This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.
The fourth and final stop of my August ballpark road trip was Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pa., home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. This International League entity, Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, debuted in 2008 following a relocation from Ottawa, Ontario. Coca-Cola Park opened that same year.
The IronPigs’ moniker, which has led to a preponderance of pork-based puns over the past 15 years, is a reference to the Lehigh Valley’s steel-producing past. Behold: Pig Iron
The above picture, taken in the Coca-Cola Park lobby, explains that “pig iron is one of the main ingredients in steel. … The name is derived from the time when iron ran into molds in sand beds fed from a common runner. The tow of molds was said to resemble a litter of suckling pigs.”
That hunk of pig iron bares no small resemblance to a hunk of scrapple, a locally revered meat product that the IronPigs were paying homage to on this pleasant Friday evening. This cap, featuring a crispy rectangle of feisty anthropomorphic scrapple, is one of many alternate identities within the IronPigs multiverse.
(Related: While wandering the ballpark prior to the game, I had the most informative scrapple-related discussion of my life with a fan by the name of Paul Deebel. Watch it and learn.)
For a small glimpse of other IronPigs’ identities, consider this picture I took pretty much at random within the Coca-Cola Park team store. It includes Strawberry Pie, Mamajuana, Hoagies and Space Savers. Each one is a story unto itself, and there are many more where that came from.
I am once again getting ahead of myself. This was my first visit to Coca-Cola Field since 2018, so I spent a good amount of time in re-acclimation mode. This, the view from the press box, provides a nice overview of Coca-Cola Park: Spacious, bright and bold.
While in the press box I interviewed Cory Chryst, the IronPigs game stringer since day one. Curious as to what a stringer does, exactly, and how Cory came into the role? Well, then I’ve got just the article for you:
READ ABOUT LEHIGH VALLEY GAME STRINGER CORY CHRYST HERE
As the game was just about to get under way, I found myself on the outfield concourse. The fans in the bottom left-hand corner are sitting in the “Bacon Strip” section.
There are strings attached, but if you’re not the type to fret then this is another great spot from which to watch the game. (Martin Guitars is located in Nazareth, about 17 miles northeast of Allentown.)
The covered area of the concourse, extending into the shallow outfield at both ends, is generally a boisterous environment.
It was here that I met my Designated Eater for the evening, one Jonathan Armstrong. He’s from the great town of Lansdale, Pa., where he works as a CPA and, in his free time, tends to his 94 houseplants. Jonathan, who would be tasked with eating the ballpark cuisine that I cannot, attended this game with his daughter, Charity.
The IronPigs have nearly as many concession items as they have alternate identities. So many that they have a standalone website -- pigsfoodfinder.com -- dedicated to listing all of them and where they can be found.
We began with an item that’s simple and delicious: Roasted Corn from Aw Shucks, which has two standalone ballpark locations. After being delicately brushed with just the right amount of butter and seasoning, it was handed off to Jonathan. He declared it to be “Sweet, with a nice kick to it.”
Keeping with the handheld theme, we proceeded to the shack-like environs of the Jaindl Smoke House. Here, Jonathan ordered a formidable smoked turkey leg. Like the corn, he said that it was “sweet,” but also “chewier than expected. Not quite like beef jerky but getting there.”
Next up was a scrapple sandwich because, you know, it was Scrapple Night. Scrapple, which gets its name because it’s made of pork “scraps,” probably works best as a breakfast meat served alongside eggs and potatoes. But at the ballpark, a sandwich is the more sensible delivery option.
Despite the fact that he’d lived in Pennsylvania his whole life, Jonathan said that he’d “never got around” to giving scrapple a try. His first reaction was to damn with faint praise: “I don’t know why you’d hate it.” He later added that it reminded him of a McDonald’s hash brown, as it was “crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.”
Perhaps more appetizing was the Candied Bacon on a Stick, which Charity can be seen wielding in the below photo. Jonathan and Charity both liked it, though both wished that the “candy” flavor was more front and center.
Jonathan and Charity also enjoyed the Pork Parfait, seen in the photo featuring the two of them together. But guess what? I did too! Late in the game, I visited the IronPigs’ standalone gluten-free cart, ordered this pulled pork and mashed potato concoction, and ate it while watching the game. What a rare treat, to eat food and watch baseball while at a baseball game! I should do that more often.
Less rare for me, but always a treat, is to spend an inning in the broadcast booth. Sam Jellinek, in his first year with the IronPigs, grew up in the Philly area (beautiful Doylestown) and now gets to call games for the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate. Living the dream!
As for the game itself, the IronPigs were stampeded by the visiting Buffalo Bisons, 7-6. That was a dispiriting result, but the 9,000 or so fans in attendance still seemed to enjoy themselves.
Good night from Coca-Cola Park, where even the fireworks smell like bacon.
READ THE COCA-COLA PARK BALLPARK GUIDE HERE
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.