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No Fans, No Fun In Lehigh Valley

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Only one day into the minor league season, the weather in the Northeast is already wreaking havoc.

Binghamton’s final Opening Day under the B-Mets moniker was called off. Three games in the International League were postponed, too, and another was stopped early for rain. But the biggest early-season mess happened in Syracuse, where the field was so unplayable that the first four games of the season, against Lehigh Valley, were cancelled a day before the season began.

Neither the IronPigs nor the Chiefs wanted to delay the season four days (or have to schedule four makeup games with one another), so they devised an unorthodox plan, to say the least, to get the games in.

The teams will play a doubleheader today at 11 a.m., but nobody will be there to see it. No fans will be allowed into Coca-Cola Park because of safety concerns involving ongoing construction. Media were permitted, and the IronPigs reported approximately 10 reporters in their press box just before game time.

Considering the teams and prospects involved, it’s a particular shame that fans won’t get an up-close look on Friday morning. Lehigh Valley contains several jewels of the Phillies’ system, including righthander Jake Thompson, who was slated to start the first game. The Pigs’ roster includes three Top 100 prospects--Thompson (75), outfielder Nick Williams (27) and catcher Andrew Knapp (96). Additionally, the team also houses righties Mark Appel (No. 8 in the system after being acquired from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade) and Zach Eflin (13). Syracuse has a Top 100 prospect of its own in shortstop Trea Turner, who checked in at No. 9.

Lehigh Valley general manager Kurt Landes explained the situation in a press release on Thursday night.

“We’re sympathetic to the uncontrollable weather issues in upstate New York this weekend. As a fellow member of the International League alongside the Chiefs, the IronPigs organization is doing everything it can on short notice to assist the Chiefs and the league in their efforts to ensure that two games are played this weekend,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re unable to open Coca-Cola Park to the public for these games due to safety issues concerning installations with contractors and vendors on-site in anticipation of our home opener on April 14.”

The games will be televised locally and on MiLB.tv.

International League president Randy Mobley thanked Lehigh Valley for its ability to be flexible on such short notice.

“On behalf of the International League, we’d like to thank the Lehigh Valley IronPigs for hosting these two games at Coca-Cola Park on extremely short notice,” Mobley said. “These were unforeseen circumstances, but it’s extremely beneficial to both teams along with their parent clubs to get the season underway this weekend.”

The Orioles played a major league game in front of an empty stadium last season because of concerns over protests in Baltimore surrounding the verdict in a case involving the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. The Charleston RiverDogs also played to an empty stadium in 2002, but that was part of a promotion designed to set a record for lowest attendance.

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After today’s games, the Pigs will take two days off before playing again on Monday in Rochester, where the forecast for the next two days includes snow before warming up to the low-50s on Monday. Syracuse will try again on Monday at home against Buffalo.

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