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Conference Championship Destinations

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 3, 2015

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Honda Center in Anaheim, CA…home to the Big West Basketball Tournament (photo from Jason Bartel at Stadium Journey)

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The calendar has turned to the third month of the year and you know what that means…March Madness! Yes, even though I’ve been down on the sport of college basketball, I can not help myself from getting excited as the postseason draws near. While mainstream media and the general population focus attention on the Big Tournament, the conference gatherings are just as special. The culmination of a frenetic regular season all boils down to a neat, tidy bracket to determine a champion (well, save for leagues like the Horizon and MAC with their step-ladder approach). Conference Tournaments feature competitive games, amazing moments and annual fan gatherings at neutral-site destinations. I’ve written before where I think each league should host their ultimate finale, but for this post I want to focus on which ones are the best place to spend a 3-4 days as a bi-partisan fan and enjoy the entire event. As always, I like to focus on the leagues that get less attention, so this list will stay clear of the Power Five:

 

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1)  Las Vegas, NV  –  Orleans Arena (WCC) and Thomas & Mack Center (MWC)  

The first choice is obvious…Vegas Baby! As the ultimate sports travel destination, Sin City hosts a remarkable four conference tournaments (Pac-12 and WAC are the others). Despite the seeming contradictory decision of the West Coast Conference to have their all religious-following members gather in a place that isn’t exactly conducive to behaving by Catholic/Mormon standards, the move made here six years ago has been a resounding success. And they moved to a traditional bracket! The WCC plays a little off the Strip in the Orleans Hotel & Casino. I stayed here back in 2009 and loved it as the facility had everything you want in a Vegas hotel, plus it is quieter and the heart of the city is only a few minutes drive away. Meanwhile, across town at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Mountain West Conference gathers a week later for their shindig. While UNLV is the host, the obvious lure of the bright lights brings tons of fans in to the pro-style arena which negates a significant advantage. Check out the mass of fans New Mexico had with them for the 2013 final against the Rebels.

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2)  St. Louis  –  Scottrade Center (Missouri Valley Conference)

Nowhere else in college basketball will you find such a gathering of alumni and fans convening for the annual event in St. Louis. That means the bars in Laclede’s Landing are quite colorful from the yellow of Wichita State to the Bradley/Illinois State red and the Northern Iowa/Evansville purple. This is the rare “mid-major” event capable of filling an entire large arena and the central location of St. Louis within the league’s footprint makes them an ideal host. Scottrade Center being downtown and close to attractions along with post-game establishments already set the stage for a great arena trip. However, it is the people and tight-knit community of these Midwestern schools where the atmosphere sets it apart.

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3)  Anaheim, CA  –  Honda Center (Big West Conference)

The California Bus League (aka Big West) culminates it’s season in Anaheim and SoCal is a great destination to go along with a neat, three-day Thursday-Saturday Tournament. My only issue is they moved venues a few years ago to the way-too-big Honda Center. With crowds not filling even half the place, their former home at the Anaheim Convention Center was a much more appropriate venue. Plus the location there is perfect as right across the street is DisneyLand. Regardless, the Honda Center is still only 5 minutes away down Katella Ave and the amenities at the big arena are better.

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4)  Cleveland, OH  –  Quicken Loans Arena (Mid-American Conference)

So why Cleveland in Winter…MACtion! This is always a hotly contested event and the downtown area has shed the whole “Mistake-by-the-Lake” moniker. Not far from the arena is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with the Great Lakes Science Center right next door. Now, if they would just do something about that horrible arena name and go back to their original title of “Gund Arena”.

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5)  Asheville, NC  –  U.S. Cellular Center (Southern Conference)

One of the Nation’s oldest conferences came back to a neutral site in Asheville to resounding success and this peaceful, eclectic getaway near the Smoky Mountains is a terrific place to visit. The U.S. Cellular Center is in the historic downtown, notable for it’s stunning architecture and array of small local places to eat. Make sure to check out the massive Biltmore Estate while in town too. The arena that hosts the SoCon action may have a new name, but it is certainly old school as the Civic Center box design screams 1970s, but features great sight-lines from the small upper section of seating.

