Review by Gary
When playing Monopoly, you may draw a Chance card to "Take A Ride on the Reading". The card tells you advance to Reading Railroad and collect $200 "if" you pass “Go”. As it is impossible to advance from Chance to Reading Railroad WITHOUT passing “Go”, it’s a moot point. However, if you are a ballpark fan, you MUST “Take a Ride TO Reading” to see the Eastern League’s Fightin' Phils at the self-proclaimed “America’s Classic Ballpark”. Located equidistant from Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Lancaster and Allentown, Reading also calls itself “Baseballtown” and FirstEnergy Stadium lives up to all the billing.
Built in 1951, FirstEnergy has gone through a number of renovations and upgrades through the years that wonderfully preserved the original look of the ballpark while keeping it relevant to the 21st century fan. Rather than tear down this gem that is nestled among residences and businesses, the R-Phils owners chose to embellish the park with fantastic innovations like an outdoor concourse behind the seats, covered with netting to protect fans from foul balls while they visit the concession stands, dine at picnic tables or shop at the open-air souvenir stands. At today’s “Kids Splash Day”, the local fire and police departments joined the National Park Service by offering freebies and info about their respective departments. Reading loves their Fightin' Phils.
The R-Phils easily match newer ballparks with their vast selection of seating options, mixed attractions for fans young and old and a plethora of food choices. In the concession department, if I had noticed the Churger first, I would have tried this bunned creation of chicken breast atop a cheeseburger. Instead, I opted for a pretzel stuffed with pepperoni while my traveling buddy sampled a hot dog shaped burger, which was interesting looking, but left a little to be desired. As Reading is “The Pretzel City”, we shared an untwisted pretzel later in the game, which did not disappoint.
The Fightins have some awesome mid-inning entertainments. The Wacky Hot Dog Vendor who time-traveled from the 1960’s appeared on the field “riding an ostrich” and threw actual hot dogs high into the stands with a Steve Carlton-like arm. It was most impressive. Two fans also competed for fabulous prizes as they launched soft baseballs with huge slingshots from the field unsuccessfully towards 2 massive bulls-eyed banners suspended from the rafters of the grandstand roof.
While the original concessions still exist under the main grandstand to compliment the newer pavilion behind it, the team has adorned the inner walls of the smaller concourse leading to the left field seating areas with a chronological year-by-year history of ballplayers and notable events dating back to the first season. Cases of bats, balls, jerseys, news clippings and the like are on display for historians and fans alike.
There are no luxury boxes under the 1980’s era roof. Instead, eight private boxes were added to the home run deck over the left field fence, accessible by a boardwalk that stretches down the 3rd base line and around the foul pole. Another notable viewing option is to frolic in the pool that sits 6 feet over the right field fence and is monitored by a well-tanned lifeguard who was ready to save a kid who barely missed getting hit by a Phil’s homer. The high left field bleacher section is one of two general admission seating areas that is way in the corner by the foul pole with seats that face the distant mountains beyond centerfield more than towards home plate. We found that we preferred the GA seats behind the covered “dugout seating” field-level section. They proved to be closer to both the field and home on this Wednesday afternoon game.
Finally, there are many FREE places to park for a Fightins game. If the limited lots near the stadium are full, there are many businesses who allow fans to park in their lots within a few blocks of the ballpark. There is no shortage of great seats to be had, so if you have a Chance to Take a Ride to Reading, I highly recommend you empty the Community Chest and do so!
"More than any single characteristic, Reading Municipal Stadium (the name when I visited in 1998) just feels right. The crowd was great and enthusiastic. The place was two-thirds full forty minutes before game time. Maybe the planets all aligned properly, and my biorhythms were up, but I thought this was one of the nicest places I have ever seen a baseball game."