Ballpark Digest

Thursday, Apr 24th

Last update06:05:09 AM GMT

You are here: Minor League Visits Coca-Cola Park / Lehigh Valley IronPigs

Coca-Cola Park / Lehigh Valley IronPigs

E-mail Print PDF

Coca-Cola Park is surely one of the best new minor-league ballparks to come down the pike in recent years, a place where every fan -- ranging from the big-buck corporate types in the dugout suites to the families setting up camp on the left-field berm -- can have a fulfilling game-day experience.

FAST FACTS

Year Opened: 2008
Capacity: 10,000 (8,100 fixed seats, 1,900 berm and standing room) Suites: 24 (20 club-level suites, 4 dugout suites)
Architect: HOK Sport
Dimensions: 336L, 388LC, 400C, 369RC, 325R
Playing Surface: Grass
Website: ironpigsbaseball.com
Phone: 610/841-7447
Ticket Prices (2009): Club Level, $14; Field Level, $9; General Admission, $6; Ironticket, $20
League: International League
Parent: Philadelphia Phillies
Parking: Three-thousand spots are available at the ballpark site for $3.
Address/Directions: 1050 Ironpigs Way, Allentown. The ballpark is directly south of Hwy. 22, which runs east-west through the Lehigh Valley. The ballpark shares an exit with the airport, so follow any signs to the airport. From Hwy. 22, go south on Airport Road. Take a right on American Parkway (a Coca-Cola Park/IronPigs marquee sign is at the corner) and then a left at Ironpigs Way.
Written by: Kevin Reichard

Yes, we're gushing a little. But after seeing a game from virtually every nook and cranny of this ballpark, we're sure you would be, too. Certainly, the local fans are: IronPigs attendance steadily rose throughout the season, reaching a crescendo with the final 10 games of the year. Rising attendance is a pretty good sign of an embrace by the market, and there was no end to the enthusiasm exhibited by IronPigs fans on a recent hot and sticky Sunday afternoon.

Like virtually all new ballparks, Coca-Cola Park features a wraparound concourse, outfield berm seating, and a second level on the grandstand for suites and club seating. No surprises there. The ballpark does feature one twist on luxury seats that we think will be copied in new ballparks down the line: dugout suites. Four suites directly behind home plate and below field grade offer a stunningly intimate view of the playing field and players, putting fans closer to the catcher than is the pitcher. Three of the four suites can be reconfigured depending on the size of the group. The suites have everything you'd expect from a modern luxury box -- catered food, different types of seating -- plus the added advantages of unprecedented access. Putting the area below grade makes all the difference in the world: at grade would have felt intrusive, but below grades makes them feel like an oasis in a busy ballpark.

This access, however, does come at a price, or so you'd assume: some pretty prime season-ticket locations were sacrificed to make way for the four dugout suites. That didn't dampen season-ticket sales, according to IronPigs GM Kurt Landes; it allowed the team to better monetize that space (the dugout suites have been consistently been sold out this season, generating much more in revenue than season tickets would), and it also created some buzz in the local community.

Also creating a buzz: the second-level club area, located directly behind home plate. The huge oval-shaped bar was a popular gathering spot before and during the game, with a wide variety of beers on tap (including locally produced microbrews) and mixed drinks available. Those with club-level tickets can bring food and drinks back to their seats, or they can claim one of the several tables sitting right outside the club bar. Three food stations on the club level were packed before and during much of the game.

There are several other group areas in the ballpark, including sponsored suite-level party porches on each end of the second level, as well as a six-row, terraced picnic area in the left-field corner. A larger and supervised kids' play area sits in the left-field line as well, while a larger concourse leading to the main entrance sits in the right-field corner. Berm seating is next to the side-by-side bullpens down the left-field line, while bar rails are set up in right field beyond the home-run fence; this is the Trough area (shown above), popular with those buying standing-room-only tickets. It's basically a right-field bar with plenty of high-top seating and bar rails. (It also gives you good views of both the action and the scoreboard.)

The Trough is a good example of the consistent branding in the park: many of the food stands offer some sort of pork product, and the signage all refers back to the IronPigs name. Besides the main concession stands in the concourse there are a host of stands in the inner concourse as well, while delicacies like roasted sweet corn are available at a booth in the right-field corner.

One "big" attraction: the nine-story scoreboard, billed as the largest in the minor leagues. Video replay is standard -- all IronPigs home games and many away games are telecast throughout the region, which didn't seem to dampen attendance -- and the scoreboard is a wealth of player information and game stats. Despite the size, it's not out of proportion to the rest of the ballpark. One of the things we likes is the intimate nature of Coca-Cola Park; even when sitting down each line you're never too far from the action, and intimacy doesn't rely on spending a lot on seats: you can get extremely close to the action in the cheap seats and with SRO tickets as well.

In fact, buy a SRO ticket (and many people did; the IronPigs averaged 8,479 fans a game in a ballpark that seats only 8,100) and you still have access to a lot of spaces, including bar rails in the outfield and SRO spots in the shaded grandstand area. This is a ballpark made for walking: no one expects you to stay in your seat for nine innings, and there are plenty of diversions if you decide to stretch your legs in the fifth inning. As mentioned, there's a large play area in the left-field corner. The berm was packed well before the game started, and most of that crowd stayed for the entire game. Between a cheap berm seat and a passel of Berks hot dogs for $2, a family can have a great experience at Coca-Cola Park.

Still, the place is not perfect. The ballpark site is a little awkward; the former Agere industrial location near the city airport doesn't really add much to the ambiance, past a relatively remote view of downtown Allentown and the occasional view of an airplane leaving or arriving at the Allentown airport. Larger minor-league ballparks do benefit a great deal from an urban setting, and while a downtown Allentown ballpark would have made little economic sense (poor freeway access, no suitable building locations), the lack of a unique environment surrounding the ballpark does dampen the game-day experience somwhat: you have no lovely vistas from your seats. It may have affected the exterior design, which is nothing to write home about. Most fans will enter via the plaza shown above; it's large and inviting. The entrance for suiteholders and club-level patrons is separate (shown below). Otherwise, the exterior is pretty blah; seeing it from a distance, you're not going to be too impressed.

These are quibbles, though. What really impressed us the most was the level of detail found in the ballpark, all directed toward the game experience. It's not enough to feature the largest scoreboard in the minor leagues; this scoreboard features a rocking Coca-Cola bottle that flips its lid and shoots fireworks after the National Anthem or an IronPigs home run. The club level is lined with historical photos from Allentown, Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley, while the staircase leading to the suites level is filled with historic photos of affiliated and industrial teams in Allentown and the Lehigh Valley. Add a definite carnival-like atmosphere, and you can see why Coca-Cola Park is one of the best new ballparks to come down the pike in recent years. The International League has more than its share of outstanding ballparks -- Toledo, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Durham, Rochester and Louisville are among the very best in the minors -- and Lehigh Valley is on that same level.