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The Nats and The Rocks

Posted by Sean Rowland on July 22, 2014

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Last Friday, we set out for a brief visit into Northern Virginia, making a pair of stops in Wilmington, DE. The first break was to check out the rejuvenated Riverfront section, in preparation for our return to the nearby Frawley Stadium on Sunday. The city did a nice job over the last few decades and the mixed-use area includes some restaurants, the Delaware Children’s Museum and a pleasant Riverwalk along the Christina. We ate at the Iron Hill Brewery for a good lunch which included some beer brewed at the restaurant (Both the Hans Gruber and Raspberry Wheat are excellent). After walking the river a little bit, we headed over to the ballpark for a visit to the attached Delaware Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. What followed was disappointing and weird. The sign on the door said “closed” and though we were able to walk in, the encounter with the person inside was very odd and not helpful. Since this place is hardly open (Tue-Fri 12-5 PM), looks like the chances of a return is low. Boo to that random closing.

From there, it was a fight with the famed DC traffic and we made it unscathed to Burke, VA. We were visiting my wife’s cousins and we spent the few nights there. After hanging out on Saturday, we made the 30 minute drive into DC for a baseball game at Nationals Park. This was my visit to the US capital since a school trip when I was a senior in High School and I enjoyed seeing some of the famed sights on the drive in. It really is amazing to see the rapid development take place in the Southeast neighborhood that houses the ballpark as this once dilapidated area has turned into a sought-out living space with growth seemingly by the day. I never heard much fanfare or exuberance about Nationals Park upon opening and thus I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this park. The outside tries to emulate the architecture of the DC (think monuments, museums and government offices) pre-cast concrete and steel. Inside, concourses had red flooring and there were several openings to enjoy the surrounding views of the Anacostia River, the nearby Navy Yard and on the other side, city views including the US Capitol and Washington Monument. What now seems a requisite of new parks is the outfield hang out area and they do that quite well here. Food was exceptional with a ridiculous amount of options and local favorites (Ben’s Chili Bowl comes to mind). The blue seating bowl lay-out is decent as well, except for that moat around the super pricey home plate seats. It was a perfect night for baseball and the matchup was high-quality too as the NL’s top teams played. However, the game was practically over after a 40  minute first minute when the Nats jumped all over Milwaukee’s Matt Garza. He had his shortest career outing (1/3 of an inning) and Washington batted around, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. They went on to win 8-3 in front of a good crowd and it was a nice warm-up for the real star of the night, that of postgame concert performer Austin Mahone!! (insert teenage screams). I seriously had no idea who it was when I heard the promotion. Expect a more detailed review of Nationals Park up this weekend and I’ll be writing on the ballpark over at Stadium Journey as well.

Sunday, we left in the morning and went back to Wilmington, half-way through our journey home. The afternoon was spent at Winterthur, a grand historic home and museum belonging to H.F. du Pont. The estate is quite spectacular with gardens that are seemingly endless. Very peaceful. Inside, what drew most people here the last few months is the grand Downton Abbey exhibit which includes many of the period clothing worn on the show. Along with the displays, they compared the luxurious living in that time period between England and the US. Our house tour felt a bit rushed and we left later than I wanted, but thankfully Winterthur is only 15 minutes from the ballpark. We got to Frawley Stadium a bit late, but didn’t miss much as I already had exterior pictures completed from Friday. With the team named after the Blue Granite found by the nearby river, I wish that material (or something resembling it) was used instead of the repeated brick. Otherwise, they do a nice job here theme wise with blue featured in seat color and the large sign above the press box. The team shop is called “The Quarry” and other touches can be found on their unique name (but I’m not a fan of the ridiculous Mr. Celery that was born by random). Stadium design is fine, though I could do without so many bleachers. The high general admission seats set way back beyond third base are strangely placed after a 2001 renovation, while it is on this side that one has the best view (no sun and a great look at downtown Wilmington). I loved the remarkable amount of craft beers available at Crafty Lefty’s Brewhouse, highlighted by 16 Mile Brewery. It was a fairly light turnout for the game and we saw a second straight Carolina League event with an interesting ending. Lynchburg was up 4-2 in the 8th inning, when Ramon Torres botched what should have been an inning-ending double play. Later in the inning, the Hillcats added two more. This was important as the Blue Rocks staged a rally in the 9th and they made 6-4. Lynchburg also had an error to keep the game alive as Wilmington tacked on another with 2 outs. The bases were loaded for Michael Antonio, but he unfortunately grounded out and Wilmington fell just short. Remember that just two months ago I saw the visitors make a remarkable comeback, walk-off win. A full review will be coming shortly for Frawley Stadium too, but one other note…terrific job by the organization to honor POWs/MIAs with an open seat at the game. I saw this behind Section I and it really is an excellent gesture.

