Along a 150-mile stretch in Upstate New York are three cities that make up half of the North Division in the AAA International League. The Eastern-most city is Syracuse and professional baseball has been played here since 1877. The Chiefs have been around since 1934 and after spending many decades at venerable MacArthur Stadium, they moved just a short walk over to NBT Bank Stadium (originally P&C Stadium, and later Alliance Bank Stadium) in 1997. Chiefs fans are hoping their recent affiliation change to Washington will bring them their first championship since the mid 70s.
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The best concession stand to check out is the one behind home plate towards the first base side, as there you will find some of the better options offered. Syracuse is known as the "Salt City" because of the salt brines initially discovered near Onondaga Lake (though some would argue it's because of the need for salt to deal with the 100+ inches of snow seen each year). Thus, the signature item at the ballpark is the salt potatoes ($3). They're both cheap and really good. At the same stand, Pulled Pork ($5) and Brats are offered, along with an unusual dish that I had to learn a little more about, a Frito Pie ($5). It's essentially like nachos with meat, salsa, chili, etc. but Fritos are used instead of the nachos. Sounds good! Regionally produced Red Osier roast beef sandwiches ($5) are available at a separate cart. The rest of the ballpark features the usuals, along with a decent variety of sweets.
There are 18 varieties of beer offered at the stadium, giving fans plenty to choose from. Being close to Canada, Labatt products are popular here, along with locally-made Saranac, which is brewed in Utica. You can't go wrong with a seasonal Summer Saranac at a baseball game.
NBT Bank Stadium has a design that essentially copies Norfolk's Harbor Park. There is a lower-level of seats split by a walkway that extends nearly from foul pole to foul pole. An upper deck of seats is located on the first base and third base sides, while behind home plate there is the press box and suites. The upper-deck seats provide a good overview of the play and are a bargain at $8. The outfield view however, is much different from Norfolk as all you see in Syracuse are overgrown parking lots and trees. On the field, there is a big improvement as they got rid of the turf and went to grass a few years ago. Overall, there is nothing special about the ballpark, but it is still a fine place to watch a baseball game.
Blah might be the best word to describe the location. In North Syracuse, your approach to the ballpark is rather bland as the buildings on the edge of the nearby neighborhood don't really give off the vibe that you want to hang out here before or after a game. Closer to the ballpark are fields and open lots. The one large building nearby is the Syracuse Regional Transportation Center, not exactly a must see. There are a few pizza places in the area, but if you want to eat closer to the ballpark, try Stella's Diner. It's a simple, straight-forward restaurant that has very good diner food. What I recommend though, is to head downtown for the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, where the food and atmosphere is awesome. Locals love the place and both the ribs and pulled pork are well worth visiting.
Nearby NBT Bank Stadium is the Carousel Center, a huge shopping mall, which is not quite within walking distance, but only a mile or so away. The mall features three levels of stores and though it's big, there's nothing that makes this mall unique or worth visiting. For the last decade, Syracuse has tried to get the project "Destiny USA" to work, which would make this a tourist attraction and one of the largest malls in the country. Unfortunately, there have been many issues and the mall is a very sore subject in town as the expansion construction has stopped and nobody knows if it will ever resume again.
The fans in Syracuse were average for minor league baseball and provided a normal experience. Fans' focus is primarily on the game as there aren't too many distractions around and the between-inning contests do not become excessive. The affiliation with Washington adds another team that the region focuses on as there are many folks who root for the Yankees, Mets or Blue Jays. Attendance has been in the bottom third of the league during the last several years for the Chiefs. I'm curious what a winning team will do here, as it has been a long time since meaningful baseball has been played in September.
The stadium is just a few miles from Exit 36 on the New York State Thruway (I-90). The exit brings you to a major North-South interstate in the Eastern US, I-81, which cuts right through Syracuse. There are signs for the ballpark on your approach and if you are coming from the North, you will want to get on Hiawatha Boulevard. From there, the stadium is off to your left and parking is plentiful. On the Sunday afternoon game I attended, traffic wasn't an issue. One important note, when you leave, if I-81 South is needed, take a look at a map (or much better, use a GPS) so you have an idea where you're headed as the sign for I-81 South is obscured by shrubs. The on-ramp is also deceptive as many people turn to the street immediately before it, North Clinton.
Inside the ballpark, there were plenty of bathrooms and they were never full.
The $8 upper-deck seats make it worth the price of admission, especially because there are many nights with empty sections in the lower-level that you can just move down to. Don't be fooled by the "general admission" tag the $8 seats are given. Each seat is individual with a back and cup holder. The rest of the tickets at $12 and $14 are reasonable, while the first few rows behind home plate are $20. Parking is $5, which seems standard now in this league. Concessions weren't too overpriced, with the exception of the $1 charge for a simple cheese cup for your nachos.
Syracuse's baseball history is displayed in a few spots at NBT Bank Stadium. The Syracuse Baseball Wall of Fame is tucked into one of the corners of the concourse and is worth checking out. It started in 1998 and there are some recognizable plaques that you will find. Be sure to read Tex Simone's profile as he has been the main executive for decades in the organization. I also liked how the team put some banners on the outfield wall.
The hand-operated scoreboard located on the wall towards left-center was a nice touch as it is great to think back to simpler times. Both MLB and International League scores are displayed.
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