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Bucket List – Ballparks

Posted by Sean Rowland on July 9, 2017

While in the area for a Mets or Yankees, make sure to stop by Brooklyn for a game

 

Back in the winter, I did a series of posts on Bucket List Stadiums for Football, Basketball and Hockey. The time wasn’t right for Baseball, but now that we are in the middle of summer, it certainly is. Ballparks are the genre that attracts the most amount of stadium road trippers as that group exceeds all the other sports combined. Warm weather and nostalgia are likely reasons why, but the main one is that baseball has a different type of fan. There are several people I know that love baseball dearly and pay little attention to all other sports. For me, while I certainly enjoy a ballpark visit, the length and dullness of the games put the watching of the sport live much lower than the other ones. There are still some beauties out there though that I love to see…

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Alex Box Stadium – LSU Tigers:  If you watched the College World Series this year, you’ll know why. Home of some of the best fans in college baseball, though the fans from two lines down may argue this.
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AT&T Stadium – San Francisco Giants:  Picturesque ballpark with right-field on the waterfront. Great support too as crowds haven’t waned even when the Giants do poorly (which can’t be said for many other MLB teams).
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Baum Stadium – Arkansas Razorbacks:  Similarly crazy passionate fan base to LSU. Those that get bored at times with baseball (like me), certainly won’t be so at a Hogs game. Lots of fun.
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BB&T Ballpark – Charlotte Knights:  Wonderful new ballpark in downtown Charlotte that has a major-league feel in miniature form.
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Blue Wahoos Stadium – Pensacola Blue Wahoos:  The design is basic, but it is the view and location that makes this bucket list worthy. Great spot right on the Bay and near the center of the city.
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Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles:  The ballpark that changed sports stadiums forever. It still stands the test of time 25 years later.
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Dodger Stadium – Los Angeles Dodgers:  Janet Marie Smith is in the process of working her magic here.
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Doug Kingsmore Stadium – Clemson Tigers:  Aesthetically beautiful with a great design on a pleasant campus in Upstate South Carolina. Clemson is hot right now on the sports scene and expect to see a lot of orange.
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Dudy Noble Field – Mississippi State Bulldogs:  The biggest on-campus stadium in college baseball is known for their Left Field Lounge, a tailgating and in-game experience like no other in the sport.
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Fenway Park – Boston Red Sox:  An icon that has wonderfully moved into the 21st century.
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Frontier Field – Rochester Red Wings:  Best food in the minors! I got spoiled coming here often growing up in Rochester. Food certainly has stepped up in the last dozen years, but nothing comes close to the variety and quality at Frontier.
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Grayson Stadium – Savannah Bananas:  Thank you Summer-Collegiate Leagues for saving this ballpark. An absolute classic built in 1926. I love the ceiling fans underneath the overhang!
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Huntington Park – Columbus Clippers:  Great ballpark in a great city and a great neighborhood (the Arena District).
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McCoy Stadium – Pawtucket Red Sox:  Enjoy it while you can as Red Sox owners plot their move. Not many like these are left at the affiliated minor-league level.
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MCU Park – Brooklyn Cyclones:  Coney Island and the Atlantic Ocean are within a view of this ballpark, which you will be hard pressed to find one that fits in better with a neighborhood
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Modern Woodmen Park – Quad Cities River Bandits:  Right along the Mississippi River. Seriously, right on it, as in they have flooded multiple times. Not a fan of how the place has become a circus with the addition of a Ferris Wheel, but the setting is picturesque.
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Parkview Field – Fort Wayne Tin Caps:  Often a winner in Stadium Journey‘s “Best Ballpark”, this is a success story in terms of downtown development because of a ballpark.
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PNC Park – Pittsburgh Pirates:  Everything about this ballpark is done right. And for a fan of city skylines, this one is right up my alley.
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Riverwalk Stadium – Montgomery Biscuits:  Many ballparks go with the train theme, but none do it better than Montgomery. The stadium makes use of a pre-existing train shed for the exterior.
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Regions Field – Birmingham Barons:  Excellent use of a city’s history with the incorporation of steel in the design elements.
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Smith’s Ballpark – Salt Lake Bees:  Just look at that View!!!
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Target Field – Minnesota Twins:  All the new ballparks built within the last 10 years are great, but this one stands out above the rest.
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TD Ameritrade Park – College World Series:  Only because of the event it hosts. This is an otherwise soul-less ballpark that replaced a stadium still dearly missed (Rosenblatt). Thanks, NCAA
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UPMC Park – Erie Seawolves:  A neat park where tight confines dictated the design, leading to a completely different third base side from the first base one. Well worth going to the latter side and sitting in the upper deck.
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Wahconah Park – Pittsfield Suns:  One of the very few remaining with a wooden grandstand.
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Wrigley Field – Chicago Cubs:  The video boards and advertising somewhat take away from what was a unique professional sports experience in North America. Still an incredible ballpark and experience.
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The Alouettes and their Spectacular Home

