READING, Pa. (CBS) — Before they take the field in Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park, many of the bright rising stars get their first taste of what it’s like to wear red pinstripes in Reading. This is where the Phillies minor league team, the Fighting Phils, call home.
FirstEnergy Stadium is one of the oldest ballparks in minor league baseball, it blends the past with the present to provide an atmosphere unlike anything else in the game.
“When the stadium was built in 1950, that part of it is still here, the dugouts that you see along with the original grandstand,” Executive Director of Baseball Operations Kevin Sklenarick said. “It’s an older ballpark, but what we’ve done is updated it as much as we can and some of its original pieces are still here which makes it so special.”
The concourse grandstands have the history of the various teams which have called the stadium home.
“As we’ve renovated the stadium, we’ve tried to leave it as it’s always been,” Reading Fighting Phils General Manager Scott Hunsicker said. “We want people to sit in the main grandstand and watch an Alex Bohm home run and reference a Mike Schmidt home run,”
Everywhere you look, there are colorful signs and history on display, with no wall or space left undecorated.
This gives the stadium a carnival-like feel, and there is not a bad seat in the house, which is why Reading is near the top of the Eastern League in attendance every year.
Another thing adding to the stadium’s appeal is the pool.
“It’s a little tough in April but it’s just a fabulous place to watch a game sitting in a pool,” Sklenarick said.
As a farm team for the Phillies since 1967, they have the longest affiliation in minor league baseball and have seen the best of the best pass through.
“Mike Schmidt played his first game here along with Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa and then it just continued through the whole Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and that whole team and more recently Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins,” Hunsicker said.
And the players are actually accessible.
“You have the opportunity to sort of talk to them. I remember standing with Jimmy Rollins and his family after the game and having fans around, it’s just a unique setting,” said Hunsicker.
The setting is so unique, there is not another minor league ballpark experience quite like it, which is why Reading is called, Baseballtown, USA.