August 14, 2002
Jerry Uht Park (Capacity: 4,400)
Erie SeaWolves vs Akron Aeros
Final Score: 7 – 6
* The stadium was re-visited for a game on July 25, 2013
* Jerry Uht Park has been renamed UPMC Park
A few months after seeing Erie’s hockey team, I made the return trip back to see the ballpark that stands next door. Light rain showers delayed the start of the game by about 30 minutes, but after that, it was smooth sailing. Baseball has periodically been a part of Erie’s history as they were an off and on low minor-league team, typically known as the Sailors. Many of those games were played at Ainsworth Field, a 3,000-seat stadium built in 1923 and still used by high school teams today. Though that field became too antiquated for today’s game, the building of a new downtown ballpark stabilized professional baseball in Erie. Jerry Uht Park opened in 1995 and a New York-Penn League team would move here and become the SeaWolves. So successful was the team that they moved up to the Double-A Eastern League when MLB expanded in the late 90s. Erie has a couple division titles, but no league championships yet. Even when I returned to visit in 2013, the team still had not won a title with just a few playoff appearances to show during that decade. Erie’s ballpark is really neat as the forced fit into a city block leads to an unusual seating design that I certainly welcomed.
Prestige Ranking: 4 out of 5
Located in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, Erie sits on the shores of the Great Lake for which the city is named. Most of Erie’s attractions can be found near the Bayfront, where there is an observation tower and a maritime museum. The most popular spot during the summer-time is Presque Isle, a peninsula arcing offshore full of outdoor activities. Back downtown is where Jerry Uht Park is located and the facility is near the core of the city. Up and down State Street are where most of the restaurants lie.
Location Ranking: 7.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Two interstates lead to the area from all possible directions as I-90 runs East-West, while I-79 reaches the city northward from Pittsburgh. There are a couple parking garages found nearby between State Street and French Street, one of which is diagonal from the front entrance. There is also a surface lot across from the park, which I found might not be the best idea since foul balls routinely fall back into this area (luckily, they all missed my car). Stick with the garage.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
Before getting to the nice interior, the introduction to Jerry Uht Park is quite bland. At home plate, is a strange fort-like structure that is narrow, square and brick. Branching off to the right is a flat wall along the first base side (made up of differing brick colors), while visible on the third base side is mostly just fencing separating the concourse. When I returned in 2013, they at least added some logos and color to spruce things up.
Exterior Ranking: 3 out of 10
The ballpark already appears to be different when entering into the concourse, where just like the seating bowl, it splits into two types. To the left, is a more traditional walkway that is covered and includes bathrooms plus a concession stand. Eventually this leads outside and there is sidewalk space going into left field, where fans can watch the game standing behind the outfield wall (since removed unfortunately as the arena expansion made this space no longer feasible). In the middle near the main entrance and home plate, is a centralized section that is open to the conditions and includes a makeshift team store, plus food stands. The concourse then becomes part of the seating bowl, where it is located behind the short set of lower seats and beneath the upper deck. Along with the typical offerings, people can also stand in this area and watch the game. To get to the upper first base seats or the suites on the other side, several sets of winding stairs are located throughout.
Concourse Ranking: 3 out of 5
Food options were not great for my first visit and improved for the second one. There wasn’t any standout item, but rather a lot of takes on regular things like sausages, burgers or nachos. Pulled Pork and Chili were on the menu as well.
Food Ranking: 5 out of 8
Once inside, Jerry Uht Park takes on a whole different feel with a fantastic and unique design showing two completely faces to the park. The first base side is a double decker, with about 5-6 rows of seats on the first level and an unattached second level featuring 8-10 rows of seating. This second deck sits over the concourse and is quite close to the field, offering a unique perspective. Jerry Uht was designed like this to fit into the block as 10th Street runs almost immediately behind the seating sections. While the short, low-level seats wrap all the way around most of the park, there is a large gap behind home plate as the third base side resumes with a more standard set-up of seating. As sections reach the end of the bowl, the last few are turned slightly towards the infield, which is a nice touch. Luxury suites (six of them) and the press box can be found on the third base side, at the top of the seating bowl. Red is a dominant color throughout as even though the seats are green, railings and staircases are a noticeable red. Seat and row width are comfortable. Making the park better was the removal of bleachers that bookended the main bowl. This was replaced by picnic areas and the one in the right corner is particularly appealing as it includes an attractive second-level with club seats and a separate beer garden.
To add to the uniqueness of the ballpark is the outfield view. Dominating the scene beyond left field is the hockey arena, where many home runs carom off the wall. In fact, the yellow line is actually on the building! High-rise structures from downtown Erie remain in sight over the third base side, while on the opposite end beyond right field, there is more of a residential look as houses from a neighborhood can be seen beyond the fence. This is such a terrific park that should be applauded for standing out from all the other look-a-like stadiums in Minor League Baseball. Only the lack of outfield seating kept this from a perfect score.
Interior Ranking: 13.5 out of 14
My return in 2013 featured new pieces in this category as a small game info graphic was on top of the arena and the right-field board was completely replaced. The change led to a decent-sized video screen, while they kept some sort of visual and logo at the top denoting Jerry Uht Park and the marine city of Erie.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3 out of 4
Concourse wall displays feature some elusive plaques that honor various people. Three of them are for front office folks and politicians that helped keep Erie baseball going in the 1950s and aided in the city’s new ballpark. The other is for Sam Jethroe, a former Negro League and Major League star who settled in Erie after his playing days. His #5 is retired, taking a place on the outfield wall next to Jackie Robinson’s #42. Division Championship banners are located on the suite-level wall.
Displays Ranking: 2.5 out of 6
Very reasonable tickets led to our seat costing just $5 (tickets max out at $11) on the first visit. Parking was $3 and food prices were fine. Prices didn’t go up by much the second time around.
Cost Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
Fan Support and Atmosphere
Despite being the fourth-largest city in Pennsylvania, attendance annually ranks in the bottom third of the league and barely about 25% of the park was full during both games. That’s still more than I saw at Bowie, Akron and Binghamton. At least to counter the low attendance, the fans that were there seemed fully engaged and into the event. They have started this “Jersey Shore” style fist pump that many do after the team scores a run. I’m sure that won’t last long.
Fan Support Ranking: 3.5 out of 8
Atmosphere Ranking: 8.5 out of 14
The SeaWolves got their nickname as a nod to their original affiliate in Pittsburgh. While the sea is a reference to nearby Lake Erie, the nickname is also another moniker for a Pirate……Currently, Erie is affiliated with Detroit as the Pirates decided to take on a nearby expansion team in Altoona…..As for the name of the stadium, Jerry Uht Park is named after a local man who generously supported and created a fund for the ballpark.
Game (Initial Visit)
Wow, what a game! Akron took a 6-0 lead after two innings, but Erie came all the way back in the middle of the game to cut the lead to two runs. With two men on base in the seventh inning, Cody Ross crushed a pitch off the arena in left field to complete the comeback and give Erie the lead 7-6. The SeaWolves bullpen shutdown Akron the rest of the way for the win.