Ballpark Quirks is a series on the distinctive features and oddities that make up each of MLB’s 30 parks. Today’s Pick: Citizens Bank Park's Ashburn Alley. For past stories in the series, click here.
A batter’s eye so often proves such a mundane component of a ballpark, albeit by design, but the space behind the bland wall can breed life. In Philadelphia, life wanders aplenty both behind and all around the brick batter’s eye, as Ashburn Alley spans the entire outfield to entice fan visits, both before and during Phillies games.
“Fans like to get up and roam around during a game,” Joe Spear, Populous architect and designer of Citizens Bank Park, told SI.com. “Ashburn Alley was a response to getting restless and taking the third-inning cruise.”
Ashburn Alley was also a way to offer a diverse mix of interest for those folks meandering across the open space, as it offers views of the tiered bullpens, access to Philly’s baseball history, stores, restaurants and even rooftop bleacher seats.
“The Phillies wanted to put something special (behind the batter’s eye),” Spear said. “You could bring people across the alley and beside the bullpen and into the interactive display.”
Named in honor of legendary centerfielder Richie Ashburn, Ashburn Alley opens 2 1/2 hours before the first pitch so that fans—entering through the leftfield gate—can watch batting practice. With the two-tiered bullpens — a feature the Phillies wanted from the start — the upper bullpen pulls snug against the concourse. A special viewing platform includes instructional pitching plaques and differing views into the bullpens.
All along Ashburn Alley, fans can find historic signs of Philadelphia baseball. Granite markers feature Phillies All-Stars since the first All-Star Game in 1933; the Memory Lane section located directly behind the batter’s eye has an illustrated history of Philadelphia baseball, including the Phillies, Philadelphia Athletics and Negro League teams from Philly; and a Wall of Fame shows off bronze plaques of players, a tradition continued from Veterans Stadium.
On the other side of Ashburn Alley, running the length of the outfield with picnic tables to boot, there’s time to spend some money and hang out in the Alley Store or with a Philadelphia-themed concession in hand. Those same buildings offer up rooftop bleacher seats, reviving the 1920s Shibe Park tradition of residents building bleacher seats on their 20th Street roofs.
A mundane batter’s eye? Just take a peek behind it. You’ll find the life of Ashburn Alley. Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.