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 24, 2017


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My third visit to the beautiful city of Montreal was the first one that came with pleasant weather, quite welcomed for such a walking city. We were in town for the SIMA Symposium, where we exhibited at the Trade Show and participated in a few other events. Each evening we were able to enjoy Old Montreal and Crescent Street, while Thursday afforded us a bit more free time late in the day. After checking out the historic campus at McGill University and the nearby McCord Museum, I got ready to hop on a shuttle bus to Percival Molson Memorial Stadium as the CFL scheduling powers were on my side with the Alouettes playing their home opener at night. The bus had some issues both to (it was late) and fro (it didn’t make two scheduled stops), but otherwise this was a fantastic experience at a historic stadium that aesthetically became one of my favorites.

Molson Stadium sits on the eastern slope of Mount Royal, thus setting up a spectacular setting. From one sideline, fans have a backdrop that includes downtown Montreal and the “Plateau” neighborhood. From the other side, the mountain looms over the stadium, along with the historic campus buildings. A steep set of sideline seats provides terrific sightlines and the end zones have their own unique seating, especially on the south end where it is occupied by the Neurological Hospital. In front is a row of beer tents that make for a good spot to socialize and watch the game. Renovations added historical displays to the western end of the building and there is indeed plenty of history here…over 100 years worth! Frequent readers of this site know how much I love old stadiums and the incorporation of old and new in combination with the beautiful setting make Molson Stadium a must visit.

The crowd was lively and it was festive atmosphere throughout as there was a lot of singing and dancing with the music on the PA. The wave made an appearance as well. I am new to the CFL and for those not familiar, the primary differences from the American game are: Three Downs (instead of 4), goal posts at the front of a larger endzone, 1 point if a kicked ball is not returned from the endzone and orange penalty flags. I had a hard time getting used to the 3 downs and it really slowed the game down. It took awhile for a score as it was not until late in the 2nd when Montreal got on the board thanks to a 65 yard pass from Darian Durant, the former QB of their opponent Saskatchewan. The game got good at the end and the Al’s took the lead with an 18-yard field goal with just under 3 minutes remaining. The Riders drove back down and did what drives me nuts in all levels of football…settle for a mid-long range field goal. They easily could have ran 2-3 more plays, but instead, let the clock run down to attempt a 45 yard field goal. I was glad to see them punished as it missed and Montreal was victorious, ending a great stadium visit. Look for a detailed stadium review next week.

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Rebonjour!

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 13, 2017

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Hello again Montreal! I’ll be back in one of my favorite cities for a good chunk of time next week as our company will be exhibiting at the SIMA Symposium. It’s a show that I periodically join co-workers for and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the show, they are heading north of the border to Montreal. Lucky for me, the home opener for the Alouettes is on the Thursday we are in town and I will be able to make it with the game starting at 7:30 PM. This will be the first CFL game I attend and I’ll have to brush up on the rules as they do differ between the two countries. Percival Molson Stadium seems like a great introduction to the league as the setting on the hills of McGill University combined with the stadium history makes for an exciting venture. Plus, I’ll be able to use mass transit to get there as the stop for the free bus shuttle to the stadium is within walking distance to our hotel. Back next weekend with a wrap-up!

