FirstEnergy Stadium is the oldest park in minor league baseball's Eastern League. Starting life as Reading Municipal-Memorial Stadium in 1951, the 9,000-seat stadium began hosting Reading's AA affiliate in 1952. And since 1967, that affiliate has been the Reading Fightin Phils (renamed from the more grammatically correct "Reading Fighting Phillies" this year), marking the longest such association in MiLB. For the last decade, it has also called itself "Baseballtown" -- and if you're going to make a boast like that, you had better back it up.
And it does, hands down. This is the easily one of the best parks in the minor leagues at any level and by nearly any criteria. It is a poster child for how an old stadium can keep its character while still being a modern success. Every inch of the place is packed with a celebration of its history and crammed to bursting with activities, concessions, and character that should please any fan. Despite being slightly out of the way and in a nothing neighborhood, every baseball fan should go see a game at FirstEnergy Stadium at least once.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
FirstEnergy Park doesn't have overly exotic food and beverage choices, but it offers a wide selection of variants on ballpark favorites. In the main right field plaza, Plaza Favorites serves up signature hot dog selections and chicken dishes (along with crabby fries) for mostly under $5, and next door, the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor's Kids Menu gives the younger ones a concession all to themselves, with kid-sized dishes (all under $4), as well as candy and drinks.
The Grand Slam Grille further down the plaza serves up some more expensive, hefty versions of ballpark favorites, including the Homerunner (two 1/4 lb burger patties with fries and cheese wiz in between, $8), the churger (a burger and chicken patty separated by cheese, $7.75), and the gut-busting Grandslammer (a Homerunner made with two 1/2 pound burgers, $10.50).
In the grandstand walkway, you can get hot dogs, pizza, funnel cakes, and ice cream at cut-rate prices. The Long Strike concession in left has all the ballpark standards, and sits right next to the Bunbino's Tailgate, the all-you-can-eat buffet. Back in the plaza, Pauline's at the Park offers up healthier soups and wraps, and those in the grandstand can stop at the hot dog and ice cream concessions next to the broadcast booth without missing any of the action on the field.
Beer is offered all over the park, as well. The Yuengling Hometown Tap Room dominates a wall of the plaza, offering a wide selection of their beers, starting at $5.50 ($4.50 during Happy Hour). The Pounders Booth ("Your Father's Beer") offers cans for $3.50. The Corona Corner at third offers up titular bottles at $5.50, and the Yuengling bar in left-center provides a smaller selection at $5.50. Ducky and Jacks Beer Garden in the grandstand walkway has draft Yuengling and Coors Light, as well as bottles of Miller Light and Mike's Hard Lemonade flavors.
FirstEnergy Stadium has kept the original grandstand of Reading Municipal-Memorial Stadium and built out a modern park around it, with seemingly every inch stuffed with something to do.
The VIST Financial Plaza is the main entrance to the stadium, which opens up two hours before game time. Lines can get long a while before opening, but if you get e-tickets, you can skip to the usually non-existent e-ticket express line at the right of the entrance. All of it dumps you into the right field plaza, as the grandstand doesn't open until an hour before game time.
You'll be occupied by pre-game concerts by local bands and the mascot band at the Weston Center Winning Smiles Stage, not to mention all the food and drink options, the main team store, the kids' Phunland, and usually a contest or two. The right field bleacher seats are also open two hours before the game to watch batting practice. The first base side is the home dugout, so that also works for autograph seekers. Most of the on-field characters also enter from the passage between the grandstand and the right field bleachers, so parents with curious kids can get a sneak peak in seats near the walkway.
The grandstand opens an hour before the game, letting you into the main walkway under the historic grandstand (with exhibits and concessions), and out to left field, with the all you-can-eat buffet and bleachers. Seating in the grandstand and the bleachers are in color-coded rows. The best seats in the house feature drink holders between each pair of seats and a little extra leg room. Many blocks of seating are usually open for first-come, first-served, so it pays to get there early if you have a general admission ticket, as crowds are usually pretty large.
Nothing is perfect, however. Perhaps the one ding against the seating is the lack of cover from sun or rain. Besides the area behind home plate under the grandstand awning, it is all open to the sky, and some of the end grandstand seats higher up have mild obstructions to the outfield corner by the bleachers.
