Finer League?
Enjoy big-league entertainment at the area’s finest minor-league ballparks
by Bill Donahue


With the Phillies perched high atop the National League East, courtesy of one of the most talented rosters ever to take the field, nabbing good tickets to some games at Citizens Bank Park can be about as easy as swatting a Roy Halladay cutter over the rail. Luckily, some of the country’s best minor-league ballparks are within an hour’s drive (maybe an hour and a half) of the Philadelphia suburbs. There you’re likely to enjoy fireworks, free parking and great baseball played by future major-league starters, not to mention the occasional MLB pro down for a rehab assignment. Here’s where to begin:


Campbell’s Field, Camden, N.J.

Campbell’s Field, where the Atlantic League’s Camden Riversharks play, has one of the most unique vistas among local sports teams—right across the Delaware River from Center City, in the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge. The club, which is managed by former Phillies standout Von Hayes, offers family-friendly promotions and special events designed to entertain fans of all ages, from the first pitch to the last. On Aug. 27, for example, fans can bring their well-behaved dogs to the ballpark to enjoy the game and run the bases with them afterwards. Also, as part of each pre-game the Riversharks feature a “high-five tunnel” whereby kids line the dugout exit and high-five each player as he is called out for the lineup. Contact: Camden Riversharks, 401 N. Delaware Ave., Camden, N.J.; 866-SHARKS9


Coca-Cola Park, Allentown

Although Coca-Cola Park is home to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, a Triple-A affiliate of the Fightin’ Phils, one wouldn’t dare call this ballpark a sty. Now managed by another former Phillie, Ryne Sandberg (see sidebar), the IronPigs have been leading the rest of the pack in the International League’s North division for most of the year. Fun-filled promotions on the schedule in coming weeks include a “Cowboy Monkey Rodeo” (yes, you read that right) on July 30 and a “Man Cave Giveaway” on Aug. 31. Contact: Lehigh Valley IronPigs, 1050 IronPigs Way, Allentown; 610-841-PIGS


Daniel S. Frawley Stadium, Wilmington, Del.

The Blue Rocks are a Single-A advanced affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, playing in an old-time stadium for 6,500. The team has a special promotion slotted for every home game, such as “Nerd Night” on July 30, and an all-you-can-eat “crab fest” on Aug. 13. The Blue Rocks also have three mascots to entertain the kids (or immature adults) between innings and throughout the game: a blue moose named Rocky Bluewinkle; an oversized celery stalk named Mr. Celery, who celebrates each Blue Rocks run; and Rubble, an animated hunk of blue granite after which the team was named. Contact: Wilmington Blue Rocks, 801 Shipyard Drive, Wilmington, Del.; 302-888-2015


FirstEnergy Stadium, Reading

Home of the Triple-A Reading Phillies, the FirstEnergy Stadium is somewhat legendary for its ability to create a festive atmosphere for fans from the time the gates open until the bottom of the ninth, which is one of the main reasons the “R-Phils” have led the Eastern League in attendance for seven consecutive seasons. Completed in 1951, the stadium is one of the league’s oldest venues, giving it old-time character. Other perks: free parking, fireworks and a five-member R-Phils Mascot Team to keep the crowd engaged between innings and at-bats. What’s more, the R-Phils have cultivated big-league stars such as Mike Schmidt, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, so the baseball is sure to please, too. Contact: Reading Phillies, 1900 Centre Ave. (Route 61 South), Reading; 610-370-BALL


Mercer County Waterfront Park, Trenton, N.J.

Just across the “Trenton Makes” bridge, right on the Delaware River waterfront, this park is home to the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. (Try not to hold it against them.) The Thunder have been recognized as the “Nation’s Best Franchise” by Minor League Baseball for providing an outstanding fan experience in a first-class stadium. Like most other minor-league stadiums, Mercer County Waterfront Park offers affordable prices in a clean, safe, family-friendly environment, with premium giveaways and special events just about every night, including multiple dates with postgame fireworks. Contact: Trenton Thunder, One Thunder Road, Trenton, N.J.; 609-394-3300


Photo courtesy of Lehigh Valley IronPigs