Peoples Natural Gas Field – Altoona Curve
Photos by ay Wagner, and Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Peoples Natural Gas Field 1000 Park Ave Altoona, PA 16602
Year Opened: 1999
Altoona Baseball – A Wild Ride
In the year 1998, Major League Baseball expanded into the markets of Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL and Phoenix, AZ. In addition to causing divisional realignment at the Major League level, the expansion resulted in a trickle-down effect throughout the minors as well. This meant each level of Minor League Baseball needed two more affiliated ballclubs. Enter a new team in the railroad-town of Altoona, Pennsylvania in the year 1999 as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ new Double-A affiliate – an affiliation that still stands to this day, 20 years later.
Altoona’s new team settled on the nickname Curve, as a reference to both the nearby Horseshoe Curve as well as the breaking ball thrown by pitchers. The first of 69,000 bricks were laid on March 7th, 1998. The Curve finally played their first contest at then-named Blair County Ballpark on April 15th, 1999, as 6,171 fans cheered them on to a 6-1 victory over the Bowie Baysox. Two decades later, PNG Field remains the home of the Curve, and a fan favorite among Minor League Baseball fans – both in Altoona and elsewhere.
Food & Beverage 4
Peoples Natural Gas Field does not reinvent the wheel in the food and beverage department. What it does is offer six general concession stands throughout the ballpark that are not overly imaginative, but still quality items enjoyed by fans. Pricing is decent – $5 for a 32 oz souvenir soda, $8.50 for a chicken tender basket and $5.50 for a hamburger. Pizza is $3.25 per slice, or you can cut to the chase and buy an entire pizza for $23.
One of the fan favorites is the Curve Burger, which is available on the left field line at the Kunzler Grill. The Curve Burger a freshly grilled burger with toppings and is set at $9.50. Both domestic and specialty beers are on tap at the Kunzler Grill, all under $10. PNG Field doesn’t feature many signature items from local spots, but it does the traditional ballpark fare very well – all without breaking the bank.
The moment you pull up to Peoples Natural Gas Field, expect to feel at home and relaxed. The brick grandstand gives the ballpark a classic, comforting feel from outside the gates. PNG Field is seamlessly nestled into a perfectly sized natural bowl – another feature that indicates the park was meant to be exactly the way it is. Once inside the ballpark, the cozy, traditional feel is just as prominent.
If you are seated in any of the three grandstand levels, you will have a full view of the outfield background – and oh, is it magnificent! For starters, the amusement park known as Lakemont Park sits just south of the field. This allows the Skyliner Roller Coaster to have prime real estate beyond the right field fence. The single-train wooden coaster debuted in New York’s Roseland Park in 1960. Upon the closure of Roseland Park, the ride was shipped to its permanent home in Altoona in 1987. The three cars collectively spell out “Go Curve” on the sides, and the Skyliner continues normal operation throughout baseball games. This is truly a one-of-a-kind feature for a baseball venue anywhere.
Skyliner Roller Coaster, Photo by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey
While the right field backdrop is the defining feature of Peoples Natural Gas Field, left field isn’t too shabby either. The scoreboard beyond the power alley in left center really pops. The crystal-clear HD video board is one of the most impressive in all of Minor League Baseball, both because of sharpness and impressive graphics packages.
Perhaps the most unexpected event during a Curve game revolves around the team’s celebratory fish mascot, Al Tuna. If you didn’t understand the meaning of the name Al Tuna, say it out loud to yourself. The tuna fish emerges from a gate in the center field fence after big plays by the home team and dances around for 10-20 seconds before returning to his natural habitat in the fence.
Peoples Natural Gas Field is unique in the fact that it features two separated levels in the seating bowl. While most ballparks of the minors just have one level, the Curve’s home since 1999 has two defined decks, putting fans in the cheap seats right on top of the action as well.
Unlike many other baseball parks at all levels, PNG Field’s orientation looks south from home plate. Almost every park these days features a northeast orientation, but the home of the Altoona Curve breaks that trend. This means the shady seats will be on the first base side for evening starts, so plan accordingly.
