Stadium and Arena Visits

  • Archives

Archive for the ‘Trips’ Category

The Suns and The Keys

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 2, 2015

Frederick's Carroll Creek Park

.
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.
.

Harry Grove Stadium Interior

.
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.
.

Washington Monument

.
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.
.

Municipal Stadium Interior

.

Posted in Trips | Leave a Comment »

Hoops with the Dukes and Vulcans

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 12, 2015

A.J. Palumbo Center

.
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.
.

CalU Convocation Center

.
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!

.

Posted in Trips | Leave a Comment »

Kingston-Montreal Weekend

Posted by Sean Rowland on November 11, 2014

K-Rock Centre Exterior
.

Before even reaching Canada, we had another overlying story to contend with this year. My brother joining me on the trip, Eric, had a leg infection discovered the day before and with the potential serious impacts that can result with spread or evolution of infections, at the first sign of a fever, we were out of Canada and into a hospital. Thankfully we made it thru both days as the leg healed and antibiotics helped the wound tolerable to walk on.

Aside from a constant rain in upstate NY, it was an uneventful ride, while the hilarious AutoRap app created the entertainment until arriving in Kingston. Once in the Limestone City, I got a first taste of winter with temps in the 30s, which is exceptionally cold when you are used to the mild temps of the prior season. We parked along Brock Street and grabbed lunch at the Golden Rooster Deli before fighting thru the biting wind to see the city. With a low skyline, the downtown is full of historic buildings, many of them filled with an eclectic mix of great restaurants. After getting some outdoor pictures of the nearby arena, we walked past the striking City Hall, down Ontario Street to the Great Lakes Maritime Museum. Though met with a strong sense of boredom by Eric, we checked out the very thorough and descriptive museum, which displayed everything marine oriented. Good for anyone with a strong interest in that, but it was a little dry even for me. I wanted to check out the Original Hockey Hall of Fame, but they are rebuilding and just have a few displays in their far away location.

Dinner was at Harper’s Burger Bar and then we walked to the Rogers K-Rock Centre, the only sports facility I know with the shameful double advertisement as Rogers bought the radio station, just like everything else it is snatching in Canada. The building rates very well and is overall nice with little touches that make it more appealing, like the hints of limestone and the nearby remnants of the original Fort Frontenac. Inside, the concourse features a Kingston Sports Hall of Fame, which includes Don Cherry as a member. A fairly standard oval bowl circles the rink, while at the top is a nice walk around feature for standing and drink rails. Festivities for Remembrance Day were quite touching before the game and a decent crowd was there for the event. The Frontenacs were not able to put on a good show as they were sloppy, lethargic and offensively challenged. North Bay opened the scoring in a rather dull game with a goal by Nick Paul at 11:21 of the 2nd. The killer was a PP goal with just 3.4 seconds left and the Battalion were in control as they led the shot total 22-13. By the way, those North Bay uniforms are hideous and I can’t believe they kept Brampton’s nickname when the franchise moved. Anyway, a pair of bad Kingston penalties led to another North Bay goal and it wasn’t until this point (halfway thru the 3rd) that the Frontenacs woke up. Spencer Watson finally scored with a little more than three minutes left and they were close to getting a second. Alas, North Bay added an empty netter and won 4-1. Overall, a decent arena in an even better location with a downtown worth spending some time before or after a game.

.

Guy LaPointe Retirement

.

Montreal was a three hour drive away and we left around 8 AM. It’s interesting how as you go further east in Ontario, the road signs are both French and English, yet the second you reach Quebec, any English in the signs disappear. The people however are very helpful in Southern Quebec with the language and it amazes me how bilingual Montreal is. The first stop was Mont Royal, where I led Eric in the wrong direction before getting us to the Chalet and the amazing overlook of the entire city. We scored parking for the day at a modest $10 in Place Bonaventure, a shopping/office complex that included our hotel. Getting out of the area was a maze as we looked like bumbling idiots trying to get out.

After reaching daylight, it was a decent walk to Old Montreal for lunch and some walking thru the historic streets. We saw the Basilica Notre Dame and Jacques-Cartier Place before making another long walk to the Bell Centre. I’ve read about Montreal’s Underground City and the miles of climate-controlled tunnels but where is it? Without finding an entrance, we walked in the cold and finally reached the ugly building late afternoon. The Bell Centre is such a blah brick building and there is a ton of construction around it. We spent time first at the wonderful Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame before going inside. My second time here and I still am not a fan of this place. It is too big and the only quasi-affordable seats in the upper-deck are ridiculously high up. Lots of obstructions block the rafters/scoreboard view from the 400 seats, along with really dark lighting. Now the atmosphere is another story as this is the Canadiens’ best feature with loud fans filling the arena with cheers and chants like “Go Habs Go” and “Ole”. Montreal also knows how to do ceremonies and I felt honored to be there on a night that Guy Lapointe saw his number retired. It was very classy and well-done. The pre-game intro was great too, but nothing like the one they were doing in the playoffs last year. After a slow start, a Brendan Gallagher blast gave the Canadiens the lead in the second period. Minnesota tied it up five minutes later, but a goal by Lars Eller with 50 seconds left in the period gave Montreal back the lead and then they scored a pair in the third as the crowd really started enjoying their Saturday Night. By a slight margin, old MSG was louder during a regular season game I saw, but this was close. One more walk to the hotel finished off 5.5 miles of walking on the day (whoops forgot Eric was on a bad leg). It was a tiring, but fun trip and look for a Kingston review late in the week and a Stadium Journey Bell Centre update later on.

.

Posted in Trips | Leave a Comment »

Colgate Football

Posted by Sean Rowland on October 7, 2014

Andy Kerr Stadium.

It was a rainy morning as I left Syracuse and it looked like all the rain gear I brought with me would be put to use for the Colgate game. It took about an hour to get to Hamilton and though the drive was awkward having to use country roads, it did allow me to pass through some pleasant little towns like Cazenovia and Morrisville. Hamilton was similar as this tiny village of just 4,000 sported a main intersection at the center with very development on the outskirts. However, this primary meeting of roads represented a charming little downtown of brick buildings. The theatre and the college bookstore are most notable, while the white-painted Colgate Inn oozes history. Several places beckoned for an early bite to eat, but I chose 22 Utica Street Cafe. Trip Advisor reviews of this are spot on as the cafe looks like it should be good…but my roast beef ‘special’ wasn’t all that and I’m not a fan of a place that does not put prices on their menu. $15 for a sandwich, homemade chips and a drink seemed a bit much. The owner also gave a lot of phony ‘sweeties and honey’s’. It is still an acceptable spot to eat, but my shortness on time led me to change plans for a quicker bite to eat here after originally planning on eating at the Inn. Another good place is the Good Nature Farm Brewery and Tap Room. After walking through the farmers market at the nearby park, it was time for some Raiders football.

The rain thankfully stopped and the soggy grass lot had a handful of both Holy Cross and Colgate tailgaters before the game. It was an odd entrance into the stadium as to get to the main stands, both the ticket stand and those checking tickets can be found right near the parking lot entrance. I had an odd encounter walking past the gate without even realizing and went through without even knowing I was in a ticket designated area. A little strange. Anyway, the main home stands arches upward with all bleachers and the visitors side contains a set of bleachers with a small press box on top. The best part of the experience is that beautiful surrounding view as the vibrant hills in the area are lit up with color in October. It certainly is a pleasant setting for football. The crowd was held back likely because of the weather and the laid-back game day setting applies to the crowd too. The game was refreshing as it is so great to watch football without incessant media timeouts. Colgate went old school as they used ground and pound to perfection in the second half. First, the Crusaders jumped out to a 17-7 lead and a key point of the game was Colgate cashing in with just :04 left in the second quarter as Alex Greenawalt hauled in a 14 yard pass to cut the deficit. A huge interception late in the third quarter led to a 14 play drive that QB Jake Melville finished off with a 1-yard run and the Raiders had the lead 20-17. With Holy Cross driving again deep into opposing territory, Peter Pujals made is second huge pick of the game to keep the Crusaders off the board. Then Colgate finished off the clock with a remarkable 15 play, 7:35 drive that ran the clock out for a victory. Every one of those plays was a run and the Raiders had 55 total rushes for 224 yards. A little bit of light rain and colder temperatures in the second half did not hamper the event and it was an enjoyable game in a nice football setting best seen in October. Look for a full review in a few days, along with a write-up over at Stadium Journey.

.

Posted in Trips | Leave a Comment »

My Rise and Fall with Syracuse Athletics

Posted by Sean Rowland on October 5, 2014

.
Carrier Dome
.
.

Lawrence Moten, Donovan McNabb, John Wallace, Marvin Harrison, Otto the Orange. These are just a few of the guys that were a big part of my sporting life while following the Syracuse Orangemen an hour and a half away in my hometown of Rochester. It was my favorite team, up there with the Bills and Sabres and that passion continued as I went to school in Oswego and got to attend both football and basketball games at the Dome. The culmination was that magical night on April 7, 2003 when I screeched and ran around campus after Kirk Hinrich’s shot fell short and Jim Boeheim raised his hands up as the Orangemen won the National Championship.

After making a career-move to New Jersey and following the incredible sharpshooting of G-Mac, Syracuse Athletics slowly started to evolve just like other Big-Time Athletics in the NCAA. Growing more towards the Kyle Whelliston school of thought, these were small things at first that were just annoying: Branding themselves as “New York’s College Team”, advertising in Yankee Stadium, following the college football fad of having matte helmets with crazy, funky designs and changing uniform colors. Then came the bombshell…A-C-C. Along with Pittsburgh, they were one of the first on the East Coast to make a major league switch and the conference change was for that almighty Benjamin in addition to more exposure (as if they didn’t have enough). With my frustration for the Power 5 conferences growing, along with my deepening love for smaller schools playing in geographically sensical leagues, the Syracuse Orange part of my life was fading. In 2012-2013, I was having a hard time enjoying their games and in basketball season, found myself openly rooting for Montana in the first round of the tournament. Last year, I stopped following ‘Cuse cold turkey and didn’t miss it. Not even my friends back home knew about my disloyal jumping of ship. Ending a favorite sports team relationship is so rare (and out of my character), but I just could not stomach being a fake fan of a team/school. All of the new directions from the program rub me the wrong way and yeah, I miss the good ol’ days, but continuing to follow and root for the Orange wouldn’t be honest to myself.

All of this brings me to today, where I returned to the sight of so much sporting change in my life. Being back amongst the Orange faithful did make me do some reconsidering as I got caught up in the pageantry of game-day, however my visit and review of Syracuse football comes from a purely neutral perspective. I will say though, it did give me great enjoyment to buy a $30 face value ticket (not including exorbitant TicketMaster fees) for just $8.25 on StubHub. Take That! My day in the Salt City began around Noon and I started downtown in the trendy Clinton Square section. Syracuse’s roads are surprisingly bad and misleading as twice I had to detour. The first was on my arrival as the garage I needed was on a road being repaired. Once parked, I ate at Kitty Hoynes and though I didn’t have the Reuben Fritters that Guy Fieri sampled…I did go with a Reuben, which was just meh. The pub did make for a good place to catch the Orioles-Tigers Game 2 playoff game. After wandering the area on a beautifully warm October day, I stopped at the free Erie Canal Museum. It was surprisingly enjoyable that improved by the exhibit, highlighted by the replica Line Boat and the displays inside. I still remember the song Low Bridge that I needed to learn in the 4th Grade. I also made a stop at Destiny USA, a shopping mall whose plans to become the biggest in the US were often delayed and cancelled when I was in college. Well they finally followed through with some plans, just not to the grand scale that was foreseen in the early 2000s. The third floor features an entertainment section with go-cart racing, bowling, restaurants, kid adventures and a Dave & Busters along with some other stuff. It was dead on a Friday afternoon, but it looks like I found a pit stop in several years for future kids on our way to see family.

I made my way towards the Carrier Dome pretty early for picture purposes and that means taking a shuttle bus from the Skytop parking area. Given that it was a Friday, tailgating was limited and I was one of only a few people on the bus at 5 PM for a game starting at 7. If one is not familiar with the area, it can be a little confusing as the shuttle also acts as a regular college transportation system and the Dome is not visible from the drop-off point. Usually first-timers can just follow the crowd, but this was not the case just yet. I spent a little time around with the diverse campus and I always loved how the Dome is right in the middle of it. However, I can never get a decent exterior shot and the surrounding hillside exhausted my efforts to find a good shot. After passing through the revolving doors and feeling that suction of air, I made a couple passes around the generally dank concourses. There are pictures on the walls to help liven things up a bit and it wasn’t until the very end that I found a few display cases worth perusing. Food remarkably remains terrible with practically every stand selling the same worn options of Hoffman’s Sausage Subs or German Franks. The beer on the other hand is flowing with different options all over (keep in mind, this is a rare on-campus facility to offer beer). I still love the Carrier Dome as a football stadium with the seating being intimate and the design decent. While the bleachers may be uncomfortable, pretty much anywhere offers a fine sightline. They don’t call this place the Loud House for nothing and the enclosed Dome setting makes it roar. I’ve been to Wisconsin, Penn State and Notre Dame and when it comes noise, I think Syracuse is loudest with less than half of the fans. This ACC opener only featured a stadium about 3/5ths full, but it was still very noisy, especially as everyone got up on third downs. Just imagine if the program did get back to prominence. The game was a sloppy affair as both turnovers and penalties hurt the Orange. A bad play call gave Louisville a safety in the first half and then poor clock management by QB Terrel Hunt led to time running out at the end of the first half as Syracuse was one yard from the end zone. The second half was not much better as a wide-open Jarrod West dropped a gimme touchdown. Louisville added on more (including another safety) and they won 28-6 as the Dome was empty with a minute left in the game. It was a fun event as I met up with my college roommate and friends and we finished the night by tailgating after the game. Ah the good ol’ days.

.
.

Posted in Trips | Leave a Comment »

Oregon Trip

Posted by Sean Rowland on August 9, 2014

Oregon_Map
.

August 1
It was a pretty crappy travel day that in the end was not as bad as it could’ve been. Having to drive nearly an hour to get to Newark Airport is annoying, but we arrived at our usual satellite parking spot without an issue. However, timing was bad thanks to a police chase that ended on the road used by the shuttle service to get to the airport. 45 minutes later (normally a 5 minute ride), we got to terminal A, already travel weary from the start and stops. We still had time at the gate, only to see the plane delayed 45 minutes. This left us just about 35 minutes to make the transfer in Phoenix to Portland. It drives me nuts how I live near one of the biggest airports in the world, yet the amount of direct flights are limited and reduced thanks to cost and odd times. Anyway, we get on the plane ready to go, only to be stopped due to weather and nearby storms. All planes stop at EWR. When we’re ready to go again, we have to go back to the gate, to re-fuel and find another pilot (FAA 12hr regulations). At 5 PM, over 3 hours late, we finally take off, in what would be a long flight as my legs and rear end were already crampy. Thankfully, the plane we were on would be used for the transfer to Portland, so we didn’t miss the connection. At 10:30 PM (1:30 Eastern), we landed at PDX. That’s almost 16 hours since we left the house. Certainly no complaining as I know there are far worse situations (cancelled flights, lost luggage, missed connections, longer delays, etc), but man I don’t know how travelers frequently go back and forth between coasts. I am beat! Two groups that deserve applauding. Southwest was great the whole time and their on-air staff was upbeat, apologitic and helpful. Also, kudos to Enterprise, who made quickly got this weary traveler on the road and had plenty of car options late at night. I’d rather spend 16 hours by car than dealing with the stresses of air travel, but glad to be in Oregon. A short hotel stay in Portland, then on to Eugene Saturday!

.

Eugene
August 2

And we’re off! Somehow we got up early and arrived in Eugene by mid-morning to do a decent amount for the day. This certainly is an interesting place with some unique characters and people on the street. Before cruising through the hokey Lane County Historical Museum, we stopped at crumbling Civic Stadium for a look at the venerable old home of the Emeralds. Really hope the efforts of Save Civic Stadium work as it is sad to see an old park fall to this state. I’ll contribute a little to the efforts when getting back. Then we went downtown for the Saturday Market. Lots of tents, all a little too close together, so I liked the Market I saw in Madison, WI better. However, Eugene’s was still great and the fruit/vegetable/farmers goods selection and quality was impressive. Lasting memory was definitely the “Free Thinkers” section. We checked out the rest of the charming downtown with great restaurants, bars and eye-pleasing landscaped walkways. This is a very outdoor friendly city and bikers were plentiful throughout.

We then went over to the Phil Knight Funded Unive….er, sorry, the University of Oregon. We checked out the Museum of Natural History and then walked campus a bit. It is a nice campus and having the chance to walk the outside of famed Hayward Field was special. Also got to see shimmering Matthew Knight Arena, while then going back and shedding a tear for MacArthur Court. The former Ducks basketball auditorium was one of my favorite college basketball arenas with its famed three-tiered balcony seating and deafening noise. Miss that place. Afterwards, we crossed the Willamette River to the complex housing both Autzen Stadium and PK Park. Eugene’s Emeralds took on Everett in a pretty good contest that saw the Ems prevail with a go-ahead home run in the 8th. Stadium #151 started off poorly with oddly far out parking (in a complex that also fits plenty of cars for football). Then much of the park was designed for UO and it felt like the Emeralds were an afterthought. But once I inside, I really liked PK. Excellent intimate design here with a steep seating pitch. Fun crowd too that got into the game and this was one of the rare times a mascot entertained me (great job Sluggo!). Lots more in the review coming in a few weeks. Well, this post went longer than I wanted, we’ll see if I’m able to keep the upcoming days a little shorter.

.
August 3
It’s smokey here in Oregon and being from the East Coast, I thought haze at first, but its smoke from wildfires to the south. Little nervous driving over the next few days and hoping we don’t run into problems. Today there were no issues as from Eugene in the Willamette Valley, we went over and through the Cascades. It’s a cool ride on Rt.124 and the best views came at the lookout where we saw the Three Sisters mountain-peaks (still snow-covered). Sad though as the nearby landscape was burned and charred from the 2003 B&B Complex Fire. We got into Central Oregon and the High Desert area late morning and set up shop in Bend, where there is plenty to do. We started at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Not really a monument, but more of a national park. Lava Butte is a  cinder cone and I never imagined myself on a volcano, but there were we were! We had the chance to drive up the cone and look down into the crater along with check out the surrounding views. Back down near the Visitors Center (which was terrific by the way), you can walk on the old lava flows and it takes some concentration on the creaking, jagged black rock. A short drive away is the Lave River Cave, a unique tube formed by lava. The 42 degree pitch black (but lantern-lit) walk is fun for about 30 minutes, then gets quite monotonous the rest of the way and starts feeling like survival until seeing light again.  

Not often do I use Hotwire, but hotel prices were high in Bend, so I took a chance and landed a great $109 deal at the Riverview Hotel. Can’t figure out if this really is a fancy place, or one pretending to be. We had dinner there, but beforehand, I was able to check out the Bend Elks. They play at Vince Genna Stadium in the WCBL (summer collegiate-league). With a capacity of 3,200, they didn’t make The List, so no official review. At least I think, I’ll be emailing their staff to make sure (just in case, I got all the pictures I needed). Anyways, wasn’t sure if I was going have time to make the game, but it worked out and was able to see about 6 innings of their victory vs Medford. It’s an old venue with cool nooks and crannies to the concourse and outside. Not exactly charming inside with no roof and lots of bleachers, but there was a good crowd on hand that gave the kids a nice hand through the game. It is the biggest park in the league and it’s always great to get watch the small-town charm of a team and league like that. No sports for the next few days before ending the trip with three in a row.

.

August 4
The formations that the volcanic chain of the Cascade Mountains have created are amazing and one of those marvels is Crater Lake. We spent the afternoon at that National Park, where the 7th deepest lake in the world glimmers deep blue. Really is an incredible sight and each lookout provides a different view. Too bad the haze/smoke is still lingering as the visibility wasn’t great. Otherwise, loved checking out one of this country’s wonders. The road was nauseating for me as the cliff edge was right along the side of the shoulder (oh man, queasy thinking about it), but I made the 33-mile round trip drive ok and was rewarded with incredible views at the pullouts.

Along with Crater Lake, we saw more of Bend today as the Pilot Butte provided a 360 degree visual of the city below and the rest of Central Oregon. Then at night, dinner was along the Deschutes River in the Old Mill District, a remarkable mixed-use redevelopment of a mill. The place was packed, surprisingly so given it was a Monday evening. Had a pretty solid pie at Flatbread Pizza. One more Bend attraction tomorrow at the High Desert Museum before heading back to the Willamette Valley.
.

.Mount Hood

August 5
After spending the morning at the all-encompassing High Desert Museum (which was excellent), we drove another two hours towards Portland. I love travelling this country and being surprised at the layout of a state. There’s always a perception or singular thought of a state’s image and it is great to bust that. Driving in the High Desert, it looked like somewhere else in the US and not Oregon. Then boom! it went from sandy brush to Ponderosa Pine in a minute.  The whole way we were driving towards Mount Hood and we drove up the snow-covered mountain to the famed Timberline Lodge. The historic building is architecturally quite impressive. Even better were the views as we walked up a bit, closer to the towering volcano. Some of the best skiing in the west takes place here and people can ski all year long. No one was out today and it was very nice with temps in the 60s and sunshine. The view looking down on the Cascades is breathtaking as well. While walking around, we ran into some Sons of Ben that were in town to root on their Philadelphia Union players in the MLS All-Star Game tomorrow. Cool people and they were admiring the area as well. After seeing Mt. Hood, it was down to Portland for an early evening. We’re setting up shop in Clackamas, where the price is right and location is good for the next few days.
.

.
August 6:
Strip Clubs, Roundabouts, Hobos and Directionals in front of Street Names. Wherever we have been in Oregon, we have seen multiple of these. Today, we’re in Portland and it was a day fit for the wife. We started at the Oregon Zoo as the Vet Tech in her loves checking out each one. The zoo is within Washington Park, a huge highlight on a hill just west of downtown. After the zoo, we saw why we were in the Rose City. Just down the road is the International Rose Test Gardens and wow, what a beautiful place filled with rows and rows of different colored rose varieties. I think we have desktop computer background pictures that will last a year. Despite the beautiful day, fatigue set in, so we hopped in the car and drove a half-hour to Multinomah Falls, which was very simple to get too. Portlanders really have it nice with this waterfall so close. What a great place to live with all of this natural beauty (too bad it is gloomy weather-wise 3/4ths of the year). For dinner, we love Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and there were several choices. We wanted a true taste of Portland, so the Food Trucks in Rose City Park was the place. PDX671 delivered with amazing Guam-inspired food. Kelaguen Mannok….em-emm! Got back to the hotel in time to see the last 10 minutes of MLS beating Bayern Munich at the All-Star Game. Yeah! Jealous not to be there, but am way too stoked  for Saturday’s visit to Providence Park. It will be hard for the reality to match the hype, but I think the Timbers will deliver. In the meantime, back to sports tomorrow with a visit to the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

.

Volcanoes Stadium (from Stadium Journey and Marc Viquez)

Volcanoes Stadium (from Stadium Journey and Marc Viquez)

August 7
I forgot to snap a picture of Volcanoes Stadium with my cell phone for easy remote transfer online, so the above one is from Stadium Journey. Anyway, one leftover from yesterday in Portland, here is a breakdown of the sports apparel I saw people wearing thru the day: 1) Oregon Ducks, (2) Portland Timbers (3) Seattle Seahawks (4) Oregon State Beavers and (5) Portland Trail Blazers. I always find it interesting to gauge the popularity of teams in that respect.

Anyway, today we visited the state capitol in Salem. First was the Williamette History Center at the Mill, where upon first look, it seemed to be a museum about a historic mill. However, the history of the entire area was broken down nicely throughout the grounds with informative displays. We were the only ones there and aside from some quirks, it was a great museum. Then into downtown we ventured, to the state capitol building. It was very odd not to see a circular dome at the top as Oregon’s has a strange cylinder with a statue on top. We got to go up on to that cylinder for a 360 degree view of the city and region. This was followed by wandering the historic district and eating at Wild Pear, a very cute little place where I had pulled pork with an amazing marionberry bbq sauce.

Stadium #152 came about 15 minutes away in Keiser, where the Volcanoes of the Northwest League play. What a crappy ballpark. First, boo to their front office and way overpricing tickets (plus telling people that the 200 level seats were ‘sold out’ and just $20 seats or grassy areas were available). Anyway, just an odd design with a huge walkway behind home plate and a mostly bleachered ballpark set far from the field with lots of foul territory. Other negatives include the view of I-5, sun-weathered seats changing the color to pink and splintered picnic tables on the left-field line. Awk, not a fan of this place and I’m shocked it was built in 1997 and 1983. The game took forever too (3:20), but the home team prevailed with a 9-5 win. Not all of the parks will be great and that keeps things interesting.

.

 Ron Tonkin Field

August 8
One more geographical region we ventured into today as it was over the Coastal Range to the Oregon Coast. GPS (I refer to her as Garmina) had a little snafu getting out there as we had a few different route options, but it wasn’t too bad. We spent time in Astoria, which has a very unique layout, and got a great overhead lay of the land by climbing the Astoria Column. Every city should have some sort of lookout. The Pacific climate was as expected: cloudy, cool and windy. Back downtown, we ate at Baked Alaska, then went to the Columbia River Maritime Museum. While in the city, I couldn’t stop saying out loud: “Put That Cookie Down Now!” as Kindergarten Cop was filmed here in Astoria (so was the Goonies). Then later in the afternoon, we dipped our feet in the ocean at Sunset Beach.

It was an hour and a half back on winding Route 26 to Hillsboro, where a visit to young Ron Tonkin Field went very well. It was a packed night and you can see why at least some sort of baseball team should be in the Portland Metro. Loved the design of this ballpark and their space utilization is excellent and inviting for those looking to mill around and just hang out. They did a lot of great things in this ballpark and though I’m not a huge fan of the actual seating bowl, everything else is done quite well. I also love that nickname of “Hops” and they have great, clean uniforms (unlike the over-the-top ones from Eugene). It’s amazing how much this area loves beer and nearly every adult had one in hand at this game. The crowd was good and energetic, just too bad so many left after the 6th inning. Hillsboro unfortunately lost this one and we are now 2-1 on this trip. 

.

Timbers
August 9
Our last day in Oregon was spent in Downtown Portland. It’s not easy driving around this city and driving downtown is especially tricky with TriMet trains on the street and random road closures. Walking around, I kept thinking about a slogan I saw from The Rose City: “Keep Portland Weird”. That’s all I got to say about that. We started by visiting famed Voodoo Donuts, where the 45 minutes in line was worth the wait (I went with the GrapeAde donut, the wife went for Old Dirty Bastard). Then we walked around the city with stops at Waterfront Park, an old historic Tugboat and Pioneer Courthouse. All good times, but I was really just counting the minutes to Timbers Matchday.

Finally, it was time! Stadium-wise, this is the coolest venue that I have seen as it is incredible how this 1930s facility turned into a modern soccer stadium. From the ivy walls on the exterior, to the rounded covered grandstand inside, I marveled at the quirky re-design that you just will not find anywhere else. Support beams, people watching on a treadmill from the attached fitness center, four-tiered corner suites, old-style bench seating….that’s just a few of the things. I’ll go into much more detail on the stadium in the review, but it is amazing. The atmosphere did not disappoint either as the Timbers Army is huge! They took up so much space and really did themselves proud throughout. It was a sell-out for the rest of the seats, thought I was a bit surprised at the late arrivers and early leavers. Portland beat Chivas 2-0 and that also meant seeing Timber Joey cut logs multiple times! What a great way to end the trip and the 155th stadium I have seen on this lifetime journey was a special one!

,

Posted in Trips | Leave a Comment »

The Nats and The Rocks

Posted by Sean Rowland on July 22, 2014

.Nationals

.

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.

.

Frawley Stadium

.

Posted in Trips | Leave a Comment »

Take Me Home, Country Roads

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 23, 2014

wv_lyn
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…

.
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.

.
App_Power_Park

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.
.

new_river

.

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!

.
city_stadium

.

Posted in Trips | Leave a Comment »

A Comedy of Errors

Posted by Sean Rowland on November 20, 2013

Barrie Molson Centre Exterior

This past weekend, I embarked on a trip with my brother that in the end was successful, but full of missteps along the way. We left from Rochester, NY and it was smooth sailing on an early Saturday afternoon until we hit the Canadian border. It was not traffic or a slow crossing, rather my own carelessness. When we were about four cars away, my stomach dropped before I even took out my passport. I had my wife’s. They are located in the same spot and I never checked the picture and brought hers. Figuring the journey would end before even getting into Canada, the officer let us in (I had my license and my passport number). My concern was getting back into the States, which he said “You’ll be fine”, something I figured he was just saying.