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Feb 2015 Stadium of the Month – Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 23, 2015

Jacksonville Memorial Veterans Arena

Jacksonville Memorial Veterans Arena (photo from Stadium Journey and taken by Lloyd Brown)

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Like a good portion of the Eastern United States, I am sick of winter and need warmth. Doesn’t that picture above look cozy and inviting? So let’s head to the Sunshine State this month for our featured stadium. That arena in the image is the Jacksonville Memorial Veterans Arena, a building that many don’t know exists thanks to the lackluster list of tenants. Despite being part of the 40th sized market in the country, the Sharks of the Arena Football League are the main draw in the 12-year old facility (along with Jacksonville University Basketball). With 13,000 – 14,000 seats for sporting events, it does fit the mold quite well for the NCAA Basketball Tournament’s opening rounds and in a few weeks, the Populous designed arena will play host once again.

The arena, along with the ballpark, was a part of an improvement plan for the city and this complex of sports venues (along with EverBank Field) makes up the east end along the St. James River. It may look and sound nice, but there is no real reason to explore the immediate area before the game. In fact, Jacksonville is not exactly at the top of tourism lists in Florida (one person who went to the Super Bowl several years back described it as a “hole” to me), but the arena is a different story.

The brick building with aqua accents is warm on the eye. Starting with a nice impression is the Hall of Fame found near the front entrance, where various displays of memorabilia shape the story of Jacksonville’s sporting history. Inside is an arena compromised well between modern-day luxuries and the common fan. Sitting steeply above a row of luxury suites on the side is a 300 level that is closer to the court than normal due to the arena’s relatively smaller size. While the city may not be a great destination for an NCAA weekend, check out a Sharks game. They pack the place pretty well and the season starts April 3.
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The Best League To Take a Trip Through

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 7, 2015

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Regardless of sport, for those that enjoy stadium travel in the US and Canada, it can be difficult to find an entire league to visit. Several reasons are to blame for the geographical divergence, money being the main one (I’m looking at you, NCAA). However, there are still a few options for those wanting to travel only by car and none are better than the Ontario Hockey League. Diversity is the biggest positive for choosing a journey through the OHL. Cities range from the capital in Ottawa to tiny Owen Sound (population just over 20,000). There is great opportunity not only to visit the province, but the league also ventures into Michigan and Pennsylvania. The arenas provide a nice variety in size and architecture with old classics like those in Kitchener and North Bay mixed with modern beauties like in London. Finally, a very important factor in my book is the atmosphere and in many of these towns, there is a deep, vested interest in their home hockey franchise. That translates to a much better crowd experience than typically found in the professional hockey minor leagues.

This is why over the last few years I’ve made some trips up to Canada and I am planning on making the trip through the league. My brother Eric has been joining me and my family back in Rochester, NY is a strategic place to branch off from as 19 out of the 20 teams are within a six hour drive (the remaining city, Sault Ste. Marie, is a hike from anywhere). In the last few years we have seen Barrie and Kingston, just enough to wet our appetite for future years and trips. For anyone looking to go the same route, check out The OHL Arena & Travel Guide, a longstanding online fixture that is the definitive source for the entire experience.

There are a couple of other leagues worth an honorable mention……In basketball, the vastly underrated experience is the Missouri Valley Conference. It matches the OHL in many categories and can be done all by car. From Chicago to Cedar Falls to Carbondale and points in between, fans come out in droves during the freezing winter months. Probably the best experience in all of college basketball is at the Roundhouse in Wichita State. The set of arenas is as diversified as the sport has to offer……For a more laid-back leisurely league trip, check out the Southern League, in the AA-level of Minor League Baseball. Comprised of 10 teams, baseball’s everyday schedule allows for this trip to be done in a two-week period if crafty with planning. Lots of new ballparks to enjoy and there are nice places to tour along the way as Jacksonville, Pensacola, Biloxi and Chattanooga all are in the league’s footprint. 

