MOOSIC — When the Lehigh Valley IronPigs came into existence in 2008, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre had their number for the first two seasons, posting a 24-8 record.
Since then, they have been as close as they can be without being tied, as SWB has posted 33 victories and the IronPigs have 31.
Adding steam to the rivalry last season was the IronRail Trophy, which began as a yearly prize between the two closest rivals in the International League. The RailRiders won the trophy in 2013, but it wasn’t easy as they had to win three of the last four games of the season series, including the final contest for a 9-7 edge. SWB earned the many bragging rights and the honor or being able to keep the IronRail at PNC Field all season.
The rivalry was kicked up a notch earlier this year when Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s promotional schedule was released with one of the giveaways being a T-shirt imprinted with “Friends don’t let friends be LHV fans.” That shirt will be given away as part of T-shirt Tuesdays on July 1.
Lehigh Valley responded to that shot earlier this week, unveiling a fixture with RailRiders logos that will be in every urinal at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown.
RailRiders president and general manager Rob Crain and IronPigs president and general manager Kurt Landes are friends, which adds incentive to the competition.
“I told Kurt, ‘I appreciate the free advertising.’ We sell sponsorships to our urinals, so I appreciate the free advertising. I thought it was a gift,” Crain said on Saturday at the RailRiders’ Family Fest at PNC Field. “The relationship with Kurt and I is wonderful, and this humor going back and forth is a lot of fun. Just because he did that, I have yet to respond, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to respond.”
The first game between the two teams this season is Friday, April 18 at PNC Field.
The IronPigs earned national storylines earlier this year when they unveiled bacon-themed apparel, including a bacon strip T-shirt that has the scent of bacon and lasts for up to 10-15 washes.
Not to be outdone, Crain came out earlier this month proclaiming that the temperature on Opening Day at PNC Field on April 10 would be at least 60 degrees, saying that if the temperature wasn’t that warm, fans in attendance would get a free ticket to any future SWB game this season.
He added that if the RailRiders — who struggled at home at the beginning of last season, not winning until the fifth game of the campaign — were not victorious in their home opener, he would dress like a woman until the team did.
Crain dressed in his beach clothes and scuba gear to make a video proclaiming the guarantees. The video was picked up by MLB Network and was featured on the network’s Intentional Talk program.
“I really, really hope that (manager) Dave (Miley) puts the ace out there on the 10th,” Crain said.
If SWB can’t find a way to win a few home games early, that’s another thing Landes will surely take advantage of.
Opener before the opener
There will be baseball played at PNC Field before the RailRiders’ home opener as the Bill Howerton Strike Out Cancer event will be held April 5-6 when the venue is the site for two high school and two college games.
On April 5, Wyoming Area takes on Dunmore at noon, and that will be followed by the collegiate Wilkes-Barre rivalry when King’s and Wilkes square off at 2:30 p.m.
The next day, Wallenpaupack faces East Stroudsburg South in the first game, to be followed by Misericordia vs. the University of Scranton at 2 p.m.
One of a kind
Growing up in Massachusetts, Crain is a Red Sox fan — that’s been known since he got his current job in mid 2012. But even though he works for the Yankees, he’s still a fan of his childhood team and celebrated when Boston won its third World Series in 10 years back in October.
“You can’t give up your childhood. … That’s a team you grew up with,” Crain said. “And now with the Yankees here, I went to a Red Sox-Yankees game last year. And when they’re on TV or I’m going to games, I root for the Yankees.”
Wait a second. A Red Sox fan who roots for the Yankees, too?
“I think I’m the only legit Red Sox and Yankees fan ever because I work for them, but I also grew up in Boston,” Crain said. “It’s definitely different. I’m not sure I’m allowed back in Massachusetts, but we have a good time.”