In addition to the regular seating areas, there are several special areas that range around the entire park, including the Character Pool Park in right (perfect for kids parties), the 67 Club by third base (with covered picnic tables and their own concessions), the Coors Light Deck in left (for larger groups), the Weis Markets Foul Porch (for medium sized groups, located right at the left field foul pole), and the Launch DM Pub (for small groups, in dead center field).
The physical location is not the only thing stuffed to the gills. There are places that boast of a "cast of thousands," but you can easily lose track of all the characters at FirstEnergy Stadium: the two live ostrich mascots, Ruth and Judy; the five-piece mascot band (Bucky, Changeup, Screwball, Blooper, and Quack); the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor; the 11-member Fightin Phils Dance Squad; Disco Brisco (a short guy who performs this inexplicable arm-pumping dance that is a huge hit with the kids); The Candy Man (a pro-wrestler-washout looking guy dressed up as a hard candy, the bad guy in the Vegetable Race); the four Vegetable Race characters; the Tooth Fairy (who brushes off the bases with an assistant from the crowd every game); the Bunbino (the hot dog mascot of Baseballtown); The Traveler (a guy in an inflatable suit who fights with fake umpires); and the Singing Ticket Taker, not to mention the Fan Crew. Got all that?
Despite everything that this ballpark has going for it within its walls, the Fighting Phils' largest neighbor is the sprawling Charles Evans Cemetery to the south, which about sums up the landscape immediately around the park. Located in the north end of town, FirstEnergy Stadium is removed from what bounty Reading has on offer. The Fairgrounds Square Mall lies a short distance to the north, with all the comforts of suburbia, but pickings are thin near the park proper. Nino's Pizza and Mike's Subway Shop are the only places to eat of note, and nearby drinks can be had at Mike's Tavern (no relation, we're sure), the Zabala Sports Bar & Restaurant, and (for the more *adventurous*) Al's Diamond Cabaret.
Being just a short distance from the airport, there is, however, a good selection of hotels. Our recommendation for a hotel is the Homewood Suites by Hilton. Mention "Stadium Journey" when booking a room to receive a discount.
A short ride to downtown will get you to the sizable and wide-ranging Reading Public Museum (and arboretum), the Reading Pagoda, and (to the north) the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum.
The fans come out to support the franchise in Baseballtown, and with a park like this, why wouldn't they? The power of their fandom is reflected in the fact that they've led the Eastern League in attendance 9 of the last 11 years. The entire park, both in the seats and the other areas, is packed with people for the entire game. While the family-heavy crowd may not be the most diehard of baseball fans, the entertainment on and off the field seems to keep even the most restless of children occupied. There are usually post-game activities, such as fireworks, contests, or post-game concerts that keep the party going long after the final out.
The long-lived franchise even has its own theme song, played before the game in karaoke fashion on the scoreboard. Disco Brisco is usually stalking the stands to get groups of fans to do his dance, and the other characters also roam throughout the game to meet with kids and sign autographs either in the stands or at the mascot autograph booth in Phunland.
It is relatively easy to get to the park from the surrounding area. While not on any major interstates, it is not too far from I-78 to the north and I-76 to the south. PA-222 runs right by the park to the west (but slows to in-town speeds and one-lane driving in several places). It is about an hour from Philadelphia and state capital Harrisburg, and just an hour and forty-five minutes to Baltimore. The location makes this a perfect stop on any baseball road trip through the area.
Plentiful free parking is available in nearly every direction around the stadium, with the closest lots reserved for season-ticket holders. Public transit is available on the BARTA 19 and 20 lines ($1.70) from downtown, but for a city built on the railroad, Reading ironically lacks any regional commuter rail lines since SEPTA service shut down some decades ago. The Reading Regional Airport, however, lies within a mile of the park.
Several walkways provide access around most areas in the park. Although always bustling, it is easy to get around everywhere, with the possible exception of the passageway behind the main grandstand, which can get congested at peak times. For an older park, the bathroom facilities are merely quaint and not the horror show that you can find in some older and less-maintained venues.
