On the Road Guest Post: IronPigs in Zen in Lehigh Valley

You may recall last month’s post from Lehigh Valley, in which I attended an IronPigs game with five friends (no media pass for me that evening, I stayed strictly in “fan mode”). One of the friends who took in this contest was Steve May, a Brooklyn-based English teacher with a penchant for photography, the works of Tyson Meade and, of course, the written word. In the following post, Mr. May provides an account of his inaugural IronPigs experience. All words and photos are his.

Finally, a Ben’s Biz Blog post free from the tyrannical perspective of the titular protagonist! Enjoy the brief respite:

A few Fridays ago, I attended a Lehigh Valley IronPigs game with my friend Ben, the man behind this fine Minor League Baseball business blog. The game was part of a yearly trip that Ben, me, and some other friends of ours make to the wilds of the northeastern fourth of Pennsylvania. The trip is part escape and part homecoming, as most of us are longtime New Yorkers originally from Pennsylvania; for summer to feel like summer, we need to get out on the road somewhere, go on roller coasters and dark rides, eat soft-serve and kettle corn, and be around baseball. What better place to achieve close proximity to the National Pastime than Coca-Cola Park in Allentown?

Yes, we had the best seats in the house. Don’t say there aren’t advantages to palling around with Ben of Ben’s Biz Blog. We could smell the grass.

Please forgive the fact that I didn’t really take any other photos for the first few innings. There were nachos grande and beer to be devoured and inhaled, respectively. Also I found myself roped into participating in a spirited between-inning round of Whack-an-Intern. Faced with wardrobe malfunctions, a partisan crowd, uncooperative intern heads, and formidable competition in the form of my good friend Beth, I came up a mere three whacks short of a tie. Afterwards, some interns alleged rough treatment on my part. (Ask yourself this question: If you were in my shoes, up against the considerable odds with which I was faced, would you tap softly or go hard? Yeah, that’s what I thought.)

Needless to say the critics, in the form of Andy Shal (hereafter “Shal”) and Ben, were not impressed.

Still reeling from my defeat, looking to put the sting behind me with the help of an adult beverage, I headed in the direction of the outfield Paradise. On the way, I was surprised to find one of the interns whose head I had too vigorously whacked charming the ladies with a blue puppet with baseball eyes. The intern attempted to charm me, too, but I turned the tables on him and tricked him/the puppet into posing for a face-in-hole photograph.

(ed. note: this whacked intern is none other than Ben “Utility Man” Youngerman, a talented and versatile touring ballpark performer who is no stranger to this blog.)

Intern and Puppet I: Put your hand inside the puppet head.

Intern and Puppet II: Duped into a Face-in-Hole Photo. (I love how the puppet head fits into the hole better.)

Following the arrows, I moved past the baseball-themed kiddie-land type situation on the concourse along the third-base line to left field, where Paradise awaited. As if taking in a game at a beautiful Minor League ballpark on a pleasant summer Friday evening following a day spent touring the Martin Guitar Factory for free, scoring ludicrously cheap 70’s-sleaze-era Rolling Stones albums at Double Decker Records, and bowling (!) were not enough.

Pushing the frozen drinks too hard, or just hard enough?

The foreboding sky, with nary a champagne supernova, did little to convince me I had stumbled onto an ocean (?) oasis.

Margarita or sangria? Should sangria come frozen? Does frozen sangria even count as sangria? Wouldn’t a mai tai be more appropriate? These were my concerns as I weighed the options at the Tiki Hut in Paradise. I eventually settled on sangria; it was the least fluorescent and what I think I secretly wanted in the first place (flip a coin and if you’re disappointed with the result…). The hut, with the obligatory faux-thatched roof, accented with fake palm trees and unlit torches, had all the standard tiki bases covered. Paradise? On a game night in summer, not too far off.

Duke’s Waikiki it is not, but there’s an off chance you’ll snag a home run ball.