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Jan 2015 Stadium of the Month – Sanford Pentagon

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 30, 2015

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Sanford Pentagon, located in Sioux Falls, SD (image from http://www.sanfordpentagon.com)

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In the last decade, I do not think there has been a better idea for a basketball arena theme/design then the relatively new Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, SD. The Pentagon is a massive basketball facility indeed shaped like the name says and a total of nine basketball courts are available. At it’s center is “Heritage Court”, with 3,200 seats on four sides and a decent mix of suites and boxes. The beauty of the arena is how it pays homage to the olden days of basketball. Windows let in outdoor light, the floor is an exquisite parquet (with an outline of the 1950s-style skinny key) and the best part is the old-school time clock. Modern amenities mix with these older touches very well and the goal of what they were trying to do is quite successful. They were also looking to become a center of basketball events and Sioux Falls is quickly getting there. In addition to being home to the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBDL, the Pentagon has hosted some decent early-season Division I basketball games and the Women’s Division II National Championship is coming this March. Expect more events in future years.

Sioux Falls has turned into a hot little spot to pick up a bunch of stadium visits in one weekend. Along with seeing the Pentagon, fans can check out the brand new 10,450-seat Danny Sanford Premier Center for a hockey game with the Stampede. Meanwhile, the older facility it replaced (Sioux Falls Arena) is still being used by Augustana College for basketball. That’s three winter arenas and for the really ambitious, Sioux City and the USHL’s Musketeers are a little over an hour south down on I-29.
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Airing of Grievances

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 23, 2015

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Giant graphics like these that stay on the screen forever is just a small sampling of Fox’s sucky soccer coverage

 

I’ve got a lot of problems with you people! The following is not stadium-related, but it’s always fun to get these sports issues out into the open….

 

-  My favorite sport of college basketball is getting harder to watch for a number of reasons, but the last two minutes of games is eye-gouging. The start/stop nature is being exacerbated by an insane amount of replay reviews as officials find the need to go to the monitor for every single out-of-bounds play or extra tenth of a second off the clock. Not to mention that we need to look at the replay just in case somebody pushed another player, such a heinous act! I’m ready to throw something when officials have two of themselves look at the monitor, then the other referee, then talk about it, then talk forever to the coaches, then talk to the broadcasters, then make the call. It’s almost unwatchable. Andrew Murawa had a great article over at Rush The Court on the issue.

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-  Robert Allenby….Really?

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- I’m still trying to figure out how exactly Chris Fowler came to become ESPN’s #1 Play-by-Play college football announcer. Shouldn’t you have to put in some time as an actual announcer instead of getting anointed for such a huge gig. Aside from a few Thursday Night games, Fowler strictly was/is a studio host and how ESPN caters to him is a such a joke, especially since it’s not like he has wowed in his position. If you are going to boot Musburger fine, but tell me why far more deserving, long-standing broadcasters like the excellent Brad Nessler or the terrific Sean McDonough do not get that promotion. How this is just accepted by everyone, I have no idea (PS, same thing happened on tennis, where Fowler sidled his way in to demoted Cliff Drysdale).

-  Fox’s atrocious soccer and studio coverage deserves it’s own post. From the obsession with standing around a fake soccer field to the Gus Johnson experiment to the unlikeableness of Eric Wynalda…they are as bad as ESPN World Cup / NBC Premier League is good. I’ll stick with one point today and it is a simple one. Why do they have to put on a graphic that takes up 15% of the screen at the end of the game to tell us who won!!! While watching the Everton-West Ham 3rd Round Replay penalty shootout (that one hurt real bad as an Everton fan), Fox puts a graphic up saying West Ham wins. I couldn’t get a screenshot, but the graphic is the same layout as the one in the picture at the top. We just watched the freakin game finish, why do you have to place this giant banner that West Ham won and leave it on the screen for a minute! They did this last year too when Arsenal won the FA Cup. I think the viewer can see that they won, so watch the celebration pictures. Errrr!!!!!

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-  How is Zac Rinaldo still playing in the NHL? This goon consistently makes dirty, late hits that put players in jeopardy and that was seen again Wednesday as he concussed Kris Letang and even bragged about it after. He’ll get suspended, but then will be right back in his uniform a few games later. Even some Flyers fans think he is an embarrassment, which is saying something. It seems that a player has to be stretchered off for the NHL to actually take notice, despite all of their hypocrisy gibberish about player safety.

 

Finally, we have to end on a good note. If you want a smile on your face at the end of a long day, I urge you turn on any Pac-12 basketball game that is broadcasted by Bill Walton and Dave Pasch. I’ve loved Bill for awhile and I can’t describe the things that come out of his mouth. I laughed out loud several times last night, probably the most when he called Karl Ravech “Kevin Radish” and Pasch responded by saying “He’s only been with us at ESPN for about 25 years”. Anyway, enjoy just a small sampling of the amazingness…Throw it down big man, One Time!

