At roughly $50 million, Allentown's Coca-Cola Park is one of the priciest ballparks ever built in the minor leagues. So as expected, it comes with all the bells and whistles that are now standard in a stadium.
But what really sets Coca-Cola Park apart from the rest is its food. Given the name of the team the ballpark was built for, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, it's no surprise that pork products are easily found, but flavored pretzels and roasted corn on the cob notably compliment barbeque offerings like the big porker sandwich and nacho porker. Behind home plate, the sweet smell of cinnamon wafts through the concourse from the cinnamon roasted nut stand, which is the reason why this is the best smelling ballpark I've ever been to.
As for the structure and its confines, I was underwhelmed if only because I've seen so much of what Coca-Cola Park features before. The concourse wraps the field, there's a small berm with a supersized scoreboard behind it and plenty of great standing room options are set behind drink rails that are as abundant as concession offerings. Predictably, groups have their picnic area, kids their zone, and companies their suites.
The ballpark has two levels and separate gates for each. The club level contains 1,061 seats with 20 suites behind them. The West gate, which is adjacent to a loading dock and behind home plate, is for club seat and suite holders only. The East gate, located in the right field corner, is where most folks congregate and enter the ballpark, which has 7,040 field level seats, all painted green with cup holders and angled towards the action. Behind home plate, four so-called dugout suites are separated from the rest of the grandstand. The club level's suites are bookended by open-air but covered party porches.
Coca-Cola Park has what feels like an abbreviated exterior. Built of red brick and tan concrete, its facade spans the first base side of the park only and would be nondescript if not for the arched bay windows that line its upper portion, their placement corresponding to the concourse for the club level. Although not off limits, the third base side of the park might as well be. Since it abuts the edge of ballpark property, there is only room for a narrow strip of asphalt, which feels more like a path than the road it is and from which fans have no means to enter the ballpark. Since this outer half isn't seen much, no attempt was made to match the look of the first base side facade that is seen by everyone.
What can also be seen by everyone is the billboards that dominate the outfield's backdrop. Supported by steel frames, two levels of elevated billboards span the outfield, taking a break only from left-center field, where the main scoreboard is, to the center field batter's backdrop. In all, 30 billboards frame the action for most fans - 20 in right and 10 in left field, where they loom behind the bullpens, which are stacked one behind the other and only separated by a chain link fence. A 20’ wide x 10’ tall video capable display board is affixed to the back wall of the bullpen area. The big video board that's embedded in the nearby main scoreboard is 50’ x 22’ and above it is a large Coke bottle that can shoot fireworks.
Small auxiliary scoreboards are on the facades of the party porches. They are needed because there's a lot going on in the outfield, where fans fill three tiers of drink rail space that's behind the right field wall. The berm fills the space in left-center between the bullpens and batter's eye. A multi-level picnic patio hugs the left field line. Behind it is a kids area full of pay to play games. Youthful adults saddle up to the beer only bar in right field. Not surprisingly given the prominence and presence of advertising, most areas within the ballpark have a sponsor's name attached to it, and that even includes the berm and team store, which is a well-stocked big one just inside of the East gate.
Following games, children exiting through either gate are handed a helium-filled balloon. That's a nice touch. So too is the tribute to legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, whose trademark home run call, "It's outta here!", is emblazoned on the wall beneath the ballpark bar in right field.
While there was only one "Harry the K" newer ballparks have an assembly line feel to them and Coca-Cola Park (est. 2008) is a perfectly packaged example of one designed by the masters at HOK Sport (now called Populous). So the residents of the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania got a good but not groundbreaking ballpark, and one that will be most memorable to me because of its great food offerings and numerous outfield billboards.