Monday, November 1, 2010

Heart of the City: Reading's First Energy Stadium

By: C.G. Morelli

If you hop on the PA Turnpike in Philadelphia, and head north for about an hour, you’ll probably run right into what I’d consider a quaint, Pennsylvania Dutch city known as Reading. Of course, if you’ve ever played Monopoly, you may have tried to build your fortune by scooping up the Reading Railroad. Yep, same place.

I’ll admit there aren’t too many attractions in Reading, so don’t pack up the family and put in for vacation time just yet. But, the one thing this city does have is a gem of a ballpark and a great atmosphere, amidst a backdrop of lazy foothills, for minor league baseball.

It was in 1951, that the last few bricks were mortared into place in the façade of Reading Municipal Stadium. It was originally used for conventions, fairs, and municipal celebrations, but in 1964, the Phillies moved their AA affiliate, the Reading Phillies, inside its bricked walls. The natives of Reading took to their team immediately, charging the ballpark with the electricity you’d normally find in major league surroundings.

If you’re a minor league baseball enthusiast, Reading Municipal Stadium is a must-see…kind of a Mecca in the middle of the Pennsylvania cornfields. Now called First Energy Stadium, there have been a few modifications to the original structure but with the same charm. You still couldn’t find a bad seat in the place if you tried (I dare you to look), and you still might find yourself out in the parking lot with a throng of Phillies fans waiting for a 37-car train from the original Reading Railroad to pass before you can cross the street and enter the park (I’m serious about this). 

Once inside, park the kids in the swimming pool that literally borders the back of the right field fence (and has become somewhat of a magnet for waterlogged home run balls) and grab yourself a cold bottle of Yuengling. It’s brewed just a few miles down the road in nearby Pottsville. Just one word of advice: have the number of a cab service handy because the beer garden area along the left field line may quickly become one of your favorite spots on Earth.

In 2006, this park was actually named one of the best places in the country to watch a minor league game by the Minor League News. One thing’s for sure, Old Reading Municipal (First Energy Stadium), offers a charm that you can’t find at just any ballpark these days. If you see a game there, you’ll know what I mean. 

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