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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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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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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.
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new_river

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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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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.
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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 their 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 PM, 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.
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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.
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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.

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XL Center Interior

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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).

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Memorial Field Interior
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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.

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Burlington, VT Sunset over Lake Champlain

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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.
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Busy Weekend in Baltimore

Posted by Sean Rowland on July 16, 2013

Baltimore Skyline

I finally made my way to the Charm City this past weekend and everything went smoothly for a pair of ballgames to go along with some sightseeing. The weather cooperated as there were no storms and although it was very warm and muggy, I thankfully missed the oppressive heat, which the East Coast is stuck in all this week. That would have made for some extra sweaty walking. Anyway, we got into downtown Baltimore around mid-morning Saturday and found a strategic parking lot that would work for both Camden Yards and the other sightseeing we would do through the day. The $25 hit was rough, but I made up for it the next day by finding a $12 all day garage. We started at the famed Camden Station, which now houses a Sports Legends Museum and a separate Pop Culture Museum (Geppi’s) on the second floor. Geppi’s basically took you through the history of entertainment in this country and had a staggering collection of comic books. The Sports Legends Museum was amazing and I easily could have spent 3-4 hours in there. Along with a complete history of the Baltimore Orioles full of memorabilia and nice displays, the museum also has another floor on Maryland sports, including a piece on the state’s stadiums and arenas. To end, there is a section on the Baltimore Colts and then the Ravens. I think I’ll be back here to visit again before a Ravens stadium trip.

For lunch, we ate nearby at Frank and Nic’s West End Grille, where the weekend-long wishing I didn’t have a food allergy to shellfish began. The wife had an excellent crab cake sandwich, while I went for a loaded salad that was still really good. The servers were very nice and Os fans started to fill the place up by the time we left. We still had time to check out the Babe Ruth House and Museum, which is inside the actual house he grew up in. It is a small museum that had interesting stuff on the Greatest Player of All-Time.
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Camden Yards

Then it was finally off to Camden Yards (cue the angel music). Two hours before the 4:05 PM start was just enough time to check out the ballpark and I started by walking around the entire stadium. That led me to famed Eutaw Street. It was jam packed as everyone was hanging out, drinking and eating. I definitely loved the area between the outfield and warehouse, but with so many people, I decided to come back later to enjoy. It’s amazing how many times I’ve seen a ballpark like this one replicated, but to see the original that started it all is truly special. All aspects of the park are great and most of the sightlines are excellent too (I say “most” because the seats at the back of the 100 level are not that good with such a steep overhang above). It was nice to see the place filled as often attendance has been lacking, despite the ardent following the Os have. The crowd was very into the game and Chris Davis hit his league-leading 36th home run, but the Birds fell to Toronto 7-3. I’ll write much, much more on the ballpark experience in the official review coming later this week and in an updated Stadium Journey review.

After the game, we still had some daylight left, so we walked over to Federal Hill for a beautiful sunset overlook on to Baltimore and the Downtown/Inner Harbor. Our hotel was near the airport about 15 minutes away (much cheaper) and after running into an absolute downpour, we picked up some food near the hotel and called it a night. Very surprising not to see a chain restaurant in an area of hotels, but instead Maiwand Kabob was there, an Afghani place. I took out and had a really good kabob. The hotel, however, was not good with a completely full parking lot, a leak in our room and a couple of spiders. This was a Hampton Inn, a place I always stay at on the road, but this was the first one I’ve encountered (out of about 10) that was inadequate. There still my go-to hotel, but just not anymore near BWI.

The next day we stayed in Baltimore to check out the Inner Harbor. I wanted to venture into more of Baltimore and some of their other nice neighborhoods (like Fells Point and Mount Vernon), but the main attraction of the city near the Harbor really is worth a visit. Such a great area with much to do and enjoy. The National Aquarium is a must (despite the $40 ticket), which we got to right away early in the morning. Lunch was at a brewpub on the east side of the Harbor and then my favorite thing to do in a city if available, is an observation tower. Baltimore had a great panoramic one on the 27th story of their World Trade Center. We just beat the Orioles traffic getting out of town at about 4 PM and then caught a little 95 traffic making the short trip up to Aberdeen for Stadium #138.
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Ripken Stadium

The NYPL’s Ironbirds are the home team at Ripken Stadium and much of the park is modeled after Camden Yards. That’s a great thing and I understand it, but it ends up blending in nowadays to a ballpark typical in Anytown, USA. They do have an excellent food selection here with a whole crabshack to go with many other options. I loved finishing off the trip with a slice of watermelon on a warm summer evening. The Ironbirds experience got off to a bad start in my book by their front office not answering four emails I sent to them over the course of a month (a pet peeve of mine when someone doesn’t answer emails). But the rest of the game-day staff was great and accommodating, not in a fake way either, but truly genuine. The game dragged on for a lengthy 3:12 and it was filled with errors as the Ironbirds couldn’t overcome an early 6-0 deficit and ended up falling 8-6 to Williamsport. That makes NYPL home teams 0-5 in games I see them play. On a good note, I got to meet up with Gary Herman again. It was great being able to catch up with him as The Prince was doing what he does best, attending sporting events. It’s amazing how much he has seen and how many places he has visited through the years. His sports weekend was spent in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Aberdeen before heading back to NYC. Check him out at Royalty Tours USA.

Overall, a great trip and I kind of glossed over the ballpark experiences here, but will have their detailed reviews (on the right) in a week or two. Also, Stadium Journey updates to come as well. Stay cool!

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Soaking in the Sun

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 28, 2013

Mohegan Sun Arena Interior

OK, that’s a cheesy title, sorry about that. It’s not exactly true either as the trip was under a cloudy sky that felt like it was going to snow instead of rain (and it was close). But once we got inside Mohegan Sun, things were pretty good on this arena visit. First, it took a while to get out to SE CT thanks to the usual I-95 traffic. Our first stop was the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. Of things we visited this weekend, the Pequot Museum was at the top as I was really blown away by how it thoroughly represented the Pequot Tribe. We spent a fast-moving three hours here and the displays were wonderful, especially the re-creation of a village. It’s a sad conclusion with how the Pequot were nearly eliminated, but their rebound in the 1900s is remarkable. Highly recommend visiting if you are in the area.

Seeing the Pequot-owned Foxwoods would come later, but on Saturday evening we went across the Thames River to Mohegan Sun Casino, the home facility for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. The Sun are rare not only because they play in a casino, but also because they are one of the few WNBA franchise’s not partnered with an NBA team. With Mohegan Sun just outside the door, the entertainment options are endless before and after the game in the wonderfully decorated casino. Restaurants are plentiful and really good as we ate at Michael Jordan’s 23.sportcafe beforehand.

Mohegan Sun Arena Concourse

Probably the nicest decor for a concourse that I have seen yet as they stay consistent with the Mohegan motif in the casino

I anxiously got to the box office to make sure tickets were still available and even though the Sun in multiple places made it seem like they were limited, there were a decent amount still available (and the team wasn’t exactly prompt as I dealt with two weeks of going back and forth through email). Strange since a couple thousand seats were available based on attendance figures, yet just single seats were offered in the lower bowl. That was the only negative in an otherwise great experience. The concourse decor matched the beautiful Mohegan Tribe inspired design of the casino, while the arena interior was a true, intimate basketball facility. Seats are somewhat tight, but there is not a bad view as the octagon shape and lack of suites waste little space for the general fan. I know that Connecticut has great fans of women’s basketball with the Huskies, but the Sun fans were equally impressive. It was an excellent crowd as I estimated the announced attendance of 7,672 was accurate and they were very into the game. Fans did more than just clap as they made enough noise to make it loud in the arena several times. Great stuff as the Sun began their quest for their first WNBA championship by starting the season with an 81-69 win over the New York Liberty. Also, kudos to the organization for donating ticket sales to the Oklahoma tornadoes relief. Overall, an excellent arena and great experience with the team. I’ll have a review of Mohegan Sun Arena up soon, along with a write-up at Stadium Journey.

As for the other two days in Southeast Connecticut, they were spent in the casinos and in the scenic (and touristy) town of Mystic. Casinos didn’t go well for me monetarily as I lost on both the tables and slots. Mystic was fun and I really enjoyed the Seaport. I didn’t even know what this was going to be before checking it out and we literally spent all day there, with just a brief break downtown for lunch. That lunch break was terrific as well as we watched the Memorial Day Parade while dining at Azu. Overall good trip and the next new stadium on the itinerary is PPL Park for the Philadelphia Union.

