Waking up in a city and knowing that you’ve got a game to attend that night is one of the best feelings you can experience on a baseball road trip.
The realization that you’ll be at a ballpark for several hours might be the first thing that enters your mind, but it’s also easy to get excited when contemplating the block of spare time that you’ll devote to checking out the sights around the city.
Fortunately, my brother-in-law Shaun and I didn’t have to spend much time on our second day in Philadelphia trying to decide what we’d do before heading over to Citizens Bank Park. Prior to our trip, we’d thoroughly evaluated the tourist attractions around the city and beyond, and because we’re both history and military history nerds, it was easy to come up with a list of the things that we wanted to see before it was time for baseball.
Our downtown hotel gave us a perfect home base for getting around to a number of the sites we wanted to check out. After breakfast at a bagel spot a couple of blocks from the hotel, we walked over to Independence National Historical Park to step back into the city’s rich history. This area is home to a number of big attractions, but there were a few that we especially wanted to check out. Our first stop was the Liberty Bell Center, which wasn’t yet open for the day. That wasn’t a big deal, though, because we were happy to take a walk around the building …
… and peek through the glass to get a look at the Liberty Bell itself:
Sure, it would’ve been cool to see the bell without having the window in the way, but we were happy to simply see it — and to avoid the lineups that were already forming well before the center opened. Just a few steps from the Liberty Bell sits Independence Hall, the building in which the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were adopted. It, too, was closed at the time we arrived, but we enjoyed taking a walk around it and snapping some photos:
We walked around and read displays about a number of the other buildings and sites in Independence National Historical Park — the American Philosophy Society Hall, Congress Hall, Washington Square and more. These are sites that date back to the 1600s and 1700s, and it was fascinating to simply be in this space and take it all in. That’s one of the things that I really love about my baseball trips. Sure, baseball is always atop my priorities list, but I’m fortunate to get the chance to check out a variety of noteworthy attractions when time permits.
In all, we spent a couple of hours wandering around this area before we grabbed an Uber and headed to our next sightseeing location of the day — over the Ben Franklin Bridge into Camden, N.J., to visit the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial. Longtime readers of this blog might recall that I’m always up for a chance to visit museum ships, and that I’ve done so on a number of occasions. Sites in Boston and Corpus Christi are particular highlights that you might recall. Anyway, the U.S.S. New Jersey is one of the most noteworthy vessels in naval history, so the chance for us to tour it was one that we couldn’t pass up. The New Jersey is the most decorated battleship in the history of the U.S. Navy. It’s hard to believe, but it served from 1943 to 1991, meaning that it was active in the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and even the Lebanese Civil War. Getting to walk its deck and browse its different areas was impressive beyond words. I’ll just share a few quick shots of from the time that we spent checking out the ship, but I definitely recommend making time for it if you’re in Philly and naval history is up your alley.
Here’s a shot that shows the New Jersey from the pier:
And a look toward the bow of the battleship with the Ben Franklin Bridge that connects Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the distance:
Here’s a shot of me beneath the ship’s 16-inch guns …
… and Shaun keeping an eye out for any enemies off the starboard side with a machine gun:
As much as our attention for the bulk of our visit was on the ship itself, it was fun to check out the sights along both shores of the Delaware River. On the Philadelphia side, we had a good view of the city skyline and a distant view of Citizens Bank Park which, of course, made me even more excited for that evening’s game:
Our visit to the U.S.S. New Jersey was a couple hours in length, followed by another Uber ride back to Philly, where we grabbed a late lunch. No cheesesteaks this time, unfortunately. Instead, we opted for something relatively healthy at a small cafe near the water. With the goal of eating something light so that I’d have more room for ballpark food, not to mention some cheesesteaks the following day, I got a sliced turkey sandwich topped with apple and brie, along with a side salad:
After lunch, we headed back to our hotel to get changed, and then hopped in another Uber and zipped over to Citizens Bank Park. Just like a day earlier, we arrived shortly after the gates had opened. Again, we grabbed tickets at the nearest ticket office and headed in immediately afterward. This game’s promotion was a special one, giving fans a chance to go down on the field as part of the pregame ceremonies. This meant that huge throngs of fans were lined up outside of Citizens Bank Park long before the gates opened. While this experience would’ve been neat, it also would’ve involved a lot of standing around and waiting during the time that we could’ve been out doing some sightseeing. That said, we opted not to bother with trying to get down onto the field, but instead just enjoyed the spectacle in front of us.
