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June 2015 Stadium of the Month – Pensacola Bayfront Stadium

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 29, 2015

pensacola

Pensacola Bayfront Stadium (image from Stadium Journey)

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It’s summer…so let’s go to the beach for this one. Pensacola, Florida absolutely nailed their new ballpark in 2012 as they took over the AA Carolina Mudcats. The ballpark in Zebulon, NC still retained baseball in the much more appropriate Carolina League, while Pensacola became an ideal spot for a relocated Southern League franchise. The beautifully nicknamed Blue Wahoos became the city’s team as they took up residence in a spectacular new park along the bayfront. It took awhile for a name to settle, but Pensacola Bayfront Stadium works quite well. The accolades have poured in and the ballpark is #2 in the most recent Stadium Journey MiLB Ballpark Rankings.

The first and most obvious thing to love about this ballpark is the location. Sitting in the stands and looking out at a beautifully manicured baseball field with a body of water beyond the fence and a pleasant ocean breeze is sublime. Though there is no nearby beach, the surrounding greenspace is wonderful and downtown is great for a walkthrough with plenty of places for a pre or post game stop. The architecture of the stadium is designed to reflect Pensacola’s unique buildings and though I’m not a huge fan of the seating bowl (see New Hampshire and Hillsboro for my disdain of this design), I can live with it given the other great features of the ballpark. Food options are impressive and fans continue to stream thru the gates. There are a lot of new parks that have opened across the Southern League and though the bar is set high, Pensacola really stands out as a place to check out.  

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The Summer Baseball Leagues Update – 2015

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 22, 2015

Muzzy Field 2

Hello Muzzy Field! On your 100th birthday, we welcome you and the Bristol Blues to The List

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June updates to The List focus on the short-season leagues, including Summer-Collegiate baseball, where those looking for quaint purity can enjoy America’s pastime. Let’s start in New England and one of the more successful circuits, the Futures League. I wrote about the remarkable success and rebirth of The Ballpark at Old Orchard Beach last year, however things have sadly gone downhill over the past several months. The owners of the Raging Tide couldn’t keep going and they tried to sell the team to someone in the local community, but there were no takers. The team was sold and moved to Bristol, CT (more on that later) and all that great work at The Ballpark seemed short lived. However, a team would return to this summer community in the form of the new, independent East Coast Baseball League. That lasted all of one month as mis-management led to the ECBL’s quick demise. There were teams ready to go and rather than see hard work and ready players go to waste, a hastily put together North Country Baseball League was formed, involving four of the ECBL franchises, including OOB. With the person running the NCBL also in charge of “Cheeburger, Cheeburger“, it’s hard to see the NCBL stay alive. But all the best to them and I hope this is not the sad end to a true success story in Maine.

OK, where were we? Oh yeah, the Futures League. So the arrival of the Bristol Blues is awesome! That means that Muzzy Field will be hosting games and this 4,900 seat relic is turning 100 years old this summer. On a trip to New Britain in 2013, I stopped to take a look at Muzzy and am thrilled to see a professional team play here. In the Coastal Plain League, we have a couple teams not on The List, but worth mentioning. With Columbia’s Capital City Stadium now gone, nearby Lexington County has become home of the Bluefish and they opened a baseball stadium last month that looks very nice. Also starting play in 2015 are the Holly Springs Salamanders, who have moved into the 1500-seat North Main Athletic Complex. Despite the college field sounding name, it’s also a nice place. There is also a new ballpark in the Prospect League, where the Kokomo Jackrabbits will play. Despite numerous issues at the stadium site, it’s amazing this stadium opened up to baseball after so much controversy (which is still ongoing).

Finally, in affiliated ball we have one change. The New York-Penn League continues to cheat on its name and the Jamestown Jammers have moved to Morgantown, WV. With a classy logo, the West Virginia Black Bears will begin play at Monongalia County Ballpark. It’s neatly built into a hillside with 2,500 fixed seats and more on the berms. The ballpark is actually in Granville, just across the river from Morgantown, and yes, it is the new home for West Virginia University. This is a trend I am disliking as I prefer college baseball to be separated from cities hosting professional baseball. I understand all the reasons why this happens, but am not a fan. Russell Diethrick Park will still live as the Jammers have turned up in the Prospect League, replacing Lorain County. 

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The Old Parks

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 14, 2015

 

FirstEnergy Stadium Interior

Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium, built in 1950. What a beauty!

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Perhaps no other league in the U.S. personifies modern day sport more than minor-league baseball. In this day and age, fans want more out of the sporting experience and with it being hard to draw crowds for “lesser-known” players, the recent 30-year ballpark boom has focused on modern-day amenities and comfort. Yet, baseball has a good number of purists that simplify adore the sport for what it is and find nothing more relaxing than just sitting back and watching a ballgame in the fresh air under a grandstand. Thankfully, there are still a few ballparks left to take in this experience. Using the general human retirement age of 65, below are the senior citizen affiliated ballparks still in action, starting from Triple-A to Single-A. Worth mentioning for those still looking for baseball in a pure, historic setting, check out many of the Summer-Collegiate leagues (especially in the Northeast), where many of these parks survive by hosting baseball for a few months:

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1)  McCoy Stadium (1942)  –  Pawtucket Red Sox  –  (AAA) International League

The crushing news of the Boston Red Sox buying this AAA franchise means a likely end to beautiful McCoy Stadium. Given that the owners took care of Fenway, you would think they would have a desire to keep using McCoy. But no, of course in the end it is all about $. Thankfully, those in Rhode Island are putting up a fight for the amount of public cost that a new downtown Providence ballpark would be. The Red Sox are using the leverage that other New England cities would drool at this opportunity. Unfortunately and inevitably, they are probably right. Better get to Pawtucket sooner than later, for a wonderful old park that has an old-time atmosphere with limited distractions often seen at this level of baseball.

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2)  FirstEnergy Stadium (1950)  –  Reading Fightin Phils  –  (AA) Eastern League

Now this is a stadium sure to not go anywhere for a long time. Reading has done an amazing job keeping things modern, as FirstEnergy Stadium features numerous party decks and even a plaza that has a streetfest vibe to it with live music. Meanwhile, the grandstand remains and the colorful blue, yellow and red seats add to the festive vibe of attending a game here. If only they didn’t switch their name to the ridiculous Fightin Phils.

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3)  Jackie Robinson Ballpark (1914)  –  Daytona Tortugas  –  (A) Florida League

This a place that has surpassed its 100th birthday and though there have been multiple renovations (1962 is probably a more accurate birthdate), it still fits the bill as an older park. The honor to Jackie Robinson in the name comes from the city being the first to allow for an exhibition including Jackie.

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4)   McKechnie Field (1923)  –  Brandenton Marauders  –  (A) Florida League

Not only do the Pittsburgh Pirates call this home for Spring Training, but it also plays host to the hometown Bradenton Marauders each year. What a beauty this ballpark is and recent Fenway-style renovations and tweaks have made it all the better. Even more unique is that you won’t see much of the brick or large grandstand roof found in many of the older northeastern ballparks. Instead, this is a Floridian park with it’s own flair. An absolute must-visit.

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5)  Calvin Falwell Field (1940)  –  Lynchburg Hillcats  –  (A) Carolina League

Lynchburg is a charming Virginia town and I enjoyed my visit there last summer. The old City Stadium has been a part of the community for decades and though this park resembles a more recent minor-league stadium, the seating bowl and grandstand do bear a slight resemblance to a different era.

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6)  Sam Lynn Ballpark (1941)  –  Bakersfield Blaze  –  (A) California League

The California League leads the list with three ballparks built in the 1940s and while this wouldn’t normally fly in other parts of the country, the budgeting and debt in the Golden State mean that it will likely be a good amount of time until we see another one built. This ballpark in Bakersfield is infamously known for being pointed to the west, which means summer starts are at 7:45 PM local time, to avoid a sun delay.

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7)  Municipal Stadium (1942)  –  San Jose Giants  –  (A) California League

San Francisco has an ideal affiliate in San Jose as there are signs all over Municipal Stadium that point to the Giants success. Territorial rights are huge in MLB circles and San Fran has marked this territory over Oakland.

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8)  Recreation Park (1946)  –  Visalia Rawhide  –  (A) California League

This is the smallest ballpark by capacity in affiliated minor-league ball as the true seating capacity is less than 2,000. It is a very quirky ballpark that makes a visit worthwhile.

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9)  Modern Woodmen Park (1931)  –  Quad Cities River Bandits  –  (A) Midwest League

Don’t be fooled by the “Modern” (haha) name and the remade interior. This is indeed an old ballpark and they have something special along the banks of the Mississippi. The view of the Centennial Bridge is remarkable and though the river has infringed on the ballpark before, recent renovations have protected it from floods.

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10)  Ashford University Field (1937)  –  Clinton Lumberkings  –  (A) Midwest League

A slice of Americana in the heart of the Midwest. Clinton’s home is a classic step back into a different era and it almost makes you think of the Field of Dreams….maybe because that sits relatively close, a short drive away in Dyersville.

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11)  Community Field (1947)  –  Burlington Bees  –  (A) Midwest League

Baseball has been played at this site since 1947, but the grandstand dates back to 1973 and it is a remarkable story. Volunteers spent nearly two years rebuilding a grandstand destroyed by fire, thus making it a truly Community Field.

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12)  McCormick Field (1924)  –  Asheville Tourists  –  (A) South-Atlantic League

Located in a mountain setting within a terrific, vibrant city, McCormick Field is a destination ballpark. This is a special place and probably Top 3 if this list were to be ordered by favorites. Atmosphere, setting, design, location…it has it all.

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13)  Grayson Stadium (1926)  –  Savannah Sand Gnats  –  (A) South-Atlantic League

Shed a tear for Historic Grayson Stadium as we will lose this one at the end of the season. The Sand Gnats are moving to a new stadium in Columbia, a move that I loathe. Columbia already has the University, where the Gamecocks are quite popular. There aren’t any plans that I know of to destroy Grayson, but there are also no other plans right now for another team to move in. As if you need another reason to visit beautiful Savannah, here is another.

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14)  Municipal Stadium (1930)  –  Hagerstown Suns  –  (A) South-Atlantic League

I was here last week and was not all that enamored. The abundant use of metal and aluminum is a turn-off, while the few fans that show up make for a quiet place to visit. Rumors have been swirling for years and it is shocking that the Suns have not left yet. Kudos to Fredericksburg and Winchester for standing up and not getting drained for money as they refuse to have a giant public expense for a private owner. 

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Short-Season Leagues

15)  Centennial Field (1906)  –  Vermont Lake Monsters  –  (A) NY-Penn League
16)  Bowman Field (1926)  –  Williamsport CrossCutters  –  (A) NY-Penn League
17)  Nat Bailey Stadium (1950)  –  Vancouver Canadians  –  (A) Northwest League
18)  Calfee Park (1935)  –  Pulaski Yankees  –  (A) Appalachian League
19)  Bowen Field (1939)  –  Bluefield Blue Jays  –  (A) Appalachian League
20)  Sam Suplizio Field (1949)  –  Grand Junction Rockies  –  (A) Pioneer League
21)  Centene Stadium (1940)  –  Great Falls Voyagers  –  (A) Pioneer League
22)
 Kindrick Legion Field (1932)  –  Helena Brewers  –  (A) Pioneer League

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The Suns and The Keys

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 2, 2015

Frederick's Carroll Creek Park

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I’ve often had to look at the Northwest part of Maryland on a map for work purposes and this trip was nice to put a better visual in my mind. The small cities of Frederick and Hagerstown are just a half-hour apart and they both have a single-A baseball franchise, thus making for a convenient weekend visit. I started in Frederick because that city has more to see and Saturday’s game was in the evening. It was jammed downtown when I pulled into a parking garage and the plethora of 20-somethings made sense once I saw they were headed to a
Craft Beer Fest. The City of Clustered Spires really has become a trendy, hot spot for those looking to get away from DC, but still close enough to commute. I absolutely loved this downtown with Carroll Creek Park being the highlight. A remarkably creative flood control project done over the last few decades has turned this creek into a calm and stationary stream of water that the city built around and turned into a mini-version of San Antonio’s RiverWalk. As evidenced by the beerfest, this is a great place for events and for citizens to take a walk and enjoy the day.  Especially awesome is the Community Bridge, an artistic mural with so many intrinsic details and images that the public contributed to. The park is less than ten years old and further expansion/development plans are just going to enhance what is a terrific place in the city.

The rest of the downtown area is great as well with so many historic buildings and stories on displays along the way. This is a place with a colorful past, especially during the Civil War era and a walking tour illustrates that quite well. I had lunch at Firestone’s and while the bar was great, the food as eh. Shoulda picked Brewer’s Alley. There are tons of choices in this city, including Brian Voltaggio’s Volt (I love Top Chef, but didn’t feel like getting a super fancy meal). After strolling thru town some more and picking up soda at a cool Pop Shop, I headed to the hotel a few minutes away to rest a bit from the heat.
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Harry Grove Stadium Interior

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The Keys game was at 6 PM and a good crowd joined. Of course, the usual reason for a decent draw at a minor-league baseball game is fireworks and that indeed was the case here (I try to avoid fireworks night to get a more accurate gauge of fan support/atmosphere, but this was inevitable). After walking thru the oddly elongated parking lot and getting past the 10 minute wait at will call, I found a ballpark very common amongst Orioles affiliates. Though on the older side (1989), Harry Grove Stadium has the usual features seen in places like Aberdeen, Bowie and Delmarva…a middle aisle in the seating bowl, a carousel, an intermediate press box and a design laid out in brick (in this case, somewhat drab in color). The home of the Keys was built just on the cusp of the ballpark boom and they have at least made some efforts to personalize the park, like the orange lower seats. Displays however are sorely lacking. The crowd also partakes in a cool tradition during the middle of the 7th inning, where the fans shake their car keys as a corny, yet catchy and enjoyable theme song plays. In the game, Frederick just could not overcome the 6-spot that the Lynchburg Hillcats put up in the first inning. Offensively, the Keys would exceed that number, but pitching/defense let them down in the fourth inning as well with another six runs scored by the Hillcats. By the way, it’s almost impossible to spot a home run ball thanks to the three tiers of advertisements on the outfield wall and the invisible yellow line. Frederick ended up falling to Lynchburg, 12-8 in a 3 hour, 25 minute game, badly illustrating why the “A” level leagues need the same time rules that AA and AAA have this season. One final note, keeping in mind seating capacity is 5,400. The announced attendance was 8,344. Estimated actual attendance by me…4,000 (see picture above). Yikes, inflating numbers sadly remains alive.

Sunday started with me doing some forecasting. Given their topography, Hagerstown is a favorable spot for t-storms and I was fairly convinced they would get one on this day. It was almost enough for me to consider an alternate plan (like maybe heading down to Woodbridge, VA for a game instead), but I decided to risk it and dearly hope the scattered nature of the storms would work in my favor. Before heading to the Hub City, I traveled US 40-Alt, better known as The National Road, the first true road in this country. Taking me through small places like Middlestown and Boonsboro, I began the morning at the first Washington Monument, located in it’s own State Park along the Appalachian Trail. While the monument was enjoyable, it was the view from the top that was really worth the short hike (and to get away from the gnats at the bottom). On this Sunday, they also had a demonstration featuring the firing of a Civil War era cannon. While many think of Gettysburg and that part of PA as “Civil War”, this section of Maryland is so historical and the state does an excellent job displaying various markers and historical sites.
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Washington Monument

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I then went into Hagerstown, which is smaller with less to do than Frederick, yet still charming in it’s own right. I keep throwing around “historical” for lack of alternate words, yet this was another downtown that displayed it and I enjoyed walking around and admiring the architecture and informational markers. With a lack of touristy stuff in the city itself, I stopped into the visitors center and unexpectedly enjoyed a 30-minute conversation with Roger who’s wealth of local knowledge was remarkable. Small world in that he talked to me about Nathaniel Rochester, a resident of Hagerstown and founder of my hometown of Rochester, NY. There is also some German heritage in Hagerstown and a well-regarded Bavarian restaurant called Schmankerl Stube was my original plan for lunch. However the heat and humidity made me not crave a filling German meal, so I opted for 28 South, a trendy spot that was a great choice too.

With skies still clear, I got to Municipal Stadium early to get all of my pictures without any disrupting rain. At the same time, I wondered why do the Suns start their Sunday games at 3:05 PM instead of around 1 PM like everyone else? Anyway, mission accomplished with the pictures and I sat down for first pitch with dark clouds gathering. Despite the threat, amazingly we skirted the storms and came away with just some light rain that allowed for the game to be played in it’s entirety and myself rejoicing in a reasonable arrival time back home. The Suns are celebrating their 35th year in Hagerstown and that is an anniversary worth celebrating. Often the subject of a relocation, the team has survived despite neglect by both city and team ownership. Municipal Stadium is not exactly a cute, charming 1920’s era ballpark. Instead it is a deteriorating facility that was originally built on the cheap and badly in need of some TLC. While it’s unique to experience affiliated baseball without the classic appearance or usual shtick, the state of this ballpark and franchise is sad. As for the game, The Suns fell 7-5 and I have yet to see a new stadium home team victory in 2015. Look for reviews on the right later in the week. That wraps up a weekend of baseball in an area of the country I wouldn’t normally visit and I’m so glad sports brought me to Northwest Maryland.
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Municipal Stadium Interior

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Baseball in Northwest Maryland

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 26, 2015

HGR-FREd

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Plans are all set for a weekend visit to an area rich in colonial and civil war history…the northwestern portion of Maryland. Here, there are a couple of small cities on either side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where I’ll check out a pair of ‘A’ level ballparks. There’s more to see in Frederick, so I’ll start there on Saturday and then head to Harry Grove Stadium for a 6 PM contest against Lynchburg. Sunday’s game will be a half-hour away in Hagerstown and amazingly, these two close cities do not play in the same league. The Suns play in the South Atlantic League and I’ll be at Municipal Stadium for a 3 PM game against Kannapolis. It’s been a dicey few years in the Hub City as owner Bruce Quinn has been searching tirelessly for a new ballpark in many places, thus far to no avail. In the meantime, I’ll visit an active ballpark 85 years old. Looks like Summer has set in across the Mid-Atlantic and hopefully I miss any game delaying t-storms. Back next week with a wrap-up of stadium visits #159 and #160!

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May 2015 Stadium of the Month – Mohegan Sun Arena

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 19, 2015

Mohegan Sun Arena Interior

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I know what you may be thinking: “Women’s Basketball…boring”. Bare with me for a sec. Yes, women’s basketball may not have the speed or highlight dunks like in the NBA or Division I College Basketball and yes, they may shoot funny, but there is indeed quality basketball being played. Out of all of the women’s professional sports, the WNBA has by far been the most successful. Playing in the summer offseason has been advantageous and fan support has been very solid, where I’ve even seen legit (not just by the numbers) sellouts in the playoffs. And all the better are the young girls that follow the league, attend games and have role models (except Griner) achieving success at a professional level. I challenge those that ridicule the league to check out a game live and see the energy on the floor and in the stands.

One of the best places to visit for a WNBA game is the Mohegan Sun Arena. Located in the Southeast portion of Connecticut, the Nutmeg State already supports Husky women’s basketball very well and that carries over into the summer at the pro level (Storrs/Hartford is about an hour away from Uncasville). The setting is unique as the arena sits inside of the huge Mohegan Sun Casino. With all of the casino/resort amenities nearby, this is a fun spot to head for the weekend and the similarly large Foxwoods Casino is nearby too. Just bring a ton of money. What I love about Mohegan Sun Arena is the decor. The Mohegan Tribe own the land and casino and they have made this one of the more visually appealing facilities around thanks to the tribal motif throughout the arena (particularly the concourse), along with the stunning bronze-orange terrazzo floor. Inside, the seating bowl is so simple yet soperfect. An octagon design with no suites or center scoreboard make the sightlines to the court spot on. While most new arenas cater to money-making specialty seating, this arena does not and it suits the general fan beautifully. The Connecticut Sun make their WNBA home here between late May and September and the beautiful facility is situated in a destination spot for a weekend away. 

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May List Updates

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 12, 2015

Welcome back Skylands Park (err...Stadium)

Welcome back Skylands Park (err…Stadium)

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In the month of May, we turn our attention to baseball’s Independent Leagues. I am happily surprised to see the Can-Am League still trudging along and the circuit even welcomes back a pair of returning teams that I never thought we would see again. In rural Sussex County, NJ, a franchise is back in the league after folding five years ago. The Sussex County Miners will play in Skylands Stadium, which curiously adjusted their name from “Park” to “Stadium”. It’s an interesting place for a team as the county is barely considered part of the NYC suburban network. I wish all the best for the Miners (only a half-hour or so away from where I live), but they need to improve the ballpark and the experience as it is rated the lowest out of the 49 minor-league facilities that I have been to thus far. Also making an unexpected re-appearance is the Capital of Canada. Remember the Fat Cats? Well they are not back, but instead we have the “Champions”. Hmmm…OK. Anyway they will play in a refurbished Lynx Stadium (the old AAA park), which has been renamed (deep breath): Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park. That’s not a person, but rather an advertisement for some advisory firm. I think we’ll call this place RCGT Park.

Over in the American Association, perhaps the nicest stadium in all of independent baseball is almost complete. The St. Paul Saints will move into CHS Field this summer and the gorgeous $63 million dollar ballfield is downtown and full of local character. I highly recommend a Twins-Saints weekend in the Land of a Thousand Lakes. As for Midway Stadium, it will become extinct as the land on which it sits is turned into an industrial park. Also joining the league is the Joplin Blasters. They will play in Joe Becker Stadium, which has had a facelift. It took me awhile to find the real capacity and even though it is listed at 4,200, about 2,500 of those “Seats” are of the grass variety, so they will not be included in The List. This is another place to root success for as Joplin continues it’s rebuild from the devastating tornado four years ago.

In league news, United League Baseball finally folded after prolonged folly. This does unfortunately mean that Texas ballparks LaGrave Field (Fort Worth) and Harlingen Field (Harlingen) go without a tenant. On the other side of the coin, we welcome the Mount Rainier Premier Baseball League and the East Coast Baseball League. Both are quite small, however the latter league includes Old Orchard Beach, where The Ballpark makes the move from Summer Collegiate ball to Independent.

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Top Mascots

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 5, 2015

The Original Moose, mascot of the Rochester Americans of the AHL (image from FrontierField.org)

The Original Moose, mascot of the Rochester Amerks of the AHL (image from FrontierField.org)

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Ah the mascot. A staple in the sports stadium scene as this costumed character is in charge of bringing fun to the crowd. While they cater to kids, a truly great mascot is one that can entertain both child and adult. Normally when I am out visiting a new sports facility, I hardly notice the mascot roaming around, so if they are able to make a good impression, it is noteworthy. Below are the top mascots that I’ve seen in the over 150 stadiums visited so far.

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1) The MooseRochester Americans (AHL)
Full disclosure on this one as I grew up in Rochester and have probably been to 50 Amerks games. With that being said, I still think The Moose is as good as it gets. The costume is “classic mascot” with the teddy bear like body and stuffed animal face that kids just eat up, while the antics are loved by adults that still are a kid at heart. My favorite move is when The Moose would go to the side board near the net and he would put on the glass a stick-on toy. There was this button he would be holding where the toy (designed as a boy) would pull down his pants and moon the other side. Loved watching him do that as the opposing goalie took a break and wandered towards the glass.

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2) SluggoEugene Emeralds (Northwest League)
Sluggo is downright for adults. His mischievous antics are well-known throughout the circuit and I was first introduced by watching him throw water balloons into the opposing team’s dugout. Think about that for a second. I laughed more than a few times throughout the game and could not believe some of the stuff it got away with.

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3) Otto the OrangeSyracuse Orange (NCAA)
He may be a little over-hyped thanks to ESPN’s love of Syracuse, but he is adorable! Who can result a puffy orange ball with a happy face? He is not only fun to look at, but you’ve also got to love his moves that fit the character so well like the disco thing he likes doing with his hands and those somersaults where he tucks his feet in.

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4) Philly PhanaticPhiladelphia Phillies (MLB)
Here is a classic that still shines. The Phanatic has provided nearly 40 years of phun at Phillies games and his shtick never gets old. Quite a bit of time has passed since the Lasorda/Phanatic dust up in 1988, yet after watching it again, it’s almost impossible not to laugh out loud. It’s good to see some people have lightened up years later.

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5) The HawkSt. Joseph’s Hawks (NCAA)
The Hawk Never Dies. More of an exhibitionist than entertainer, The Hawk spends the entire game flapping his wings, not once stopping. You can’t help checking in on it during stoppages of play just to see if those wings are still going. And they are.

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Scranton…(What!)…The Electric City

Posted by Sean Rowland on April 27, 2015

PNC Field Exterior

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One of my favorite all-time sitcoms is The Office and whenever I drive by
Scranton, I can’t help but think of countless references. Instead of driving by it on I-81, this time I spent a day in the Electric City before heading to Moosic for a RailRiders baseball game at PNC Field. A day after snowflakes were in the air, it was still chilly, but at least the sun was out. My day started by driving downtown on the pothole-infested Lackawanna Ave and into the Steamtown National Historic Site. While Northeast PA is known for it’s former coal-mining days, the Lackawanna Valley also was the center of the Steam-powered locomotive area. The U.S. National Park system is fantastic and this site is no exception as they turned the former railyard of the DL&W into an indoor and outdoor museum. I spent nearly four hours here as there is a lot to absorb and the Roundhouse is especially cool to take in. For lunch, a few minutes away is Coney Island Lunch and in I went for a famous “Texas Weiner“, a Scranton staple consisting of meat sauce and onions on a hot dog with a National Bakery roll. Cheap and good, it made for a nice stop. When I went to use a coupon on my phone, you can imagine my surprise that it was for the “Other Coney Island”. I was eating in Coney Island of Scranton and wouldn’t you know, these two places are a couple blocks away and have been at Weiner War for decades.

After lunch, I walked to the Iron Furnaces, stone remains approaching 200 years old that were used to produce iron. It was then back to the Steamtown site, where across the parking lot is the Electric City Trolley Museum. This explains the city’s nickname as the first trains that used electricity to move started here. While not as well-done or expansive as Steamtown, this museum was worth an hour, of which I truly enjoyed learning about the development of inter-city transportation with these trolleys. Of note to those coming to see RailRiders baseball, the museum offers Sunday trolley trips to the ballpark. $20 includes a ticket and a 10 mile round trip ride on the 19th century trolley. Very cool. Since it was Saturday, I went back to the car and drove 10 minutes to Moosic for the game.

I was last here in 2006 to watch a playoff game involving my hometown Rochester Red Wings. Before planning this visit, it took me awhile to figure out how to quantify this stadium. Is it renovated or do I consider it “new”? With Madison Square Garden, I decided it was a renovation because while the inside was gutted, the outside was the same, so was the roof, the name and the team, while the history of the building was still recognized. Here at PNC Field, everything is new. Plus, the team spent an entire season on the road while they essentially re-built a stadium, so I’m considering this a brand new park. It’s been a topsy-turvy 10 years as SWB has gone from Red Barons to Yankees to RailRiders. While I like the RailRider branding, the ballpark screams Yankees thanks to the outside name sign, interior blue seats and boring light color. This isn’t a fault of designers as the name was choosen in the middle of ballpark construction, but I feel there is so much missed opportunity here to go with that rail theme (see Altoona on how to get that right). And what’s the deal with the porcupine riding the rails on the logo? The whitewash of the team’s history is also disappointing as you won’t find any piece about SWB’s past, save for a small retired number on the wall. 

None of that is to say this is a bad ballpark because it is indeed modern, clean and decent. The entrance opening is inviting with a band welcoming fans and message boards including game information if one is late. The concourse wraps around the park and the setting at the base of a huge incline is unique. As mentioned, it’s amazing that this site used to be Lackawanna County Stadium as PNC Field is totally different. The upper-deck has been replaced by a suite/club level and now wrapping around the field from each foul pole is a single set of seats. These have a decent pitch for sightlines. As for the game…yikes. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre forgot to wake up as their astounding 5 errors basically handed Pawtucket the victory. Typifying the contest was a key play in the 6th inning, where the RailRiders were down 2-1 and had a runner at third. Eddy Rodriguez fell asleep and got picked off, thus ending the threat and the inning. This was the first game of a doubleheader, so they just played seven and the PawSox won 4-1. It only took 1:41 to play, which is awesome! In fact, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Penguins were playing Syracuse in Game 2 of their AHL Playoff Quarterfinal just 15 minutes away at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The short contest here would have been perfect for those looking for a two-sport day, something fellow road tripper Sean MacDonald loves (I have to try and meet up with him for the first time at one of these games). Alas, it wasn’t in the cards for me as I had to head home. Despite the chill in the air, it was a great day in Scranton and I’m now back on the board of seeing each of the ballparks in the IL North. Look for the detailed review (on the right) to come this week, along with a Stadium Journey write-up in May.

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Apr 2015 Stadium of the Month – MTS Centre

Posted by Sean Rowland on April 19, 2015

MTS_Centre

MTS Centre, home to the Winnipeg Jets (image from Stadium Journey)

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Normally, I reserve this space for lesser-known facilities, but I just could not help myself in anticipation for what is to come Monday Night. After four years in the NHL, the Winnipeg Jets will host their first playoff game in the MTS Centre. Get ready for an insane, vocal building and while I know the fans will bring it, I’m curious if this new-ish building will be able to reach the decibel levels that are heard in older facilities like Edmonton and Long Island (both sadly departing).

The fact that Winnipeg is able to support a professional franchise is remarkable and everything is done right here. Every single seat is filled and support within the city and the corporate world completes the formula needed for a small city to make it. As for the arena experience, it makes a pilgrimage to typically freezing Winnipeg worth it. Sitting downtown, the Shed District is growing and more pre/post-game establishments are providing fans enough fill to spend a good chunk of time in a city area that previously struggled. The building is beautiful and it amazingly is able to create a small, barn feel while being modern and new at the same time. With just over 15,000 seats, it goes to show that you do not need a massive space to be successful and the final result of this incredible arena makes both the general fan and high-end one well off.

As great as the building is, the fans are better. As an already terrific market, the loss of the Jets for 15 years just grew this place into an even more hockey mad city. It is almost impossible to find a person leave their seat during play and the unison of the “Let’s Go Jets” chants are perfect. They are creative too…I saw a game on TV here a few years ago where they chanted “Silver Medal” at Buffalo’s Ryan Miller. That hurt me as an American and Sabres fans, but a part of me loved that chant. Now, the inventors of the White-Out, will get to show the hockey world what a real playoff atmosphere is like.

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