FirstEnergy Stadium – Reading Fightin Phils
Photos by Gregory Koch and Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.43
FirstEnergy Stadium 1900 Centre Ave Reading, PA 19605
Year Opened: 1951 Capacity: 9,000
Phun and Excitement in Reading
Entering FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading is like taking a step back in time. One of the few old-fashioned minor league stadiums left, America’s Classic Ballpark was built in 1951 and continues to delight fans today. The stadium is home to the Double-A East’s Reading Fightin’ Phils, who have been an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies since 1967. It is the longest-running active affiliation in Minor League Baseball.
The stadium opened at a cost of $656,674 as the Reading Muncipal Memorial Stadium. It 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. 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 finished first or second in total league attendance an impressive 23 times.
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.
Food & Beverage 5
There are ample concession options available at FirstEnergy Stadium, from pizza to burgers to chicken tenders and more. A variety of the concession stands are at the Tompkins VIST Bank Plaza, but some are on the concourse under the box seats. The Fightin’ Phils offer several unique options, including the Churger, which consists of both a burger patty and a piece of grilled chicken, and a burger topped with French fries, cheese whiz, and “special sauce.”
For those with a sweet tooth, ice cream and funnel cakes are both available. In addition to the traditional options for ice cream (cup, waffle cone, or mini-helmet), fans can get 24-scoops of ice cream in a full-sized helmet (big enough to wear on your head) for $30. If coming with a large group, this can be a good value to share, although some fans take it as a challenge to eat it all themselves.
Beer is, of course, also available, including at a bar on Tompkins VIST Bank Plaza. The prices are reasonable. They may be a bit on the high end, but nothing out of the ordinary, and considering the wide range of options, well worth it.
FirstEnergy Stadium is divided into several areas of seating, color coded for your convenience. The blue box seats are located in the lower part of the sections between the outer edges of the dugouts, with the green box seats further up. These seats are identical except for how close to the field they are and the price. Yellow box seats in the middle of Section 1 used to be premium seats with in-seat waiter service, but for 2021, they have been repurposed as socially distanced seats for those fans still uncomfortable with a capacity crowd due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (All other parts of the stadium are at capacity as of the time of writing.) Red seats are located further down the lines and are either reserved or general admission depending on the night.
Walking into the stadium will put you on Tompkins VIST Bank Plaza, a boardwalk-like atmosphere featuring various concession stands, a bar, a fun zone, and for many games, live entertainment. The one and only Mascot Band performs before every Saturday home game, but many other games feature pregame music as well. Although the seating bowl typically opens one hour before game time, the Plaza will often open two hours before, and there are tables where fans can sit and eat or take in the music during that time. There is also a concourse located under the box seats behind home plate, from which fans in those sections can enter the seating bowl to find their seats.
Tompkins Bank Plaza, Photo by Gregory Koch
The Fightins have no fewer than five mascots – Screwball, a giant baseball, Change-Up the Turtle, Blooper the Hound Dog, Quack the Duck, and Bucky the Beaver, although not all of them are present at every game. There are also other unique characters including the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor, who will throw hot dogs into the stands while riding on what appears to be an ostrich; the Racing Vegetables, who race on the field at the end of the fourth inning, and Evil Candy, a giant peppermint candy who will try to disrupt the veggies during their race. (Get it? Vegetables are good for you, and the candy is not good for you.)
All in all, a Fightin’ Phils game is a carnival-like atmosphere without detracting from the actual game at all.
It is the one area that FirstEnergy Stadium scores poorly, although it isn’t the team’s fault. The City of Reading, like many in the area, has fallen on hard times in the past several decades, leading to businesses shutting down and crime increasing. While the stadium is in a perfectly safe part of town, it is also not that close to the central part. Your best bet is to head towards the Riverfront area a few miles away, where many restaurants and other options await near the Schuylkill River.
Fightin’ Phils fans pack FirstEnergy Stadium night in and night out just as they have done for many years. The team still managed to attract a good crowd on the night of our visit, despite pregame rain scaring off many fans, and on a beautiful Saturday night, the team usually draws near-capacity crowds. The fans who attend are loyal to their team and passionate about baseball. They have been coming to games for decades and have watched generations of players pass through Reading on their way to Philadelphia. The fans cheer on their team loudly and really contribute to why FirstEnergy Stadium is so great.
Reading is served by the U.S. Routes 422 and 222, which overlap in part of the city before splitting off again. Once you get to the stadium, several lots surround it where fans can park, and staff will direct you to the nearest one that has not filled up yet. Once you get in the stadium, although the concourse under the seating bowl can get cramped at times, it is generally easy to find your way around. Restrooms are of sufficient size for the crowd, and the Tompkins VIST Plaza is easy to navigate. Lines at the concession stands typically do not get too long, and they move quickly.
Return on Investment 5
Tickets start at $10 for seats in the red sections down the lines outside the dugouts, which are either reserved or general admission depending on the day.
The green seats in the upper rows between the dugouts are only $13, while the blue seats further down are just $16. An all-you-can-eat option can be added to any ticket for just $18, which includes a wide range of choices that can be picked up at a tent. Depending on how much and what you plan on eating, this may or may not be worth it. Parking is free and concessions are affordable. All in all, a Fightin’ Phils game is a great value for the whole family given the ballpark.
One bonus star for Tompkins VIST Plaza, one of the most unique ballpark areas in minor league baseball. There is a team store which sells Fightin’ Phils gear. A third star for the Mascot Band, definitely a unique feature. Be sure to go to a game on a Saturday night if you want to see them.
There are murals on the walls of the concourse which showcase the long history of baseball in Reading. A fifth and final star for all the unique characters which help promote the great atmosphere here. Although the maximum score we can give in this category is five stars, the team Hall of Fame outside the entrance also counts as an extra.
Reading has consistently ranked among the top Minor League ballparks in the country. A Fightin’ Phils game is one of the best experiences in minor league baseball; from the time you enter the ballpark until the game ends. Even then, the fun doesn’t have to stop, as there are frequent postgame fireworks and concerts.
We have seen a large number of older ballparks across Minor League Baseball close recently. Thankfully it doesn’t seem likely that FirstEnergy Stadium will suffer the same fate, and we hope it stays that way. This is truly a gem of a stadium, and among the last of its kind.