experience Camden Yards and see the Orioles in their house. Who knows if they’ll be in the play-offs and we may see them again….
Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
The Phillies’ ballpark is not downtown, but in the naval shipyard area, or the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, which also boasts the stadiums for the professional football and basketball teams (note that I don’t know the names of either team). Citizens Bank Park (1 Citizens Bank Way, Philadelphia, PA 19148, 215.436.1000), which seats 43,647, opened in April 2004, just four years before the Phillies won their last World Series. The stadium was well designed, sporting a wide concourse between the seats and the concession stands, enabling easy foot traffic and avoiding the bottlenecks that we typically experience at the Oakland Coliseum.
We sat between first base and right field, but the way the ballpark was designed, we had a great view, and I felt like I was much closer than I actually was. The plays to right field were right in front of me. We were expecting sticky August temps – hence getting tickets for night games as opposed to day games – but we lucked out with mild temperatures, which made for very pleasant baseball watching weather.
At the time, the Phillies were battling the New York Mets for the cellar. It was a classic pitching duel with outstanding defensive catches and driving stops that robbed hitters of hits. The Phillies’ Cole Hamels pitched as expected, while the Mets’ Dillon Gee played unexpectedly well. What a treat we had. The game ended up going into extra innings, but the Mets broke up the 1-1 tie in the top of the 11th and held on for the win. While the fans filled the stadium, we realized they had come for a pre-game celebration. Once the game was tied, however, they left in droves. Good thing the stadium was built for easy in and out! Our Benjamin Franklin walking tour guide later told us that Phillies fans are famous for scorning other fans for leaving games early. They were spoiled with a WS championship in 2008, signed the team to big, long-term contracts, and now sport a bunch of aging players who have lost their luster. In other words, they have a right to exit early.
I again had big-screen envy with their HD Phanavision. While they didn’t have a tradition of playing an 8th-inning famous song like Fenway Park and Oriole Park, Citizens Bank Park had the standard between-innings games such as the “find the ball under the ice cream cup” game. I enjoyed the kissing cam and especially the karaoke cam, which featured lyrics in case you didn’t know the words. I guess that’s the Filipino in me. I’d love for O.co to adopt the karaoke cam.
We were lucky to witness another MLB team celebration, the second night in a row. The Phillies were inducting into their own Hall of Fame former manager Charlie Manuel. Some of the former stars who were on hand for the long program were John Kruk, Darren Dalton, Steve Carlton, and Mike Schmidt – all players that I used to watch in my youth, so that was fun to see. Who would imagine that I’d see so many great players from the past in two back-to-back games! That was a treat!