Welcome to FirstEnergy Stadium, a historic facility populated by a unique stable of stadium characters. Cheer on the Reading Fightin Phils, shout for the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor and dance with the Mascot Band. It’s Baseballtown, and there’s no place like it.
Read Fightin Phils (affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies since 1967)
Established: 1967 (as Reading Phillies)
League: Double-A Northeast (Double-A Eastern League from 1967-2020)
baseball stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium (opened in 1951 as Reading Municipal-Memorial Stadium)
Championships: 1968, 1973, 1995, 2001
Notable alumni: Mike Schmidt, Ryne Sandberg, Julio Franco, Scott Rolen, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, Carlos Ruiz, Larry Bowa
Reading, Pennsylvania, located 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia, has a long and storied baseball history. The city’s first professional baseball team, the Reading Actives, debuted in 1883. The next six decades remained active, with Reading continuing with field teams such as the Coal Heavers, Pretzels, Marines, Aces and Keystones.
From 1952 to 1961 and again from 1963 to 1965, Reading was home to an Eastern League team. In 1967, the EL returned once again in the form of the Reading Phillies, the same franchise that calls Reading home today. Prior to the 2013 season, the team changed its name to the Fightin Phils, a move that allowed them to forge a distinct identity while maintaining an explicit connection to their longtime parent club. The Reading-Philadelphia partnership, which dates back to 1967, is tied to Lakeland and Detroit for the longest current affiliation in all of Minor League Baseball.
1900 Center Avenue
Reading, Pennsylvania 19605
Capacity: approximately 10,000
Dimensions: left field, 330 feet; central lot, 400 feet; right field, 330 feet
The seventy-one-year-old FirstEnergy Stadium is perhaps the best example of a “best of both worlds” minor league atmosphere, in which a former baseball stadium retains its old-world charm while providing a modern entertainment experience. The history and closeness between Reading and Philadelphia translates into a fan base that is both passionate and knowledgeable. The same is true for front desk staff, which experienced significantly lower turnover than the industry average.
This is a baseball stadium rich in color and character, located in a bucolic setting in Berks County. A Fightin Phils game is equal parts sporting event and county fair, a sensory overload blend of the traditional and the idiosyncratic that somehow seems to make sense.
The Fightin Phils refer to their ballpark and immediate vicinity as Baseballtown, an obvious nickname. FirstEnergy Stadium, originally known as Reading Municipal-Memorial Stadium, exudes a classic atmosphere with its brick exterior and arched entrances. The main entrance is located along the side of first base, leading to a plaza that houses a bar, promenade-style concession stands, and a performance stage. On this stage, one can often find the Fightin Phils’ Mascot Band, a group of costumed characters specializing in classic rock covers. The band debuted in 2001 and have since performed over 300 stadium concerts.
The outdoor plaza at FirstEnergy Stadium is adjacent to an enclosed concourse, located behind home plate and extending to the baselines on the first and third base sides of the field. The lobby leads to an idiosyncratic area down from the third base line, with a bar, more concessions and a makeshift picnic area in what was once a batting cage. The entire perimeter of the stadium is filled with artwork and photography celebrating Reading’s deep baseball history and, in particular, its ties to the Philadelphia Phillies. For the past 50 years, virtually every local Phillies star has spent time in Reading before thriving in the town of Brotherly Love.
The Fightin Phils front office has done a great job of maximizing the space immediately surrounding the ballpark, but this is all a prelude to the enjoyment of the ball game itself. The FirstEnergy Stadium seating bowl, made up of differently colored sections, runs roughly from one foul post to the next. A spacious group picnic area is located down the third base line; other group areas include a party terrace on the left and a pool pavilion on the right. Specifically, it is a heated pool pavilion, as the water temperature is 87 degrees.
The Crazy Hot Dog Vendor, the spiritual center of the Reading baseball experience, presides over it all. The Crazy Hot Dog Vendor is what the name implies and more. He’s a bespectacled, ultra-enthusiastic presence between innings who rides his pet ostrich, Rodrigo, onto the pitch in order to toss frankfurters to his enthusiastic fanbase. The main Fightin Phils logo features a Rodrigo-inspired pugilistic ostrich; perhaps this, more than anything, reflects the esteem in which the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor is held.
