FirstEnergy Stadium – Reading Fightin Phils
Phun and Excitement in Reading
FirstEnergy Stadium is one of oldest ballparks in minor league baseball but it is one of the best places to enjoy the game of baseball. The stadium is able to blend the past with the present and provides an atmosphere unlike anything else in the game. It is a spectacle of visuals, tastes, and sounds.
The stadium had opened in 1951 at a cost of $656,674 and saw a complete transformation before the 1989 season that included tearing out the old wooden bleachers for 1,500 individual seats, erecting a roof, expanding the press box, and adding a third base picnic area. It was almost a new stadium.
Attendance improved by 34,627 customers in 1989 and by 1991 Reading was first in the Eastern League in total attendance with 250,610 fans. Reading would either finish first or second in the league in total attendance an impressive 23 times. It became the first minor league stadium to attract ten million fans outside of Triple-A baseball.
In 2013 the club adopted the moniker Reading Fightin Phils after 36 years of using the Phillies nickname. The new nickname paid homage to the Philadelphia Phillies’ 1950s-era Whiz Kids and was a unique way to enhance the team to its parent club in Philadelphia. However, the teams new “two-word” nickname and ostrich logo might have started a trend in minor league baseball. Would we have the Baby Cakes, Jumbo Shrimp, Rumble Ponies, or RubberDucks?
However, it has been 16 years since my first and only visit the ballpark, have things changed, remained the same, or become better at FirstEnergy Stadium?
Food & Beverages 5
The food and beverage choices are plentiful, and there are quite a few selections of ballpark food from the basics all the way to barbecue and off the chart sandwiches. Many of the price points for the basic foods are among the lowest of minor league ballparks in the league and should satisfy fans who are looking for a deal or looking to splurge.
Underneath the main grandstand is a collection of concession stands selling the basics: hot dogs, french fries, nachos, pizza slices, ice cream, and funnel cakes. A hot dog is $2.50, while one-fourth version sells for $4. A bag of peanuts sell for $3.50 and soda prices start at $2.75. Pizza slices are $3.50, a tub of fries are $6.75 (shareable with 2-3 people) and funnel cakes are amazingly $3.
If you are looking for something more than just the basics, visit the Tompkins VIST Bank Plaza outside the first base line for carnival type of food and atmosphere. Brocmar Smokehouse offers smoked brisket and pork sandwiches with sides for around $10, plus the innovated hog wing that sells for $4 or three for $10. This tender morsel of smoked goodness slides off the bone the minute you put it into your mouth.
The Grand Slam Grill is home to The Churger–a half burger, half grilled chicken on a bun with cheese that sells for $8.50. It is the most popular item at the grill. The Homerunner and Grandslammer are double burgers with fries, Cheese Whiz, and a special sauce that ranges in price from $9.75 to $12.50. There are still more food options of boneless chicken wings, mac and cheese bites, crabby fries, stuffed pretzels, and Yuengling’s ice cream and Rita’s Italian Ice for dessert.
Speaking of Yuengling, which is brewed up the road in Pottsville, there is an outdoor bar underneath the first base grandstand serving up the local favorite plus other draft varieties from around the region and beyond; beer prices range between $6 to $6.75.
The ballpark has been able to create an atmosphere that goes beyond other ballparks of its kind in the league. Built in 1951, the main grandstand houses a collection of nostalgia dating back to the park’s origins as a Cleveland Indians affiliate. The walls are decorated with over-sized reprints of news clippings, photographs, stadium info, signage, and other team paraphernalia. It is a feature that can only be harbored in a facility of its age, and it’s done with precision here in Reading.
The area outside the first base stands is where the state fair meets the baseball game. Tompkins VIST Bank Plaza creates a scene that you won’t find at too many other minor league ballparks. The area serves as an entrance to the stadium and houses a performance stage, an outside bar, a souvenir stand for discounted items, Phunland kids area featuring ring toss games, and various concession areas for food and drink.
The plaza will also offer chances for kids to meet and greet the club’s five mascots: Screwball, Change-Up the Turtle, Blooper the Hound Dog, Quack the Duck, and Bucky the Beaver. It is possible to see all five mascots throughout the game and they will appear for pictures in the Phunland area photo booth.
