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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
There is a great collection of minor league baseball ballparks in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania that include Limeport Stadium, Coca-Cola Park and Quakertown Memorial Park. A visitor would have a nice little history lesson on ballpark construction if visiting for a few days. However, there is another ballpark that may strike your fancy while visiting the area - ECTB Stadium in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
The stadium is home to the Allentown Railers of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League and brings a little life to the vapid facility during the summer months. ECTB Stadium, formerly known as Bicentennial Park when it opened in 1976, was built on the site of Fairview Field which had been home to various minor league teams in the city since 1930. It was also the home to the Allentown Ambassadors of the Northeast League (now the Can-Am League) from 1997-2003.
The stadium has seen better days, but there are improvements currently underway that should breathe fresh new life into the vapid facility. The 4,600 seat stadium is rather large for the league and features an all dirt, softball style infield. However, with the right attitude, this quirky little baseball facility might be worth watching a game in the near future, but time will tell.
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There is a small stand located underneath the grandstand and facing out on the main concourse. There are only seven items on the rather crude cardboard menu cutout that adorns the windows. The items include cheeseburgers, hot dogs, sunflower seeds, pretzels, sport drinks, soda, and candy. The prices are inexpensive and the hot dogs taste quite good. The hot dogs are only $2 and cheeseburgers are $3.
Could the atmosphere be a little better at ECTB Stadium? Perhaps, but the ballpark is quite grandiose by ACBL standards. The largest stadium in the league, it looks like it would be perfect in the Northwoods or Prospect Leagues, other collegiate wood bat leagues who have taken over erstwhile minor league ballparks. The ballpark does feature a few intriguing quirks and there is the possibility, with imagination, that the game day experience could change one day for the better.
The seating is made of plastic and features bucket seats behind the first few rows of the backstop and backless seating throughout the rest of the stadium. The seating is up close and personal to the action. If it was not for the large fence screen behind home plate, you could brush off the dirt from a player sliding into home. There is a lot of room to stretch out, catch a foul ball or simply reminisce about old school baseball.
The outfield fence was renovated before the 2014 season and looks quite stunning. The center field light is in play and a simple electronic scoreboard resides in left field. However, it was not in operation when I attended the game (I was told that it needed to be repaired). A large net looms over the right field wall for protection from fly balls landing against the residential homes across the street. The setting in the south side of Allentown is also a nice nod to ballparks of the past. Incidentally, they have been playing baseball at this site for almost 85 years.
There are no mascots, major announcements, promotions or gimmicks. There is a large collection of souvenirs with the Railers logo on it and some of it looks pretty good (it's not the cheap stuff you find sometimes in parks at this level).
The main grandstand once had tarp wrapped around it when the Ambassadors played minor league baseball here, but it has been removed and the seats are now exposed. This is not aesthetically pleasing and a dash of color or name of the stadium would do wonders to its image.
The stadium is situated in a residential neighborhood, but not far from the I-78 exit where a few great places to eat are located. Queen City Diner is open 24 hours and offers generous portions at reasonable prices. If you are not from the area, diner food is a must to have after the game.
Rodizio Grill is a Brazilian barbecue restaurant where one would have to come hungry and not expect to eat for a few days afterwards. Steak, chicken, pork, and lamb are all brought out to your table. It is a nice experience to say the least.
There are not a lot of fans at the game. In fact, there is not a lot of cheering from the ones who are in the grandstands. When your crowds are small in a vast ballpark, viewing the game can feel like a dirge, but the Railers have a great product and winning attitude. I am sure if there were a few promotions here and there, a few more fans would find their way back to the stadium.
Arriving to the stadium is the best part of the experience. It is quick and easy. All you have to do is take exit 57 off of I-78 and proceed north on Lehigh Street for 1.5 miles and the stadium is on your left. The parking is free and plentiful in the stadium's lot and access is easy to get in or out of after the game.
The ticket prices are $5 a person and kids 8 and under are admitted free of charge. This is a small price to pay to watch college kids hone their skills with the wooden bat during the months of June and July.
The roofs of houses behind the right field wall adds a nice touch to this quirky little ball park that features high walls, a light tower in play in center field, and seats close enough to tap the umpire on the shoulder. If this was any other league, you may see some improvements with not only the stadium itself, but with the game day experience. Thankfully the public can still catch a game and perhaps the game day experience will improve in time.
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1801 Lehigh St
Allentown, PA 18103
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