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Frawley Stadium

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Baseball This Weekend

Posted by Sean Rowland on July 16, 2014

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With last year’s July baseball weekend excursion into the Mid-Atlantic going so well, we’ll be repeating with another trip to the region this weekend and a pair of new stadiums. On the itinerary are the Washington Nationals and Wilmington Blue Rocks!  It’s a busy weekend, as we’ll be in Northern Virginia to visit cousins and friends, then head into DC Metro for a Nats game at 7:05 PM against Milwaukee. This will be sandwiched by a couple stops in Wilmington, DE. On the way down, we’ll stop to explore the Riverfront section of the city and check out the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, since that is only open Tuesday-Friday. Heading back home on Sunday, a good chunk of time will be spent at Winterthur, just one of the famous DuPont sites (and it also has a Downton Abbey exhibit that the wife really wants to see…I love the show too). After that, Stadium Visit #151 will be at Frawley Stadium as the Blue Rocks take on Lynchburg. Looking forward to it and I’ll have a recap next week.

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July 2014 Stadium of the Month – Frontier Field

Posted by Sean Rowland on July 12, 2014

The wide concourses at Frontier Field have a terrific array of concessions

The wide concourses at Frontier Field have a terrific array of concessions

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When I was trying to come up with July’s Stadium of the Month feature, I wanted food to be the focus as there are some stadiums (specifically ballparks) that have quality food options worthy of dining out for. I racked my brain for a little while and shame on me for temporarily forgetting my first minor-league ballpark that has stood above the next 43 stadium visits I have made. It is Frontier Field in my hometown of Rochester, NY! The community-owned Red Wings play in a facility that has highlighted food since its opening in1996. The food menu is much more than just 872 varieties of weirdly topped hot dogs like all other minor-league ballparks now offer (faking both quality and quantity). Rochester instead offers a selection that can take a visitor a good month of games to sample everything and it starts by staying local. City delicacies include the traditional Zweigles white hot dog (think of a more porkier version) and the garbage plate (may not sound appetizing but it is, make sure to eat with bread). Both can be found at Frontier and while the plate is not truly from Nick Tahou’s, it is close. More local favorites are abound throughout the park as Red Osier offers great Prime Rib sandwiches, Salvatore’s contributes their excellent Pizza and Chicken French or Chicken Parm can be found from Calabria Italian Restaurant. “I could go on forever baby” (thank you Angels with Filthy Souls), but I’ll just throw out a few more items worth trying: The Mac and Cheese, the Flowering Onion, the Crepes and the Chili. To top it all off, there is even a beer unique to the ballpark. Rohrbach’s, a craft brewery in Rochester, features four beers at their stand including “Red Wing Ale”, an excellent beer red ale specifically made for the team. If that’s not enough, traditional Genesee Beer can be found at the park as well (emmmm…Cream Ale).

Frontier still has a special place in my heart as those first smells of the concourse take me back to my childhood and all of the Red Wings and Rhinos games that I attended. Little did I know that over 15 years and 43 ballparks later, it stands above all in the food category. The park itself is decent with the downtown location offering a nice backdrop for games, including the Kodak building towering over the third base side. While I’ve never been fond of the generic seating bowl that seems to fan out from the field too much, the atmosphere for a ball game is very pleasant. Front-office management is top notch (led by Dan Mason) and the in-game stylings on the traditional organ by Fred Costello is much appreciated.

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Two “New” CFL Stadiums

Posted by Sean Rowland on July 3, 2014

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This may be my first and only post solely related to the CFL and updates to The List. In the professional football league up north, we note two changes to the perennially stable set of teams. In Ottawa, the CFL is back for a third stint and it will be another team nicknamed starting with the letter “R”. It is the RedBlacks and you will not see me putting that in all caps like the team wants. Historic Lansdowne Park is the site of the stadium and a complete renovation/rebuild has led to essentially new TD Place Stadium. Soccer will also be played here next season as the Ottawa Fury become part of the NASL. The whole complex along the Rideau Canal is interesting in that it also includes the Ottawa Civic Center (now branded as TD Place Arena), which is formerly the home to the NHL’s Senators and since they moved to Kanata, the OHL has played there. The Civic Center had a refurbishment and this is one of the architecturally more interesting arenas around as the building is actually part of the stadium’s north stands.

In Hamilton, they also built a new stadium on the site of their old one. After a year in a pseudo-temp facility all the way in Guelph, the Ti-Cats return home where Tim Hortons Field replaces Ivor Wynne Stadium. However, that replacement is not ready quite yet. While management says the facility will be ready July 26 for the opener, there will be plenty of work to go. For one, the scoreboard is not going to be up this season, nor will several bathrooms. And its not even assured that construction will crank enough to get the place ready for football in a few weeks. The more I read, the more it seems that problems have beset this place. I hope for the sake of the fans that had their team pulled away 45 minutes to the northwest last year, that they have a home opener to welcome back their team.

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I Believe That We Will Win

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 27, 2014

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June 2014 Stadium of the Month – Toyota Field

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 19, 2014

Toyota Field in San Antonio, TX (picture from Paul Donaldson and Stadium Journey)

Toyota Field in San Antonio, TX (picture from Paul Donaldson and Stadium Journey)

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With the rest of the country waking up to the fact that soccer is indeed making great strides in America, let’s point this month’s feature stadium to that sport. The lower divisions of the NASL and USL-Pro have seen a steady increase of soccer-specific stadiums as both cities and fans try to show the MLS that their community deserves a spot in the top tier. The Indy Eleven and Sacramento Republic have shown that with stellar attendance, while in San Antonio, the Scorpions continue drawing well in their second season and have an expandable, yet already decent stadium to boot.

Toyota Field features over 8,000 seats and can be expanded should MLS come calling. The intimate stadium has seats that are very close to the pitch and it also includes decent open space and fan zone areas where the crowd can gather behind each net. All the requisite club and suite locations are taken care of as well. Various architectural elements also help to provide that local and personal touch. My one gripe is where is the roof? Only the west end is covered (and would be the only one if future design renderings are correct) and I would think more would want some shade from that typically hot Texas sun. Hopefully, they just have night games.

Truly making this a stadium to visit is the special cause that the team and stadium benefit. All profits from the Scorpions help to fund Morgan’s Wonderland, a theme park designed and free for this with special needs. Gordon Hartman opened the park a few years ago and it has been a resounding success, bringing joy to those visiting. Know that when you attend a game, you are also helping fund a great cause for terrific people.
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Stadium List Updates – Short Season Baseball

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 10, 2014

Doubleday Field

Where did you go Cooperstown Hawkeyes?

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This month’s updates for The List are the remaining baseball leagues that begin their season. While there are no changes in affiliated baseball’s short-season leagues, there were a few franchise moves in the world of collegiate wood-bat. These leagues continue to become more popular with players, fans and stadium aficionados as they often save old, historic ballparks from falling by the waste side. One of the most famous that stayed around was Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. The Hawkeyes of the PGCBL have been playing there for several years. Seemingly out of nowhere, the team’s website says they “are negotiating to build a new stadium for 2015 that is likely to be in Cooperstown“. Say what??? There is absolutely no news of the team not playing this season and I scoured the internet to find out what happened and why the Hawkeyes are not playing, but to no avail. Even the league has nothing on the departure. What a shame as one of the nation’s historic parks will just go back (I assume) to hosting some local rec teams this season. It seems so long ago that MLB would play an exhibition game on Hall of Fame weekend as that ended in 2008.

The Northwoods League continues to develop into the pre-eminent summer collegiate league and it is there that we turn and welcome back Homer Stryker Field to The List. Kalamazoo’s ballpark becomes home to the Growlers with the city resetting for baseball. Also entering the league is Kenosha. The rest of the changes do not impact this site, but are worth mentioning…Worcester follows the same route taken by Kalamazoo as that Central Mass city enters the FCBL, not long after failing in the Can-Am League. Saratoga is out of the NECBL, while Cortland and Genesee enter the NYCBL. Finally the Prospect League swaps Slippery Rock for Champion City (Springfield, OH).

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Part II of the US Sendoff Series

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 2, 2014

US vs Turkey at Red Bull Arena

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After going thru the painfully slow and frustrating process of the ticket lottery for the US-Turkey friendly in preparation for the World Cup, it took a lot of StubHub watching for tickets, but the deed was done and we were live from
Red Bull Arena last Sunday Afternoon! For the US team, there have been more negatives than positives over the last few months, as along with the ticket fiasco there has been the shocking omission of Landon, the youth and “Green” movement and the popsicle jerseys which replaced my much-loved Waldo kits. However, the focus is starting to turn to the pitch. In their first friendly against Azerbaijan, the Americans didn’t look great, but won 2-0. A much tougher opponent in Turkey awaited at RBA and while the defense looked shaky, they closed down well in the box. The US ended up winning 2-1 with goals by Fabian Johnson and Clint Dempsey. There was lots to take away from the match that I will leave to the experts, but two things that caught my eye was Jozy looking physically strong, ready to break through again and Mix Diskerud being a perfect second-half sub in Brazil. The excitement is building and at the least, we have two victories in preparation.

As for the experience, traffic was non-existent coming in, while leaving, organizers generally do a good job directing traffic back to I-280 (save for one misplaced sign). Where the biggest travel pains occur is on mass-transit as the Harrison PATH station is way too small to handle the on-rush of fans. The many that use this to get back to New York City deal with quite a jam-packed line. Something to keep in mind for whereever (and whenever) the New York City FC go with their stadium. Red Bull Arena is widely regarded as the best soccer-specific stadium in the country and I concur. The sightlines in the 25,000-seat stadium are excellent and the very steep pitch to the upper-deck makes for some great seats. Having the roof cover most of the seating as well is a huge plus and though the weather was perfect, having the majority of the seats not bake in the sun is a bonus. US fans made this quite an event as the atmosphere was tremendous. There were frequent chants with the American Outlaws leading the way. Even without them, various cheers and chants broke out and it was quite the boisterous crowd all decked out in red, white and blue. It was amazing to be a part of and further proof of the growth the sport has seen in this country.

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Take Me Home, Country Roads

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 23, 2014

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Ahh, those beautiful lyrics from John Denver. This weekend, I’ll be checking out those country roads (well mostly main roads) in that song’s subject, West Virginia! There are two stadium visits on the itinerary, with the first being in the state capitol of Charleston. A visit to Appalachian Power Park will see the Power take on Lakewood. Sunday and early Monday will be spent around Beckley and Lewisburg, then we’ll cross the Appalachians over to Virginia for a visit to Lynchburg. Charming old City Stadium (now known as Calvin Falwell Field) is where we will spend the evening the HillCats host Winston-Salem. Before heading home Tuesday, a stop will be made at Appomattox Court House, site of the Civil War’s end. Let’s give the old running diary a try…

