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Fans’ guide to IronPigs 2021 season: Changes in the stands, on the concourse, on the field at Coca-Cola Park

Allentown Morning Call logo Allentown Morning Call 5/4/2021 Tom Housenick, The Morning Call
calendar: Social distancing signs are posted throughout Coca-Cola Park for fans to follow national and state health guidelines during the IronPigs season, which begins Tuesday. © Rick Kintzel/Morning Call Social distancing signs are posted throughout Coca-Cola Park for fans to follow national and state health guidelines during the IronPigs season, which begins Tuesday.

Minor league baseball will not be the same in 2021 and beyond. Major League Baseball has guaranteed that since taking over.

The minor league fan experience won’t be the same to start this season, either, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions set forth by national and state health agencies.

Here’s a look at what to expect when you attend a game:

On the field

Who is in control?: Major League Baseball is now running the Player Development System with 11 restructured leagues across the four levels (Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, Low-A). Minor league player salary increases, higher facility standards and less travel are among MLB’s other changes.

a baseball player throwing a ball: IronPigs first baseman Darick Hall will be stepping on a base that is three square inches larger than in previous years, one of the many on-field changes in 2021. © Rick Kintzel/The Morning Call IronPigs first baseman Darick Hall will be stepping on a base that is three square inches larger than in previous years, one of the many on-field changes in 2021.

New league: The IronPigs, Triple-A affiliate of the Phillies, begin play Tuesday in the Triple-A East, with 20 teams split into three divisions. The Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays), Rochester Red Wings (Nationals), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Yankees), Syracuse Mets and Worcester Red Sox are joining Lehigh Valley in the Northeast Division. The Bisons are playing their home games this season in Trenton because the Blue Jays will be playing in Buffalo. The Red Sox moved their Triple-A franchise from Pawtucket to Worcester.

text, letter: Signage throughout Coca-Cola Park explains the many changes made for the IronPigs' 2021 season. © Rick Kintzel/Morning Call Signage throughout Coca-Cola Park explains the many changes made for the IronPigs' 2021 season.

Teams will only play within their divisions in 2021.

The Midwest Division: Columbus Clippers (Indians), Indianapolis Indians (Pirates), Iowa Cubs, Louisville Bats (Reds), Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals), St. Paul Saints (Twins) and Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers).

The Southeast Division: Charlotte Knights (White Sox), Durham Bulls (Rays), Gwinnett Stripers (Braves), Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins), Memphis Red Birds (Cardinals), Nashville Sounds (Brewers) and Norfolk Tides (Orioles).

The Pacific Coast League is now Triple-A West with two divisions of five teams each.

Revamped schedule: The IronPigs will play a 120-game schedule, including 60 at home. The season ends Sept. 19. There is no postseason.

Rule change: Triple-A leagues are using larger bases (18 inches square instead of 15) this season as one of several experimental rules. MLB’s Competition Committee and the Playing Rules Committee is hoping the new base size will reduce injuries and collisions, and the shorter distances between bases to generate increased success rate of stolen base attempts and the frequency with which a batter-runner reaches base on groundballs.

Other rules for 2021 by level: Double-A, including the Reading Fightin Phils — All four infielders must have their cleats within the outer boundary of the infield dirt when the pitch is delivered; High-A — Pitchers must step off the rubber to attempt a pickoff; Low-A — Limit of two pickoff attempts per plate appearance; Low-A West only — A 15-second pitch clock will be used; Low-A Southeast only — An automatic ball-strike system will be implemented.

Extending safety: Safety netting, which is 10 feet, was extended down in each baseline to the left- and right-field elbow cutouts ahead of the 2020 season.

No collectibles: Players and coaches have been encouraged to not sign autographs and throw balls into the stands.

Other freebies: The Koozie toss and T-shirt toss will be done from within the seating area.

In the stands/around the stadium

Leave your cash at home: From parking to ticketing, concessions and merchandise, Coca-Cola Park is cashless. No money will be accepted anywhere in the stadium. Payment also will be contactless. Fans can insert their credit cards into the pay kiosk or use Apple or Google pay.