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Hoops with the Dukes and Vulcans

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 12, 2015

A.J. Palumbo Center

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Even though the temperature never exceeded 8 degrees on my drive across Pennsylvania Saturday Morning, a bright blue sky was all that mattered. I could deal with the cold since I wouldn’t be spending much time outdoors, but gloves were certainly needed for the exterior photos. My first visit to Pittsburgh in 2008 was awesome and I really enjoyed the city. Driving though is a pain as while all the bridges, rivers and hills make for spectacular sights, the roads are confounding. At least getting to my first destination was smooth and I arrived on the Bluff for Duquesne’s home basketball game around Noon. I also got a great view of the Consol Energy Center as the home of the Pens is a couple blocks from the A.J. Palumbo Center. After dropping $10 for parking (boo downtown campuses), I got inside the small corridor and into the arena. I liked the bright layout and though simple, there were enough quirks to keep me interested. A 2010 renovation really did this place wonders and turned it into a quality small arena. There are four sections of seating divided between A and B levels with the corners open. With only about 1500 in attendance, I picked the B3 section to sit in, which was a nice elevated upper area that sits over the hospitality area. Renovations also led to wide chairbacks and a really nice scoreboard. A couple suggested improvements to the staff: add some signage in the building for the somewhat hidden downstairs corridor on the north side of the building. I had no idea it existed and it led to more bathrooms, concessions and basketball displays. Also, turn down the sound system and the heat. Otherwise, the building is a step up from conference foes LaSalle and Fordham, but not as good as their opponent on the day, Rhode Island. Full reviews on the whole experience will be updated soon.

The small crowd was into it for the first half as the Dukes surprised Rhode Island with decent defense and they had multiple double digit leads before the half. As the Rams crawled back, the fans faded too and the comeback was complete as Rhody took their first lead in forever with just 1:14 left. Duquesne’s Micah Mason (who was impressive on the day) made a floater to put Duquesne back on top. Only 21 seconds remained when Rhode Island got the ball back and after they missed on the ensuing possession, a scramble for the ball led to a foul and Jared Terrell made both for a 61-60 lead. Given my history with Rhode Island, I was convinced I’d see something special as Duquessne’s Derrick Colter let a jumper go at the buzzer. But it was not to be and the Rams escaped, and I mean escaped, with a one-point win. Blah, I can’t stand that maniac Danny Hurley on the sidelines (he got T’d up during the game) and watching them run off the court with a win sucked. For the Dukes, it’s been since 1977 since they’ve made the NCAA tournament and fans unfortunately are accustomed to these stinging losses. Fun fact, this is the fourth time I’ve seen Rhode Island play and all of the games have been entertaining. They are 2-2 when I’m attendance.

My GPS had some issues with the downtown roads, confusing them for the overhead interstates, so luckily I wrote down the way to get to the Liberty Tunnel and out of the city. I was on my way to California…the borough. It took about an hour to reach Cal U of PA, for my first Division II arena. They built a Convocation Center that should have been called the Controversy Center instead. A corrupt and blind administration led the push for the $59 million, 5,000 seat building. Keep in mind that the combined population of the borough and the college is just 14,000. A feasibility study pushed for a smaller, cheaper building, yet the now fired Angelo Armenti got his way and the school is stuck in debt. Not one event has sold the place out, even graduation. It doesn’t end there as enrollment is down, the school just laid off 30 of their staff and the football team had to forfeit a game this year because of players involved in a brawl in the town. Yikes. So while yes, this facility is nicer than probably half of the ones in Division I, it has not come without problems.
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CalU Convocation Center

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Putting that aside, as you would expect for that money, it is a nice place. The brick building starts with a video message board on the outside showing flames (the school is known as the Vulcans). Deep red seats wrap around 3/4ths of the court and they extend a good distance back with a wide walkway overlooking the floor from the top end. When I walked in, I was surprised to hear so much noise as the women were wrapping up and the crowd was really into it. Turned out to be a great finish and Indiana (of PA) won in OT. As I got ready to watch the same two teams with state names do battle on the Men’s side, it was surprising to see a good chunk of the crowd gone. That energy from the earlier contest disappeared too as each time a basket was scored, maybe 10 people clapped. IUP made sure to keep the arena quiet (though half of the fans inside were their’s) as they jumped out to a 20-2 lead and never looked back. The Hawks took care of CalU 69-45.