FirstEnergy Stadium is surrounded by concession stands and kiosks, and there are plenty of items to choose from. These include the Churger (a burger patty and chicken breast, separated by a piece of cheese), aromatic funnel cakes and fries from Manny (a beloved potato-centric concession stand located in the hall). Another standout is the familiar yet unusual Cheeseburger Dog, a molded cheeseburger shaped like a hot dog.
Real hot dogs, provided by local Berks Packing, Inc., are the stadium’s most popular item and the Fightin Phils go to great lengths to celebrate them. They even play as the Reading Hot Dogs at select Sunday baseball games, celebrating classic American cuisine in a classic American ballpark. In short: if you don’t get a hot dog from the crazy hot dog vendor, be sure to look for one.
As mentioned earlier, the Fightin Phils have a literal mascot group: Screwball, Change-Up the Turtle, Quack the Duck, Bucky the Beaver, and Blooper the Hound Dog. These five accomplished instrumentalists can be seen wandering the stadium on match days. Screwball has the most seniority and as such is the team’s most recognizable mascot. He has red fur, googly eyes, a perpetually outstretched tongue, and most importantly, a baseball for his head. Be sure to say hello.
the reading pagoda is Reading’s most distinctive and well-known landmark. This seven-story structure, built in 1908 as a luxury resort that never opened, sits atop Penn Mountain and offers panoramic views of Reading and the greater Berks County area. It is to Reading what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.
Berks County is Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and as such is an area that deeply appreciates pretzels. Get your fix on Tom Sturgis Pretzels, bakery and shop in nearby Shillington. the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery is at Lititz, about 30 miles southwest of Reading. Here one can visit the family’s original pretzel bakery. Pretzels go well with beer. Take a half-hour drive to Pottstown to visit the Yuengling Brewery, Museum and Gift Shop. It is the oldest brewery in America, founded in 1829.
The Reading Railroad has long been known around the world, thanks to its inclusion on the Monopoly game board. Learn all about the Reading Railway Heritage Museum, located in Hamburg. Speaking of trains, the Colebrookdale Railway, in Boyertown offers “Scenic Expeditions to the Secret Valley” in restored historic cars. Further afield, but well worth the visit, is Knoebel amusement park in Elysburg. It’s a classic in every sense of the word, and a must-have for roller coaster enthusiasts.
Food and drink
If you want to eat and drink like a local, keep Mike in mind. Mike’s Tavern, just two blocks from the ballpark, is a warm and inviting neighborhood bar and as such a great option for pre and/or post game drinks. Mike’s Sandwich Shop, known for its cheesesteaks, is not affiliated with Mike’s Tavern. It is located just one block from the ballpark and has long been a favorite of visiting players and coaches. Fightin Phils General Manager Scott Hunsicker calls these two establishments “hidden gems.”
Perhaps a little less hidden, but still a gem, is the “World Famous” Pike Cafe. This laid-back spot has a varied menu, dozens of flat-screen HD TVs, and a diverse and loyal clientele. In 2017, owner Mikey Pullano (yes, another Mike) received a “Fightin for Reading Award” from the Fightin Phils organization.
The 18-storey Abraham Lincoln Hotel, an iconic building in Reading town centre, has been transformed into an apartment building and event space. Stop in the lobby to reflect on the life and times of John Philip Sousa, who died in one of its rooms in 1932. If you’re looking for accommodation worthy of a world-renowned conductor, check out the The gables of the Stirling Guest Hotel located in historic Reading’s Center Park. Otherwise, there are plenty of chain options located within 10 miles of FirstEnergy Stadium.
To move on
The Reading Fightin Phils are located just an hour’s drive from the Allentown Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Phillies. From there, it’s only a short drive east to see the Brooklyn Cyclones, Somerset Patriots and, further south, the Jersey Shore BlueClaws (the Phillies’ High-A affiliate). Of course, the Philadelphia Phillies themselves are located 75 miles southeast of Reading. An additional pair of Pennsylvania-based Minor League teams, the Harrisburg Senators and Altoona Curve, are located to the west. Or head south to experience the Wilmington Blue Rocks and Bowie Baysox. In short, the options are endless.
The road to Philadelphia
The Low-A Clearwater Threshers play at the Phillies’ spring training stadium at BayCare Ballpark. The remaining three teams in the system are all located within 75 miles of Philadelphia.
Low-A: clear water fox
High-A: Jersey Shore Blue Claws
Double A: Read Fightin Phils
Triple-A: Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs