Are you, or do you know, an Olympian archer? If so, you’re aware that the target is located 70 meters away from where one shoots. It’s tough to hit the target from that distance, but with determination and maybe a little bit of luck, it can be done. The same goes for newsletter writing. This, the 70th edition of the Ben’s Biz Beat Newsletter, aims to hit the bullseye. Let’s talk about Minor League Baseball.
ONE MORE TIME: A SEPTEMBER BALLPARK TRIP TO REMEMBER
As the Minor League Baseball season goes, so go I. This one is entering its final month, meaning that I am set to embark on my final road trip of the year. The itinerary is listed on the graphic above, but because I was on vacation last week and my fingers need exercise, I’ll type it out:
9/6: Nashville Sounds (First Horizon Park)
9/7: Bowling Green Hot Rods (Bowling Green Ballpark)
9/8: Louisville Bats (Louisville Slugger Field)
9/9: Indianapolis Indians (Victory Field)
9/10: Columbus Clippers (Huntington Park)
It's been between eight and 10 years since I’ve been to any of the above locations, so I am once again overdue. The usual spiel applies: If you want to be a Designated Eater at any of the above locations, consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits, then email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and explain why you want to do it. Also email me if you have any suggestions regarding things to see and people to talk to in any of the five locations listed above.
See you on the road, maybe! And speaking of being on the road…
MiLB: THE SOW (AN EVENING WITH THE LEHIGH VALLEY IRONPIGS)
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.
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.
Thanks for reading another edition of the Ben’s Biz Beat Newsletter. Stay tuned next week, when I’ll deliver a jaw-dropping account of-- Oh, wait. Hold on. It appears we’re not quite finished here.
This is Josh Jackson, and I've got a couple of ideas I'd like to leave you with. I host Ghosts of the Minors on The Show Before the Show podcast, in which I ask you to identify the real Minor League team from history hiding amidst a couple of fakes.
Last time, we pepped up and took a shot with the Coffeyville Bricks. This week, I ask you which of these teams knew how to handle pests in the Minors of yesteryear?
- The Vermillion Venom Men
- The Sweetwater Swatters
- The Duluth Trappers
For the answer, tune into the next Ghosts of the Minors on The Show Before the Show!