I stopped at Spuds in the sleepy town and though they specialize in funky fries for college kids, I got a decent sandwich in the completely empty place and got to my hotel to catch the end of the Ravens-Pats playoff game. It was back to Jersey on Sunday and expect to see a pair of reviews up on the website later this week. I’ll be writing for Stadium Journey as well. It was definitely nice to experience some college basketball again!

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Saturday Basketball in Western PA

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 6, 2015

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It’s January and college basketball is in the process of getting into the conference-play portion of the season, the best time to make a visit for a couple of games. I wanted to make sure that students were back on campus at whatever arena I went to see and most are still on break this weekend, except out in Western PA, where both Pitt and Duquense are into the Spring Semester. Unfortunately, they play at practically the same time (12 and 1 PM respectively). With my shift for work not ending until 12 AM Friday Night, sleep will be limited before heading out early Saturday Morning for the five hour drive, so I’m going with Duquense’s 1 PM game against Rhode Island at the AJ Palumbo Center. Now surprisingly in that region, there are a couple of D-II basketball arenas that make The List with a seating capacity over 3500, so the timing works out nicely as after the Dukes game, I’ll drive 50 minutes to the south to California (PA) for a 5 PM tip at their relatively new Convocation Center. Should be a quick, efficient journey before heading back to NJ Sunday Morning.

Studying all of this stuff for awhile, I think I have plans for future day trips to this part of the country. My thinking for separating trips out is Pitt and Indiana (PA) bball; Steelers and Pitt volleyball; Penguins and Johnstown hockey. We’ll see if that pans out, but it’s a nice/neat thought at least. In the meantime, I’ll focus on Saturday…look for a recap next week with reviews to follow including a pair at Stadium Journey.

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Wowed in Buffalo

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 29, 2014

FNA Interior

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Both the NHL schedule-makers and Mother Nature lined up beautifully for me to get back to a Sabres game during the long Christmas Weekend as Buffalo took on the Islanders. Despite this being a “Gold” game, the 2nd highest tier out of 5 in Buffalo’s price structure system, I was able to score nice corner seats for half the price at $40. It’s been five years since the last time I made it to the First Niagara Center and it’s been rough watching the team hit rock-bottom with seemingly everything going wrong on the ice. As things looked dreadful to start this season (with one eye towards the prize of the 2015 NHL draft), the young kids have actually started playing with some heart and effort, turning in some nice results in the process. With Sam Reinhart a year away in Juniors, Zemgus Girgensons has been a stud, while others have looked good at times.

Walking to the arena, the landscape has certainly changed with the completion of the HarborCenter. While this blocks that nice view of the decent exterior sitting at the foot of Washington Street, this building is a huge deal for the city. With two rinks (including an 1800-seat one), a hotel and the massive restaurant 716 Food and Sport, this often-neglected section is better off. This is thanks to Terry Pegula, the region’s Knight in Shining Armour. God Bless this Man. As owner of the Sabres, he has made lots of great tweaks to the building since last I saw it in 2009, including the Alumni Plaza on the outside with a statue of the French Connection. Inside, Blue and Gold finally is the dominant color scheme.

After grabbing a Beef on Weck and snapping some updated photos, we settled in to our seats just as Doug Allen was ready to belt out the Anthem (The Finger-Point Guy!). I do love his rendition. Despite having a passionate following with often decent game turnouts (no matter the crapiness of the team), I was completely ready to blast our fan base in this space. Quite often, the atmosphere at FNC is dead and there is no energy in the building and this occurred even when the Sabres were fielding playoff teams several years ago. But on this night, the crowd was lively and even if maybe it was because lots of out-of-towners like me came back home and got to a game, it was great to see. Despite the energy, the “Let’s Go Buffalo” chants faded as the Islanders took a 3-0 lead thanks to a dismal and sloppy showing in the Second Period. In the 3rd, a Nicolas Deslauriers shot got thru and cut the lead to 3-1. Then shorthanded, Girgensons took a perfect pass and shielded the defender to put home a wrist shot that got the crowd really going with an extended ovation. With 8:09 left, Chris Stewart finished the comeback and the game was tied at 3. After an exciting overtime, about 80% of the building was full and the fans responded with a nice long ovation before the shootout, which the Sabres won. This was only the second time in franchise history that Buffalo came back to win from a three-goal deficit in the third period. It was an awesome night, something that I haven’t felt as a Sabres fan in quite awhile. 