Here’s how the scene looked a moment after we got through the gates, across the concourse and into the seating bowl:
As you can see, there were several hundred fans already on the field in specific roped-off areas. You might have also noticed the visiting Atlanta Braves leaving the field, which meant two things — the Phillies were due to come out shortly, and this would be a good opportunity to get down to the Atlanta dugout to see some players close up. We watched as the players filtered into the dugout in front of us, and I pointed out some of the stars to Shaun. One player who caught my eye was right-handed pitcher Anthony Swarzak:
He doesn’t exactly fit into the “star” category, but he’s noteworthy to me. In my very first game upon launching my website and blog — a 2010 visit to Rochester’s Frontier Field to see the Triple-A Red Wings in action — Swarzak was a member of the Red Wings roster and I got his autograph on a baseball. You can read about that first visit here and see a picture of the signed ball here. It was neat to see Swarzak again, now with 16 seasons of professional baseball under his belt.
A moment after Swarzak disappeared into the Atlanta dugout, I pointed out former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel. He’s another player that I’ve seen on my travels, although not nearly as long ago as when I first saw Swarzak. I watched Keuchel pitch with the Houston Astros during a visit to Minute Maid Park in 2015.
Once all of the Braves had left the field, we decided to make a move down toward the left field foul pole. I wasn’t positive about what would be going on once the Phillies took the field, but the crowd of fans in that area made it evident that that was the place to be. As we found a spot in the left field corner, the Phillie Phanatic made an appearance to entertain the gathered crowd for a bit:
The Phillies took the field soon afterward and, to my delight, were wearing their throwback uniforms. It turned out that we’d picked a good spot to visit, because a moment after the players began to appear, Bryce Harper made his way to left field:
His visit consisted of two laps around the left field corner, mostly spent waving to fans and giving a few high fives:
As far as I saw, he didn’t signs any autographs or pose for any selfies with fans. A number of other current and past players, as well as members of the coaching staff, soon arrived and many signed autographs and took photos with fans, though. Here’s infielder Cesar Hernandez pointing at a group of fans:
And pitcher Juan Nicasio stopping for a selfie with a lucky fan in front of us:
Outfielder Nick Williams is another player who spent a lot of time greeting not only the fans who were gathered on the field, but also those who were standing along the fence down the line:
We watched for quite as while as the players took laps around the field in front of us, and then headed off in search of something to eat. Once again, I had cheesesteaks on the mind, but a trip past the Shake Shack concession stand on the main concourse caused a change in our plans. I’d never previously eaten at a Shake Shack, nor had I encountered one at any ballpark I’d visited. (And the nearest Shake Shake is hundreds of miles from where I live.) I’ve seen a ton of videos on YouTube that extol the virtues of the Shake Shack menu, so I couldn’t resist grabbing one while I had the opportunity. Like the cheesesteak concession stands, the lineup at Shake Shack was lengthy — we were in line for close to 10 minutes before we placed our order, and it was another five or so minutes before the food arrived. The menu had four burgers on it, and I opted for the SmokeShack — a cheeseburger topped with bacon, chopped cherry peppers and ShackSauce. I grabbed a strawberry shake with the burger, and once I had both in my hands, we headed to the upper deck to find a spot to sit down and eat. Here’s a look at the burger …
… and the shake:
One bite into the burger, it was clear why there’s so much fuss about Shake Shack. It was a perfect burger with a legitimate homemade taste. I did, however, find it to be pretty small. I’d ordered a single instead of a double, granted, but I could’ve eaten several of these without even being silly. The shake was really good, and a perfect complement to the burger.
We remained where we’d eaten for a few minutes after wrapping up our burgers, enjoying the sight of the field as the fans left it and some of the Phillies began to play catch. Here’s a look at the view from our seats:
I don’t think Citizens Bank Park gets mentioned enough when people talk about beautiful ballparks. You can’t take a look at this panorama and not think of this facility as one of the best in baseball.
After a bit, we went back down to the main concourse to take a look around. I made a stop at the Phillies Authentics kiosk, which is always my favorite type of store in any ballpark. It’s loaded with all sorts of game-used equipment, game-worn apparel and other items that are hugely enticing to a collector like me. Here’s one display that caught my eye — a selection of game-used baseballs from the previous night’s contest:
Resisting the urge to buy anything, we continued along the concourse until we arrived in Ashburn Alley for our first visit of the day. We’d spent a considerable amount of time there a day earlier, and were eager to return. This time, instead of hanging out on the main level, we took this set of stairs …
… up to the Budweiser Rooftop:
Once there, we grabbed a couple of chairs along the rail and enjoyed this view as the action got underway:
We spent innings one and two on the rooftop, and then abandoned our seats in favor of finding a spot to hang out on the concourse level. The spot we chose was a location against the railing in shallow right field, where we had this vantage point of the field …
… and this picturesque view of the setting sun:
If you noticed the 11-1 score for the Braves in the image above, things didn’t get any better for the home side. After an inning on the main concourse, we went to the upper deck and saw that Atlanta had scored two more runs while we were climbing the stairs:
(If you’re wondering why the video board’s content looks vintage, it’s because it was a retro night. In addition to both teams wearing their throwback uniforms, there were a number of other old-school details around the park — including this change to the video board.)
