January 18, 2015

10 Things I Learned on a Tour of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia

Hours of my childhood were spent dreaming about playing baseball at a major league stadium. I can't tell you how many times I won the World Series for the Phillies with a two-out grand slam home run (yes, I dreamed big), in the stadium others called my front yard.

Decades later I brought back that inner child by taking a tour of Citizens Bank Park. Sitting on the dugout bench marked with spikes and spit was my chance to rekindle those thoughts of being swarmed at home plate after the game-winning grand slam. Seeing the locker room and walking on the field were thrills even in my older age.

Whatever your childhood aspirations, touring a stadium is an overlooked, cheap idea for tourists, diehard and casual fans alike to go behind the scenes and discover information about any team and stadium - even during the winter. Over the years, we’ve toured Coors Field in Denver and Camp Nou in Barcelona.

Right here in Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park offer weekly tours. The Wells Fargo Center only allows scheduled group tours, although maybe the 76ers should consider selling tours instead of game tickets... 

Tours of Lincoln Financial Field are held Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2:00pm and Saturday at 12:00pm and 2:00pm. Tickets are $10, purchased through Ticketmaster. I would buy in advance to be safe.

Citizens Bank Park tours run Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10:30am in the off-season (October-March). During baseball season (April - September) tours are at 10:30am on non-game days and 10:30am and 12:30pm on game days, unless there is an afternoon game.

I purchased my ticket online only 30 minutes before a 10:30am Wednesday tour in November and was one of five participants. Go on a weekday to avoid the crowds, as the guide said tours can fill up quickly during the season with 30 or more people. 

The tour begins with a promotional video on how the park got built and the vision. I knew most the story already, but the Scottish visitors on my tour enjoyed comparing it Camden Yards, which they had visited a few days earlier.

Holding Chase Utley's bat
Stops along the way include suite boxes, the Diamond Club, the Hall of Fame Club, the press box and indoor batting cages. The show stoppers, however, are visits to the playing field, dugout and locker room.

The locker room was nice, but I was expecting something borderline ridiculous considering the pampering professional athletes demand nowadays. My highlight was holding baseball bats used by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz. 

Here are 10 fun facts I learned during the tour and from the encyclopedic guide who spouted all kinds of Phillies history and facts about the stadium.

1) A $900,000 Grass Field. The NHL paid $900,000 for the new, Bermuda grass field after the Winter Classic ruined the old field. It's the furthest north the sturdy grass has been tried in a stadium.

2) The Phanatic's Special Request. During the design of the ballpark, the architects asked players and workers for any special requests. The greatest mascot on earth asked for a wider locker room door that would enable him to enter/exit more quickly than at the Vet where he had to shimmy through a normal-sized door.

The famous four-wheeler

3) Get those foul balls signed. If you catch a ball during batting practice or a game, an usher is supposed to ask if you want it signed by the player, for free! If they don't, make sure to ask. 

4) World Series History. After the 2008 World Series victory, professional sports artist Jamie Cooper asked Major League Baseball if he could do a painting of Phillies history. It's a classic painting of the best players from the Phillies World Series' teams hung near the entrance of the Diamond Club. Contact Jamie here

5) South Philly's Alarm Clock. We could hear Chip Kelly's playlist loud and clear from Eagles practice next door. Is that what South Philly wakes up to every morning during the NFL season?

 6) Veterans Stadium Lives On. The indoor batting cage, which you can view from one-way glass inside the Diamond Club, is carpeted with the infamous turf from Veterans Stadium and lined with the original outfield wall.

7) An Overworked Boxing Bag. The Phillies installed a punching bag just inside the the dugout so the players could vent frustration after a bad at-bat. Ryan Howard made quite a dent in the bag last year...

8) An Improved Chris Wheeler. Inside the radio booth is a life size image of former Phillies announcer Chris Wheeler. but if you look closely, the #26 on the bottom of the bat reveals the body is actually Chase Utley! Wheels drove me crazy as an announcer, but his 2008 World Series celebration is a classic! 

9) Baseball Superstitions. The lineup posted inside in the media booth for each game is not changed until the next home game. As such, today the lineup still has the last game of the season listed. The final World Series game in 2008 was listed as Game 5.5, which can be found at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

10) 16,200 mistakes. The walls of the Hall of Fame Club are lined with baseballs showing the Rawlings' logo when it was supposed to show Major League Baseball. The Phillies actually called Rawlings to see if they would pay for the advertising. The offer was rejected, but the balls still stayed.

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