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Villanova Stadium Stinks and the Gorgeous Giant Center

Posted by Sean Rowland on November 11, 2018

Last week, I said I didn’t mind the cold as long as it was dry. I lied. My 155lb body struggles mightily to retain heat and the 40 degree, 30 MPH conditions on the Main Line just outside of Philadelphia made it a bear to get through the football game at Villanova. Despite the few fans in attendance, I struggled to find a spot in the stadium that was protected by the wind until the second half, where I decided to stand in a corner to get some wall protection. In between, were trips to the tiny bathroom under the main stand, where others joined to crowd around a space heater. It’s too bad that Villanova’s Stadium disappointed as well. There is a set of bleacher stands on each sideline, but they are pushed back because of a track and they are low to the ground, meaning that sightlines throughout are poor. Even worse was the lack of a concourse as two tiny openings under the bleachers led to a bathroom. People maneuvering around the stadium need to use the track or a walkway in front of the seats. Just a poor facility all around. Most of the fans abandoned the game in the second half and they missed a late Villanova comeback. The Wildcats were down 24-7 to William & Mary in the 4th Quarter and they eventually cut the lead to seven. Villanova had a pair of attempts at the end, but they fumbled and had a loss of downs to lose 24-17. Before the game, I did take a bit of time to walk around campus and it is a really pleasant one. Most impressive is the Saint Thomas of Villanova Church. I’m looking forward to getting back here for a look at their renovated basketball arena.

The next two hours were spent warming in the car on the way to Hershey, PA, where I would have my second look at an AHL facility that is at the tops of the arena rankings. Giant Center is a great building that is really clean and features plenty of historical displays that rightfully honor minor league hockey’s most storied franchise. The inside has an excellent design for hockey. The arena has some character (like the chocolate coloring all around), while checking off all the requisite boxes. I did note a few things that I didn’t pick up last time: the concourses are very crowded and some of that has to do with unnecessary merchandise stands that stick out into the walkways. Also, the upper deck here is really high as the middle suites and wall seem taller than normal, thus pushing them upwards. When I do the re-review in the next week, we’ll see if Hershey holds it place at the top and I have a hunch they will as the place still shines. Fans remain great here and though the arena was 60-70% full, it was a loud building. They make the atmosphere stand out with their “B-E-A-R-S Wooooo” cheer after goals and their old school jeering of referees and heels from the visiting team. Even after the game, calls of “Woooo” resonated throughout the parking lot as fans went home happy with Hershey beating Springfield 3-2. Getting out featured a lot of congestion as a high school football game at nearby Hersheypark Stadium finished around the same time. Otherwise, it was smooth sailing on the ride back home.  

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A Football-Hockey Doubleheader Saturday

Posted by Sean Rowland on November 5, 2018

Football games in November are tricky as it is a roll of the dice for weather. The stadium experience can be awful if the weather is horrid and that thankfully does not look to be the case this coming Saturday (November 10th). I’m fine with cold and dry, plus the sunshine will help as I make my way down to the northwest suburbs of Philadelphia. That is the section known as the Main Line and it is where we find Villanova. Basketball gets all the attention and while I’m hoping to get to a game sometime soon at their redone arena that debuts tomorrow (Finneran Pavilion), I’m going to be at the football stadium on Saturday. The Wildcats frequently have had pretty good FCS teams, but this year has been strange. After a win against Temple, the team has faltered in conference play and they even were shutout in back-to-back weeks. They got a win last week and we’ll see if they finish up strong on Senior Day against William & Mary.

With the Villanova game taking place at 1:00 PM, I kept my eye on schedules to see if I can find something at night. I’ve been to nearly all the stadiums in this section of PA, thus making a re-visit was the best option and there is none better than the Hershey Bears. Their home, the Giant Center, is the top Minor League Arena that I have visited in my Rankings list. That visit came all the way back in 2006 and since I’ve done a lot of refining in reviews since those first 40 or 50 visits, I’m eagerly looking forward to getting back and seeing how the Bears experience stands up. It is a beautiful arena that is built well for hockey and Hershey is always one of the AHL’s top draws, so I’m expecting it to be a great event. That game is at 7 PM and the ride in between the two locations is less than two hours, so I should be good on time. I’ll have a recap of the day next week, along with detailed reviews not long after.

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2018-2019 Hockey Arena Updates

Posted by Sean Rowland on October 18, 2018

An older picture of the Nassau Coliseum. The building has been renovated and will be hosting 20 New York Islander games this regular season

Personally, the most exciting change in the hockey world is the return of the Nassau Coliseum. The New York Islanders’ ill-advised move to the Barclays Center has failed on so many levels. It doesn’t matter that fans long knew Brooklyn’s arena would suck for hockey, what matters is that financially it wasn’t working for all parties. While a deal for yet another New  York Metro arena (costing nine figures) gets negotiated in Belmont, we can all enjoy a return to the heavily-renovated Nassau Coliseum. Sorry, I mean NYCB Live! I’m curious to see how the spruced up old barn works out as the previous version may have been a dump, but the atmosphere was electric. The Islanders are going to split their time between Brooklyn and Uniondale for the next three seasons and the final 10 games this year will be at the Coliseum. For the rest of the NHL, multiple arenas are getting upgrades that are mostly focused on technology, concourses and premium seating spaces. Bridgestone Arena (Predators), Capital One Arena (Capitals), Enterprise Center (Blues) and Wells Fargo Center (Flyers) are the NHL buildings that will be seeing changes this season. I also can’t leave out the high comedy playing out with the owners in Detroit, where they are changing the seats at Little Caesars Arena from red to black. Try as you might, but you won’t avoid shaming at @emptyseatsgalore

Elsewhere, the remarkable ascension of the Colorado Eagles continues. The very successful franchise out of Loveland has gone from the defunct CHL to the ECHL and now to the AHL as they become the 31st team in the circuit as the affiliate of the Avalanche. Also departing the ECHL is Quad City, however we’ll still see hockey at the Taxslayer Center as the Storm join the SPHL. Replacing those two departing ECHL teams are a pair with awesome names and logos: the Maine Mariners and the Newfoundland Growlers. Both are welcomed back as professional hockey rightly returns after a brief absence in Portland, ME and St. John’s, NL. Another team worth watching is the Florida Everblades, the reason being to see if Hertz is able to weasel its way into coinciding their arena naming rights agreement with an all-out paint job that would turn the exterior of Estero’s arena to bright yellow. Boo. In the far lower leagues, we say goodbye to the Mississippi RiverKings and a big hello to Elmira, as they and First Arena return as the Enforcers in the FHL.

While all is quiet in the College ranks, we do have one new arena in Junior Hockey and it comes from the Q. The teams from the Maritimes have some impressive facilities and you can now count Moncton in that group. The 8,750-seat Avenir Centre is the new home for the Wildcats as their days in the Coliseum end. That former AHL building will focus on hosting trade shows. Junior Hockey in Canada starts in September and what a lovely sightseeing/hockey trip one could make during that time to Saint John, Moncton, Charlottetown, Halifax and Cape Breton. Back in the States, Muskegon did a big renovation at LC Walker Arena, essentially giving it the Minor League Baseball treatment by adding a plethora of social spaces (beer garden, party decks, suites, etc.).

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Football with Harvard and BC

Posted by Sean Rowland on October 1, 2018

It was a cool, drizzly start to the day as my brother and I headed out from New Jersey, just after the Morning Rush. The nearby steady rain moved faster to the northeast than our drive and it was nice that our walk around the area would be mostly dry. Boston is one of the cities I vow to never drive in, so we parked in the Alewife Station and took the T a few stops to Harvard. More on that horrible train station later. Cambridge is a cool hybrid between a city and college town and we explored on foot before taking a tour of Harvard. If you want to save money, avoid the ~$20 “Hahvahd Tour” that is advertised in the Square and head to the Information Center building on Dunster Street to sign up for a free, student-led tour. Our guide did a nice job and we enjoyed the introduction to the famed school. Campus had it’s nice spots, but I’ve been to plenty of other Universities that were much more appealing. Dinner was an early one at the Russell House Tavern.

It was a 15-minute walk down JFK Street from dinner to reach Harvard Stadium. The sight was one to behold as the historic building appeared and I felt we were a world away in Greece. The concrete exterior full of open archways gave way to a horseshoe-shaped interior that featured a walkway around the top, framed by Greek-like columns. Even more ancient were the seats, err, I mean concrete slabs that were equally fascinating and uncomfortable. While the debate between comfort and nostalgia raged in my head, there was no denying the terrific sightlines in the bowl and the close proximity to the field. The game below featured a 2-0 Crimson team that took on Rhode Island and it was the Rams that got the road victory. Their QB, JaJuan Lawson didn’t seem to miss in the first half. As Rhody slowed down in the second half, Harvard made a comeback and they cut the lead to 23-16. However, their four chances with possession in the final seven minutes all failed to get a touchdown and the Rams went back to Kingston happy.

The walk back to the T station in Harvard was pleasant thanks to the acoustic outdoor vibes as people were enjoying a Friday Night out. The subway ride was simple enough, but it was the awful Alewife station that hampered the departure. Aside from the fact that the parking garage itself is literally a hazard by falling apart, we could not find our way back to the car thanks to the lack of signage. Arriving from a part of the station that is not connected to the deck is not obvious for visitors. After figuring out where we were via Google, we then searched forever for a pay station and while signs are abundant to pay for exiting, machines are just the opposite. I gave up as the place started to get creepy and we ended up at the actual exit with no way to turn around. As I put my flashers on to go on the hunt again, a worker came up from the crypt to let me pay with a Credit Card. Ugh that place is a disaster.

Once we got out of Alewife, the hotel in Waltham provided a good night sleep and we headed out to Boston College a little after 9 AM. We weren’t a season-ticket holder, nor planning on tailgating for $40, so we used a satellite parking deck in Needham, then took a shuttle over to Chestnut Hill. Not that I’m advocating getting rid of jobs, but the folks at LAZ Parking should reconsider how many are needed to direct cars into the 5th floor of a parking garage in a business complex on a Saturday. It was comical to the point of laughing out loud at the double digit number of employees it took to “direct” you up a ramp and then point to the obvious location of the shuttle bus. Well, it’s better than the opposite and if I have to park away from the stadium, BC did a great job making the process seamless. We purposely got there early, so that we could walk around and take in the sights on this gorgeous campus. Everyone will want to go check out Harvard, but Boston College is the prettier one and well worth a look. As one of the first college’s to be designed in the Gothic style, Gasson Hall is exquisite and Bapst Library beautiful. Campus is hilly and to get to Alumni Stadium, we walked down several flights of stairs, where we reached a nice mix of tailgaters along Campanella Way. 

The Stadium itself isn’t anything special as the bleachered layout features a complete lower deck and then four, separate sections comprising of an upper deck. I did find the attachment with Conte Forum to be unique and was happy to see it open for exploring (they even use concession stands inside as they share the area with the stadium). I also found Alumni Stadium to be intimate and the setting to be nice, especially from the East Stands with Gasson Hall in the background. The game was against Temple, making it a “Conference” game in my fantasy world. You see, I’m a firm believer of geography dictating conferences and I was one that really disliked BC’s move to the ACC. I get it, but don’t like it. So, my conference (let’s call it the “Big East”) would be: Boston College, Buffalo, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse and Temple. Hate away Happy Valley! The game was a high-scoring affair and BC continued piling up points with their no-huddle offense. They won 45-35 and RB A.J. Dillon was stellar again with 161 yards and 2 TD on the ground. At times, the game was entertaining, but I still am astounded to see how college football doesn’t get more flak for game length. This one was eight minutes shy of 4 hours and it featured way too many replay reviews. My brother and I passed the time by quoting Step Brothers and seeing how many situations we could apply the “Trophy Fish” line. The crowd was slow to arrive and for the most part, tepid, though they did rise to their feet and give a nice pop during touchdowns. Students showed up for the first half and then remarkably disappeared for the second half as less than 50% returned to their seats after the break. I did enjoy their sing-a-long to “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers. Didn’t know this was a new tradition and it was a nice surprise. I also liked “Ring the Bell”, something that made sense given the daily chimes that go off on campus.  

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A Football Weekend in Boston (kinda)

Posted by Sean Rowland on September 25, 2018

Friday football games may not be traditional, but they offer up the perfect opportunity for a stadium trip as they become part of a double (or triple) header. The schedule has set-up nicely for a Boston-area college football trip coming up this weekend. I say “kinda” in the title because neither campus is technically in the city of Boston. My brother will join me for an annual Fall tradition as we leave Friday Morning to reach Eastern Mass by midday. Our afternoon will be spent in Cambridge, an impressive city in its own right. We’ll see some of the sights and try to squeeze in a campus tour of Harvard University. Dinner will be somewhere in the vicinity of Harvard Square before we cross the Charles River for the 7 PM Crimson game against Rhode Island. The school may be in Cambridge, but Harvard Stadium is technically in Boston as the other side of the River is that city’s neighborhood of Allston. This will be my 7th Ivy League stadium and I’m hoping to complete the Ancient Eight next year (Brown-Patriots trip?).

On Saturday, Boston College is the setting for Stadium #203 and the Eagles will take on Temple in Alumni Stadium. I had to wait awhile for the game-time announcement and the Noon start made me reconsider options. We were planning on spending time in Boston on Saturday, but by the time we navigate the T and where our car needs to be parked for the game and after the game, it’s too much of a pain and not worth the limited available time. So, we’ll just head home after BC-Temple finishes. No worries, as there are plenty of facilities within Boston that are going to give some chances to see all the city has to offer down the road. We plan on arriving on “The Heights” well before game-time to walk around BC’s campus and see the unique Gothic architecture that it is known for. Back next week with a wrap-up on how it went!

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Finally Made It To The US Open

Posted by Sean Rowland on September 8, 2018

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Thirteen years ago, I moved to New Jersey and a nice perk is being an hour or two (depending on mode of transportation) from New York City and all it has to offer. Being a huge tennis fan, I couldn’t wait to make it to the US Open, but year after year, it just never worked out. While watching the tournament this week, I kept getting this deep urge to see it live. Ignoring my usual long-range scheduling and planning, I decided just 24 hours prior that I was going to Queens. The Men’s Semifinal match-ups were enticing, the weather was perfect and I had a half-day at work. After waiting until the last minute for price drops on the secondary market, I got a single seat way up in the rafters way of Arthur Ashe Stadium and after reading
this ultimate guide, I made my trip in.

Plotting the best way to reach the tournament always has multiple options and I decided to take NJ Transit from Denville. It’s a longer trip then my normally-preferred method of driving to Secaucus and then taking a 10-minute train in, but a $30 parking lot on weekdays deterred me from that option. What I didn’t realize was that Denville has a $3 parking charge Mon-Fri, as like everything with all modes of transportation around the Tri-State, local knowledge is needed since things aren’t always exactly clear. I had seven minutes to make the train and I couldn’t find the pay station in time (in the secondary parking lot, which I didn’t know was the paid one) and made the split-second decision to just get on the train anyway instead of waiting another hour for the next one. Thankfully, my wife was out-and-about and she kindly was able to drive to Denville and move my car along with paying for the spot, thus avoiding a ticket and fine. With that taken care of, there was one more train needed as I got off at Penn Station and opted for the slightly more expensive Long Island Rail Road to reach Flushing Meadows. This was faster than walking eight blocks to get the 7 subway. And with that I had finally arrived!