The bartender threw in an orange peel to sweeten the deal.

Frozen cocktail in hand, I proceeded to the lawn overlooking center field, where I observed a large number of Boy/Cub Scouts/Webelos; evidently, it was Scout Sleepover Night. My anonymity compromised by my very public and still stingingly recent defeat in Whack-an-Intern, I was confronted by more than one well-meaning uniformed tween. I endured their chidings and constructive criticism with the humility of a man more accustomed to defeat than I am typically willing to accept I am.

Pack 76, present and accounted for.

Allentown? I could have sworn this is heaven.

At this point, from the field, the Human Bobblehead Game was announced. I looked up at the scoreboard behind me, and there, with pedometers strapped onto their heads, were the aforementioned Ben and Shal. That Ben, who last year logged a million steps on his pedometer [ed. note: the editor logged FOUR million steps on his pedometer], should now find himself in such a situation was completely appropriate; given this familiarity with the quirks of the ‘dometer, he was my pick to win. Shal, though, had an ace in the hole in his status as an unreformed head banger, and proved that he had the fire/desire to win.

Ben: Steps on the head?

Shal stands up and shouts.

What was there to do now but get something else to eat? Moving hurriedly past the speed pitching booth (I didn’t trust the tween hurlers when I was myself a tween), I made my way up the first base line to what has to be one of the most complete food courts in the Minor Leagues. Pretzels? Check. Pizza? Si. Both ice cream and Dippin’ Dots? All these are standard. Steel mill-themed Blast Furnace Grill? Gyros? German-themed beer garden? Truly, Coca-Cola Park has it all. For a New Yorker engaged in the self-conscious search for the lost Pennsylvania August of his youth, all roads necessarily led to “Aw Shucks” Roasted Corn. Four dollars later, I held in my hands a golden ear literally glistening with butter, parm, and spice. After posing with a nearby IronPig, I tore through the corn with the reckless abandon of a man in the grips of acute culinary nostalgia. It was sweet as summer.

Other shuckers for corn.

Unexpectedly Starbucks-like ordering etiquette.

Man, corn, IronPig.

Meanwhile, on the field, the ‘Pigs hit a three-run home.

Back in the best seats in the house, with the IronPigs holding a commanding 6-0 lead over the visiting Syracuse Chiefs, we were paid a visit by mischievous IronPigs co-mascot FeFe (named after the, you know, symbol for iron on the Periodic Table). In what could only be described as a three-minute thunder run through our section, FeFe sat on laps, climbed over seats, posed for photos, flirted with nonplussed spectators, and otherwise wreaked havoc as only a giant ponytailed anthropomorphic pig can.

The fan in the black shirt is like, “Oh, bleep.”

Ben reacts with shock and awe to FeFe’s fooling.

FeFe goes TMZ on an unsuspecting fan.

How else could such a front-to-back perfect evening have ended but with fireworks? Collectively, the pyrotechnic bursts of molten color served as a reminder that this had been, not just for my crew, a great night. In Allentown as in New York, summer is as fleeting as lights in the night sky over center field. A good idea then to take it in, savor it before it has passed. When, months from now, the wind is bitter cold and all the world seems to be covered with an inch and a half of snow, there will be preserved in the middle distance of our memories a time and place more temperate and pleasant, populated with tiki huts and mascots and surprisingly competitive mid-inning contests. A night at the ballpark.

Each says, “Remember.”

On behalf of Siri, I would like to thank the fan who volunteered to take this photo.

Scouts descend on outfield for Sleepover Night. In my head I hear the whistling scene from the 1961 version of The Parent Trap.

And thus concludes this guest post; thanks to Steve for taking the time to write it. I am generally amenable to handing this blog over to others, so if you would like to pen a guest post of your own then please get in touch and perhaps something can be arranged. Said post can cover a ballpark experience, share a specific Minor League memory, or advance ideas and initiatives that you’d like to see the industry take under consideration.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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