September 1, 2008
Blair County Ballpark (Capacity: 7,210)
Altoona Curve vs Reading Phillies
Final Score: 2 – 2
* Blair County Ballpark has been renamed PNG Field
After a trip to Pittsburgh, we rode down scenic US-22 for the two-hour ride directly east to Altoona and a visit to Blair County Ballpark. This city of 50,000 sits amongst the scenic hills and mountains of Central PA in Blair County. It is a city known for its railroad history, highlighted by the famous Horseshoe Curve, an engineering marvel during the 1800s which allowed trains to maneuver their way through the Allegheny Mountains. In 1999, a baseball team was born and the Curve was a perfect nickname given the double entendre (the landmark and the baseball pitch). Altoona made for a natural affiliation with the Pittsburgh Pirates as the team debuted in the Double-A Eastern League. The Curve made the playoffs from 2003-2006, including one championship game appearance. With the development of the team, a great stadium was built in Blair County Ballpark and this fantastic venue has become one of my favorites in Minor League Baseball.
Prestige Ranking: 3.5 out of 5
Directly behind the stadium is historic Lakemont Park, an amusement park that opened in 1899(!). This small place still entertains and though there are only a few rides, one worth trying for historical sake is the oldest running wooden roller-coaster in the world: Leap-the-Dips. Otherwise, the Park is mainly geared towards little ones and it makes for a great stop before relaxing at the ballgame. On the other side of Park Avenue is a residential neighborhood as the rest of Lakemont is rather quiet and there is a lack of nearby dining establishments. The rest of Altoona’s attractions is geared towards locomotives as you’ll find a Railroaders museum downtown. About 15 minutes to the west is the Horseshoe Curve and that marvel is interesting to check out .
Location Ranking: 6.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Getting to the Lakemont section of Altoona is very simple thanks to I-99. The interstate provides direct access to Altoona and can be accessed from I-76 to the south or I-80 to the north. Located just past the off-ramp from Exit 32 is the ballpark (though there were no signs for the stadium). Parking is also plentiful and easy to find with a lot in front of the park (for season ticket holders) and a large parking garage beyond the outfield. I’m not sure if there is an issue with parking when Amusement Park hours coincide with the game.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 8 out of 8
Most will enter from the outfield, where iron gates and brick columns frame an open-air entrance into the stadium. Those that venture to see what it looks like behind home plate will be rewarded with a nice exterior that has a classic red-brick layout. Several large openings allow an outside view into the concourse and in addition to the openings are some large windows, two of which have transparent pictures of Altoona players. The ballpark shape is modeled after typical railroad roundhouses historically seen in the area, giving the design some meaning. Though there is no sign for the name of the park, the gated entrances near left field do have Curve logos.
Exterior Ranking: 7 out of 10
Concourse and Food
Rare in the minor leagues is a ballpark with two concourses and that design is even more unheard of in AA ball. Yet, that is the case here in Altoona and the double concourse is terrific. Starting in left field, an open space leads into the brick outlined upper concourse, which is near street-level. The area features banners, cleverly created railroad logos and the aforementioned openings to the outside. Downstairs, a field-level concourse is more typical as this area includes game views throughout. Tables also offer up spots to sit, eat and watch, while if you are waiting in line, televisions show the game action. Otherwise, the only thing not great was the team store as the small size led to merchandise stands being spilled out into the concourse. Food options are aplenty with the many food stands. In addition to the standard items, a sausage basket and corn on the cob were great additions, as was the Bavarian Nuts stand. Lots of beer options too.
Concourse Ranking: 4.5 out of 5
Food Ranking: 6.5 out of 8
Ballpark design in the Northeast became somewhat stale during the boom in the 1990s and 2000s when so many were created equally. That is why it is very refreshing to see something a little different in Blair County. The seating bowl is set-up with two decks and many of those seats are in the upper-level, where leg room is quite sufficient. The second deck is split by a walkway with about four or five rows separated from the higher tier. Sightlines are still pretty good despite the divider. We could have used a roof or slight overhang on this hot afternoon as many stayed in the shade of the lower concourse to watch the game. Dark green seats are nicely angled in and the bowl ends just beyond the infield. Luxury suites (21 of them) and the press box sit above a white wall at the top of the stadium. Further along the right side are bleachers and a picnic area, along with a kids play section. On the left side, everything fits neatly into the park as a field-level picnic pavilion is followed by “Uncle Charlie’s Grille” in the corner near the foul pole. For those wanting outfield seats, they have those too as bleachers are just beyond the fence in left. Accentuating an already great stadium is a view that is hard to match. The background Allegheny Mountains are nice enough, but the Curve even take the effort to write “Altoona Curve” in red rocks on a smaller hill within the park’s confines. Likely the defining feature of Blair County Ballpark is the roller coaster visible directly in right field. This is the “Sidewinder”, part of Lakemont Park and while a few other rides are also visible, this great wooden coaster dominates the beautiful setting.
Interior Ranking: 12.5 out of 14
A widescreen video screen highlights the scoreboard which is more horizontal than vertical. I could do without all the side advertisements, but otherwise it is very good. A small sign for Blair County Ballpark sits at the top, while above that is an analog clock. Not sure why, but there is another stand-alone video board near the right field foul pole. There is no need for it and it looks out of place with the roller coaster in the background.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3 out of 4
The concourse is decorated eloquently and I was a fan of the large red banners hanging down from the ceiling in the upper concourse. They were used for team achievements including playoff appearances and division titles. Other side banners provided some good info on the franchise, including the starting lineup for the Curve on every opening day. Just before entering the concourse is a “Road to the Show” wall, which features the names of each player to make it with the Pirates (or other team appearance if applicable). One retired number was seen in the concourse (next to an awesome display of Eastern League Ballparks), a huge “16” for Adam Hyzdu, a two-time MVP for the Curve.
Displays Ranking: 4 out of 6
Tickets, parking and concessions were all affordable and our 300-level seat was only $7. The lower seats at field-level barely crack double digits as these are certainly reasonable. Parking was $2 and the program was free.
Cost Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
Fan Support and Atmosphere
With such a great ballpark and relatively few entertainment options being a small city, I’m surprised Altoona does not draw more fans. Though this game would be the last on a disappointing Curve season, the Labor Day Matinee only brought out a few thousand (if that). Playoff appearances the last couple years weren’t too bad for drawing fans as attendance was around or just over 4,000. A little behind other teams (Trenton, Portland, Akron), but respectable. The in-game atmosphere I experienced was a bit down as the crowd failed to really muster any energy.
Fan Support Ranking: 5 out of 8
Atmosphere Ranking: 5.5 out of 14
For a great view of the ballpark, head to the top of the parking garage, where a beautiful panoramic of the stadium can be taken in…..The mascot “Steamer” continues the train theme and I thought the green guy had a resemblance to Gumby……It was a unique entrance by Curve players on this day thanks to the “Field of Dreams Day” promotion. Players entered the ballpark from the outfield as they walked through makeshift cornfields. Add in “The Final Home Run” theme song and nostalgic home team jerseys, the stage couldn’t be more set up for a ballgame.
Reading answered Altoona’s two runs in the first inning, by scoring twice in the second. The Curve then blew the game open in the fourth inning. Several singles and a few walks, brought home four and Altoona never looked back as they won the season finale between the two teams last in their division. Shelby Ford went 3 for 4 with two RBIs.