Ticket prices can't be more reasonable. Color-coded seats make it easy to discern prices. The best seats in the place (blue) go for $11, with the second-best (yellow) going for $10. Red and green outfield-side seats go for $9, and general admission seats for the open areas go for $8 for adults and $6 for children. You can also buy 12-pack general admission ticket books for adults and children that offer $1.50 per ticket discounts, or yellow box ticket packages that offer about $2 per game discount for those box seats.
For $13 more, you can get an armband to access the Bunbino's Tailgate all-you-can-eat buffet (boasting the largest hot dog toppings bar in Berks County) featuring BBQ chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, beans, potato salad, tortillas, chips, cookies, and various Pepsi products. If you upgrade or have a ticket with buffet access, get there early. The line quickly extends all the way down the left field walkway if you wait too long.
Group tickets and private functions are available in the many special areas of the park (nearly all of which include all-you-can eat buffet access), and they start at around $20 per person for groups of 20 or more (though individual tickets are available to most special areas at a higher price).
As mentioned, food and drink prices are generally quite reasonable, and you can feed a family of four for under $25 without trying too hard. And the copious activities off the field and after the game just add to the value of the Baseballtown ticket.
Free pamphlet-sized programs are available on a large table at the entrance to the park, which are a cut above most free giveaways, with a lot of content, a useable scorecard, and decent-quality paper. Kids are well attended-to at the park, even to the little details, such as the kid-sized door at the main team merchandise store and their own food concession on the plaza. If that's not enough, the Kids' Club sign-up is right at the entrance to the park to sign-up for on-field activities (including first pitches), and further back in the plaza is Phunland, where kids can get tickets for carnival games, an inflatable slide, fast pitch and mini-golf challenges, and other activities.
With a place this historic and packed with activities, it is no surprise that the place is filled with memorials. While most parks would stop with some retired numbers (Robin Roberts, 9; Mike Schmidt, 24; Ryan Sandberg, 26; and Jackie Robinson, 42 -- located in right-center field and on the entrance plaza), how many would have a beer concession dedicated to the long-time Reading Stadium Commissioner and his dog (Ducky [Turner] & Jack's Beer Garden)?
As with the cast of on-field characters, it is almost too much to just list out all the memorials at FirstEnergy Stadium. There's the memorial plaques for the stadium and all the prominent supporters of the team through the decades on the outside plaza, the fan brick walk on the same, the retired numbers near the main entrance and in the outfield, the Ryan Howard Staff Entrance, the special dedication to State Senator Michael A. O'Pake in the plaza, the "Broadway" Charlie Wagner Press Box, the Reading Eagle Baseball Hall of Fame in the grandstand entrance, the lists of players from each year who made it to the majors, the history of the park displays along the grandstand walkway, the Reading Phillies Hall of Fame (also in the grandstand), the aforementioned Ducky & Jack's Beer Garden, the memorabilia display of the Reading franchises before the Phils, the King of Baseballtown royalty at the third base end of the grandstand, and the display of Reading Phillies who made it on the 2008 World Series Philadelphia squad in left. And that's not even a complete list of the extras.
There's so much packed into this place that this score should transcend our rating scale.
"Baseballtown" lives up to its name, and gives fans and families alike a must-see destination for a ballgame. Marrying old and new in a textbook example of how to keep a historic park up to contemporary standards, FirstEnergy overcomes its blah location with an exemplary ballpark experience that begins far before the game, and often extends long after the last out.
The Reading Indians began play in Reading's Municipal-Memorial Stadium back in 1951. That same stadium, known now as FirstEnergy Stadium, is now home to the Reading Phillies, who've occupied it since 1967. While the stadium enters its seventh decade of existence - the oldest in the Eastern League by 37 YEARS - it feels like it's in much better shape than stadiums half its age. The connection to the immensely popular parent club is obvious, but the Reading Phillies do a good job keeping a minor-league atmosphere even with major-league fans. A visit up to Municipal-Memorial stadium, just an hour's drive north from Philadelphia, is a must for any Phillies (or visiting) fan.
Great place to watch a game. The crowds are huge, knowledgeable and loud - maybe too loud at times. The food is getting better, especially in the RF food court. Best local beers (Yuengling & Stoudt's) of any stadium I've been to. Get there early or you'll be walking several blocks from your car to the stadium.
Visit for yourself and find out why they call Reading, PA "Baseballtown USA".
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