On the opposite side of the ballpark is the ‘67 Club Picnic Area, Left Seating that features the Hall of Famers Party Area–a collection of every current hall of famer who played for or against Reading is featured on giant baseball cards on the walls–and the Coors Light Deck that features deck box seating, a boardwalk, and another outdoor bar. The left field corner is also where you can enjoy the all-you-can-eat option for $15 more to any game ticket.
Reading is located halfway between Harrisburg and Philadelphia and known as the former home of the Reading Railroad. The city offers areas to visit before the game that include museums, parks, shopping destination, and places to eat and drink.
Reading Railroad Heritage Museum, Antietam Lake Park, Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, VF Outlet Mall, and the Daniel Boone Homestead are a few of the options for visitors to the city before a Fightins game in the evening.
Judy’s on Cherry, Ugly Oyster Drafthaus, and Panevino are a few restaurant choices of interest in town, but the Exeter Family Restaurant and Route 61 Diner are also a must when in town for their wide variety of comfort food.
The Fightins draw from a crowd that has been attending games for many years; fans like Bobby Spears, Jr. could spend a few hours discussing the history of the ballpark and the many players he saw take the field for and against Reading. Mike Schmidt, Ryne Sanberg, John Smoltz, and Vladamir Guerrero (who Spears added is just as good or better than his father) are just some of the future hall of fame players he saw play in Reading.
The stadium is located off of the Warren Street Bypass (SR-12) on Central Ave (SR-61); it’s an older facility that is easy to navigate inside and outside. The staff does a great job directing motorists to free parking lots near the ballpark and there is enough signage to help direct patrons to the right area of choice.
The stadium does get packed during games and can become congested during weekend games, but the simple layout of the stadium is easy enough to move around freely during ballgames.
Return on Investment 5
The ballpark offers various ticket options that include General Admission for $7 for adults, Green Box seats for $9, Blue Box seats for $11 and Loge Box with wait service for $12. Many of these seats can be upgraded to deck buffet for $15 and there is a pool party ticket for $22 and First Pitch Packages for $56.
The Bargain Bin offers discounted merchandise and the team shop knocks 20 percent off of select items for the first four innings of the game. The price of a hot dog is $2.50, funnel cakes are $3, and pizza slices are $3.50. The price of parking is free. You can find something here to fit your budget.
The ballpark receives a star for its bargain prices that include the Bargain Bin in the Tompkins VIST Bank Plaza that slashes prices up to 40 percent off regular pricing. There is a ton of merchandise to pick through and you should be able to find a deal or two. The main souvenir shop offers 20 percent off merchandise for the first four innings of play.
Underneath the main grandstand is where you will find a stunning visual history of the ballpark from 1951 to the present; it is one of the best representations of a building’s history in any stadium in the country. Fans can view giant over-sized photos and newspaper articles from the city’s history with affiliate baseball beginning with the Cleveland Indians in 1952.
The Tompkins VIST Bank Plaza is an area that reminds visitors of a state fair carnival. This area provides places to eat, open bars, the kids Phunland zone, and a small performance stage. During our visit, there was a petting zoo and local vendors offering samples and information from their company. This is the soul of the ballpark.
The Brocmar BBQ stand features a product called the hog wing, a tender piece of smoked pork that falls off the bone and tastes so good.
The press box is named after “Broadway” Charlie Wagner, a fixture with the club for many years up until his death in 2006. He was a former major league pitcher with the Boston Red Sox who had a connection with the team for an amazing 73-years. Wagner filled my ears with story after story about his baseball career from being roommates with Ted Williams, playing baseball after World War II, and talking about his days playing minor league baseball with the Minneapolis Millers.
To describe the atmosphere at a Reading Fightin Phils game is somewhat difficult; it is a place that is best served with your own eyes, and I only hope I am able to do it justice in this review. There is not another minor league ballpark experience quite like FirstEnergy Stadium in Baseballtown, USA.
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Food and Drink Recommendations
Route 61 Diner
3455 Centre Ave
Reading, PA 19605
Zabala Sports Bar & Restaurant
1635 Centre Ave
Reading, PA 19601
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Latest Crowd Reviews
FirstEnergy Stadium provides an experience that is unique among minor league ballparks. The entrance to the ballpark is akin to a carnival midway, with food stands, games and more on both sides. FirstEnergy Stadium, in use since 1951, gives a nod to its history with displays of past teams, a diverse selection of memorabilia and even a team Hall of Fame. Definitely one of the more unique ballparks in all of MiLB.