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Saturday
We woke up with the sun as it was a 5:30 AM departure from Jersey to try and see some of Charleston during the afternoon. It was perfect weather on a smooth drive and we got into the capital city around 1:30 PM. The afternoon made me wish we spent the whole day in Charleston as I was pleasantly surprised by the Capitol Complex. First off, it was the Vandalia Gathering on the surrounding lawns, which is the ultimate West Virginia festival. The celebration of Appalachia includes music, food, arts and crafts. It’s the music that makes the festival with stages featuring concerts highlighting those playing the banjo, fiddle and mandolin. Better yet are the small little jam sessions that break out amongst strangers and friends. With a pepperoni roll in hand, it was a very enjoyable time.

The Capitol Complex is worth a day of exploring and it is highlighted by the gold domed building along the Kanawha River. Statues and plaques enhance the surrounding walk, while inside the building is dominated by marble. We didn’t get a chance to take a tour, but it was open for exploring the main hall. Afterwards, across the way is the West Virginia State Museum, one of the best museums that I have seen (and there have been many). Remarkably, it’s free! The set-up goes thru the state’s history in chronological order via a unique accurate path. On the sides are 26 visually intriguing Discovery Rooms. I could have used some more hours inside, but two would suffice and I would love to come back.

It was a long day, but no rest for the weary as Stadium #148 was the main attraction and that meant heading a mile into downtown at Charleston’s East End, where the Single-A West Virginia franchise plays in Appalachian Power Park. Before getting there, I want to note how weird Charleston’s roads are, despite the tiny city size (specifically near the Capitol and again by our hotel near the river). Anyway, I really liked The App as it goes beyond just blending in with the city. Part of an existing brick building is incorporated into the stadium on the first base line. The defining feature also is a natural set-up for the suites, which are set further back, allowing for a wide, open-air and festive walkway. While I’m not a fan of the shallow and small seating bowl that doesn’t provide the best sightlines, there’s a lot to love with this intimate, charming and eye-appealing park. As for the game….yikes. West Virginia got smacked by Lakewood 7-0 as the Power became the first home baseball shutout I have seen since New Hampshire in 2009. Topping the stadium experience was the “Redneck Night” promotion, which included a real wedding. Minor League Baseball, Ladies and Gentlemen.

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Sunday
Out of the 21 states that I have been to, West Virginia has debunked misguided stereotypes and been the friendliest. Countless nice strangers throughout have engaged me in conversation, which continued today. I got up early to walk around downtown Charleston, including an exterior tour of the Charleston Civic Center (home to the state’s high school basketball tournament). Then it was on to Beckley, about an hour away. The radio was pointed to SiriusFC, where the mighty Leyton Orient (America’s Team) was trying to win their League One playoff for a promotion to the Championship and went up 2-0. I dejectedly found they lost the lead and the game in penalty kicks, the only disappointment of the day.

In Beckley, we started at the Exhibition Coal Mine, which taught me never to complain about my job again. The work of a coal miner is unbelievably hard and it is tough to comprehend how much harder (and more dangerous) it was decades ago. This area is coal country and the museum took us into a coal mine with an informative and quick-witted former miner. Along with a small museum, the grounds include a replica company town, as the employers of the company essentially had their own little village (even with their own currency).