Watching this tournament my whole life, it was special to walk around and see everything: the fountains, the Arthur Ashe statue, Court of Champions. I spent awhile on the grounds and really enjoyed the amount of plaza’s that allowed for fans to take it easy between play. There are tons of food options and of course, it comes at a hefty price. I considered splurging and getting the long-time signature cocktail, the Honey Deuce. Just couldn’t bring myself to spend $17 on a drink. Matches on all the outer courts were juniors and I wanted to take one in, but at this point, it was 3:00 PM and I wanted a tour of Arthur Ashe before the first Semi began. My plan is to go back next year and just do Armstrong and Grandstand, which is when I’ll do official stadium reviews for those. Heading into Ashe, I gazed up at the behemoth, knowing my end seating result was going to be a hike. The climb up thankfully involved escalators (going down does not), however, I was disappointed to see that the lower-level concourse was reserved for only patrons with seats there. That meant that all of the upper seats, at least 10,000 and probably more, have to squish through a single concourse that lacks a lot, namely comfort between sets. That’s a horrible set-up. As far as inside the stadium, some have called it the “Worst Stadium in the Country“. I wouldn’t go that far as there are some positives. For one: the roof and roof support adds a huge layer of comfort for fans as the extra shade is huge. Most tennis stadiums in North America, lack shade. Also, the stands are nicely steeped and that creates a favorable angle to seeing the court. However, that steepness is also a negative because the stadium is way too freakin’ big and it is a hike and a half to get to the top of the upper bowl. It is extremely rare to see Ashe completely full and it was unnecessary to have that many seats, thus leading to pretty crappy, unintimate views for so many. Then, you also have abundant catering to the high rollers as the small (but insanely priced) lower-level is followed by two rungs of suites and then you finally get to the more distant seating bowl for the regular folk. Despite all the negativity, it was special for me as a tennis fan to finally sit in this stadium for a match.

Made all the better was a mouth-watering semifinal card that first featured Nadal and Del Potro. While absolutely respecting what Rafa has done, I’ve never been a huge fan and I was pulling for DelPo in this one and it was fun to savor all the Argentine fans in the house. The first set was what I expected, a grueling and entertaining battle that lasted over an hour featuring booming ground strokes from DelPo and ridiculous speed by Rafa. Then, in the second, DelPo took over and at the end, it was noticeable that something wasn’t right with Rafa given how he was rushing serves. I took out by zoom camera to watch the chair closely and sadly, he needed to retire. Disappointing, but I was happy to at least see a quality set. That also meant I didn’t have to debate leaving early in the second match for train-catching purposes. The nightcap featured Djokovic and Kei Nishikori, two guys I really like. With Novak, he’s my favorite of the Big 4. He’s very personable and quite involved with fans and kids (love this clip), but I never understood why the crowd doesn’t warm too him and it makes me feel bad because I know he desperately wants that love. If Roger or Rafa are playing an underdog, New Yorkers never pull for the dog, despite their normal love for one. But with Novak? They always do and that was apparent with a huge urging on with Kei. Some might argue it’s because in this instance, they wanted to see more tennis after the short early match, but I’ve seen this before and it was more than that. I whole-heartedly gave some encouraging yells to Nole (always wanted to do that) and he dominated this match. His flexibility is so amazing to see in person. His 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win capped a memorable day. I can’t wait to get back to Flushing Meadows in future years to experience the other stadiums in the complex. 

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Reviewing Stadiums 101-200

Posted by Sean Rowland on September 2, 2018

Me in Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium for Visit #200 on August 4, 2018

