Baseball on an Island

Overhead image from Google Maps showing Harrisburg's unique Metro Bank Park on City Island
Overhead image from Google Maps showing Harrisburg’s unique Metro Bank Park on City Island

The State Capitol of Pennsylvania was site of stadium visit #139 and this one had a little special meaning because it was the 12th and final ballpark visit of the Eastern League. I’m looking forward to recapping the league’s ballparks in the coming weeks and it was a nice achievement that didn’t really become a goal until I realized how close it was. Hopefully, plans in Ottawa fall through and they don’t come and ruin things anytime soon. Sunday was an unusually cool (but welcomed) August day and it rained through the morning, but just enough so you didn’t need the umbrella. I got to Harrisburg early to check out the city and was surprised at the charming architecture. Though the overall vibe feels more 1970s and 80s, there are several historic buildings interesting to look at. Also kudos to having several markers and descriptions around downtown describing the area and/or landmark. Highlighting the architecture is the State Capitol complex and after roaming the dead quiet streets, I stopped in for a tour. This is the 13th state capitol city I have been in, but only been able to visit a couple buildings. While not quite as impressive as the ones in Denver and Madison, this capitol does have amazing features and the paintings in both the Senate and House are incredible.

After the tour, I walked towards and over the Susquehanna River via “Old Shakey” The Walnut Street Bridge is a historic pedestrian bridge and it wasn’t until after the runners on the bridge made it bounce did I read the sign explaining this is normal, which was little help as I became a speed walker during the cross. The bridge extends from downtown to City Island, a very unique land area in the River that has developed into a recreational spot, especially for the kiddies. Mini-golf, pony rides, batting cages and a trolley attract families, while there is also a paddle boat that runs varius cruises throughout the summer. I took the Pride of the Susquehanna on a 45 minute tour and it was enjoyable. The captain had some good stories before the ride and then an audio recording took over on the boat. It was a strange ending though as the pre-recorded music after the narration was an odd mix of porno-style saxophone and early 90s R&B.

Metro Bank Park Interior

Also on the Island are sports facilities. Since 1987, the AA Harrisburg Senators have played at Riverside Stadium, now known as Metro Bank Park. Next door is a soccer field and the USL-Pro’s Harrisburg City Islanders play here. Holy crap is the Skyline Sports Complex terrible. It wouldn’t even pass as a high school field and yet a third division professional team calls this home. From the
bleachers to the “bench…yikes. I wonder what the players think when they travel up to Rochester and play in the same league at a soccer-specific venue. Anyway, back to the task at hand and baseball, because Metro Bank Park is a different story. This stadium has turned into a very nice ballpark thanks major renovations in 2008-2010. Despite the 80s architecture, I found the ballpark to now have a lot of character and really enjoyed the design. It almost had a bandbox feel to it and it is quite different (in a good way) than the standard 90s minor-league template. Though there is a home-plate facade, the main entrance is in the left-field corner and unlike New Hampshires awful entrance, this one is markedly better. It leads to what they call the “Boardwalk”, a concourse-like walkway that surrounds the stadium at seating level. This greatly enhances the otherwise buried concourse behind home plate. Throughout this outdoor boardwalk are small unique seating sections, including some in the outfield. There is also a new team store that is quite impressive. The main seating section behind home plate is covered partially by a roof and it has a cozy feel, though the cheaper aluminum base would be much better as concrete. Looking out to the field, the right-side features a stunningly sharp and large scoreboard, complete with fancy graphics. While crowds have improved the last few years thanks to the great renovations and some guys named Strasburg and Harper, the team still draws at the lower end of the Eastern League. This Sunday Afternoon crowd was at best a few thousand and they were treated to a quick-moving game that had nearly all of the action in the fifth inning. Thanks to some Senator miscues, Portland scored a pair of runs (to the delight of several Red Sox fans on hand) and Harrisburg countered with a solo home run in the bottom of the inning. The Senators had a shot to tie or win the game during the last frame, but Carlos Rivero left runners at 1st and 3rd to end the game.

Home teams have fallen to 2-6-1 on my first visit to their stadium in this year of 2013 and I would love to see that turn around. The next few days, I’ll be working on a detailed review of the whole stadium experience and that should be up soon. Barring any last-minute baseball playoff games, that should wrap up the ballpark season and we’ll look forward to football in September. One item of note regarding football, Stadium Journey just put out a Cookbook inspired by each NFL team. Included are items for tailgates and I’ve had a peak…the appetizers and entrees look awesome, especially from those in the NFC South. Check it out. I’ll be back next week with a run-down of each Eastern League Ballpark, then it’s off to football!

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