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Big League Stew

Citizens Bank Park: A local’s guide to enjoying a road trip to the home of the Philadelphia Phillies

Big League Stew

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Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia (Getty Images)

Have a baseball road trip coming up? Well, in a bid to help you with your upcoming journeys, Big League Stew has solicited the help of the locals. That's right, we've been hitting up our usual guest blogger crew to feature 10 tips for enjoying each of the 30 ballparks like the locals do. Have a suggestion in addition to the ones listed here? Make sure to list it in the comments below.

Citizens Bank Park is very much so defined by the team that calls it home. When it opened in 2004, the ballpark was shiny and new but like that season’s 86-win Philadelphia Phillies, it wasn’t anything special. It was a complete change from the dingy concrete nightmare that was Veterans Stadium, but just about anything would have been better than the Vet was in its last decade.

CBP didn’t have the whiz-bang features that other modern ballparks have and it sure wasn’t designed to be a haven for corporate-types. Instead, it was designed to be like a home-away-from-home for the passionate, blue-collar fans who have lived and died with the team for decades.

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But as the team started winning, The Bank became the place to be in Philadelphia. The atmosphere at the park was electric and the players seemed to feed off of the fans’ energy as much as the fans fed off of the players’. Just four years after it opened, the Phillies celebrated a World Series victory in their new home and the ensuing parade and rally was one of the biggest parties in the city’s long history.

Ticket prices skyrocketed and seats became nearly impossible to obtain without turning to the secondary market; speculators would buy up entire rows of tickets solely for the purpose of reselling them at huge profits. When the team was good, it wasn’t uncommon for standing room only tickets to a relatively meaningless weeknight game to fetch as much as $40 on StubHub.

With Citizens Bank Park’s 10th anniversary approaching, the team that calls it home is beginning to look like a mediocre ballclub instead of the powerhouse it was a few years back. But a strange transformation is taking place: Citizens Bank Park is aging. Hell, it’s maturing. Now that ticket prices are normalizing, the real fans are able to afford to go to the ballpark again. And the best feature of Citizens Bank Park isn’t its huge HD scoreboard, its restaurants, or its fantastic sightlines. No, Citizens Bank Park’s best feature is the 35,000+ fans that regularly show up to watch the Phillies.

With that in mind, here’s my guide on how to enjoy CBP like we locals do.

Parking: Even to locals, parking in South Philly can be a soul-crushing experience. In my neighborhood, finding a spot after dusk is like trying to find a parking spot at the mall on Black Friday. After all, Philly is the home of Parking Wars and de facto legal double-parking.

You may be tempted to just bite the bullet and park in one of the stadium lots for the sake of convenience, but that’s a sucker’s bet. The official CBP lots are all overpriced, crowded, and have very little access to I-95 and I-76, even though they’re so close! The thing is, unlike many metro ballparks, the South Philadelphia Sports Complex isn’t in the city center. South Philly is huge and full of places to park if you’re willing to walk a bit.

FDR Park is only a couple of blocks away from CBP and offers tons of free or low-cost parking depending on the time of the year. When the Sixers or Flyers are in town, there will usually be a $10 parking charge but that’s rarely, if ever, enforced during the summer. Occasionally, the main entrances will be locked once it gets dark, but there are multiple access roads that will spit you out on either Broad Street or Packer Avenue. Depending on the traffic and the lights, you can be back on 95 just minutes after getting in your car after the game. Oh! And tailgating is allowed in FDR.

Another easy parking option is to park at the Convent on 7th Street, just off of Packer Ave. It’s only $10, it’s easy to get to and get out of, and once you’re parked, you’re closer to an entrance than you would be had you parked in some of the outer stadium lots. It’s also an honest-to-goodness nun’s convent so it makes for a good story.

Lastly, if you’re going to park in one of the stadium parking lots, plan ahead so you can know if you’re going to be in a tailgating or a non-tailgating lot. If you’re going to park in a tailgating lot, you have to be comfortable with the fact that there are going to be drunk people all around you, your family, and your car for hours before and after the game. Speaking of tailgating...

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Tailgating at Citizens Bank Park (Getty Images)

Tailgating: I’ve been to lots of professional sports venues, but for whatever reason, I didn’t get into the tailgating scene before I moved to Philadelphia. Growing up, my family would always arrive at the stadium about an hour before first pitch, park our car, go in, and get to our seats just in time for the national anthem. I always pictured people who tailgated as those crazy, shirtless maniacs from Buffalo that show up in b-roll any time NFL Films mentioned the Bills.

In reality, all kinds of different people tailgate at sporting events. Weekend warriors who take the opportunity to get away from their normal lives and have fun with their friends. Professionals who organize massive parties for hundreds of paying customers. Families with kids. Drunken college kids. Some people spend hours at home preparing ingredients for complex tailgate dishes. Some people stop at Wegman’s on their way to the game and pick up some frozen burgers and buns.

