Harrisburg's Metro Bank Park is a contradiction in terms -- 23 years old and yet one of the newest ballparks in all of Minor League Baseball.
This paradoxical distinction is the result of an extensive $45 million renovation that the ballpark has undergone over the past two seasons, a project jointly financed by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the city of Harrisburg and the team's ownership group.
2010 marks the first season that the "new" Metro Bank Park is entirely up and running, and the changes are all-encompassing. It's far easier, in fact, to catalog what remains of the old facility: the bleacher section down the first base line (and adjacent picnic area) and the playing field itself are the only prominent survivors.
It was a no-brainer to keep the field, as the state-of-the art surface was installed prior to the 2005 campaign after flooding had badly damaged its predecessor. Flooding, in fact, is a constant concern with Metro Bank Park, as the facility is located on Harrisburg's City Island and surrounded by the Susquehanna River.
Therefore, any permanent structure related to the ballpark has to be built above the 100-year flood line (an insurance term meaning that that there is a 1 in 100 chance of water reaching this height during any particular year). Such natural disaster considerations led to one of Metro Bank Park's most distinctive additions: a spacious boardwalk concourse that wraps around the outfield area.
"We can never go down [when building], we always have to move upwards," explained Senators general manager Randy Whitaker, a former Harrisburg TV executive who assumed his role prior to the 2008 campaign. "So instead of a berm seating area, we went with the boardwalk."
The boardwalk includes multiple picnic areas, barstool style rail seating, the Bullseye Bar in right center field (patrons receive a free beer should a home run hit the bar during the game), concessions and a large team store. The store is an air-conditioned retail mecca, and Whitaker estimates that the team surpassed previous seasons' sales totals within the first two months of 2010.
Then again, the previous team store was a converted trailer, as were the locker rooms and press box. Suffice it to say, all have been replaced. Also brand-new is the entire grandstand area, with green seats supplanting the old red ones. Twenty-one luxury suites ring the top section of the stadium, offering a view of downtown Harrisburg from one side and the playing field from the other.
Located just beyond home plate is the Press Box Club, a deluxe seating area available on a season or per-game basis. Fans in this area sit in extra-wide padded seats, perhaps necessary given the all-you-can eat food options included with the ticket (on the day I visited, there was an omelet station, breaded pork chops, string beans, grits and many other unlikely ballpark delicacies).
Whitaker concedes that these seats -- available for $30 per game -- have been a somewhat tough sell, largely because they are so out of character with the ballpark's previous no-frills incarnation.
"The concept is not immediately understood, because our fans have not seen these kind of things offered before," he said.
But many improvements need no explanation, such as the massive videoboard above the Bullseye Bar that features a 21-by-56-foot LED display, a Kid's Zone inflatables area behind the third base seats, and the addition of restrooms throughout the facility (many of which replaced portable toilets).
But should fans ever get nostalgic for what was, they can simply rent a 1994 cinematic classic. That year, Metro Bank Ballpark was used as the Spring Training home for a Cleveland Indians team featuring Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughan and Willie Mays Hays (rest in peace, Lou Brown).
"If anyone wants to see what this place used to look like, they should watch Major League II," said Whitaker.
But some things will never change, and one of them is City Island's burgeoning mayfly population. During night games, these annoying (yet harmless) insects commit inadvertent suicide by light bulb and then fall onto the fans below.
"It's a community bonding thing," said Whitaker, who half-jokingly reveals that the team has considered changing its name to the Mayflies. "People in the second row will brush the mayflies off of the person in the first row, and so on all the way to the back of the stadium. It's only those people in the last row who might have a problem."