With Maple Leaf flags in front of us, it was on to Barrie, about a two hour drive around Lake Ontario and north of the busy highways in Toronto. First stop was the Barrie Molson Centre, where with the remaining daylight I took some exterior pictures of the arena. It was then off to the hotel, which was crawling with kids as I guess it was a huge hockey tournament weekend. We then went downtown to check out the city a bit and grab some dinner. The city centre was only a five minute drive, but the roads were clogged with traffic. As we approached downtown, more traffic and this time people everywhere. It took a little while to figure it out, but they all were converging for one reason…Santaaaaa!!!!. Despite it being half-way through November and 40 days until Christmas, it was indeed a parade for Santa and to light the tree. With the city practically shut down for this, it was back to the hotel briefly before heading to the game. There was a restaurant at the arena and we figured after a little snack at the game, we would eat afterwards.
.

Barrie Molson Centre Interior

For my first true OHL game, I was really pumped up and the experience was great. I did expect more from the crowd and even though the place was mostly filled up, I felt like they sat on their hands too often. Only after goals was there any real cheering, but the building did get loud. Barrie’s arena is one of the first of the new batches of OHL facilities and I don’t understand why the surface area of the building is so small. They had plenty of room to work with in the suburban setting, but the concourses were cramped and everything inside felt tight. Why not build out more? I did like the inside as there was some uniqueness to the bowl and the restaurant at one end is a nice touch. I’ll save the details for the official review, but here are a couple other random notes: the concourses smelled wonderfully of popcorn….there is no signage for the box office (very annoying for visitors)…..the floors throughout the whole inside were very sticky and desperately need a mopping. As for the game, it was quite entertaining. Barrie blew open a 2-2 affair with six goals in the last period and the Colts won their sixth in a row. This was the beginning of what my brother and I are hoping will be a journey through the entire OHL. It is a league within driving distance from my old home and I appreciate the smaller buildings and community appeal of the league. This is somewhat inspired by the OHL Arena Travel Guide, an excellent site that has been around for a long time and one that I have followed ever since.

Back to our food situation, after we had some really crappy Pizza Pizza (Jersey spoiled me), we waited out the final whistle to head to the other end for the Horsepower Bar & Grill. After sitting and not getting served, we left and ran across the street to Buffalo Wild Wings (where thanks to Barrie scoring more than five goals, we had free wings!). However, at the door, we got turned away thanks to a full restaurant courtesy of the UFC. It was 10:15 PM at this point and desperate, we ran back to the arena, where they said just appetizers were available. Chicken quesadillas it was and 25 minutes later they were awful. The post-game meal was topped off with Katy Perry’s album playing in the background…because that’s what hockey fans love! My brother and I at least enjoyed Calgary-Edmonton with our crappy quesadillas, though we had to look above a TV left on that was now showing snakes on a cable-access animal show.

After that fiasco, we left in the rain Sunday Morning with the hopes of me being able to get back into the US. Even though we were driving back to Buffalo, the Lewiston crossing was our choice, hoping for shorter lines and good karma since we entered from there. Of course, we sat for 45 minutes waiting and the line on either side of was 19 minutes faster (I counted). Getting to the border, there were indeed some issues, but thankfully all my other credentials passed and after a scolding…I was back in USA! USA! With the GPS time of arrival for Ralph Wilson Stadium now at 11:38 AM, it was a frenzied drive to Orchard Park. First, was a shady bathroom stop near Niagara Falls, where I was handed a key to the bathroom on a wooden block. Because of the small neighborhood setting that the Ralph sits in, there is traffic and usually a lot of it. Since most were already there to tailgate, it wasn’t too terrible and we pulled in at about 12:05 PM. After being denied entrance with my umbrella (and that promptly disappeared after the game), it was a sigh of relief as we headed into the Jim Kelly Club for a quick bite to eat.
.

Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Thanks to my brother’s work, we were indeed treated with club seats and I feared the laid-back, corporate setting that I always rip on, but that was not the case. The middle 200 sections were plenty of boisterous and Bills games are always a festive party. It is one of the loudest stadiums in the league (when in full throat) and there is not enough credit for the fan support shown, especially after the last 13 generally crappy seasons. I am a huge Bills fan and playing the Jets, the team I hate the most, brought fear of disappointment. But it turned out to be the best possible result! Buffalo put on an absolute thrashing and the game was made more enjoyable by the abysmal play of one Geno Smith. It was a great afternoon on an unusually mild day and we headed back to the car smiling. An hour of traffic heading back to Rochester, combined with my brother’s unrelenting gas, tempered that smile a bit, but it was still a great game nonetheless. Despite the many issues during this trip, it was well-worth it and quite enjoyable. I’ll have a review of Barrie’s arena up soon, along with updating the one for Ralph Wilson Stadium. Not sure of future winter plans, but will be making those soon.
.

