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Bisons Warm Up To Lehigh Valley

Herd plays first games ever at Allentown’s ballpark

Allentown, PA—You don’t have to convince Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs assistant general manager Danny Tetzlaff that he has the coolest job. His team is home at Coca Cola Park (pictured below), playing the Buffalo Bisons, and another full house is on hand, something the Iron Pigs have seen a lot of this season.

Tetzlaff is racing around the stadium taking care of business. Greeting fans by name. Helping the game night crew with the t-shirt toss. And of course, showing off his pretty new place to a couple of reporters from Artvoice. “What do you guys think?” Tetzlaff asks. “Is this not the nicest ballpark you have ever seen? The fans, the players, the community. Everyone just loves it!”

Hard to argue.

Coca Cola Park in Allentown is the newest venue in the International League, debuting just this season, and is the home of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. The franchise moved from Ottawa after last season, where they were known as the Ottawa Lynx. Declining interest, lack of fan support, and ballpark issues including lack of sufficient parking forced the move from Ottawa.

Allentown, immortalized in that Billy Joel song from the 1980s, was quick to embrace their new team, having been without baseball since their independent league team left a few years earlier. “Everyone really felt it important to give the team a regional footprint, to encompass folks from Easton and Bethlehem as well as Allentown, hence the name ‘Lehigh Valley,’” Tetzlaff explained.

With fixed seating for 8,100 fans and lawn seating and standing room bringing that total up to 10,000, the minimum required by the International League, Coca Cola Park is a jewel of a ballpark. Located about two miles outside of downtown Allentown amidst an office and industrial park, the venue contains many of the amenities found in today’s ballpark design, including a massive HD scoreboard, among the largest in the minors. Club level seating includes a well appointed concourse and plush lounge and bar area, and a bevy of exhibits commemorating this region’s industrial heritage. A picnic patio in the left field corner offers tabletop seating and an “all you can eat” menu. Four dugout suites directly behind home plate probably offer the best views of the game. “From this spot to home plate it’s just 53 feet,” said Tetzlaff as we stood directly behind the mesh in one of the suites. “You are right on top of the action and can hear the players chew their gum.”

Fans in Lehigh Valley have really taken to their new team, and even with plenty of families and youngsters in attendance, the crowd on this night was hanging on every pitch and really into the game. “It’s a very exciting place to be in and the fans are very engaged with the team. Even the visiting team feeds off of that energy,” said Bisons manager Torey Lovullo. Bisons outfielder Jason Cooper added, “As a triple-A player you don’t see a lot of this anymore. It’s really easy to get up for a game when you see all these fans and how everyone is very much into it. It makes it a lot more fun when you see all this.”

Cooper should know. He has played portions of five seasons with the Bisons and is well traveled around the International League. Both he and Lovullo admitted that there were a number of quirks in the playing dimensions which give the home team an advantage.

In the fifth inning of the game we attended, Bisons infielder Jordan Brown hit a rope base hit down the right field line, which would have easily been a double in any ballpark. But not here. At Coca Cola Park the stands jut into the field halfway down the baseline. The ball hit off the stands and bounced in toward waiting right fielder Chris Snelling, who knew exactly how the ball was going to carom. The result was a long single.

“They have that advantage,” said Lovullo. “Instead of running to the corner he’s going to cut it off and that gives him the edge in that particular case.

“There are a lot of ground rules, a lot of situations which makes our defense uncomfortable,” Lovullo said about the playing surface. “You can’t see the ball off the bat sometimes, and you lose the ball in the twilight, but the more we play here, the more we will get adjusted to it.” Cooper added, “That viewing area behind home plate has to be awesome for the fans, but at times it sure stinks for us outfielders who are trying to see the movement of the ball.”

Despite the quirks and oddities about the field, Lovullo was emphatic that the player facilities were top notch. “The structure is unbelievable. The batting cages and locker rooms are the best. It’s great for the fans equally great for us.”

The Bisons return to Lehigh Valley for one more set later this season, August 8 to 11. The ballpark, the awesome concessions, the scoreboard, the fan amenities…it’s worth making the trip.