Apart from a Sheetz up the hill, there aren’t many restaurants within walking distance of Peoples Natural Gas Field. However, if you are one of the overwhelming majority of the population that owns a motor vehicle, many incredible restaurants are located within a 5-10 minute drive to more urban areas of Altoona. Olive Garden and Primanti Bros., two of the greatest chain restaurants of all time, are great postgame destinations just a few miles west of the ballpark. As for attractions, Lakemont Park is a stone’s throw over the right field fence. The all-inclusive amusement park features green areas, waterparks and playing surfaces for various sports as well as the famed Skyliner.
The decorated Horseshoe Curve shares Blair County with the ballclub who named itself after the National Historic Landmark since 1966. Altoona and railroads are joined at the hip, as the town’s roots are firmly planted in the railroad industry. The 2,375 foot, three-track rail curve is located just seven miles west of the baseball diamond. Tourists can enjoy the curve from an observation area as well as enjoy the national park’s visitor center. If you are a history buff in the slightest, don’t pass up this opportunity to take in one of the most famous pieces of land in the industrial history of the United States.
Marriott has a strong hotel presence in western Pennsylvania, so you can have your pick of various Marriott brands if browsing for lodging after the game. With Marriott hotels, you always know you’re getting the same quality from coast to coast.
Rural Pennsylvania is known for its diehard sports fans, and that certainly includes fans of Minor League Baseball. Reading is the gold standard for Eastern League attendance, with Richmond not far behind. However, the Curve fans most give the Fightin’ Phils and Flying Squirrels a run for their money.
There are two overarching reasons that explain the Curve’s popularity – location and promotion. The Curve have been the AA affiliate of nearby Pittsburgh for 20 years now, which is crucial in creating a bond between the cities. Many Curve fans are Pirates fans naturally, which makes it incredibly easy to throw on a Curve hat, head out to the ballpark and cheer on the Pirates’ future stars. Secondly, the promotions team in Altoona nails down the one thing that Minor League Baseball is famous for – fun! The Curve organization pulls out all the stops to put on entertainment for the whole family, both with giveaways as well as in-game entertainment. The game day staff clearly has a pulse on the fan base, as they respond well to cues and are engaged for all nine innings of hardball at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Accessing Peoples Natural Gas Field is pretty simple, although it is important to remember how many people you might be competing with to get in and out. The Curve draws very well, so there will be a normal amount of congestion before and after highly attended games. The ballpark is directly off Interstate 99, and the closest exit puts you right at the driveway for the park. The closest Red Lot is reserved for season ticket holders. Non-season ticket holders will have to park in the Park Avenue garage, which is directly adjacent to the ballpark. Parking there sets you back only $3, and the Curve offers a cart for disabled or elderly fans to ride.
Inside the park, the concourses are wide and free flowing. Since PNG Field is divided into two levels of seating, each level has its own concourse, meaning you’re only competing with half of the crowd when navigating the concourses. Bathrooms are abundant on both levels, as well as shady areas for blazing summer days.
Return on Investment 5
Minor League Baseball’s M.O. is simple, yet tried and true – affordable fun for the entire family. Ticket prices are average for the minors. Parking is average, if not cheaper, than the Minor League average. When you are paying the average, affordable amount for Minor League Baseball but getting to experience one of the premier venues in the country, it’s hard to argue that the R.O.I. could be any better.
The Skyliner gets its third shout-out of the article! Rollercoasters are a universal symbol for fun. So, what better place to have a coaster than overlooking the magical place for young and old fans alike that is Peoples Natural Gas Field?
Rural Pennsylvania is a region built with blood, sweat and tears of our American ancestors. To this day, the working class feel remains in many small towns in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Altoona is the pinnacle of beautiful American industrial towns, so what better way to signify that than by building Peoples Natural Gas Field day by day, brick by brick until it became one of greatest ballparks in Minor League History? If heading to “Curve, PA” to experience the way Altoona does hardball, buckle up – because it’s going to be a wild ride.