Take me out to the ball park

This past weekend should have been Opening Weekend at Citizens Bank Park. I had tickets for yesterday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. But I was, instead, safe at home.

On March 16, the Philadelphia Phillies, along with the rest of Major League Baseball, closed their offices and operations in accordance with guidelines released by the commissioner’s office. Citizens’ Bank Way became a mobile testing site for COVID-19. White hospital tents have been set-up there for locals to be tested in an effort to help curb the path of this destructive disease.

So we wait. Some days it seems like baseball is gone for good. It is a surreal feeling, like being on the set of a movie or reality TV show.

In “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” a science-fiction drama set in the 24th century which aired from 1993-1999, Captain Benjamin Sisko shares his love of baseball with his son Jake. In the episode titled ‘Take Me Out to the Holosuite‘, they try to teach the space station crew how to play. Unfortunately, our national pastime had been extinct since 2042.

This feels like that.

(Sidenote: Cirroc Lofton, who played Jake Sisko in the show, is actually the nephew of former MLB All-Star and one-time Phillies center fielder Kenny Lofton.)

Since I can’t actually go to Citizens’ Bank Park, I’m going to reminisce about all the things I love about being there. Of the ten ballparks I’ve visited, this one is my favorite.

A typical game day starts with my daughter and I packing our water and Gatorade bottles to go. Then we pack our cookies, candy, and salty snacks. Yes, this stadium allows food to be brought inside – a liberal policy which we love. I have seen many different foods over the years, from shrimp cocktail to kale chips.

Drinks in sealed bottles also are allowed. Non-alcoholic, of course. However, there was one instance back in 2008. A very clever lady brought a bottle of ‘water’ along with her beautifully arranged shrimp cocktail…which she began passing around to the guys sitting beside us. Hmmm. They would alternate sips of said water with their beers. Well, they enjoyed it, anyway.

Our trip to the ballpark takes about two and a half hours, so we usually stop about halfway at the local Wawa to get cookies, soft pretzels, and a large cup of coffee. (We do eat a lot on game day.) You might think that’s a lot of travel time but I don’t mind it at all. We listen to Sirius XM and talk about our week or what’s going on in baseball or other sports. We live in Lancaster County, so we often spot Amish buggies on our travel, and enjoy the scenic farmland views as well.

When we get to the ballpark, we have a strategy in mind. We go in on Phillies Drive and park on the side where tailgating is allowed. Close to the ballpark, near the exit, allows us a quick escape when the game is over. My handicap parking pass helps, but because we come very early we usually beat the crowds. Of course, from 2013-2017 there were fewer fans in those crowds. We then sit in our car for a half-hour or so, watching the fans, reading the Sunday paper, or listening to WIP.

I miss the giant Phanatic on the outside of the park. When you walked up, there was a huge picture of him on the outside of the scoreboard. Then, suddenly, last year it disappeared. Now it’s a baseball and Phillies cap in that area.

My daughter and I then get in line for the security check at the left field gate in order to enter the park. The workers are very quick and mostly friendly. We scan our tickets or phone, and step inside.

As we enter, directly in front of us are the two World Series trophies won by the organization and the Phillies Wall of Fame, where past great players and coaches are honored with gold plaques. We stop here often and pay our respects.

I miss the huge lineup cards that used to be here until last season. They were pretty unique, and it was fun watching the ballpark workers put up the giant baseball cards on the wall representing the players in that day’s starting lineup.

The Wall of Fame was still located beyond center field in Ashburn Alley back then, where it had been since Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, and it could become very difficult for all the fans to see on busy days.

There are also statues of Richie Ashburn, Jim Bunning, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, and Jackie Robinson. Along the way to our seats are granite markers in the concrete featuring Phillies All-Stars since the first MLB All-Star Game back in 1933.

We walk all around the ballpark, stopping at the Majestic Clubhouse store, the ’47 Alley store, or maybe one of the charity auction tables that are often set-up in the concourse.

Frequently we make a stop at ‘The Yard’ – a huge play area constructed prior to the 2018 season for kids. It includes a miniature version of the ballpark created as a wiffle ball field, complete with dugout and bullpen. The 2008 Phillies played a reunion game here in 2018, which we witnessed. This area also includes a Phillie Phanatic climbing wall for the more energetic youth.

There are banners hanging from the rafters all around the ballpark honoring a number of current Phillies players including Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, and Rhys Hoskins.

We stop at one of the kiosks set around the concourse in order to purchase a ticket for the Phillies Charities 50/50 drawing…we haven’t won anything yet. Then I sign up for the Designated Driver program for which I receive a voucher for a free soda. Finally, we decide on what to eat. We used to love Planet Hoagie, but that has gone away. We liked getting subs when they were named after the players, such as the Shane Victorino or Ryan Howard sandwich. That has now been replaced by a P.J.Whelihan’s bar restaurant. We do like their made to order French fries and Buffalo Chicken Wrap.

If you are from the area or travel frequently to Philly, you must have an opinion on cheesesteaks. We like those from Tony Luke’s, and eat there a lot. Mostly though, we like their pork sandwiches with broccoli rabe. And the Shake Shack! Our first taste from this restaurant was at Nationals’ Park, and it was delicious. We were super excited to see it come to Philadelphia last year. Bull’s Barbecue often includes visits from Phillies Wall of Famer and 1970’s superstar Greg Luzinski. There are many other places to eat at the ballpark, including Chickie’s and Pete’s. We haven’t tried them all.

Harry the K’s is also a busy open-air restaurant named after the late legendary broadcaster Harry Kalas. Located above left field with a beautiful view of the park, there is frequently a line waiting to get in. If you are lucky enough to get a table in front, or are willing to wait for one, you can see every play right from your seat as you eat. The food is delicious and some has a gourmet touch. Our seats are in the section directly below.

On we go to our seats in section 141, showing the ushers our tickets. I call them ticket Nazis, because they see us juggling food and drinks, know where we sit, yet still wait until we find our tickets.

Settled in, we are now finally ready for actual baseball action. I have to mention more about our seats. They are possibly the only row in the park with just two seats in the entire row. Just two. No one can step in front of us to go in and out. It’s perfect. It is also a very good place to catch home run balls. Some have come very close to us. (FYI: If a fan does catch a Phillies home run, they can have the ball autographed by the player that hits it. That’s pretty cool.)

We sit through each game in its entirety, good or bad, hot or cold, rain or shine. My daughter has her radio tuned to the game broadcast on WIP with Scott Franzke and Kevin Frandsen, and sometimes Larry Andersen, to get any details we miss while watching live. We converse with our friends in front of us and lament the current manager’s decisions or the umpire’s calls.

We can tell if the fans around us are really into baseball or just here for entertainment. It especially annoys me when a loud ‘fan’ starts spouting off on the opposing left fielder. Sometimes it gets pretty brutal. I actually heard one fan yell to an opposing player, “I hope you get cancer!” And I really, really hate ‘the wave’ that goes around the park at times. This juvenile movement does nothing for the players on the field. It belongs to the ’80s. I refuse to participate in this nonsense.

If the Phillies lose, we quietly exit the park as we begin to head back for our long ride home. But if they win, we wait in our seats for the special message on the Phanavision scoreboard as our beloved Harry Kalas sings our victory song, “High Hopes.”

I turn to the scoreboard and sing along as loud as I can. When the song is over, I blow him a kiss, and say “I love you, Harry.

I love you, baseball, and have high hopes that the Phillies and the game will come back to us soon.