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Doubleheader in Connecticut

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 17, 2013

William H. Pitt Health and Recreation Center

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I made a last-minute decision on Friday to go check out a couple of games for the weekend. After perusing schedules in basketball and hockey-land, SW Connecticut looked to be the best option. No new official stadiums were visited, but a 3:30 PM Sacred Heart college basketball game followed by a 7:00 PM Bridgeport Sound Tigers AHL contest lined up beautifully. I started my trek early as there was one pit stop that needed to be made. Instead of taking my usual route to CT via the Tappan Zee Bridge, I begrudgingly took I-80 over the GWB and onto I-95. The reason being was I needed some daytime exterior pictures of the Rothman Center in Hackensack (about 10 minutes off of 80). Despite my annoyance of even making Fairleigh Dickinson’s arena an official visit, I did want some useable outside pictures.

After that, it was game on. Tiny Sacred Heart University was the destination, right on the Fairfield/Bridgeport border in SW CT. This was not an official stadium visit as the Pitt Center only seats about 2,000, but I just wanted to see a college basketball game somewhere. I thought the small campus would be easy to navigate, but the after effects of last week’s blizzard combined with no parking near the gym made it a pain. It was a lengthy walk to the athletic side of campus, but I got there in enough time to settle in for the opening tip. This is a typical NEC gym with sideline seating and walls abruptly behind the basket. The side bleachers sloped gently and started a little ways from the court, so it wasn’t an ideal set-up. Robert Morris was the opponent (my second time seeing them) and they shared the conference lead, along with having the NEC’s best resume, which includes a win over Ohio, along with close losses to Xavier and Arkansas. The Colonials completely outclassed Sacred Heart (9-15, 7-6), even with leader Velton Jones out with injury. Fans were filing out as RMU had a 64-48 lead with 3:49 to play. Then a crazy thing happened. Shots started falling for the Pioneers and with RMU tensing up each possession, Shane Gibson caught fire behind the arc (to my dismay as the screeching PA announcer was too much to handle). The lead was 65-63 as SHU had the ball with under 30 seconds. The furious comeback fell short though as a missed shot followed by a pair of Robert Morris free throws cinched it. It was a cold walk back to the car for the fans, though most took it in stride.

Webster Bank Arena Interior

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It was 5:30 PM, which left plenty of time to make the 7 mile drive down Main Street for Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena. I wanted to take Main Street so I could see the city and downtown Bridgeport. You will probably never hear anyone say that. Not much enjoyable to see through a drive mixed with businesses, drug stores, graffiti-ed buildings and shady characters. Regardless, the city is not as bad as the
Uncle Chick Band depicts it in 1980. And they built a beautiful arena in 2001 that still shines today. I made a visit here ten years ago, but that was to see a Fairfield basketball game. With each passing year, counting that as an official Stadium Visit always bothered me because this was a downtown arena built for a pro team, not a college team that does not even play in the same town. After 132 stadiums, this was the only one where the main tenant or an equal tenant was not seen, so I decided to erase the original visit from the record books and do an official visit with the Sound Tigers. 

My 11th AHL arena was a good one and I was quite impressed with the inside of the one-level facility. What struck me immediately was the bright object above center ice. Remember last week when I mentioned the growing trend in monster arena scoreboards. Would you believe that was what I walked into in Bridgeport!?! After no center scoreboard for their first 11 years, a gorgeous 30ft x 16ft video screen sits in the middle with crystal clear video. Paul Swaney was right in that it was not distracting and I welcomed the chance to see replays in amazing form. As for the rest of the inside, I can’t say enough good things. On the surface, it seems like there is too much luxury seating, but digging deeper, it turns out that much of this is open to the public which is awesome. There’s a surprisingly spacious bar tucked in the back of section 103, to go along with the Harborview Pub on the tiered deck behind one of the goals. This is the best part of the arena as the two levels provide an area to hang out, eat, drink and also watch the game. Seats overlooking the ice are available along a table and though pricey, it offers a great view. The place was empty enough for me to check out the game up here for a period and it was great. My negatives of the arena are comparatively minor (except the atmosphere)…the box office being outside where it’s cold half the year, not enough displays in the concourse, a blah atmosphere/small fan-base and high prices. Overall though, a very quality AHL facility that I enjoyed. Very special thanks to Brianne Tompkins on a last minute response. I’ll have a full, detailed review of the Sound Tigers and Webster Bank Arena up within the week, along with my updated review at Stadium Journey soon as well.

The game followed the same trend as Sacred Heart with the home side quickly going down 2-0 to the visiting Providence Bruins. Sound Tigers Kevin Poulin was struggling too as he wound up on the ice and out of position a lot. Yet Bridgeport managed to storm back with a sweet Nino Niederreiter blast and then a Sean Backman fluky goal from behind the net. After tying it at 3, Providence ended up taking the lead in the third. The final minutes were quite interesting as Bridgeport had a goal disallowed because the net was knocked off its moorings before in went. Should have been a penalty on the goalie who ‘accidentally’ knocked it off. Then as the Sound Tigers were getting set for a faceoff with 30 seconds left in the Bruins’ zone, they couldn’t figure out whether they wanted their goalie in or out for a sixth man. With the goalie in limbo and dancing near the blue line as confusion continued, the refs warned them once to get ready for play. Their patience ran out and the ref told the linesman to drop the puck, which he did with no Bridgeport players near the faceoff circle. Providence won it and fired the game-sealer into the open-net. Bridgeport went ballistic, but in this case I totally agree with the refs and they did the right thing. Good call by them to get the game moving and not get bullied by the Sound Tigers coaching staff…refs were right on this one. Bruins win 5-3 and now sit atop their division

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Brandywine, I-95 and visiting Bob Carpenter Center for 55 minutes

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 5, 2012

Longwood Gardens

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The last few days have been beautiful weather-wise across the Northeast. I was able to take Tuesday off and make a stadium trip for a visit to the Bob Carpenter Center and Delaware Blue Hens basketball. My wife is off on Tuesday’s and she joined as before we went to Newark, the attractions within the Brandywine Valley were on tap first. Brandywine consists of Southern Chester County (PA) and Northeast Delaware, in a region that was heavily influenced by the river and the DuPont’s, one of the country’s most influential family. I didn’t realize the impact that they had on the area and we started by going to the Hagley Museum
in Wilmington. The site is the former DuPont estate that includes landmarks from when the company started in the 1800s and focused on the production of gunpowder. Wish we had more time here as the museum, E.I. DuPont’s house and the other accompanying buildings are well worth a look through and easily could have taken up much of the day.

It was then time to cross the border into Kennett Square, PA, the mushroom capitol of the world (gross). We had a really good lunch at Sovana Bistro before heading to the region’s premier attraction, Longwood Gardens. These botanical gardens are also part of the DuPont lure as Pierre bought, maintained and improved the gardens during the early 1900s. He helped make it one of the largest and nicest gardens the country, which continues today. We were astounded at the indoor displays both horticulturally and seasonally as everything was decked out in holiday attire. After sunset, we walked around the amazing holiday display lit up with lights.

Following that nice day, things went downhill in a hurry. We left Longwood and the Kennett Square area around 5:30 PM, for what was a 40 minute drive to Newark, DE. I realized I was up against rush hour, but the lack of time on I-95, I thought would be ok even if we were delayed a bit. After making it to I-95 without a problem, there was about five miles left on our journey. Then the frustration of brake lights. An accident near Exit 1, led to us going three miles in 1 hour and 15 minutes. Now, I feel very badly there was an accident and don’t want to take away that my relative venture for entertainment is miniscule to whatever accident happened…but you could imagine my blood boiling and frustration level going thru the roof with every passing minute in the car. We did not arrive until 1 minute left in the first half. On the bright side, at least we made it in time for the trip to be salvageable. I spent halftime and the first few minutes of the second half picture-taking and jotting down notes, while getting to watch most of the second half.

Bob Carpenter Center

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As for the Bob, I liked it. The inside was well lit and I like the touches of Blue Hens logos and blue paint in many spots. The guy who politely told me I couldn’t go in to see the UD Athletics Hall of Fame almost set me off at that point in the evening, but the HOF looked nice. Inside was a fairly standard 5,000 seat layout with four sides of seating, most of which came on the sideline. Most have blue chair backs, except for a few of the corner sideline sections, they should just finish that off and make them blue. For the Hens home opener, the crowd was disappointing and though about a hundred students showed up, all but two of them sat for the game. Surprisingly, women’s basketball is a bigger draw and a huge part of that is local product Elena Delle Donne. She is one of the best in the country and helped lead UD to a 31-2 season last year. As for the men’s team, they haven’t been to the Tourney since 1999 and after an early-season win against Virginia this year, Delaware dropped five straight. This was their home opener against Radford and the Hens pulled away in the second half for a 68-59 win.

Overall, I’m glad to at least have made it into the Bob Carpenter Center for the second half. Look for a detailed stadium review in the next few days and I’ll also be writing one for Stadium Journey. Just one more stadium visit left in Delaware as we’ll probably do some more Brandywine stuff coinciding with whenever our next trip is to see Frawley Stadium and the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

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Colorado Road Trip Running Blog

Posted by Sean Rowland on July 20, 2012

Saturday
Four stadiums was the goal on this venture, along with sightseeing across the Centennial State. We left for EWR (Newark) around 5 AM and had a connecting flight in Minneapolis before getting with Denver. For the most part everything was smooth, but this whole overbooking flights thing baffles me. On both flights, Delta had to ask for several volunteers to switch flights (with incentives) as the flight was overbooked. I know that this is all about money and I’m sure it’s successful for them…but jeez, you have x number of seats, therefore x number of seats should be sold. You don’t see stadiums ask fans to come another day for free, because the stadium is overbooked.

Anyway, we got into Denver and picked up our rental car (2011 Mazda, meh) and then drove through the surprisingly crowded interstates of Denver. Both our drives (weekend afternoon and weekend night) featured traffic where it became stop and go on I-10, I-25. Didn’t realize this happened here as comparable cities like Phoenix and San Antonio that I’ve been to were fine. One pleasant surprise on the drive was seeing very close up, the Denver Coliseum and Sports Authority Field (really, Mile High Stadium).  Despite the occasional traffic, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City was very easy to get to and park in.

The complex is huge with 24 soccer fields and the stadium being the highlight of it all. There was a nice, but small opening exterior and I really enjoyed the completely open and wide concourse here. Good display and story on their 2010 MLS championship too. I wasn’t blown away by the seating bowl as the single level bowl wraps around the field. The end where the supporters sit could have been filled in more, instead of just a few, cheap looking bleachers behind the net. I did like the displays behind the seating area, along with the elevated walkway. DSGP’s biggest design feature is probably the disjointed panels that act as a roof and were created to look like the tectonic plates that created the Rockies. Supporters were much fewer than what I saw in New York and fans seemed much more casual as handfuls arrived after the first whistle through the 25 minute mark. They annoyingly got up and down constantly as well, especially in our cheaper corner seat. The more passionate fans (aside from the PID Army and Bulldog Supporters Club) were on the sides and they would clap before set pieces and also stood, cheering in unison with arms raised after a Rapids goal. The game was entertaining, especially in the 2nd half, when chances were numerous. Unfortunately FC Dallas tied it and then won it in the 81st minute as Fabian Castillo drilled home a rebound. That was Dallas’ first win in 14 matches, while Colorado has lost five of six.

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Sunday
It was all about Denver today and though we didn’t visit downtown’s main attractions (that’s Tuesday), we did visit a couple spots that were enjoyable. Driving through the city, I was impressed as it seems very clean and modern. The first half of the day was spent at the Denver Zoo. Though we were unsuccessful in beating the heat (it was in the 90s by noon and the city reached the mid-upper 90s), the zoo was fun. We’ve been to our fair share of zoos, as my wife is a veterinary technician and also has a zoology degree. This zoo was one of the biggest and the new elephant exhibit was the closest I’ve ever been to one.

After cooling off in the hotel for a bit, we went to Tocabe for dinner. Despite my dislike of Guy Fieri, I’ve really gotten into Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and this Native American place was on there. The Indian Fry Bread tacos were filling and awesome. Then we went to the Denver Botanical Gardens, another gigantic space. For anyone interested in gardening, plants or flowers, you’ll be blown away here…I was. Tomorrow we’re off to Colorado Springs for the day and a visit to Security Service Field.

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Monday
Colorado Springs was where we spent the day and this was what I would picture most people think of with Colorado (myself included). Whereas Denver is surprisingly flat with the Rockies off in the distance, the Springs butts right up next to the Rockies and is far hillier and more open. It certainly does not feel like the 41st most populous city in the country. We started on the west side with a visit to
Garden of the Gods Park, which was absoulutely stunning. With the mountains and Pikes Peak in the distance, the red rock formations were beautiful to hike around and through.

After a scenic lunch at the cafe on top of their visitors center, we went into the city a bit to tour the US Olympic Training Center, where we got to see the training facilities for wrestling, shooting, weightlifting, swimming and taekwondo. US and A, greatest country in the world! After killing some time at the Ghost Town Museum, we drove up to the Northeast portion of the city for dinner at Big Dog Barbeque and then baseball with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox at Security Service Field (try saying that three times fast). The ballpark is older (1988) and has an odd entrance, but surprising in that the concourse is open to the playing field. It almost feels like a double-A park as it only holds 8,500. There is a little charm in the stadium and the staff really is friendly, especially the usher who came down just to see if we were enjoying ourselves. Location is lacking as some more mountain views would have been nice instead of seeing rolling fields and new neighborhoods. The game was crazy as I think that was the first time I’ve seen a 10-spot in one inning. 14 batters came up in the first and the ball was flying in the high altitude and wind blowing out. The good guys went on to win 15-6 in front of a typically small Monday Night crowd.

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Tuesday
Today we were in the Capitol Hill and Golden Triangle section of Denver and I continue to be impressed on what a clean and nice city this is. The first stop was  the Molly Brown House Museum, where the long wait wasn’t really worth the house visit. Lunch was at the Cheeky Monk…a place that had a massive beer selection and it was all Belgian. Many things that I couldn’t pronounce and I can’t say which beer I had, but it was really good. We then walked over to the state capitol and took a tour of the incredibly ornate building. It took 19 years to build this and everything from floor to ceiling is meticulous. The gold dome is being renovated, so we couldn’t get up there, but I can imagine the view is spectacular. Then it was off to another old house (my wife absolutely loves these) and it was the Byers-Evans home, which was better.

The highlight of course was in the trendy LoDo neighborhood, where Coors Field sits. Before the game, right nearby is B’s Ballpark Museum featuring a wonderful collection of memorabilia. I was pretty exciting for this game (nothing new there), because this was my first MLB mid-90s park of the brick and green era. I came away quite impressed with the stadium, with the views being a big highlight. An awesome view of the Denver skyline can be seen while walking the upper concourse (and when sitting in the outfield, it looms over the stadium). Meanwhile for those on the first base side or right field corner (like we were), the mountains are wonderfully distracting and if the clouds are playing tricks with the sun, it can make for quite a setting. There was a decent crowd on hand, however this felt more like a place to come and hang out for a bit as tons of people filed in between the 1st and 3rd and then filed out from the 7th to 9th. They made noise, mainly when the scoreboard told them. Still, the Rockies are atrocious and it was good to see a nice crowd on hand. I’ll have to gather all my thoughts and notes to compile my review next week, but without diving into much else until that review, I walked away really impressed and happy with Coors Field.

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Wednesday
About 12 miles to the west of Denver is Golden, CO, set in an amazing backdrop between the Rockies and two mountains known as the North Table and South Table. This is the same Golden that you hear in the Coors commercials and yes it is brewed all here in one massive facility. There is a tour and despite it’s constant self-promotion, it is pretty cool and we started here. The tour also gives free beer. Not sure I’ve seen it sold, but I had Batch 19…very good. After the tour we drove up Lookout Mountain and the view from the top near the Buffalo Bill Museum was breathtaking. On one side is the rocky terrain of the mountains, while down below was Golden on the valley floor and the rest of the Front Range, including Denver. We could’ve spent hours up here just sitting and looking.

After some Southwestern food at the Table Mountain Inn back in town, we took a stroll down Washington Street, which is the main one through Golden. Small shops, charming walkways and a nicely designed bridge over Clear Creek combined with the mountains on either side make for one of the most pleasant strolls in the country. What a cool little town. Tomorrow we go through the mountains to Western Colorado for Grand Junction and a visit to Sam Suplizio Field!

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Thursday
In the morning, we took off on I-70 West making the scenic drive over and through the Rockies passing mountain towns like Idaho Springs, Vail and Glenwood Springs. Once we started coming back down from a peak height around 11,500, the Rockies took on a more desert appeal with red rocks and more shrubery as opposed to evergreens. A little under four hours later, we arrived in the Grand Junction area, well actually Fruita, where we drove up the Colorado National Monument. It’s not really a monument, but the national park is more a 23 mile scenic loop filled with Grand Canyon-like views of the valley floor below. Though nerve-wracking for me as the driver on the tight, cliff edges, the pull-offs were breathtaking as the scenery continues to blow me away.

After a few hours, we came back down to Grand Junction, a city of 58,000. It was still around 95 degrees, after hitting 100 earlier when we hit up Main Street for dinner and a walk through their huge farmers market. Just this year, the Colorado Rockies, moved their Pioneer League team from Casper to baseball-crazed GJ and fans have welcomed them big time. The atmosphere in Sam Suplizio Field was awesome as the crowd was completely into the game, knew  the players and cheered loudly after plays. I was really impressed with the passionate and very friendly vibe. I talked to a couple next to us for much of the game and the people here are wonderful. There is still room to improve with attendance (they rank third in the league and the 6,949 seat ballpark was well short of a sell out in the franchise’s home opener), but the atmosphere is great and let’s hope that it does not wane past the first year. By the way, Todd Helton is rehabbing in Grand Junction tomorrow (Friday) and that should bring out a huge crowd.

The stadium on the other hand is strange. Very strange. First, the parking is awful as the tiny lot couldn’t hold enough cars for the crowd of 2,000. Inside, the ballpark is combined with the football stadium on the other side. So on the first base side is a press box that acts as suites. Below that is the seating bowl, with the area directly below having been renovated with new green seats. The rest are bleachers that go around the stadium. Back to the first base side, it creates almost a football-like feel and it centers the fans together. Combine that with the Grand Mesa in the background and despite it’s awkwardness, this section (where I sat) grew on me. As for the Rockies, they won 3-1 with a great performance by Matt Carasiti. Glad we made the trip out to the quirky stadium as I really enjoyed the Grand Junction game and visit #125

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Friday
Waking up this morning and hearing the awful news of horrific shootings in Aurora, CO, our thoughts and prayers were with the victims and families. This poor state has suffered a lot in the past few months, but this tragedy is inexplicable. Hopefully all those injured are able to recover.

We spent our last day in Colorado at Grand Junction, first at the Cross Orchards historic site and then back downtown. Lunch at Bin 707 was great and then the Museum of the West got better the more we went through the museum. The best part was climbing the tower and getting a 360 degree view atop the valley. While yesterday we looked down on the Grand Valley from the Colorado National Monument, this view from the city was great too as the surrounding mesas are incredible. The sunny midday set the scene for the 100 degree day.

Our four hour drive back to Denver went smooth and we’re flying out tomorrow. It’s been a great trip to a beautiful state and four new stadiums have been visited. Reviews will be up over the next few weeks.

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Baseball in Pennsylvania Dutch Country

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 29, 2012

Our trip down to South-Central PA started in York and prior to checking out the ballpark, we spent some time around exploring the city. Its rather shady surrounding downtown, but once you get inside the core, things are nice. Lots of historic, brick buildings dot downtown and there is a lot of very old history that originated in York. We checked out a few of the Heritage Trust sites and though they’re mainly empty (and deceptively open), for the most part, they’re worthy places to spend a few hours. The Colonial Complex not only provides a tour of an 18th century home and tavern, but does a good job explaining the history of York. We then walked down to the historical museum, before taking the most uncomfortable, awkward tour ever at the Bonham House. I don’t want to get into details, because I kind of felt bad….but yikes, was it awful.