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Alabama and Mississippi Trip

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 22, 2017

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Friday
Travel day #1 and it went ok as the first half was rain-free. We stopped halfway to check out the Shenandoah Caverns which included an hour in their underground cave. It’s pricey, but a good stop full of interesting visuals including the awesome Rainbow Lake (pictured above). Our 2-year old, Shayla, was excellent today in the car and enjoyed the Main Street of Yesteryear display. Part 2 of the drive was a struggle as a constant rain slowed things on 81 and the last hour got heavy enough where it was nerve wracking. Wearily, we arrived in Abingdon, VA and before checking in, ate at Luke’s Diner. Sorry, no Lorelai or Rory to be found.
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Saturday
Thankfully, we had much better weather on Day 2 as it was dry with clouds giving way to sunshine as we made our way through Tennessee and into Alabama. Our midway stop was in Gadsden, AL where lunch at a regional fast food joint (Jack’s) was followed by a few hours at Noccolula Falls Park. Glad the drought down here has improved and it also allowed for the water to flow into the beautiful Falls in the northern part of the park. Our final long drive dragged on the rather dull stretch of I-59 that goes into Mississippi. But I’ll take dull scenery anyday over tough driving. We reached Hattiesburg in the evening and starving, I was very much looking forward to good Barbecue at Leatha’s. After the
good reviews I read, I was sure this would deliver. Wrong! I left so disappointed and discouraged, it kinda ruined the night. A waitress/server, didn’t come by until 10 minutes in, then they told us no chicken, just pork left. Bad news for my wife (Cheryl), who doesn’t eat pork. She was gracious enough to stay and just eat the sides knowing how bad I wanted Southern BBQ. So we waited and waited, until 45 minutes later finally getting food. I understand the slowness, but the disappointing part is not once having their staff let us know how long it would be, or even check on us during the meal. Even worse, they talked to EVERY other table but ours and was friendly with them. They didn’t even say goodbye to us. It’s not like we’re not friendly, was it because our accents gave away we’re Northerners? Errrr and the food was just ok, pulled pork was fatty and I’ve certainly had tastier. Better days ahead.
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Sunday
Hopes of sleeping in were dashed by a 6 AM Shayla wake-up, but that was ok because we went to the elegant campus entrance and rose garden at Southern Miss before it got too hot. This would be the only day where the family would separate as the ladies went to the zoo and I saw college baseball under the afternoon sun (well, I did grab a seat where there was limited shade). The Golden Eagles took on UAB and their 8-0 shutout win gave USM the conference regular-season title. It wasn’t a big crowd at Pete Taylor Park, but they were appreciative and supportive of their players on Senior Day. My favorite ballpark feature was The Grove, where trucks lined up down the right-field line and outfield to tailgate and watch the game. Very cool. After the game, we drove through the Pine Belt to the Gulf Coast, where dinner was much better this time as we ate at Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant in Ocean Springs. This is a beautiful town and we spent the rest of the evening strolling the boardwalk.
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Monday
We moved on to Biloxi, where it was a beach morning before climbing the Lighthouse and seeing the Visitors Center. We also took the Biloxi Tour Train, led by the wonderful Carla. This was a great tour of the city as it is a fascinating place with a history and present worth exploring. Carla also talked (and showed) Katrina and my heart broke at the sights and stories. Media focuses(d) on New Orleans, but these coastal communities were destroyed as well. After heading back for a Shayla nap we went to Ballpark #2 on the trip: relatively new MGM Park. The Shuckers arrived just a few years ago from Huntsville and their home is near the center of the city as the massive Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino towers over right field. An impressive sight, but one that does block a beach and water view. The ballpark does not have a front entrance, thus leading to a continuous concourse wall and an area more exposed than usual as the suites are set further back. Unfortunately, the Braves blew out Biloxi, ending my 7-game winning streak. This was Shayla’s first sporting event and she spent 75% of the time fascinated by “Big Bird”, aka Schooner, the team’s mascot.
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Tuesday
