Many of you know that when I take my baseball road trips, I’m a solo traveler almost 100 percent of the time. Of all the games that I’ve attended since launching The Ballpark Guide in 2010, only a handful of them have been with someone. There are rare occasions in which I plan a trip with a travel partner, however, and my late-July sojourn to Philadelphia was one of those times.
On this trip, my travel partner was my brother-in-law Shaun. He’s not just my brother-in-law, though. He’s my partner in The Ballpark Guide, and while you don’t see any references to him on the website, his work is absolutely critical to it. Simply put, there’d be no Ballpark Guide without him.
Funny enough, given all the work that he’s put into the site, he’s not remotely a baseball fan. Fortunately, it didn’t take much convincing to get him to agree to a weekend in Philly with a little baseball, a little sightseeing and a bunch of cheesesteaks.
We live close to eight hours from Philadelphia, so instead of driving down in one shot, we drove to Syracuse on the evening of July 25, and then proceeded onto Philly the following day. This was actually Shaun’s first baseball game, so it was a thrill for me to be an ambassador for the sport, so to speak. My mission wasn’t necessarily to turn him into a baseball fan by the end of the weekend, but rather to show him how I experience ballparks and baseball games and, hopefully, give him some fun along the way.
And introduce him to cheesesteaks. Lots of cheesesteaks.
After some sightseeing on the trip from Syracuse to Philadelphia, we got to the city at 4 p.m., checked into our downtown hotel and after soaking in some air conditioning for a short period, grabbed an Uber and headed over to Citizens Bank Park. You might remember that I visited CBP twice back in 2013, so this wasn’t going to be a ballpark visit in which I’d spend the entire game exploring the park and documenting the sights. There’d be some of that, certainly, but this weekend was more about just soaking in the ballpark experience with my brother-in-law.
We hadn’t bought tickets in advance, so as soon as our Uber driver dropped us off, I snapped this picture …
… and then hurriedly made my way over to the closest ticket office and grabbed a couple of cheap tickets. The ballpark’s gates had just opened, so instead of taking a walk around the exterior, we went straight in.
Batting practice had already finished, which was unfortunate because I’d hoped we could hang out in the outfield for a few minutes and try to get Shaun a baseball. Undeterred, we went straight down to field level so that I could point out of some of the various elements of the park. Our first stop was the right field corner, where we had this view:
Sure, the spot where we stood may be pretty standard for baseball fans, but given that I had a chance to let someone into my world, this scene in front of us was a thrill. I probably sounded like an auctioneer as I rattled off details about the various sights in front of us, told anecdotes about my previous visits to Citizens Bank Park and answered any questions that Shaun threw my way. Once we’d spent a few minutes down at field level, we made our way up to the concourse and began to walk along the third base side, eventually making the turn around left field, where we stopped so that I could snap this panorama:
As you can see, the ballpark was still fairly empty, but the one area that was hopping was Ashburn Alley, which stretches from left-center to right-center. You can actually see all of the red-clad fans if you look to the left side of the panorama. Ashburn Alley is my favorite spot at CBP — and I’m certainly not the only fan who feels this way. By the time we got there, it was absolutely packed with fans. Here’s how it looked:
We’d come to Ashburn Alley for a few reasons. As the most fun and boisterous spot in the park, I wanted to make sure that Shaun got to check it out. I also wanted to show him the bullpens, which are stacked in this area:
Of course, there are a million exciting things to see along the alley. We took a lengthy browse through one of the team shops and I pointed out the Liberty Bell sign overhead:
As you might guess, food was on my mind — which was a good thing, because we were in the right place. Ashburn Alley has a number of concession stands, and my constant babbling about the merits of cheesesteaks on the drive to Philly made it a simple decision for us to get in line to grab a couple. Now, there are a few cheesesteak vendors at Citizens Bank Park — as well as countless across the city — and everyone has his or her favorite. I’ve been fortunate to try a number of them over the years, and the best cheesesteak I’d eaten up to that point was at a Tony Luke’s location. It was easy for me to recommend this particular brand over anything else, and the long lineup in front of us was a testament to the popularity of this particular eatery. When we made our way up to order, I ordered mine with Cheez Whiz and Shaun got provolone. With cheesesteaks in hand, we fought our way across Ashburn Alley to a spot along the railing, and then dug in:
(In reviewing the photo above, I noticed the tendon on the side of my neck bulging out a little — a testament to how much I was apparently enjoying the bite.)
My cheesesteak was delicious, as expected. Shaun liked his, but found it to be a little dry. I suggested that he go with Cheez Whiz next time, as I feel that the cheese choice gives you the moist, greasy, artery-friendly consistency that you’re going for with this type of meal.