Digital ticketing: All tickets will be digital to allow contactless entry. Fans can access their tickets by clicking here. For more information regarding mobile ticketing, fans can click here.

Gate entrances/security screening: Stanchions will social distance at the East and West gate entrances. An extra line at the TD Bank Entrance Plaza (East) can be utilized by fans who need assistance with mobile ticketing, etc.

Bags: All bags brought in must be clear, with exceptions for medical and diaper bags. Bags that are not clear may be brought in if the guest consents to a physical search of the bag. Security will wear masks and gloves and use probing tools at bag check.

Masking up: All fans 2 years old and older are required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth at all times on the ballpark property other than when actively eating or drinking at their ticketed seats. Exceptions may be made for fans who cannot wear face coverings for medical reasons and provide written medical verification. These attendees with proper verification will be wrist banded at gate entrances by security for identification purposes.

Giveaways: Starting with Opening Day, gate opening times will be adjusted to avoid large crowds for the giveaway items.

Clubhouse store: Capacity will be limited to 20 fans at a time. And it will be cashless.

Pod seating: There will be two-, three-, four- and five-seat pods with every other row empty for social distancing. Also, the first few rows behind each dugout and near the on-deck circles will be empty. All unavailable seats, including every aisle seat, will be zip-tied to prevent usage.

The Pig Pen, located beyond the left-field wall in front of the bullpens, will not be open to start the season. All other special seating areas will be open, including the Bacon Strip in right field, but there will be pod seating in those areas, too.

The Dugout Suites, Party Porch and the PNC Club suites’ capacities are based on the number of outdoor seats and inside square footage.

There will be prepackaging of food in all buffet areas.

There are benches added at the top of the lawn in left-center field, and circles in the grass areas will be painted to ensure social distancing.

Restrooms/water fountains: Every other urinal is closed to ensure social distancing. Exterior doors will be propped open to encourage touchless entry/exit. Automatic towel and soap dispensers were installed for touchless distribution. All water fountains will be turned off to discourage contact transmission.

Elevators: Four patrons will be allowed in an elevator at one time. Fans are encouraged to use the stairwells when possible.

Surface transmission: All areas of the ballpark accessed by fans will be cleaned and disinfected at regular intervals using products approved by the CDC and EPA for use against COVID-19. Numerous wall mounted and free-standing hand-sanitizing stations are available throughout the ballpark.

No Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital KidsZone: The left-field area will be closed to start the season.

First pitches: Only players, coaches, umpires and grounds crew members are allowed on the field. All on-field entertainment and first pitches will take place in other areas inside Coca-Cola Park. The pork races were pre-recorded and will be shown on the big screen in left-center field.

Mascot photos: Will be done ... but socially distanced.

Club level food: Fans who have tickets in the PNC Club level must order from their seats via mobile ordering and food will be delivered to their seats.

What’s open: About 85 percent of food items will be available, according to IronPigs President/General Manager Kurt Landes, but many kiosks on the playing surface-side of the concourse will be closed. Most of those items will be available at the concession stands. Friendly’s ice cream will be available, as will the roasted nuts and gyros stands.

What’s not open ... to start the season: Philly Pretzel Factory, Aw Shucks Roasted Corn, Jaindl Smoke House, Sooo-Eey’Te Spot frozen yogurt bar are among the stands that will be closed on Opening Day. The French fries stand in right field also will be closed, but fans can find them at another concession stand.

Concession stand protocols/condiments: Distancing markers are in place to ensure social distancing while waiting in line. All employees are required to wear protective gloves and face coverings. Condiments and similar items will be provided only in pre-packaged servings at the counter.

Rain delays: Fans will be allowed to leave Coca-Cola Park during rain delays and re-enter in an effort to avoid large crowds on the concourse.

Friendly reminders: Public address announcements will be made throughout the game to encourage social distancing and face-covering requirements. At the end of each game, fans will be instructed when to leave their section to maximize social distancing.

Morning Call reporter Tom Housenick can be reached at 610-820-6651 or at thousenick@mcall.com.

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