This day was more for the girls as we all started by visiting the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in nearby Gulfport, where Shayla had a blast in the two-story kids play area. I would love to have something like this back at home for her. We ate lunch at the peaceful Blow Fly Inn before continuing in Gulfport at the Marine Mammal Institute. Cheryl is a Veterinary Technician and the tour we took was a great behind-the-scenes look at their research and rescue. For dinner, we went to the Beau Rivage and sampled the pretty good buffet. The day was capped off with a perfect finale walking along the sand in Ocean Springs.
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Wednesday
We said goodbye to Mississippi and hello again to Alabama as we drove three hours to the capital in Montgomery. It was a food day that I very much enjoyed as our first stop was lunch at the Stockyard Grill, located where cattle are sold. I’ve never seen a place like it as people from all walks of life were eating: Police Officers, Ranchers, Businessmen, Retired Couples. It was a true blend of people enjoying darn good food and my Ribeye Steak was a perfect lunch. Dinner was at Martin’s, a Montgomery institution. Had to have the Fried Chicken and it was as good as expected. Two trends that I have noticed down here: You get the bill right after ordering, so does that mean dessert is supposed to be ordered with the meal? Second, they ask if you want your drink to go. I like that. In between food, we spent time at the Alabama State Museum. This was done very well and I could have stayed for hours. It has been a rough 300 years for this state, but the last few decades, life has improved quite a bit and I applaud this museum for their terrific displays and storytelling, despite challenging and sad subject matters. In the evening, we went to Paterson Field, a good example of an older stadium that has survived to serve an alternate purpose. They co-host the High School State Baseball Championships and we saw Game 1 of the 5A Final between Faith Academy and Russellville, who was looking for their third straight title. They looked well on their way with a 9-1 win. I was hoping for more character from the ballpark, which was built in 1949 and while the structure was all well and good, the lack of overhang and metal bleachers made for a generic place.
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Thursday
9.2 miles. That was how much walking I did, but the journey led to me falling in love with Montgomery. It’s a city that has had so much pain and trouble, but now it features a diverse population with plenty to do, good food, little traffic and increasingly trendy areas. First, we went to Old Alabama Town to spend the morning, which took us back to 1800s Alabama. We then took a step back in time with lunch at Farmers Market Cafe. More Wood Paneling! This Fried Chicken was better than yesterday’s at Martin’s. While, Cheryl and Shayla went back to nap at the hotel, I explored all around downtown. This included stops at Riverfront Park, The Alley, the Visitor’s Center in Union Station and the Rosa Parks Museum. We ate dinner at Dreamland BBQ and then went to Riverfront Stadium, which was awesome! I’ve seen plenty of ballparks do the train theme, but none have been more appropriate or effective than how Montgomery did it. The actual exterior is an old train station and inside, more old station decor sets the ballpark apart. It is a unique set-up as well. To make the game even better, we had a storm in the background, so I went to centerfield to watch the game with the city skyline and lightning in the background. Despite my astonishment that the game went on despite the electrical threat, it was a perfect evening. Except that the Biscuits got burnt (ooohhhhhh) as they lost to the Jackson Generals 12-6.
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Friday
Last day in Montgomery and we ventured out of downtown to the Zoo, which was crawling with school groups. Shayla enjoyed the animals, but the heat really bogged us down. I’ll take the heat in place of rain as it allowed us to achieve all of our plans. We had a little extra time before heading to Auburn, so we did the Capital Building tour and drove down Dexter Ave. When we got to Auburn, I had to make sure we stopped at Toomer’s Drugs to get a refreshing cup of lemonade, which was everything it was hyped up to be. As for “The Loveliest Little Village on The Plains”…meh. I mean it was quaint and nice and all, but maybe the “SEC is Greatest” mindset has me soured a tad. This is combined with little things that were annoying, like the lack of parking at our hotel and the ticket lady telling us that ALL fans needed a ticket and our 2-year-old couldn’t get in without one (despite her sitting on our lap). I will say campus was beautiful, as was Plainsman Park. Lots of team honors and great seating touches make this one of the best college ballparks in the sport, though I could do without the kitschy design features likes the Green Monster. The Tigers beat up on Ole Miss as they won 9-1, concluding a trip of complete blowouts (which doesn’t help a sport that can be dull to begin with).