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Last month, I visited my 200th official stadium down in Houston, TX at BBVA Compass Stadium. After wrapping up the first 100 back in 2011, I’d like to do the same and take a trip down memory lane for a best of / worst of from #101 to #200.
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Favorite Stadium: Providence Park……Everything came together for a memorable experience: location, architecture and atmosphere. I marveled at the unique stadium structure that was Providence Park, the Fenway of the MLS. As a soccer fan, going to a place that cares as much about the sport and their team as they do in the Big 4 was special. Timbers Army is an experience every sports fan must do.
……….Honorable Mention: Camden Yards, Camp Randall Stadium, Talen Energy Stadium, Wrigley Field,
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Least Favorite Stadium: Volcanoes Stadium……This is such a horribly designed ballpark, especially considering it was built in the 1990s. Disjointed and worn with a backdrop of the interstate, Volcanoes Stadium takes the sour cake.
……….Dis-honorable Mention: Ballpark at Harbor Yard, Jack Kaiser Stadium, Eunice Kennedy Shriver Stadium
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Best Atmosphere: Siegel Center……I still vividly remember my walk from the arena to the car and saying “Wow” about a dozen times. This was an atmosphere I’ll never forget as the entire crowd was electric and that was emphasized on this dunk. What really made the experience standout were the fantastic Peppas, a pep band that tore the house down.
………..Honorable Mention: Providence Park, Michigan Stadium, Yost Ice Arena, Lincoln Financial Field, Rec Hall
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Underrated: Mohegan Sun Arena……Amazingly, an arena by the same name won this award for the First 100. That one was in Wilkes-Barre, PA, this one is in Uncasville, CT and is home to the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. Everything about this experience was great, including the terrific design of the arena and concourse. Add in the fact that it is inside of a casino and you have your night pretty much set after the game.
………..Honorable Mention: Franklin Field, Memorial Field, Robins Center, Utica Memorial Auditorium, UW Field House
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Best New City: Montgomery, AL……This is not just selecting an outsider for outsider sake as I really loved the two days I spent in Alabama’s capital city. Montgomery had a pretty horrible 200 years, but the last 20 have been pretty good. Great historical sites, a fun downtown and a terrific state museum in the capitol building made for a great trip while in town to see the Biscuits baseball team.
……….Honorable Mention: Baltimore, Chicago, Madison, Washington DC
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Best New Small City/Town: Lake Placid, NY……This winter resort town is as good as you would think. Expensive, but worth it as you feel like you are in a different country in this icy paradise as the setting is breathtaking. The charming Main Street with the frozen lake behind it and the mountains in the backdrop set the stage for a perfect spot to have a hockey tournament. Add in the Olympic sites and the place gets all the better.
………Honorable Mention: Ann Arbor (MI), Frederick (MD), Hanover (NH), Kingston (ON), York (PA)
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Worst City/Town: Chester, PA……MLS teams have a knack for building soccer stadiums in the suburbs. Most suffer because of that and while Talen Energy Stadium benefits with a picturesque riverfront and background bridge, the rest of the area is a place to stay away from. Drive in for the game and then get out of there.
………Honorable Mention: California (PA), Kinston (NC)
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Worst Drive: Lynah Rink.…..Cornell is a pain to get to as its Finger Lakes location far from the Interstate means a lengthy ride on two lane country roads. I knew I was taking a risk on this November 19, 2016 trip, but given the time of season I was hoping that the amount of snow sticking on the roads would be minimal. This bizarre day started with a 73 degree football game at Schoellkopf Field. The cold front came through while walking around campus and by the time the hockey game started, it was 40 degrees. Snow began in the 2nd period and when I left the game, we already had an inch with a bit of it sticking on the roads. This made for a white knuckle drive back to Jersey with reduced visibility and treacherous conditions on those rolling hills between Cornell and Binghamton, then again in the Pocono’s. I stopped in at work to see how things were going with the snow and didn’t get to bed until about 2:30 AM.
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Best Restaurant:  Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, MI…..You know a place is awesome when you crave for something like this back home. Zingerman’s is that place as I wanted to try 90% of their menu. The subs are all unique and made with great ingredients, which is cliche in today’s world, but it stood out here. There is a certain college, quirky vibe and while it may be expensive, the subs are huge and the price is right for the quality.
………Honorable Mention:  Blue Moon Bar & Grill in Grand Junction, CO; Clyde’s in Washington, DC; Stockyard Grill in Montgomery, AL
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Weirdest Visit: Rynearson Stadium…..The game was overshadowed by protests as a few days earlier, a disgusting display was found as there was an incident with racist graffiti. Everything ended up being peaceful, but there was certainly tension as protesters congregated behind the end zone. They came onto the field before the final seconds ticked off and this led to a mixed reaction as EMU players and fans were not able to celebrate their first home in win against an FBS school in nearly two years. An unrelated side note that added to this weird stadium visit: the opposing team was Wyoming and their QB was Josh Allen. I never, ever would’ve thought this future Buffalo Bill would be a first round pick, or a player that I root on for (hopefully) many years.
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Completed Leagues: Eastern League……My trip to the Harrisburg Senators’ ballpark in 2013 meant that I had visited every team in the league. This was my first feat in achieving a league’s venue completion and it lasted all of two years. The New Britain Rock Cats moved to Hartford and I remain one ballpark away from getting to all 12 once again. It’ll probably be a few years until I make it up to Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
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Best Game: Clarkson vs Princeton……There were plenty of options, but the circumstances pushed this one to the top. It was the 2018 ECAC Hockey Championship in Lake Placid and underdog Princeton clung to a 1-0 lead through the third period. For the 90% of the building rooting for the Golden Knights, things were bleak. Clarkson had one last chance…and it went in! a miracle! 😉 Nico Sturm’s deflection with 6.4 seconds left sent Herb Brooks Arena into hysteria as Clarkson fans went bonkers, jumping up and down all around. My brother and I just stared at each other with mouth’s wide open, soaking in the craziness. What a moment. The building caught its breath during the 15-minute intermission as we awaited OT. It didn’t take long for the outcome to be decided as just 2:36 into the extra frame, Princeton’s Max Becker won it and the Tigers went crazy, celebrating their first ECAC title in ten years. They beat the #1, #2 and #3 seeds to do it with one of the conference’s most remarkable championship runs ever.

