Well what a crazy set of games these turned out to be! Weather didn’t interfere on this road trip, but it certainly was a factor as the thermometer broke 90 in Philly and I tried to pace myself while doing a tour around the ballpark. I attempt to avoid summer day games, yet somehow have found myself at one when it comes to MLB, where 6 of the 13 visited ballparks have come during the heat of the day. I purposely got a shaded seat and chugged two waters before settling in for the game. Thanks to Phillies staff for bending the rules and allowing more than 1 bottle in. In my second visit to Citizens Bank Park, I found the stadium a little less appealing than the last time I was here 10 years ago. First, where is the historical timeline they used to have an Ashburn Alley? While, there are several other markers and a wall of fame, I missed seeing a guided history. Within the seating bowl, upon further inspection, I wasn’t too enamored with the upper deck as the separated 300/400 level frustrates me as a fan. Though I know this is common with many parks, I love how Camden Yards does it so much better. Lastly, the food lacked a bit. All pro stadiums in this day and age have plenty of varied choices and that’s no different at CBP. I just found the choices around the infield to be lacking. The assortment in Ashburn Alley remains really solid, I only wish I went with a cheesesteak at Tony Luke’s instead of settling for a salty Brisket sandwich at Bull’s BBQ.
The game was something else…The Mets came in a dysfunctional mess and the Phillies were happy to see them as they were on the verge of a 4-game sweep. Both pitchers were masterful as Zach Wheeler gave up only two hits in six innings, while the Phils’ Aaron Nola struck out 10 in allowing just 1 hit through seven. A Bryce Harper bomb was the difference as we went to the ninth 1-0. Side note: It took 2:45 to play eight innings that featured three hits. Three freakin’ hits! The time that baseball (specifically MLB) takes is absurd and I continue to be surprised how much of the 35-and-under generation still remain dedicated followers and fans. Chaos ensued in the Ninth as the Mets came back to take a 3-1 lead, only to see their bullpen blow yet another game in the bottom half. A pair of home runs, including the game-decider gave Philadelphia a 6-3 win. The vibe in the ballpark was great as Phillie fans are smart and they started buzzing as soon as their guy walked to start the inning. I was also quite impressed with the amount of people here at the game as there had to be over 10,000 that sat in the sunny sides of the park on a 90 degree, daytime, weekday game. There’s been times when they had some headscratching crowds when contending late in the last few seasons, but the addition of Harper really re-energized this fan base. Final note, I listened to the radio coverage after the game and the jubilant crew in Philly did not match the intensity of the crazy, yet amazingly correct (for the first time, evah?) rant by Mike Francesa over in New York.
Catching my breath after that incredible finish, I realized the daunting task ahead…get out of the parking lot and fight through Philly rush hour to get to Allentown. Normally, a one hour ride, I assumed it would take two in this situation. If it wasn’t for Google Maps re-routing me around troublespots on I-76, it would have taken 2.5 hours. In the end, I made it to Allentown for baseball not at Coca-Cola Park, but rather ECTB Stadium on the city’s South Side. Better known as Bicentennial Park, this stadium a surprising one that makes The List as it legitimately seats over 4,000. It’s home to a Summer-Collegiate team in the Allentown Railers, who play in the ACBL. The stadium is in a sad state as the youth baseball organization that runs it (with the ECTB moniker) has completely let it go. Strongest evidence to that is the scoreboard doesn’t work. That’s right, there is nowhere in the stadium to keep track of score or count and everyone either relies on listening to the umpire or the PA after each half inning. Never seen that before at a game. The rest of the building has been plenty of crumbles around it and the bathroom is in rough shape. Seating is made up of three separate stands and the area around home plate is actually relatively decent with a combination of blue chair backs and padded blue seats. Perhaps the most noticeable quirk with this ballpark is the all dirt infield, showing it’s past and current softball history well.
Before getting into the game, which was crazy as well, I did get a cheesesteak at Zandy’s, just down the road and brought it into the stadium. What a mistake that was. One look and I regretted not eating a cheesesteak at Citizens Bank Park and figuring something else out for dinner. Yuck, look at it, most of the bread was soggy and the funky ‘sauce’ they put on it just turned into a garbled, unappetizing mess. Not a fan and this was a rare time TripAdvisor Reviewers let me down. For the game, the kids unfortunately showed how many levels of baseball I was down as the Railers committed a whopping 8 errors on the day. Quakertown had two as well and all these mistakes combined with actual hitting led to a total of 25 runs as the Blazers beat the home side by a whopping score of 15-10. That’s the highest scoring baseball game in Stadium and Arena Visits history. With only 44 people in the stands, it made for an unusual atmosphere. Unusual, yet serene. Ignoring the occasional air break from the nearby bus terminal, the dead quiet combined with such a pleasant evening made the sport come out so purely and sitting back to watch it all was zen at times. I did take some moments to sit near the tiny press box, where I listened to Brian Brown provide play-by-play. Brian was terrific and even though the broadcast drew limited numbers listening remotely on Facebook, he called the game like a pro, mixing in anecdotes, stories, facts and statistics. Really did a wonderful job and I enjoyed his accompaniment to the evening. I particularly liked after the eighth error hearing him say “Truly peculiar stuff! Stranger than fiction!” as he put his hands up in disgust. Brian was never cheesy during the game, except for one moment and I found it fantastic. An Allentown home run led to a “Tickets please…as this ball as left the station!” call followed by a couple blows on a wooden train whistle that he had. It cracked me up and I loved it. Brian, good luck in your future endeavors!