Before I started the second half of my sandwich, I snapped this cross-section shot to give you an idea of how much meat it contained:
I find that this is the perfect amount of meat. Yes, it’s possible to fit more in, but when you’re standing to eat it — and don’t want to be wearing half of it — this is the right amount to eat with ease.
After eating and taking a few minutes to let the meat sweats subside, we continued our walk around the concourse to take in the sights. The next spot we checked out was the Phillies Wall of Fame area, which features a number of plaques and, a new addition since my previous visit, some statues that honor the team’s World Series titles in 1980 and 2008:
Next, we took an escalator ride up a level to continue checking out the sights. I love the fact that you can see the Philadelphia skyline from CBP, and took Shaun over to a spot where we could check it out:
Our next stop gave us an overhead vantage point to check out the open space with the World Series trophy statues, as well as the displays honoring the team’s retired numbers:
We then moved into a spot that gave us a good view of Ashburn Alley from one end. It was still fairly busy, and you can see that the crowd lined up at Tony Luke’s was still very long:
The Campo’s Philly Cheesesteaks concession stand, for the record, is just on the far side of the staircase leading up to the Budweiser Rooftop. It had a decent-sized lineup, too.
Before too long, the players had taken the field and begun to warm up, so we headed to a spot where we could see right fielder Bryce Harper. I’ve been a fan of Harper’s since I met him as an 18 year old with the Hagerstown Suns and got his autograph after patiently waiting next to his truck in the ballpark’s back parking lot. (You can read all about that adventure here.) Funny enough, though, this would be the first time that I’d ever seen Harper in action. On my visit to Hagerstown, he had the day off because of a minor injury, and I hadn’t managed to see him later that year as he rose through the minors, nor after he’d made it to the big leagues. In any case, we were a considerable distance from the field, but I still took a few shots of Harper playing catch:
We watched the first inning from roughly where I took the above photo, and then made our way up to the upper deck for the second inning. Here’s a view of this beautiful ballpark in the bottom of the second:
From this spot, Shaun snapped this photo of me with one of my new The World Needs More Baseball shirts:
Like this design? You can buy one here.
Eventually, we returned to the main concourse to continue to walk around to check out the sights. The next place we visited was the Harry Kalas statue not far from Ashburn Alley:
We watched a bit more of the action on the field from the alley, and then went back up a few levels to check out the view of the neighborhood around Citizens Bank Park. Here’s a panorama that I really like, showing Lincoln Financial Field and Wells Fargo Center, as well as the Xfinity Live! venue:
Since we were headed to the upper deck, anyway, we grabbed a pair of seats on the third base side and enjoyed a little more of the action with this outstanding view:
Midway through the game, I could see some signs of action in the bullpen areas, and wanted to give Shaun a chance to see a reliever getting ready to enter the game. It’s something that I enjoy watching as often as I can, so I figured a first-time ballpark visitor would get a thrill out of a front-row spot to the action. We made our way down to the main concourse and made a quick detour to a nearby Philadelphia Water Ice concession stand to pick up a pair of cherry ices. Here’s mine:
My photo didn’t turn out all that well, in part because of the dark conditions and in part because I was rushing to get to the bullpen before one of the Atlanta Braves pitchers got up and started to throw. Fortunately, our hurrying paid off, and we were able to grab a pair of spots at the railing above and behind the bullpen plate to watch the action:
As the game wrapped up, we took a quick Uber ride back to our downtown hotel, the Sonesta Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square:
This was the first time that I’d ever stayed at a Sonesta hotel, and was thoroughly impressed with not only the service we encountered during each interaction with staff, but also the size and stylish design of the rooms, as well as the on-site dining options — a funky spot called Art Bar, which is perfect for a post-game drink and snack, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Perhaps most impressive about this hotel is its location. The Rittenhouse Square neighborhood is easily one of the most popular areas in the city, and is filled with restaurants, shopping options and plenty of green space. Although a walk from this location to Citizens Bank Park would be lengthy, the Uber ride was a quick and easy one. And, using our hotel as a home base for the weekend, we had no trouble covering a wide variety of Philly’s downtown attractions on foot.
We were on the move so much all weekend that we didn’t have a proper chance to enjoy all of the hotel’s amenities, but they certainly looked appealing. Take a look at this nighttime shot of the pool, located on the roof of the eighth floor:
And here’s an image off the hotel’s website of a room that looked just like ours:
I’d wholeheartedly recommend this hotel to you if you’re planning a baseball road trip to Philadelphia — and especially if you want to do a lot of sightseeing on foot when you’re not at the ballpark.
Speaking of sightseeing, we began our second day in the city with plenty of that before heading back to CBP for another memorable evening.