 

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Insert Pig Reference Here

Posted by Sean Rowland on August 20, 2018

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I had a free Saturday Night and with the completion of an earlier game postponement before the second of a doubleheader, it was a good time to make another visit to Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, PA. The stadium is about an hour from my house and when I arrived at 5 PM, they needlessly had the tarp on the field. The game was delayed 50 minutes without a drop of rain before we got started (they need a weather service!) That was about the only thing the organization did wrong though on this night as I was thoroughly impressed by how Lehigh Valley is first class all the way around. Let’s count up the little things because they add up and matter in the end:

  • Many team employees direct cars and traffic, making entry and departure for drivers easy
  • Golf carts capable of shuttling 3-6 people from further away spots to the main gate
  • www.pigsfoodfinder.com
  • They have their own TV Broadcast team and the production is stellar
  • During the rain delay, the Phillies game (their affiliate and closest MLB team) was shown on the huge videoboard
  • Ushers politely hold all fans back from walking down during the middle of an at-bat

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I’ll add one more, but it is a personal one. Whoever runs the music portion of the game production clearly is an old-school wrestling fan. I counted at least six different tunes during the game, including the ancient WrestleMania theme, which I love. Typically, I don’t get too distracted by the side entertainment, but I do have to tip my cap to the mascot, Ferrus. As little brother to the famous Phillie Phanatac, Ferrus does his best to live up to his legacy and he is quite funny at times. I also love the scoreboard graphics where he pops up to do something goofy (like draw a mustache on the visiting batter’s picture). The ballpark itself is decent and while it may not be in the league’s top tier in terms of design, it has some good features. I like the 360 concourse, along with the upper-deck club level that is affordable ($18) and offers indoor club access. There are several corner and outfield special sections that focus on a bar-atmosphere / social space. They all have names with some derivation on the pig and that is a prominent thing here. That’s fine and fun and all, but I would have liked to seen some team displays more instead of facts and quips on bacon. There is also a ridiculous abundance of ads in the building and my feelings on that haven’t changed as I remember that clearly from my first visit in 2008. Lehigh Valley still draws well and even though only individual seats were being sold, we had about 70% in the house. Crowd atmosphere was just ok, nothing special as they were reactionary as opposed to getting involved on their own. They were also slow to recognize well-hit balls that were on their way to being long home runs. At least a few got to their feet to bring the team home when the visitors were on their last strike. The IronPigs went on to win 4-1 and they look playoff-bound next month. A fine ballpark, where the little things by the team add up to a great stadium experience.