Our long drive back home would be split into two days and there wasn’t much noteworthy with our stopovers. We had a great family trip to our country’s Deep South and it is an area I hope to return to for future sports journeys. Thank you to the weather, which was great since the rain stayed away. The stadiums I saw were pretty good and they should rate well when I get to completing their thorough review over the next month.

 

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The Big Southern Trip

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 2, 2017

We’re just a week away from the biggest trip of the year as the family hits the road for vacation and along the way we make some stadium stops. This was a thoroughly mapped-out trip and that should come as no surprise for those that know me. My wife (and I to some extent) want to visit each of the 50 states and with a two-year old daughter, we want to be strategic in what states to hit and when. This year, we settled on Mississippi and Alabama with the spring-time being a better time to make the trip, as opposed to the searing heat and humidity in the summer. Stadium-wise, that means ballparks are the venue, but May gives the chance to see not just professional baseball, but college as well and that is great given the popularity of the sport in the South. We are starting the drive on May 12, making stops along the way before settling in Hattiesburg, MS the evening of May 13. The following day, after a visit to the zoo, we’ll be at Pete Taylor Park to see nationally-ranked Southern Miss take on UAB. We’ll then make the short drive to Biloxi, MS after the game and spend the next 3 days touring the city and the Gulf Coast. One of those nights will feature the Biloxi Shuckers and a game at MGM Park. On Wednesday, we venture into Alabama, where a few days are devoted to the state capitol in Montgomery. There is a good amount to see and do there, which will fill the daytime and then at night, we’ll see the Biscuits play in their downtown stadium. In addition, I’ll also be checking out the city’s older ballpark, Paterson Field, which hosts the first game of the Alabama High School Baseball Championship series for each classification. The last day in Alabama before starting the journey home will be in the Loveliest Village On The Plains. If you know the SEC, you know that’s Auburn and we’ll stroll the college-town sipping lemonade from Toomer’s Drugs along the way before finishing at Plainsman Park for a Tigers baseball game. We’re really hoping the weather cooperates and everything goes smoothly as we look forward to visiting the Deep South (and enjoying some delicious, traditional food). I’ll probably try a day-by-day running blog during the trip, so check back!

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2017 Ballpark Changes

Posted by Sean Rowland on April 20, 2017

Hartford’s new Dunkin’ Donuts Park (image from Ballpark Digest and Zack Spedden)

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This year, we have two new ballparks in the world of Major and Minor League baseball, both of which have been highly controversial. First, we have the Atlanta Braves leaving a facility barely 20 years old as they move into a ballpark that was built with lots of public money in some shady dealings. The new place, SunTrust Park, is one of the rare MLB stadiums to be placed in the suburbs. Despite the perceived open space of leaving downtown, parking is problematic and some fans have to walk over a highway bridge (another controversy) to get to the park. Ballpark Digest has a terrific preview of everything SunTrust Park that I suggest checking out. Next, we have the soap opera in Hartford, which finally looks to have come to a conclusion. After the new Yard Goats spent all of 2016 on the road, the city vs construction company fiasco was figured out enough to let another company finish the job and the team opened Dunkin’ Donuts Park last week. It may become a great ballpark, but for a city and state drowning in financial problems, it may be tough for citizens to let go how much money was spent here. I know I sound Debbie Downer despite my love of stadiums and fan culture, but the background of these two new ballparks is hard to ignore.