Dinner at the White Rose Bar & Grill was decent and then we headed to Sovereign Bank Stadium under threatening skies. Nasty storms off to the Northwest fell apart as they approached and fizzled enough to just a very little bit of light rain once they arrived in York. Luckily, this still meant game on for us, but not after a 45 minute delay at the start. That gave me a chance to explore an all-around great minor league park that made a terrific impression. I was impressed by just about everything outside, around and inside the park. Located on the Northern edge of downtown just past a railroad stop, the brick facility fits in perfectly with other buildings in city. Walking through the Brooks Robinson Plaza, several displays describe the history of the site. The seating design is simple and a bit small (just over 4,000 fixed seats), but has several great touches to make it stand out. At the end of the seating bowl, seats curl in so they face home plate along the foul line. Also, a nice little touch were the benches along the outfield wall, where fans can sit while their kids play on the lawn behind them. Lots of good cheap, food options are available too. Just two very minor complaints: more White Roses displays would have been nice, along with something for the War of the Roses with Lancaster. I’ll have more details in the review, but let’s just say I really loved this park. As for the game, a 0-0 pitcher’s duel was broken in the eighth when Southern Maryland scored two as they went on to win. Special thanks to Cindy Burkholder on the visit!

Sunday, we crossed the Susquehanna River into Lancaster County, where we took the day to tour and learn about Amish Country. We spent most of the day in Intercourse. Yes, Intercourse….this is the same county that brings you other unique town names like Bird-in-Hand, Paradise and Blue Ball. Anyway, a lot of the time was spent at the Plain & Fancy Farm, where we watched Jacob’s Choice (an awful 90s like Lifetime Movie), took the bus tour (terrific) and walked through the homestead (great tour guide). I can’t believe how mixed in the Amish are with the English (us) and how different their way of life is, yet they do it all in our own backyard. Crazy. We also spent a little time in Strasburg, where there is a lot of history with railroading. Food-wise, Lancaster County has many specialties, unique to them. My favorite? the Shoo-fly Pie.

Monday, we hit a few more towns before heading to Lancaster City. The first was Littleti…errrr…Lititz. Wow, what a charming little town. If I were to bring someone foreign to a postcard image of small-town Americana, this would be it. And it was fitting we also arrived when the Memorial Day Parade was wrapping up. We ate our way through town at the Julia Sturgis Pretzel Bakery and the Wilbur Chocolate Company, along with lunch at the General Sutter Inn (food was good, but service was slow…our first choice, the Tomato Pie Cafe was closed). Then, we checked out the Landis Valley Museum in the afternoon. The grounds feature many century old buildings with displays of what life was like in prior times. A worthy museum, but not ideal to be outside on a stifling hot and muggy day. After recouping in an air-conditioned bar with a drink, we took a quick stroll in downtown Lancaster before heading to Clipper Magazine Stadium for a Barnstormers game.

We arrived nearly an hour before game-time and ongoing was a stirring Memorial Day tribute. Many were in the stands for it and the team honored our veterans very well with many great tributes. The ballpark was very similar to York, though Lancaster gets credit because it was built first. They had a few more unique displays, like the red roses in the outfield (Lancaster is the red rose city) and a couple displays for their rivalry with York. But one glaring problem with the stadium is that it faces the sun in left field. Ugghh!! Not only was this problem magnified on a 90 degree day, but I’m sure there are many games where fans can’t follow the ball during the first hour or so of the game. It doesn’t seem like designers were forced to do this, though there has to be a reason. Otherwise, it’s a decent ballpark that I enjoyed. It was an interesting vibe from the fans as they were quite attentive and into the game, but half of them left by the 7th inning (and it was a quick game). Then in the 9th, those that were left made a good amount of noise trying to rally Lancaster to a win (didn’t see this type of atmosphere in York), but after they failed and the game went to extra innings, half of those fans left. Speaking of the game, it was another one that featured a ton of 0’s on the board. I like pitcher’s duels so it was cool to see a couple back to back. They went a full nine innings scoreless (turns out that Ryan Harvey’s cannon from right field to nail a Somerset runner at the plate was huge). In the 10th, a home run by Jaime Pedroza won it for the Barnstormers.

So, who won the ballpark War of the Roses? Well, my off the cuff winner is York by a very slight margin. Stadium Journey also sides with Sovereign Bank Stadium as the winner. As for our rankings, I’ll have the reviews up within a week and we’ll see which team comes out on top. (Editor’s Note…yup, York gets the slight nod in the rankings with a very high 77.5 out of 100. Could have possibly reached the 80 barrier if it wasn’t for it being a near exact replica of another ballpark built a few years earlier).

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