The weather remained gorgeous and we stopped at an old-school drive thru at King Tut’s, where we picked up a cheap but very good lunch and brought it with us to Grandview, part of the New River National Park. Here, we were greeted with an amazingly lush spread of tree-covered mountains and the New River passing by below, with rapids and rafters. We hiked a little trail and took in the beautiful views along the way. The night was capped at the over-hyped, but still decent Tamarack. While shopping for West Virginian goods is the main feature, there is also a theatre with a great range of musician displays. There is also a cafeteria that is anything but what thoughts are evoked when hearing ‘cafeteria’. It is run by the Greenbrier Resort and the food is amazing. I had rainbow trout and a sweet and sour slaw that was delicious. Sports-wise, we’ll finish up by watching the entertaining NYR-Montreal series (Game 4) and then a new ballpark is on the schedule for tomorrow evening in Lynchburg, VA.
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Monday
We had three options for a morning stop on our way from Beckley, WV to Lynchburg, VA…Lost World Caverns, The Greenbrier or Natural Bridge. It was likely the lesser of the three that we took, based mostly on the amount of time we had, so we saw the Caverns, just on the outskirts of beautiful Lewisburg, WV. The self-guided cave tour was pretty neat with some cool sights, though it was not as staggering as the one we saw near San Antonio, TX. We made our way back to I-64 and then traversed the Blue Ridge Mountains on some winding roads (glad it was daylight) before arriving onto US-29 and into Lynchburg.

The City of Seven Hills is quite charming and we found the same hospitality as in West Virginia. Only a month removed from the too-close-for-comfort train derailment and explosion, we were down near the river for lunch at the Depot Grille. It’s a great spot with the railroad tracks also there, just too bad the brush obstruct the view of the water. The aptly nicknamed city includes a very hilly downtown and we sweated our away to the top of Monument Terrace for a climb up 130 stairs that had many stops for statues and war memorials. At the top is the old courthouse, turned Lynchburg Museum. It’s the type that I love with a thorough display of the history in this city, along with various artifacts. It also included an informative volunteer who loved to share his knowledge (as evidenced by the 25 minute conversation he had with a stranger that called in to check the hours of the museum. What a nice man). Loved this museum and great downtown, which included historical markers.

Then it was on to City Stadium, a traditional park south of the city. It was a 5:00 start and the huge overhang was helpful on this 86 degree sunny day. The game was a continuation of Saturday’s dud, as the home Hillcats got down 4-0. However, out of nowhere, Lynchburg tied it in the 4th inning. Winston-Salem pushed ahead 6-4 and then Lynchburg rallied in the ninth with a walk-off, three run double! A very exciting finish and I need to dig into the archives when I get home to find the last walk-off comeback. The park was significantly renovated in 2005, which turned this classic design into a more modern one, especially with the suites on top of the roof. There was a mix of likes and dislikes for me, which I’ll explore when I get to the detailed reviews in the next week or two. Also, Stadium Journey reviews will be done as well. It was nice to visit both ballparks the last few days and regardless of my preference, I’m always happy not to see a 1990s cookie-cutter design. Tomorrow, we’ll stop at Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Park before heading home. Thanks to the Power and Hillcats!

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May 2014 Stadium of the Month: Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 16, 2014

Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home of Oklahoma City Redhawks baseball (Photo Credit - Stadium Journey)

Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home of Oklahoma City Redhawks baseball (Photo Credit - Stadium Journey)

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Brick work may be an overdesigned feature of new-ish downtown ballparks, but for a few cities, the material fits wonderfully with its surroundings and nowhere is that more evident than in Oklahoma City. In fact, a whole section of their downtown is called “Bricktown” and their AAA ballpark built in 1998 helped to anchor a terrific entertainment district that is a hot spot for visitors and locals. Along with an abundance of restaurants and bars, fans can leisurely take a water taxi on the man-made Bricktown Canal. More than a day can be spent in this section of OKC and not too far down the road is Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the Thunder.

While the neighborhood is the highlight, the ballpark is pretty good too. Though I frown on the multiple naming-rights changes (they have had an absurd six names to the stadium), this is a great home in the PCL. History is honored very well inside and around Bricktown Ballpark with statues of past locals and other various displays. The amount of shade for fans in the nicely designed stadium is a bonus for a city that frequently exceeds 100 degrees in the summer-time. It is a shame that more fans don’t come out as the RedHawks attendance has dropped to the bottom half of the league. Regardless of attendance, this is a strong and proud community that has been through some rough times and their ballpark is a jewel in a great downtown spot that is well worth a visit.

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