Posted in Trips | Leave a Comment »

New England Road Trip

Posted by Sean Rowland on October 22, 2013

The first stadium on the docket was in Hartford and with the game not starting until 7:00, we had plenty of time in the State Capitol. After getting through 45 minutes of annoying traffic in New York (made better by listening to Men in Blazers), our drive through Connecticut ended up being the most scenic as I-84 featured blazing hills in full peak with changing leaves. Really a beautiful drive. The first stop in Hartford was the Mark Twain House & Museum. While the house tour was pretty good, it was the museum that really intrigued me as it did a good job of showing Twain as an astonishing and fascinating man. After driving through and seeing some of those insurance companies that define the city, we got to downtown and parked at the garage across from the XL Center and found a couple streets (Allyn and cobble-stoned Pratt) that had a nice set of bars and restaurants. We walked the Old State House and toured the former home of Connecticut’s government before heading downstairs to a cool Hartford history section. Dinner was at Vaughn’s Public House before taking the short walk to the arena for a Wolfpack game.

.
XL Center Interior

.

Being inside the old Civic Center, I can’t help but think about the Whalers and there are so many in the state that miss that team. But for now it is the Wolfpack that play here, a team nickname that is back after the odd switching to the Connecticut Whale moniker for a few years. I really like this arena as the inside has terrific sightlines thanks to steeply deigned seating. The design is abnormal on the ends, along with the location of the suites and this is an interior I enjoyed. Unfortunately, the game was sparsely attended and it was dead inside for most of the game. With the home side down 3-1 to Manchester, things looked bleak. However, with five minutes left in the game, two quick goals (of the nifty variety) tied the game up and the crowd became lively. It went to OT, where the Monarchs missed a penalty shot, then Hartford won it in a shootout. Though the building is nearly 40 years old (and it shows), I liked it here. Just one suggestion, bring back Brass Bonanza!!! Of course, a full, detailed review of the XL Center is coming soon.

Saturday was a beautiful October morning and we made the 2.5 hour drive up I-91 to Hanover, NH. The town is quintessential, New England complete with surrounding hills and changed leaves. Dartmouth University and Hanover mesh wonderfully. We parked in town and walked sections of campus including The Green and Baker Library before heading down charming Main Street, where everybody was out and about walking or biking. Early lunch was at Molly’s before driving to a lot that provided a free shuttle to the football game. One problem, the shuttle didn’t show up! We got there at 12:30 and by 12:55 it still wasn’t there. Thankfully, it was a short walk and we went 15 minutes by foot to Memorial Field (the shuttle did eventually make it and made the rounds after the game, not sure what happened).

.

Memorial Field Interior
.

The walk was nice on a pleasant day and getting to the historic stadium, it was awesome to see the brick and stone structure covered in Ivy with leaves on the ground. Very picturesque. The concourse showed it’s age, though in a pleasant way (except the bathrooms) and inside was a nice football stadium made better by its surroundings. Athletic buildings provide the backdrop from the main West stands, while beyond that are the aforementioned hills in fall colors. While the stadium is no more than four sides of bleacher seating, the look and comfort is better than expected. The 2-2 Big Green took on Bucknell and brought a 7-0 lead into halftime. In the 2nd half, the offense just fell apart and the D couldn’t quite hang on as a turning point was when Dartmouth accepted a holding penalty on a failed 3rd and Goal. Bucknell jumped ahead 10-7 on the next play. The Bison had a 17-7 lead and though Dartmouth got a TD with the help of a blocked punt very late, they would fall by 3.

After the game, we drove along US-4 through some amazing scenery and beautiful towns before settling in Rutland for the night. It’s incredible how passionate all of New England is for the Boston Red Sox as the whole town was inside on a Saturday Night. We realized it was Game 6 and then saw the local Paramount Theatre was half full as people came to watch the game on a big screen…which was very cool.

.
Burlington, VT Sunset over Lake Champlain

.

Sunday and Monday were spent all around the Green Mountain State to sightsee. After a stop in Pittsford for the New England Maple Museum and that wonderful Pure Vermont Maple Syrup, we made a scenic drive on Rt 73 and Rt 100 to work our way up to Waterbury. I was off a week or two for peek leaf peeping as many of the leaves were gone or falling, but the views were still great with the added bonus of a waterfall and covered bridge (where apparently there are local rules since I got bullied to back out in reverse). Waterbury brought us to the Ben & Jerry’s Factory and the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, then it was off to Burlington. I love that place and Church Street has to be one of the best streets in America. We watched the sunset over Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks as you could feel the winter chill coming. Monday, after visiting the Vermont Teddy Bear Company (at the wife’s urging), we stopped on our way back in Bennington for lunch and the historic memorial structure in town. Vermont has become my favorite state as it is just remarkably beautiful wherever you go. I’ll try to milk both visits back to Burlington for stadium trips in the coming years. Anyway, great trip and both Stadium Reviews for Hartford hockey and Dartmouth football will be up in a week or two, along with a pair of Stadium Journey summaries.
.

Posted in Trips | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.