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2014 Year In Review

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 22, 2014

Providence Park Interior

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It’s that time of year again for reflection as we conclude our 5th year of this website and 12th year of visiting stadiums. There was a lot to enjoy in 2014 which included a week in Oregon and a game in six other US states. In all, 14 new venues were reviewed and with our first child on the way, that number likely will drop a little next year as we excitedly look forward to that life-changing event. Let’s take a look at the past year in stadium visits:

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Favorite New Stadium:  Providence Park……As if there was any question on this. If I had a Bucket List, this venue would be close to #1 as I have been fantasizing about making a visit and it was a key reason we chose Oregon for a summer vacation. The home of the Portland Timbers combines everything that I love in a sports venue: history, unique design, special touches and amazing atmosphere. There will be no other soccer stadium like this in the country and the re-design to become home of Portland’s MLS team in 2010 is remarkable. Add in the Timbers Army and you have a very special place.
………Honorable Mention: Ron Tonkin Field, K-Rock Centre, Nationals Park

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Worst New Stadium:  Volcanoes Stadium……What an awful ballpark. It’s amazing that Volcanoes Stadium is only 17 years old as this park feels like 1985. The edge of suburban setting in Keizer, OR sets the stage for a blah experience in a drab stadium. The lowlight is the faded-red seats which now resemble a pink color.
………Honorable Mention:
Jack Kaiser Stadium

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Favorite New City:  Kingston, ON…..Just yesterday, the Limestone City was featured on Rogers Hometown Hockey. Kingston was the site of our second OHL trip and I was pleasantly surprised at the beauty and vibrancy of this city on the shore of Lake Ontario. A walk down Princess Street is full of eclectic eateries and it may be possible to go a season with trying a different post-game establishment after each Frontenacs contest. The city’s architecture is appealing and a lot of history can be explored on a visit here. 
………Honorable Mention: Portland (OR), Lynchburg, Charleston (WV)

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I Need Light:  Barclays Center…….Jay-Z’s obsession with all things dark is a little overboard. Along with the Nets logo and Barclays Center interior, the lighting is kept to a minimum, so much so that walking up and down stairs in the upper deck of seating is a challenge. I could not even read my program without the use of a cell phone flashlight! The whole spotlight on the court thing may look cool, but let’s save the dimmed lighting for theatres.

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Best Restaurant:  Depot Grille…..Only a few weeks before our visit, this restaurant was closed because of a train derailment. Everything was back up and running in this scenic spot at the bottom of Lynchburg’s downtown hills. The old train depot decor really makes this place a great spot, while the classic American food is decent as well.
………Honorable Mention: Harpers Burger Bar in Kingston, ON;  PDX 671 in Portland, OR;  Shake Shack in Brooklyn, NY

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Best In-Stadium Food:   Ben’s Chili Bowl…..Not for those with weak stomachs, this DC institution is popular all game long at Nationals Park. In a ballpark full of great food options, I went with Blue Smoke (BBQ), but did at least have a sample of Ben’s famous “half-smoke”, which is a sausage smothered in chili sauce. Good stuff.
………Honorable Mention: Junior’s Cheesecake in the Barclays Center; Pork Bahn Mi in Ron Tonkin Field

