At the Ballpark in January
It was January 2 at about 4:40 in the evening when I pulled into the parking lot of Coca-Cola Field in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Dusk had begun setting in over the Lehigh Valley and the ballpark was empty; the next ballgame would not be held here until early April, but somehow I found a way to enjoy the visit to the ballpark.
The 3,000 square-foot Majestic Clubhouse Store is one of the largest in the International League and is open daily throughout the year. The IronPigs have been known to create an interesting array of merchandise and styles and many of them can be found inside the store on caps, t-shirts, jerseys, and other paraphernalia.
There was quite a bit of color, especially the powder blue and burgundy ball cap featuring the Liberty Bell. According to the team website, The Sunday cap was created to connect the rich histories of the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia regions with a fresh take on the world-famous Liberty Bell. The cap was also on sale for $10 and came fitted or adjustable.
There was also the Lehigh Valley Barbecues faux back caps that the club wore in 2017 as promotional night to honor the 1970s and faux back maroon jerseys modeled after the parent club Philadelphia Phillies warmups from 1979. There were t-shirts honoring the Allentown Brooks who played briefly in town in the 1950s, and of course the famous bacon strip cap. The bacon theme is almost everywhere at the stadium and in the store.
“It’s important to have a variety of prices so that fans of all income levels can take a piece of the game home with them,” indicated Mike Luciano, IronPigs Director of Merchandise. “The store is broken up into four main departments: men’s, women’s children’s and novelties. Our guests can buy anything from T-shirts, lunch bags and even plastic pig noses.”
However, my favorite was the Fighting Bacon logo that was created as part of the Food Fight online vote with the Fresno Grizzlies who moonlight as the Fresno Tacos as part of its game-day promotions. The loser of the balloting would have to wear the winners’ cap, a promotion that was the first of its kind and has been emulated in other levels of baseball.
The large retail space allows the ball club to carry an array of products from multiple vendors. There are over 50 vendors that rival some of the major league clubs that helps promotes and market the brand to the Lehigh Valley and beyond. Luciano feels the team store alone is a great way to bring in fans during the offseason.
“We are very fortunate to have a large retail space here at Coca-Cola Park. I believe it’s a way for our fans to stay connected to the game. We are open all year round and when our fans need a little taste of summer they can stop in, buy some of our great products and feel like they are “at home” again. Often times fans will come in just to shoot the breeze and discuss baseball and we are happy to do that.”
If I had been at the ballpark a few weeks earlier, I might have seen a few people purchasing a last minute Christmas gift. The IronPigs did have a few ugly t-shirts and holiday theme shirts and caps on clearance, that also included socks and tree ornaments.
A gift shop can say a lot about a ball club and I have seen quite a bit of them. The shops of the Triple-A ball clubs tend to be among the largest and most varied. The Toledo Mud Hens and Durham Bulls have impressive storefronts that pride themselves on the long history of each club, while few others boast promotional items and various designs where the play a night or two named after a local iconic regional dish.
“Minor League baseball is all about fun and here at the IronPigs we love to have fun,” added Luciano. “Everything we do and every decision we make is to give the guests a positive and memorable experience every time. Part of that fun is having different theme nights and throwback nights. We try to have several games a year where we adopt a different name or theme. One of our most popular was when we changed our name and uniforms to the Lehigh Valley Cheesesteaks.”
There is only so much fun one can have at the ballpark at the beginning of January, but taking look at the various items on sale here makes you wish April would get here a bit sooner. The IronPigs will open the season on April 4 against the Rochester Red Wings and have planned a few more promotional nights throughout the season.
Maybe my travels will take me back during the season to catch a game sometime soon.
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