Every player in the Philadelphia Phillies system who suits up for the Short-Season A Williamsport Crosscutters dreams of one day moving up through the minor leagues to Triple-A in Allentown to play for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. It’s a journey that takes some players years to make, while others never get the chance to make it at all. I was lucky to make the jump from Williamstown to Allentown in less than 24 hours.
OK, so I wasn’t exactly promoted through the ranks of the Phillies system, but I was checking out my second Phillies affiliate in two days when I stopped at Coca-Cola Park to watch the IronPigs host the Pawtucket Red Sox.
I got to experience Coca-Cola Park last May, and when setting the schedule for this road trip, I was excited to visit this gem of a ballpark once again.
The IronPigs were hooking me up with a press pass like they did during last year’s visit (thanks, Matt!), so I got to the park a couple hours before first pitch so I could take in all the sights. The team was giving away an IronPigs replica cap at the gate, which meant that shortly after 5 p.m., this was the scene at the right field gate:
Fortunately, I grabbed my credential, entered through the media entrance and a few seconds later, was staring at this:
I love walking into a park and seeing batting practice underway. It’s one of the best moments I get to enjoy on my road trips.
When I make return visits to parks, I’m always curious to see what’s changed since I was last in town. This year, the IronPigs introduced PorkCenter, which you can follow on Twitter. It’s a social media booth with a pile of TV screens and staffers who post regular updates about the team on social media. It sort of brought back memories of my visit to the Social Suite at Progressive Field earlier this year, and it’s a really neat feature. Here’s what the outside of the studio looks like, and if you’re visiting Coca-Cola Park, be sure to check it out. It’s on the concourse on the third base side:
With the park largely deserted except for employees scurrying around, I took the opportunity to take a big circuit of the concourse. One of the things I stopped to photograph was the park’s video board:
It’s one of the nicest-looking boards I’ve seen on my travels. The video portion, of course, is huge, and I love the use of iron in the board’s construction to pay tribute to the area’s iron industry. See the Coke bottle up top? It lights up and moves when the ‘Pigs score a run, which is cool. I love interactive stuff like this that people might not immediately notice.
The Red Sox were taking batting practice, so I stopped on the grass berm in center field for a few minutes to watch the action. From here, I had this great view:
And as I looked around, I caught a glimpse of a pair of home run balls sitting at the base of the batter’s eye. I’m leery about picking up baseballs I find before the gates open, and since there was a little fence between the balls and me, I decided it’d be better to leave them where they sat:
Did you see the giant acoustic guitar on the left side of the panorama above? Martin Guitars, which arguably makes the best acoustic guitars in the business, is located in nearby Nazareth, PA, and this guitar standing area is new to the park this year. It’s got a few places to lean against and watch the game. Check it out:
I’m an avid guitar player, so this perhaps the coolest music-related thing I’ve seen on my travels.
Speaking of cool, I took the opportunity to cool off up in the suite level. It was an extremely hot day and the air conditioned suite level offered a nice reprieve from the muggy heat. It also provided a great view, which I captured in this panorama:
I suppose not everyone who visits Coca-Cola Park gets to experience the suite level, so I thought I’d share a neat photo for you here. One of the interesting visuals you’ll encounter is an enormous timeline of the team’s history, dating back to the team’s move from Ottawa, Canada, before the 2008 season. That moment and dozens of others are mentioned on the timeline, which winds along the hallway:
By now, the gates were open and the park was quickly filling up, so I went back down to the main level of the park and took another walk around. In the terrace in left field, I briefly watched the team’s pre-game broadcast with Matt Provence and Doug Heater being filmed, which was neat:
This area is also home to the Red Robin Oasis, which I saw last year but didn’t study in depth. Turns out, it’s a really fun place to watch the game and enjoy a meal. At first glance, it looks like a group picnic area, which might convince you to steer clear of it. It’s open to all fans, however, and all you need to do is find a table and wait:
Pretty soon, a server will be over to take your order, and as you wait, you can enjoy the game and the Philadelphia Phillies broadcast on numerous TVs throughout the area. The menu here looked great. I didn’t end up eating in this area, but was certainly tempted. Menu items included pierogies, BBQed turkey, chicken skewers, flank steak sliders, burgers and s’mores. I’m getting hungry just thinking of it. Why the heck didn’t I eat here?!
Well, in short, the answer is that I wanted something light tonight. After several consecutive days of pounding heavy ballpark food, I was looking forward to something that wasn’t going to feel like a bowling ball in my stomach. I found what I was looking for at the Aw Shucks concession stand in right field. Now, I don’t want to alarm you, but the following food photo contains a vegetable:
The seasoned corn on the cob is one of Coca-Cola Park’s signature dishes, and I definitely recommend trying it out. My cob was tasty and the seasoning — salt, Parmesan cheese and an assorted spice rub — was delicious. And I have to give the folks at Aw Shucks credit; they even supply toothpicks!
After dinner, my next mission was to find a seat on the first base side and shoot some action shots with my new camera. On the way there, I looked back and saw a couple people using the giant guitar, and snapped this picture to give you a better idea of what the front of the guitar looks like:
Here’s an action shot that only loosely involves the word “action.” It’s PawSox first baseman Drew Sutton in mid-spit:
Sort of gross, but the chances are good if you’ve watched a ballgame in the past, you’ve seen more spits than you care to recall.
Here’s some better action. This is Lehigh Valley catcher Erik Kratz fouling off a pitch:
PawSox third baseman Will Middlebrooks striking out:
And Pawtucket starter Charlie Haeger, one of just a handful of knuckleballers in the minors:
After spending a couple innings behind the first base dugout, I took another walk through the suite level and then made my way back out to the outfield grass berm, from which the park looks awesome at night:
Once I spent an inning with the above view, I returned to the first base side to shoot a few more action shots. Here’s Red Sox third baseman Xander Bogaerts, who had a home run later in this at-bat:
And Tyson Gillies and Freddy Galvis celebrating Galvis’ two-run home run in the home half of the inning:
The ‘Pigs scored three runs in that inning to bring their total to nine, and cruised to a 9-4 win over Pawtucket, thanks to 16 hits from their offense and 11 strikeouts from their pitchers. I had a blast during my second visit to Allentown and a day later, I’d be demoted (well, you know what I mean, right?) to the Phillies Double-A franchise, the Reading Fightin Phils.