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Best Game  Lynchburg vs Winston-Salem……In what was a good year for the home teams (10-4), the only good finish to a game took place on Memorial Day in the Carolina League. We went to the ninth inning with Lynchburg down 6-4. Aided by a pair of walks, the Hillcats loaded the bases and with one out and Jose Peraza at the plate, the game was in doubt. Peraza ripped a single to left field and a misplay by Courtney Hawkins led to three runs scoring as the jubilant Hillcats celebrated on the field. This also marked the first walk-off hit I have seen live.
………Honorable Mention: Colgate vs Holy Cross
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Championship Teams:  Hillsboro Hops…….After the Beavers left Portland in 2010, there was no baseball within the Portland Metropolitan area. That did not last long as Hillsboro, a suburb 30 minutes to the west, ended up building a ballpark that drew a Northwest League franchise. With clever branding and a shorter season, fans have filled Ron Tonkin Field nightly and they were rewarded with a championship this season. Our game featured a rare loss by the Hops, but that was an anomaly as Hillsboro went on to win 20 of their last 26. That included a sweep of Vancouver in the championship round.
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Best Drive:  US-97 and US-26 from Bend to Portland…..We went everywhere in our week-long trip thru Oregon and after spending some time on the edge of the high desert (where we saw the Bend Elks play), we made the 3-hour drive back to Portland with some incredible scenery. The Central part of the state is unknown to many as the terrain is more stereotypical Arizona than Pacific Northwest. The entire time, snow-capped Mount Hood is the focal point and quickly, the route climbs back into the Ponderosa Pines that surround the famous mountain. From there, it is all downhill to the Rose City.
………Honorable Mention: US-220 in Western Virginia, I-68 in the Panhandle of Maryland 

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Worst Drive:  I-81 to Hamilton, NY…..This isn’t so much a bad drive as it is more annoying than anything else. Colgate University’s campus is smack dab in the middle of New York state. With no highway access, there really isn’t good way to reach the tiny, charming town of Hamilton and some old-school map skills are needed for the best route. Rolling farmland generally follows the ride along the quiet two-lane roads, which can be a little scary if on them at night. 

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Best Side Trip:  Vandalia Gathering…..West Virginia has a backwoods reputation that limits visitors to those just focused on outdoor recreation. However, I would encourage everyone to also venture into Charleston, where we found the little city along the Kanawha River to be full of great people. Each May, the grounds of the State Capitol host a celebration of all things Appalachia and before a game to see the West Virginia Power, we hung out at the festival enjoying jam sessions all over with banjos, violins, fiddles and the like. This was followed by a visit to the free and excellent West Virginia State Museum. Great food, great people, great sounds, Charleston was a pleasant surprise.
………Honorable Mention: Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, Yale University in New Haven, Lynchburg Museum in Lynchburg

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Best Return Visit:  Bell Centre…..With nearly 150 more stadium experiences under my belt, a trip back to hockey heaven in Montreal was long overdue. My brother joined me for a memorable return to Quebec that included a trip up Mont Royal and a walk-through Old Montreal. Despite the constant cold and nursing of Eric’s leg infection, the trip was great and a Canadiens game remains a top experience in the NHL. I may not be a huge fan of the building itself, but the atmosphere is terrific and the team hall of fame is remarkable.
………Honorable Mention: Red Bull Arena, Carrier Dome

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Dec 2014 Stadium of the Month – Independence Bowl

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 15, 2014

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Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA (image from Stadium Journey)

 

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This month’s featured stadium is more out of sympathy and enlightenment than anything else and ironically, I was thinking of doing this before Tim Brando went all berserk. As a bowl destination, Shreveport, LA does not exactly drum up images of excited college fans flocking in. Nor should it really as the largest city on the I-20 corridor between Dallas and Jackson is merely a stop-over for many. Dig a little deeper and there are reasons to enjoy a visit in what is a gambling hotspot (there are 5 casinos between Shreveport-Bossier City). Aside from the slots and tables, there are several museums and a rejuvenated downtown section along the Red River that is worth checking out. Of course, the food is always an excellent reason to head to Louisiana and Shreveport is no different with plenty of great spots for Cajun, Po-Boys and a remarkable Strawberry Pie.

So what about the stadium? This is one of the rare places with a huge seating capacity and no home tenant. The 49,565-seat facility plays to area high schools every Friday Night and then its only other time on the “big” stage is once a year for a bowl game, typically between two middling teams. While the location off of I-20 is ideal for driving in, the surrounding neighborhood and distance from the city is generally undesirable. What I do like about this stadium is the historic simplicity. Built in 1925, but renovated many times over, you have a bowl topped by a sideline upper deck with ideal views. Atmosphere and amenities are not a reason to visit Independence Stadium, but a too-often overlooked city and stadium deserve at least some attention and the consideration of a trip.

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