We chose this bird’s-eye view of the field for the next few innings:
It gave us a chance to take in the ballpark from this area for the first time in our visit, as well as enjoy a cool breeze that was blowing through the upper deck. That breeze did a good job of cooling us down after all the walking around, but I knew we needed to grab a cool snack before we left. With a couple of innings left in the game, we went down to the main level, found the Philadelphia Water Ice concession stand that we’d visited a day earlier, and grabbed a couple of frozen treats. This time, I opted for lemon:
It wasn’t quite as good as the cherry flavor that I’d had 24 hours earlier, but it also didn’t leave me looking like I was wearing Joker-esque lipstick. You win some, you lose some.
Speaking of winning some, this day turned out to be a total winner. Shaun and I packed it full of sightseeing and baseball, and it was one of those days that makes you think, “Boy, I sure did a lot of stuff today,” when your head hits the pillow.
This would be our last baseball game of the road trip, and my final game of the 2019 season — but there was another day of fun in Philly before we headed home. Rather than devote a separate blog post to it, here’s a brief recap of what we did on an off-day on July 28.
As we’d done a day earlier, Shaun and I laid out a full day of sightseeing for our final day in Philadelphia. This day wouldn’t feature any baseball, but it would give us a chance to take in some of the city’s iconic sights — and eat some more cheesesteaks.
We left out hotel early in the morning and took a long way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art — not because we were interested in art, but because we were interested in the steps outside of the museum. Yep, those steps are the famous “Rocky Steps” from the Rocky movie, so we knew there was no way we’d leave Philadelphia without running up them. Here are the steps as they came into view …
… and here’s a panorama that I took with my back to the museum, looking toward the park space known as The Oval, and with Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Philadelphia City Hall in the distance:
After I snapped the panorama, we grabbed this shot of ourselves posing triumphantly atop the steps:
This was an absolutely beautiful part of the city. As much as the Rocky Steps were our prime focus, we thoroughly enjoyed a walk up Benjamin Franklin Parkway and a trip around The Oval.
After spending some time around the Rocky Steps, and posing in front of the iconic statue of the Italian Stallion …
… we set off to another of Philadelphia’s must-see sights — Eastern State Penitentiary. It’s a famous penitentiary that operated from 1829 to 1971, and is now a museum. It’s notable for a handful of things, including revolutionizing incarceration by focusing on rehabilitation. More than 300 other penitentiaries were modeled after the Eastern State mentality, making it one of the most important penitentiaries in the world. When it was built, it was the biggest and most expensive public building in the country, and it eventually became home to such notorious inmates as Al Capone. The thing that I found most interesting about the prison was how it apparently hadn’t gone through extensive cosmetic upgrades when it became a museum — which added to the creepiness and intrigue of the experience. Here’s what I mean:
Not all of the prison was in this state, though. Some areas were a lot more swanky. Here’s a recreation of how Capone’s cell looked during his 1929 incarceration:
After leaving Eastern State, we made stops at a handful of museums throughout the afternoon. Between all of the sightseeing and walking, we’d definitely worked up some cheesesteak-worthy appetites. Now, there are countless places to get a cheesesteak in Philly, but we decided to head to East Passyunk Avenue to sample sandwiches from Geno’s and Pat’s — two longtime cheesesteak joints that are conveniently positioned across the street from one another. It’s a spot that is busy virtually 24 hours a day and popular among locals and tourists alike. We arrived shortly before dinner time — a good piece of advice that I read prior to our visit is to schedule cheesesteak restaurant visits outside of traditional meal hours in order to avoid long lineups — and I snapped photos of Geno’s …
… and Pat’s:
Next, we got in line at each eatery. The plan was to buy a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz from each of them and tear them in half so that we could try each of them at the same time.
Although our tear didn’t turn out to be very equal …
… we both dug in and it was immediately apparent to us that Geno’s was a better sandwich. Pat’s was good, but on this day, the Geno’s product was perfectly gooey and provided the exact taste and texture that I want in a cheesesteak. I mentioned in my last post that my favorite cheesesteak ever was from Tony Luke’s. This one from Geno’s was just as good in my mind, so I’ve got Tony Luke’s and Geno’s in a tie atop my cheesesteak list. What about you? Let me know in the comments section below.
Our dual cheesesteak dinner was a fitting and perfect way to wrap up an outstanding weekend in Philly. We’re already making plans about where we’ll go this season. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll make a baseball fan out of Shaun yet.
Bring on 2020!