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The International League's Newest Park

Scranton rolls out remade PNC Field

MOOSIC, PA—The interesting back-story about the new home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders is not so much that a new stadium came to be but how it all happened.

Lackawanna County Stadium, the home for the region’s AAA baseball team, opened its doors in 1989, a year after the debut of Buffalo’s new ballpark. But while our city was earning national acclaim and attention for what was then state-of-the-art design and architecture, the stadium in Moosic, located halfway between the twin cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in central Pennsylvania, was almost universally derided for its brutalist design.

A hulking monolith made of iron and concrete, two massive, vertically perched seating decks, artificial turf, and more concrete ramps made the stadium an unfriendly experience for the fans and the teams that visited. The artifical turf and dimensions of the playing surface were laid out to mimic those of Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, then the parent club of SWB. The Vet is long gone, and so are the Phillies, as the New York Yankees have been the parent club of the renamed RailRiders since 2007.

So plans were developed in 2010 to do a massive renovation of the ballpark. But this would be no ordinary cosmetic redo of the facility. In essence, the entire stadium was demolished, save for the lower level grandstand. In its place rose an entirely new stadium, and the new PNC Field debuted this April.

In order to accommodate the reconstruction of the ballpark, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club became a road team for the entire 2012 season. Temporarily branded as the “Empire State Yankees,” they played a substantial portion of their “home” schedule at Rochester’s Frontier Field, where the Red Wings dedicated their own clubhouse and player facilities for the team.

The Buffalo Bisons made their first trip to the new ballpark earlier this month, and more than a few Buffalo fans, local media members, and front office personnel made the journey to check out the new digs. “It’s really awesome what they did here,” said Bisons vice president and general manager Mike Buczkowski, watching the goings-on near a party deck on the left field wall. “These picnic areas, tabletop viewing perches, that’s the newest thing in ballpark design, and we are always looking to pick up ideas for what we can do at our facility.”

The new PNC Field is much smaller than the old one, with fixed seating in the 7,500 range, although lawn space in the outfield berms can bring capacity to well over 10,000 patrons. (The league has set 10,000 minimum as the threshold for its member clubs). The steep pitch in the seating bowl has been retained, putting fans right on top of the action. The pressbox is located on the main concourse, placing media members and broadcasters as close to home plate as anyplace in the league. Up on the second level, the mammoth upper deck has been replaced with a well appointed club level, with a restaurant offering buffet dining, tabletop and club box seating options, a number of suites, and resplendent views of the action, almost directly on top of the field as well.

The outfield boundary of the stadium abuts a natural cliff, and the stadium designers have created a pleasant walking path beyond the outfield wall and seating berms, providing the sense of a nature trail in a park. New video boards and field level LED boards provide state of the art electronics.

Bisons manager Marty Brown hadn’t visited this venue since his last tour in the International League, which ended in 2005. He gave the new PNC Field high marks. “It looked great especially inside the clubhouse its such a change. And as for the playing surface, when I was here they still had that old bouncy turf stuff. I think they did a good job, with the exception of the foul poles.”

The foul poles? Yes, one immediately notices the short and sparse yellow foul poles at the end of each baseline, more apropos for a Little League diamond than a professional venue. “Putting all that money into it, you think there’d be a little more to it,” Buczkowski said. “Marty joked yesterday that there’s a suspension waiting to happen, as a future manager-ump argument over a home run ball is inevitable, given those small foul poles.”

Around the Bases…

• Pity the poor players at last weekend’s Oakland vs Seattle game at O.Co Coliseum. Thanks to poor plumbing and burst pipes at the aging facility, both clubhouses were immersed in raw sewage, reaching 12 inches deep in spots. The teams were forced to shower and dress together in the Oakland Raiders locker room one level up. Seattle manager (and former Bisons manager) Eric Wedge opted to stay in uniform, and shower and dress back at the hotel.

• Blue Jays all star shortstop Jose Reyes has begun his rehab assignment as he looks to return to the big club. All eyes are on his possible appearance at Coca Cola Field with the Buffalo Bisons. The team is home through Monday, then will be on the road for almost two weeks, coming home only for the July 3 Independence Day event.

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