Basically, what I’m saying is tailgating is awesome and if you’re coming to a Phillies game, you really should arrive early and experience the tailgates beforehand. While weekend games tend to attract the biggest and most impressive tailgate parties, you’re just as likely to find people tailgating before any of the Phillies’ 81 home games. It really is impressive if you’re used to a home team without a tailgating scene.

Like I said above, you should plan ahead and consider where you want to park before you leave for the ballpark. Some lots allow tailgating and some don’t, but confounding things is that most of the tailgating lots tend to attract different groups of people. For the most part, the further you get from the stadium, the crazier the parties will be. “Crazy” isn’t always a bad thing, but if you park out in the M-lot (AKA the “Jetro” lot, named for the shipping company that leases their parking lot to the Phillies) on a Saturday, it’s probably not going to be a family affair.

One thing that surprised me when I started going to Phillies game regularly is that open container laws don’t really apply while you’re in the Sports Complex. As long as you’re not a minor or being a drunken mess, the Philadelphia PD tends to turn a blind eye to people walking around with beers.

My last note on tailgating and parking is simple: be respectful of other people’ tailgates. If it’s an hour to gametime, you’re not going to get a spot in the very front of K-lot and you’re going to piss everybody off if you make them move their grills and their ladder golf games so you can drive down the row looking for a spot you’re not going to find. And if you do happen to find a spot in the front row after doing all that, well, you’re probably going to have to wash your car afterwards.

Amenities: Once you’re actually in Citizens Bank Park, there’s not really a ton to see or do. And that’s a good thing. This is Philly. It’s a sports town. Our stadiums are meant for watching sports. There’s no museum to go see, there’s no pool to swim in, no Ferris wheel or water feature. While there are a couple of restaurants in the park, they’re nothing particularly fancy. Whenever people ask me what they should do when they visit Citizens Bank Park, all I can ever think to say is “watch baseball."

That’s not to say that CBP is a boring, minimalist facility. There are plenty of sights to see, food to eat, and things to do. Ashburn Alley, the concourse that runs from the left field gate to the right field gate, is home to a couple of different eateries and shops. If you’re visiting and you want to do the whole “Philly cheesesteak” thing without leaving the ballpark, hit up either Tony Luke’s or Campo’s.

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Ashburn Alley (Getty Images)

Campo’s offers a wide variety of steaks to try. “The Heater," made with hot sauce and buffalo cheddar cheese, is a favorite; just make sure you grab plenty of napkins. Campo’s also serves chicken cheesesteaks and veggie cheesesteaks.

Tony Luke’s is another local chain with an enclave in CBP that I actually prefer because they serve a roast pork. While cheesesteaks get all the publicity, the roast pork sandwich is the real South Philly delicacy. Tony Luke’s pork is slow-roasted and thickly cut before being piled into a long roll with provolone cheese. It then gets topped with a pleasantly-bitter bit of broccoli rabe before being doused in the leftover juice from the roasting process. Tony Luke’s roast pork is my favorite sandwich in the city. If you’re visiting CBP, I can’t recommend it enough.

Also worth visiting is the new Federal Donuts stand behind section 140, just inside the left field gate. Federal Donuts is a small shop in Philly that sells two things: donuts and fried chicken. Locals tend to flock to the joint in the morning not only because the donuts and chicken are damn good, but also because once they sell their day’s stock, they close up shop.

The CBP enclave of Federal Donuts opened at the beginning of the 2013 season and lived up to the hype. For just under $8, you can get 3 pieces of chicken and a cinnamon-sugar donut. Considering it’s in a ballpark, you get a lot of bang for your buck at Federal Donuts. Get there early though because the place tends to attract a crowd.

Finally, there's Bull’s BBQ. Named for Phils’ great Greg “The Bull” Luzinski, Bull’s is located just inside the right field gate adjacent to a play area for kids. Bull’s offers a large menu of traditional barbecue foods at premium prices. It’s decent for ballpark food, but it’s mostly underwhelming.

Frankly, Bull’s is a cheap ripoff of Boog’s Barbecue from Oriole Park at Camden Yards but, unlike Boog’s great pit beef and delicious coleslaw, there’s nothing particularly special about Bull’s food. The biggest draw is the opportunity to meet Luzinski, who seems to live at Bull’s during the season. He’s friendly, will take pictures, and sign autographs for fans. It’s neat if you’re into that thing.

Money Savers: Going to the ballpark can get expensive fast. There’s no two ways about it. But if you’re on a budget, Citizens Bank Park offers some great opportunities to save some money.

The Phillies and Budweiser offer a designated driver program where people who agree to serve as their friends’ DD are rewarded with a voucher for a free soda. It’s a neat program, but it is actually much more flexible than it seems.

