As spring slowly makes its way in and winter begins its yearly exit, the Reading Fightin Phils are preparing to open their 50th season of affiliation with the Philadelphia Phillies. While this season marks a major anniversary for the team, its home, FirstEnergy Stadium, will be entering its 65th season.
Built in 1951 by the Reading City Council the stadium was originally named Reading Municipal Memorial Stadium as a way to honor the men and women who gave their lives protecting our country. Municipal Memorial Stadium was home to minor league baseball in Reading up until 1999 when the stadium was renamed GPU Stadium. As a result of the name change, a statue was erected in front of the stadium to serve as a reminder of the original name of Memorial Stadium.
The home of the Fightins’ officially became known as FirstEnergy Stadium in 2002. The third renaming took place after GPU was acquired by FirstEnergy in 2000.
The large, silver dog tags have become an iconic image associated with the stadium and serve as a reminder and a permanent memorial to those for whom the stadium was originally named. Engraved with the words “dedicated to all the veterans of our community” the memorial stands as a symbol of what others have given in order for our country to enjoy our freedom to partake in events such as a baseball game.
Situated behind the dog tags is the American Flag that flies outside of the stadium. Beginning with the 2014 season the Fightins have honored living and deceased veterans before each home game with the ceremonial flag. This flag is flown outside the stadium by the dog tags during the game and once the game is completed the flag is lowered and given to the family of the honoree. In 2016, active military members will also be eligible for the honor.
In addition to the ceremonial flag, the Fightins’ fly the flags of each branch of the military at the top of the main grandstand throughout the season.
As another subtle memorial to those who have served, a line of evergreen trees was planted along the brick wall that rings the outside of the stadium. Thousands of fans sit and watch those trees every time a Fightins player hits a home run, but few know what they stand for.
When fans flock to FirstEnergy Stadium this season, the dog tags will greet each and every one as they enter the stadium. Many will sit on the low wall that runs behind the memorial as they wait for friends and family. Few will stop and take a moment to read the engraving and share a thanks for those who have served and continue to serve our country.
This memorial among others, is a small taste of what the Fightins organization does to honor the community is has called home for the last 50 years.