Oink! The Iron Pigs season is over. The Phillies’ gift---okay, the county coughed up $50 million to build the stadium----to the Lehigh Valley finished with the worst record in Triple A (55-89) and even one game worse than the previous Philly franchise in Ottawa last year. If you came to the ball park to see good or even exciting baseball, you were quite frequently disappointed. On the other hand, there is something in what the Iron Pigs would have you believe, it was fun.
I have a hard time trying to figure out why. Doesn’t the purpose of paying for admission have something to do with watching good professional baseball rather than merely buying hot dogs and hamburgers at reasonable (for a ball park) prices? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the Coca Cola Park employees really seem to enjoy their jobs. It rubs off in the friendly way they deal with the customers.
Then there is the practically endless entertainment between innings. Little kids in pig costumes race around the bases. Kids try to catch water balloons in their oversized pants. The all male ground crew not only sweep the infield dirt but do hysterically funny well choreographed dances in the area behind second base. The Iron Pigs’ mascots Ferrous and FeFe have well established Chaplinesque personas that they maintain through thick and thin. The score board broadcast as television series called “As the Bacon Turns” in which Ferrous is always one-upped by FeFe.
Coca Cola Park itself is a good place to watch baseball. The sight lines are excellent, the seats comfortable, and most of the time the scoreboard works. It once gave the averages of the players at bat along with their pictures and positions. The averages ceased as the Pigs failed at the plate. A huge Coca Cola bottle behind left field was supposed to shoot off fireworks whenever a Pig hit a home run or scored----which or both is not clear. The fact is that much excitement it engendered arose from wondering whether the thing would work at all. One minor flaw was that the display of the radar gun readout of pitching speed was consistently off. Thirty seven miles per hour, as it often reported, is simply not possible. A five year old girl throwing underhand would be faster. A major flaw was that the lighting system resulted in routine pop ups being turned into hits when the fielders couldn’t see the ball and fans being hit when they couldn’t track the flight of the ball into the stands.
Another plus are the fans. If you have bought a ticket package, you got to know the fans that surrounded your seats. There was considerable camaraderie in the face of on-the-field adversity. Negatively was frowned on even though grumbling was frequent. One guy behind our seats explained the game constantly to his wife or girlfriend----different women for different games----as if they were two-year-olds. To our left in the same row sat two brothers, one a hundred pounds and eight inches taller than the other although they both shared the same friendly personality. To our right there were always two empty seats, but at the end of the row sat a couple who seemed rather stand-offish and annoyed whenever they were required to rise to allow somebody to get out. It turned out that the wife was an absolutely charming person suffering, probably, from the fact that her husband was a retired a bank loan officer. A young couple, who never arrived earlier than the second inning and rarely staid past the seventh, was accompanied by a girl of perhaps four and an infant in his mother’s arms. The one time that a foul fly came into our section, the husband was out buying refreshments and ball hit his seat. He will probably never forgive himself.
One thing amazed me every time we came to a game: The Iron Pigs had a program that looked like the usual glossy program and it was free! Wow, that never happened to me before in years of being a spectator.
But back to baseball. When I was a kid I lived three blocks from Ebbets field, the home of the then perpetual losers, the Brooklyn Dodgers. From sneaking into Ebbets----any kid who paid had to be either very stupid or have very wealthy parents---I became a baseball expert. Baseball, unlike almost everything else, is little change in the last seventy years, so my advise to the Iron Pigs ownership is still valid. Here it is:
Hire me to replace Dave Huppert as the Iron Pigs manager. Huppert was not the Phillies’ first choice to manager the Pigs. He was hired more or less at the last moment to replace John Russell who had been hired away by the Pittsburgh Pirates. This was a terrible mistake. Now is the time for a change.
As a younger man than I am, Huppert hasn’t had the benefit of my experience. He has never learned, for example, that it is not really a good thing to leave a pitcher in to be hammered for eight runs in one inning. Even though AAA is suppose to be a training ground for major league players, that is not a learning experience. He does not understand that if you have a fat fellow standing on first base in the bottom of the ninth with no one out and your team is behind by one run, it is a good idea to replace him with a pinch runner who may stay out of a double play. And so forth.
Huppert seems like a nice enough guy but one who has seen too many games and has given up on the idea of trying to win. This year he had several excellent players including Mike Cervenak, Brandon Watson and Andy Tracy, who could even hit. He had T.J. Bohn, one of the best outfielders anywhere, who unfortunately could not. Bohn was almost never replaced when it was hitting that counted, not fielding. He also had J.A. Happ, probably the world’s unluckiest pitcher, who once took over a game after it had been stopped for rain at the end of the first inning on a previous night and pitched a no-hitter the rest of the way for no more than a hearty handshake. Huppert’s maneuvering of these forces would have disgraced the daffy Dodgers of my youth.
Oh Phillies, please hire me. You will allow an old man to fulfill a fantasy. Better still, even if the Pigs don’t win much next year, with me they will probably draw even better than this year. After all, who wouldn’t pay to see a bent over old geyser with a with a white beard arguing with an umpire? I would.