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Cole Hamels and a cheesesteak (Getty)

When you sign up for the program during a ballgame, you show your ID and get a paper wristband identifying you as a designated driver. Once you get your wristband, you’re given your soda voucher which is redeemable at specific locations in the ballpark. However, what they don’t tell you is that the voucher you get is actually a $5.50 concession credit and since a regular-size soda sells for $4, you actually lose out if you redeem it for the soda.

If you present the voucher at the checkout line of a concession stand, it will basically act like a gift card for $5.50 off your total. Not every stand is familiar with the program and some won’t allow you to do this at first, but if you’re persistent, polite, and firm with the cashiers, the coupon will ring up like any of the “loaded tickets” the team sells. It can be a pain in the butt sometimes but five bucks is five bucks.

Another secret that I’ll let you in on is that the “Phanatic Phamily Phood” stands located throughout the park are a great way to snag some cheap eats.

The Phood (ugh) stands serve smaller portions of stadium food, ostensibly for the kiddies, at lower prices. But the smaller portions are actually pretty much just normal-sized portions. For example, their hot dogs ($2) are just normal sized franks instead of the jumbo franks they sell at every other concession stand for six bucks. Locals will recognize the kids’ hotdogs as the dogs they serve on Dollar Dog Nights at the park.

Drinking at the park: I’m not a huge craft beer guy, so I can’t really speak at length about the selection of beers at CBP. I can tell you that there are plenty of concession stands that sell premium beers and a decent variety of imports both in bottles and on tap.
The new beer garden, located in Ashburn Alley behind the bullpens, serves Alley Brewing Company Lager, a beer made specifically for the Phillies and sold only at Citizens Bank Park. It’s not bad, but it’s probably not going to knock the socks off of any visiting beer snobs.

Liquor drinkers probably won’t be too happy at the Phils’ park. Outside of the in-park restaurants, the only place liquor drinks and cocktails are served at CBP is the bar on the scoreboard porch under Phanavision. If you’re going to get something from there, make sure you get an order of the cheesesteak eggrolls. They’re relatively pricey but damn if they’re not worth it.

Watching the game: So you have your food. You’re in your seats. Now what? Well, you watch the damn game, that’s what.

I’m not going to gloss over this: A lot of the things you’ve heard about Philly fans are true. Yes, we boo the hell out of our players. Yes, we’re way too intense sometimes. Yes. We still really hate JD Drew. But some of the stereotypes just aren’t true anymore. Sure, there are going to be some jerks that make us all look bad every now and again, but Phillies fans aren’t the drunken, angry mob you all think we are.

I say that because when you’re at Citizens Bank Park, you’re at a baseball game. You should be watching the game. Phillies fans aren’t very tolerant of people that are constantly getting out of their seats and moving around, especially if they’re doing it in the middle of an at-bat. You’re not going to get a battery chucked at you if you have an overactive bladder or something, but if you’re going to have to be in and out of your row you should try and plan ahead and find some seats on the end of a row.

That said, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the people around you. The average Phillies fan is pretty knowledgeable about the team and there’s nothing that a Philly sports fan loves more than ranting about sports. Be social. Have fun. I’ve learned a ton about baseball by simply sitting at a Phils game and chatting with the fans around me.
If things on the field do go south and the fans get ticked, embrace the atmosphere. Have fun with it. Yell and scream. There’s a reason Philly has a reputation for being a tough sports town, and it’s because being emotionally invested in every game is way more enjoyable than just being a passive observer.

The Fans: It may not be the best ballpark in baseball, but Citizens Bank Park certainly deserves to be in the conversation. It may not have a single, immediately identifiable characteristic like Milwaukee’s slide, San Francisco’s McCovey Cove, Miami’s weird statue-thing, or Baltimore’s Eutaw Street warehouse, but I’d argue that Citizens Bank Park’s most important definable characteristic isn’t something that the stadium’s architects designed, but rather the actual fans that attend the games there.

To an outsider, this may sound clichéd but Philadelphia’s sports teams very much so represent the pulse of the city. The fans are the city’s lifeblood. So if the fans are the blood and the teams are pulse, then Philadelphia’s stadiums are the town’s heart. It’s a relationship that has to be experienced firsthand in order to be appreciated and there is no better way to learn about Philadelphia and its citizens than by taking in a ballgame at Citizens Bank Park.

What are your favorite tips for visiting Citizens Bank Park?

Follow Ryan Petzar on Twitter — @petzrawr

Previous parks: Citi Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, Petco Park,Comerica Park, Progressive Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Wrigley Field, O.Co Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Fenway Park, PNC Park,U.S. Cellular Field, Safeco Field, Target Field, Rangers Ballpark, Camden Yards,Turner Field, Nationals Park, Kauffman Stadium, Tropicana Field, Dodger Stadium, Miller Park, Chase Field, Busch Stadium

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