Going 'Hog Wild'
It was 20-some years ago that my mother and father took me to my first Reading Phillies baseball game.
Now-a-days, I see myself continuing to attend minor league baseball games with my father and son Wyatt to watch the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
The difference, however, is that I catch myself visiting Coca Cola Park - the home of the Philadelphia Phillies' AAA affiliate - more than I visited Reading years back.
In the last two weeks, I have attended a game with my father, my uncle Ronnie and my son to see the Pigs host the Norfolk Tide. Ten days later, I had flashbacks of my younger days as I made the journey to Coca Cola Park with my father and mother for a game in which we saw the Gwinnett Braves.
When visiting Reading, the trips were few and far between. Meanwhile, I have witnessed myself "Go Hog Wild" plenty of times since the inaugural season of IronPigs baseball.
Why do I keep going back?
Sure, there's the love of the game that definitely drives the heart and the fact I have been a die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Phillies for years.
With some assistance from fellow IronPigs faithful, the reasons flowed out with ease.
Of course, having Coca-Cola Park being close to home definitely helps. I can honestly admit I have bumped into plenty of my friends or people I know down in the Lehigh Valley than I ever did at Reading.
Then, there's the fact that would definitely draw anybody out for a night at the ballpark.
"There's so much that I love about Coca Cola Park and the entire IronPigs experience," said Shawn Bierman, who was actually at the Pigs' game Wednesday night when I talked to him. "You can't beat the value. I can take a family of four and between tickets, food and drinks pay the same or less than I would for one person at a major league ballpark. I have taken groups as well as attended games with just family and everyone has always had a great time."
Indeed, Bierman is right. General admission tickets are $6 for a single game, field level tickets go for $9 and club level are set at $14 apiece.
However, my friend and former colleague hit the nail on the head when he talked about the activities they have for fans of all ages.
"My oldest son, Dominick, has gotten to throw out a first pitch, be a "Toyota Tike on the Mike" and announce the IronPigs batting order for an inning, and just tonight he did commentary on the radio right behind home plate as Shane Victorino hit a home run," added Bierman, who has been to nine games so far this season and has tickets for the season finale against Scranton/Wilke-Barre.
"We love the promotions and give-aways. We have been lucky enough to get baseball caps, baseballs, and bobbleheads (to name a few). We have enjoyed TD Bank Baseball Bingo on Tuesday nights. We have been there for fireworks and have been lucky enough to catch prizes thrown into the stands."
While Dominick has stepped out on the field and into the press box, my son simply enjoys heading right to the bottom of the stands along the third-base line with ball and glove in hand ready to mingle with the fan-friendly players. It was something I did along with my sister when I was his age, trying to get autographs. Wyatt has taken it a step further, however. Instead of simply getting their autographs, he loves talking to the players, who will stand there and have no problem talking to a five-year old prior to game time.
Meanwhile, my father's words of wisdom show that it's not only the players that draw the crowd each night. He mentioned those other individuals who make it feel like you're right at home.
"Its a beautiful stadium and a nice place to unwind and enjoy," he said. "Their ushers and staff are very friendly and helpful to those in the crowd.
"And, no matter where you sit in the stadium, you have a great view of the game. In fact, I prefer to go see a minor league game over a major league game anyday."
My dad has been there four times this season and plans for another return trip in the future. And, it shows, that my father, my friend and I aren't alone with the idea of returning to Cocal Cola more than once a season.
It has to be a given since attendance continues to be at a high rate throughout the course of the season.
According to the IronPigs website, attendance has hit 10,000 17 times so far in 2010.
In fact, in 2009, the IronPigs increased their attendance by six-percent (641,335 fans) and finished second in average attendance (9,161) in all of Minor League Baseball.
In addition, over the first two seasons, the team has averaged 8.818 fans per game - a number that significantly surpasses Coca Cola Park's seating capacity of just under 8,100.