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A Crazy Night in Houston

Posted by Sean Rowland on August 13, 2018

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We arrived in Houston on Friday and since it was a midday flight that encountered delays, it was pretty much a travel day and nothing else. Saturday was when we spent our time touring the city and with the hotel being right downtown, we began by walking the area. I was surprised at how empty it was. I learned that the Central Business District is just that, a section of skyscrapers for MF 9-5ers and then the area is pretty much done. That made our walk a little creepy, given how desolate it was. We went through a few parks, including Sam Houston Park, which didn’t feature anything worth seeing. We did find the Museum District to be enjoyable and the Metro Rail made for a simple ride to this section of the city six stations to the south. The Museum of Natural History was our lone destination and it took the whole day as it was a huge place. I didn’t like all the optional costly add-ons, but I did love the in-depth museum itself, which rivaled the one in NYC.

We were thankful to miss evening thunderstorms as my Dad and I headed to BBVA Compass Stadium for the Dynamo game that had no weather delays.  Our hotel shuttle dropped us off in the EaDo section of the city and we saw a small street fest outside the gates before heading in. I love the orange flavor of the stadium and the constant color scheme gives the place character. It’s a nice stadium with a design that features a bit of creativity and solid sightlines all around. The structure is a double-decker that is in the shape of a rounded rectangle. There are a few minor negative notes, my primary one being the cheap and slightly uncomfortable seats. I’ll detail the other negative stuff in the official review, which is posted as I had some spare time to write while on the 7-day cruise that we took following this game.

The crowd was light on this Saturday Night and there were more empty seats than bodies in them. You would think geography would make a Houston a great soccer city, but that just isn’t the case. The Houston Chronicle newspaper furthered that point by burying the game recap on Page 11. While the attendance number suffered, the fans there made up for it with noise and passion. The problem was that they went too far. The Dynamo picked up an early red card and way too many acted like morons the rest of the night. It started with streamers being thrown onto the field after every call against the home side. That evolved to all out shenanigans in the 90th minute as full beer cans were directed at the referee who attempted to go to video review (and smartly left the area). Total idiots and it’s the ugliest crowd I’ve seen at a game in person. Sporting KC got the win and Houston got the distinction of finishing the night with a club record for yellow cards and red cards. That unfortunately will be a lasting memory from an otherwise solid soccer stadium.

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Nearing #200

Posted by Sean Rowland on July 30, 2018

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We are just one stadium away from hitting #200 on the all-time Visit list! Since it’s a milestone, we want to make it a good one and I think this one will be as we visit a relatively new soccer-specific stadium for an MLS team. It belongs to the Houston Dynamo as we look forward to seeing BBVA Compass Stadium in the EaDo section of the city. The game is Saturday Night and Sporting KC is the opponent. Summer in Houston means that I’m thankful for the 8 PM start as I’m hoping the heat is tempered a bit (just a bit?) with the loss of sunshine. So why only one stadium visit if I’m heading all the way down to Texas? This trip is part of a vacation where we are meeting up with family to take a cruise and the ship leaves from Galveston. That journey via Royal Caribbean will take us to Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica. We’ll then head back home the day our cruise returns, though I strongly considered the afternoon Astros game, but time was too tight, especially with a little one in tow. We did want to spend some time in Houston (which is an hour from Galveston), so we decided to arrive a few days early for enough time to check out Space City. Our touring will take place in the Museum District before we grab dinner near our hotel downtown and then my Dad will be joining me for the Dynamo game. I’ll be back with a website wrap-up a few weeks later.

I enjoy reaching these milestones and this one should be a little more clear-cut than the last (#100). In the early stages of this project, I was still tinkering with my obsessively detail-oriented ways of how to chronicle these visits (very much to a fault). In the beginning, I had some stadiums on here where I didn’t see a game (just saw the building) and I also had stadiums visited where the capacity was under my set standards (thanks to false advertising). The Ryan Center’s distinction of being #100 got taken away as the Visits list was cleaned up a few years later and the official #100 became Notre Dame Stadium. Both were fine picks in their own right. Anyway, that was probably all pointless gibberish and serves as a small glimpse of the things I spend way too much time on in this project. In the end, BBVA Compass Stadium is the plan for #200 and while this milestone may not be on the Bucket List, it should be a very good stadium trip nonetheless!
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