A Glimpse of Baseballtown: Reading, PA

It is interesting how a place and an experience can become so treasured. Visiting Reading, PA to watch baseball is high on my list of favorite things to do. The combination of nostalgia and entertainment is wonderful. Last night I visited Reading to watch Game 2 of the Eastern League Division Series. I went early, like I usually do. Here are some pictures of the sights around and in the ballpark, to give you a glimpse of why I love this place.

First Energy Stadium is one of the rare ballparks I have visited that has free parking. The only parking that has a cost is the small reserved parking right by the stadium. The majority of cars park in lots behind the ballpark or in commercial factory lots along North Front Street. I always turn onto Bern Street off of Centre Avenue, then turn onto Pear Street. Pear Street has no official outlet, but it connects to a commercial parking lot that is close to the stadium. The true value of this location, however, is upon exiting. You can avoid the traffic right at the ballpark, and there is a traffic light at Bern Street and Centre Avenue to make the left turn manageable.

No outlet, but good parking for baseball.

I parked shortly after 5pm yesterday, so factory workers headed home for the day were leaving the commercial lot as I was arriving. Beside the lot that I usually park in there is a curious structure that has fascinated me for years. It looks like a single row of horse stalls, but it houses cars. I enjoy making up stories to explain its presence.

The curious covered parking.

Another curious building beside the lot houses the Steeler Fellowship Club. It is a squat, brick building. Who are they? What do they do? And isn’t that a cool window on the side of the building?

The Steeler Fellowship Club in Reading, PA.

Walking to the ballpark involves crossing the railroad tracks. This is one of my favorite stretches of sidewalk on earth. You can hear the stadium public address system in the distance, brief glimpses of the park appear through the trees, and fans and ballpark employees mill around.

The walk to the ballpark.

And then suddenly the ballpark sits in front of you, a happy sight.

First Energy Stadium in Reading, PA.

A large dog tag sits in front of the stadium.

The big dog tag in front of the stadium.

First Energy Stadium used to be Reading Memorial Municipal Stadium when I first started going to games. Plaques on the left side of the front of the stadium honor some of the persons instrumental in building and maintaining the park.

Plaques on the front wall of the stadium.

The brick courtyard in front of the stadium has special bricks commemorating the honorary annual King or Queen of Baseballtown. These are individuals who have played a large role in baseball in Reading.

I don’t think the nickname Cooter is as popular as it used to be.

Additional bricks in the courtyard honor players inducted into the Reading Phillies Hall of Fame. On the right side of the courtyard is the main gate that goes into the stadium. In the picture below, the ticket-taker in light blue to the right of the guy in the red 24 shirt is Neale Bechtel. He has worked at the stadium since 1967! He is very friendly and a delight to talk to.

The main gate into the ballpark.

Upon entering the park you find yourself in the VIST Financial Plaza. Food and merchandise are available for purchase. As game time grows close this area will be full of fans.

The VIST Financial Plaza.

A stage sits in the center of the plaza. It frequently hosts pregame happy hour concerts. At some point during the game there are sometimes kids activities held at the stage. Concerts, including the mascot band, often take place postgame.

The Weston Center Winning Smiles Stage in the plaza, with a pregame concert in full swing.

The plaza hosts a kids zone with a miniature golfing course and various other games. On the far end of the plaza is the entrance to the Reading Eagle Pool Pavillion. Some great wall art lines the back of the right field bleachers on the side of the plaza. It contains large pictures of former players, newspaper articles, and programs form the past (the section dedicated to Mike Schmidt is excellent).

In the stadium concourse there are team photos on the wall.

Team photos from the past on the concourse.

The Reading baseball tradition is celebrated, dating back to the beginning as a Cleveland Indians affiliate in the 1950s.

Notes about the Reading baseball tradition.

I really like the old signs, bunting, and banners that decorate the concourse. Even the restroom signs are cool.

The signs on the concourse are throwbacks.

The concourse at First Energy Stadium.

Along the left field wall of the stadium there is a tribute to players from the 2008 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies team that played substantial time in Reading as they were developing. I saw all of them play here: Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, Chris Coste, and Ryan Madsen.

A tribute to members of the 2008 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies that played in Reading.

Along the left field side of the stadium there is the Fairground Square Mall Picnic Area and several food stands. Dingers Bar is located beyond the outfield wall, with the Coors Light Deck and boardwalk next door.

A view from Dingers Bar in left field.

There are many other features of the park I did not photograph. The pool pavilion in right field, the main scoreboard in left center field, the press box, a close up of the grandstand, the charming advertisements around on the outfield wall, and so much more. Just in case I did not make myself clear–I think this park is wonderful.

A few final photos before I close:

Last week I noticed that the ostrich the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor rides looked depressed. I decided to see how it looked last night.

How does the bird look?

A weary bird?

My photos were inconclusive, but I think the bird is ready for the off season. If the eyes are the window into the soul, than this bird needs a vacation and a few words of affirmation.

The candy villain is a regular at the ballpark. He wanders through the crowd the inning before the mascot vegetable race, yelling things like: “Eat more candy!” and “Candy is good!” and “Down with vegetables!” During the vegetable race Candy will tackle a vegetable and do his best to cause mayhem. It is entertaining. Behold Candy:

Candy revels in the jeers of the crowd.

Candy watches the vegetables race down the outfield line, preparing to tackle the leader, on this night it was Carrot.

After the race a closing line is delivered over the PA system: “Remember kids, vegetables are good! Candy is bad! Eat more vegetables!” You don’t see many vegetable vendors in the park. Candy might have lost this race, but he won the war.

The R-Phils lost a close game to Trenton last night. The winning run was scored with two outs in the 9th inning. All of the rest of the series will be played in Trenton (Trenton won earlier tonight, placing the R-Phils on the brink of elimination).

I love baseball.

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