Monday, August 04, 2003

Riversharks 6, Patriots 5

In a sense, it's almost unfair to dump on Veterans Stadium as much as I do. Ever since the Phillies and the Eagles began looking to play elsewhere, the City of Philadelphia, the owner of the stadium, has had little incentive to provide the kind of accommodations other venues now do routinely. Well, aside from, you know, customer service, but that's never been a hallmark of government practice.

But when an independent minor league ballpark blows the nearby major league stadium out of the water, you know how heinous the Vet experience must be.

Pristine Campbell's Field sits just south of the Ben Franklin Bridge, in Camden, N.J., just on the waterfront. The place seats six or seven thousand, and of course there's not a bad seat to be found. And while the field views are wonderful, what can be seen outside the park is astounding. The bridge swoops across the entire open outfield; if you really caught hold of a fastball, you might get close to the massive stone support just beyond the leftfield wall. One and Two Liberty Place and other selected portions of the Philadelphia skyline peek above the third-base grandstand.

Okay, the Vet is what it is -- to expect scenic vistas of a South Philly parking lot is unreasonable. But, damn, the concessions at Campbell's are better, too. And not by a little, either. I bought a Blue Moon draft from the stadium tavern, and it set me back just $4.50. The food is junky, of course, but it's a notch or two better than typical Vet fare -- the pretzel cheese dog, in particular, was a high-cholesterol feast. The concession workers are friendly and polite -- I bet any one of them would be happy to put peppers and onions on a friend's cheesesteak, even if those delicacies were supposed to be reserved for sausage sandwiches. And the place is spotless.

The game itself? Well, nothing to write home about. The Sharks took an early lead off Somerset, then fell behind, then chipped away until a two-run ninth-inning rally sent everyone home happy. The level of play is commensurate with a $9 ticket that puts you four rows behind the first base dugout. Even my minimally trained baseball eye was able to spot some fundamental errors; and like their Major League Baseball brethren, not enough of these guys can bunt. The Riversharks, the Patriots, and their fellow Atlantic League teammates aren't aiming for the majors; their hope is to be picked up by MLB-affiliated minor league teams.

So the baseball is okay. Not awful, but not great, either. The league's managing and coaching corps is populated by former big leaguers -- ex-Yankee Sparky Lyle skippers the Pats, former Phillie Mitch Williams the Atlantic City Surf -- and the between-innings entertainment is everything you saw in Bull Durham, and less.

If the baseball is only passable, the experience in many ways is better. Certainly you get more bang for the buck. Citizens Bank Park likely won't challenge Campbell's Field in that regard -- I'm fully prepared for a pricing structure that borders on the felonious -- but I expect that the Phillies will offer a much more competitive stadium experience. They'd better. More importantly, of course, they'd better continue to field a watchable product, because all of the bells and whistles in the world haven't kept Pittsburgh's PNC Park, to name just one new stadium, from turning into a ghost town.


Post a Comment

<< Home