By Walter Triebel, Author of
Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League:
A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks, and Cities
Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, is another home of a Minor League affiliate of the Washington Nationals that has a long, rich history of professional baseball. Today, the city hosts the Harrisburg Senators in the Eastern League, who are the double-A class member of the Nationals’ Minor League organization.
Professional baseball has been played in the city of Harrisburg since the early 1880s. Because Pennsylvania’s state legislature resides in the city, a natural moniker for the team has been the “Senators.” In fact, in the 130-plus year period since, a team called the Harrisburg Senators has played in the city during 68 seasons and as a member of six different baseball leagues.
Two thousand seventeen is the 31st consecutive season that a Harrisburg Senators team has played in the Eastern League. During that stretch, the Senators have been associated with three different Major League clubs: the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Montreal Expos, and the Washington Nationals. The Harrisburg Senators were Montreal’s double-A team in the Eastern League in 2004 when they relocated to Washington as the Nationals for the 2005 season. That transition caused a shakeup at some levels of their Minor League system, but not at the AA level as the Harrisburg Senators continued to fulfill that same role in the Washington Nationals Minor League organization.
The building of a new baseball stadium in Harrisburg ushered in the Eastern League era of professional baseball in the city. That ballpark was built on City Island in the Susquehanna River and originally named Riverside Stadium. The first Harrisburg Senators game was played at the ballpark on April 11, 1987. Over the years, the stadium has been renamed a few times, most recently prior to the 2016 season the naming rights were sold to the F.N.B. Corporation, parent company of First National Bank of Pennsylvania, and the ballpark took on its current name – FNB Field.
FNB Field is one of the most interesting and attractive ballparks among the Nats’ affiliates. Even through the stadium was originally built more than 30 years ago, it has undergone a number of renovations to keep it up to the standards of today’s top Minor League ballparks. For instance, it has a full 360-degree concourse that lets you walk fully around the periphery of the ball field. Along the concourse, you will find poles that are decorated with banners that honor former Senators’ players, such as Vladimir Guerrero, Cliff Lee, and Ryan Zimmerman, that have gone on to have successful careers at the Major League level.
A wide variety of traditional ballpark food is offered at the main concession area as well as specialty items at stands along the outfield part of the concourse, such as the Bud Light Lime-a-Rita Bar and Arooga’s Wing Shack. Moreover, there is a large children’s play area called the Kids Zone that is entered toward the outfield end of the first base concourse. On top of all that, one can walk up to the second level of the grandstand to a rear terrace area that offers a fabulous view of the city across the river.
But a visit to FNB Field is also about seeing the players. Just like for the Hagerstown Suns and Potomac Nationals, a number of the Washington Nationals 2017 MLB Top 30 Prospects began the season with the Harrisburg Senators. The table above lists four position players and one pitcher who are ranked as Washington top prospects and play for the Senators.
Three of the four position players were in Sens’ opening day starting lineup on April 7, 2016, which was a home game versus the Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates): Osvaldo Abreu (#15) at short and hitting second, Drew Ward (#12) at third and hitting third; and Raudy Read (#19) catching and hitting fifth. Finally, Erick Fedde, who finished out the 2016 season in the Senators starting rotation, made his first start in Game 2 of the season at FNB Field. Note from the table that all five of those top prospects played part or all of the 2016 season with the Potomac Nationals and were also members of the Hagerstown Suns roster during the 2014 or 2015 season.
Fans of the Harrisburg Senators, Hagerstown Suns, Potomac Nationals and Washington Nationals have the opportunity to see those five up and coming prospects playing double-A ball in the Eastern League in a game at FNB Field during the 2017 season. Senators fans in or around Harrisburg can simply attend a game or games on any day of the season that fits their plans.
Again, I will recommend a day or early evening game for Suns, P-Nats, and Washington Nationals fans traveling a distance to FNB Field. This should potentially allow them some pre- or postgame daylight time to explore the stadium and the local area.
A look at the Harrisburg Senators 2017 schedule on their official website shows that they typically play Sunday home games at 1:30PM. However, the Senators still have a few weekday day games on their calendar. Check the travel matrix provided in Part 1 of this post for an estimate of the travel distance and time to a Senators game at FNB Field.
Today, City Island has grown into an attractive and interesting leisure and sports complex that includes the Senators baseball stadium, a soccer stadium for the Harrisburg City Islanders soccer team, large riverside children’s play area, scenic walking trails, and much more. There is a pedestrian bridge, Walnut Street Bridge, which allows one to walk from City Island over the river to downtown Harrisburg at the corner of Walnut St. where it meets Riverfront Park.
Another plus is that FNB Field is conveniently located just minutes from the attractive downtown entertainment district of Harrisburg. The trip from City Island over the Market Street Bridge to the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River and the hub of downtown Harrisburg, the Restaurant Row/Entertainment District, is just a one-mile drive. The south end of Restaurant Row starts at the corner of Market St. and N. 2nd St.
As you travel/walk up 2nd to the north, you are sure to find any kind of restaurant you might wish. I have included a few places that I found interesting, for example McGrath’s Irish Pub, in the list below titled Restaurants In or Near Harrisburg. From the addresses in that list note that Restaurant Row bridges from N 2nd St. to N. 3rd St. and onto many of the cross streets, such as Locust St.
On the other hand, if you leave City Island and drive the other way across the Market Street Bridge, you arrive in Wormleysburg, PA on the western shore of the Susquehanna River. This is an interesting alternative for a pre or post-game lunch or dinner stop. The bridge takes you to S. Front St. in Wormleysburg which travels along the riverfront. Here you will find a number of very attractive waterfront restaurants with outdoor decks overlooking the river.
Attractions In Harrisburg
• City Island Family Attractions near the Ballpark, 245 Championship Way
‣ City Island railroad scenic train ride
‣ City Island carousel
‣ City Island stables
‣ City Island beach
‣ Amusement arcade
‣ Batting cages
• The Pride of the Susquehanna Riverboat Sightseeing Cruise, 11 Championship Way
• Walnut Street Bridge (pedestrian walkway/bike path), 245 Championship Way
• Riverfront Park, 701 N. Front St.
• Restaurant Row/Entertainment District, N. 2nd St., between Market St. and State St.
• Broad Street Market, 1233 N. 3rd St.
Dining In or Near Harrisburg
• McGrath’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, 202 Locust St., Harrisburg
• Café Fresco, 215 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg
• Sawyers, 210 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg
• Arooga’s Draft House & Sports Bar, 201 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg
• Palumbo’s Italian Eatery, 104 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg
• Au Bon Lieu Bistro, 1 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg
• Duke’s Bar & Grille, 313 S. Front St., Wormleysburg
• Dockside Willies, 449 S. Front St., Wormleysburg
That completes my review of the ballparks, towns, and top prospects of the three Washington Nationals Minor League clubs that are located within an easy day-trip drive of each other and from downtown Washington, DC. Now it’s time for you to set out on the trail of the Washington Nationals Minor League Baseball Road Trip adventure.