Elsewhere, this offseason saw a two-team franchise shift between the California and Carolina Leagues. Both Cali teams had ballpark issues as Bakersfield was not up to MILB standards while High Desert had rent squabbles with the city of Adelanto. Both of those stadiums will still house baseball though as they have teams in the independent Pecos League this Summer. The Carolina League picks up the loss of the Cali teams as Pro baseball returns to Kinston as the newly-named Down East Wood Ducks play in Grainger Stadium. The other team will temporarily play for a few years on the campus of Campbell University in Buies Creek until a new ballpark is completed in nearby Fayetteville. In the Florida League, the Washington Nationals moved their Spring Training to a new ballpark in West Palm Beach and that was enough to facilitate a move of the Brevard County Single-A team from Viera to Kissimmee. It’s “Back to the Future, Part II” as Osceola County Stadium is back with the Florida Fire Frogs. It’s been a very strange offseason as you almost never see a ballpark that lost minor-league ball get a team back and it happened twice this year.

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2017 Soccer Stadium Updates

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 28, 2017

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Soccer continues to grow here in North America, but league structure and how it is growing leaves room for debate as to whether this is a good thing. With MLS continuing to hand out franchises like hotcakes, we have seen the debuts of Atlanta and Minnesota this year. Both feature the boring names of “United FC”, though at least Minnesota has the great nickname of “Loons”. In spite of MLS’ fake desire for all teams in a soccer-specific stadium (Hi NYCFC), Atlanta will move into the football facility for the Falcons, Mercedes Benz Stadium, once it is completed later this year. In the meantime, they’ll play at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium. Up in Minnesota, TCF Bank Stadium once again stands in as a temporary solution as they will host the Loons until a soccer stadium is complete in Saint Paul. The league does see a new stadium open this year and it is a beauty. So far, Orlando City has done everything right and they have a gem of a stadium in downtown Orlando (and it was privately financed!). Check out the review of this fantastic facility from Soccer Stadium Digest.

The lower-level leagues continue to struggle to get organized as now we have two of them that are in “provisional” Division II status. The NASL is by far the one in worse shape as they saw Minnesota depart to MLS and Ottawa and Tampa Bay move to USL. The moving up a level by Minnesota means that we say goodbye to NSC Stadium, a longtime mainstay on The List. Two franchises folded: Rayo OKC and Fort Lauderdale. The latter actually moved from Lockhart Stadium to Central Broward Stadium (a cricket stadium!) in the middle of last season. That means longtime soccer home, Lockhart Stadium, is off The List as well. 2017 will be an 8-team league for the NASL, which means one new addition and that is the San Francisco Deltas, who will play in historic Kezar Stadium. Two other stadium notes: the Jacksonville Armada will play at Hodges Stadium on the campus of UNF as opposed to using the city’s ballpark, while the New York Cosmos do the opposite in moving from Hofstra to Brooklyn’s MCU Park

The USL becomes the de facto #2 in the pyramid and while many of the teams play in ballparks, high school fields, training facilities, etc., there are a couple of success stories. One is Rio Grande Valley FC who opens the bright orange H-E-B Park in Edinburg. This is what the league’s teams should strive for. The Arizona team rebranded to Phoenix Rising FC and they also erected a 6,000-seat “Pop-Up” stadium in South Scottsdale. New to the league is Reno 1868 FC (playing on the ballfield for the Reno Aces) and folding is FC Montreal, as the Impact will become affiliated with Ottawa. Also gone from the league are the Wilmington Hammerheads, a familiar name for a few decades, as they have dropped down to PDL. Other stadium changes include Red Bulls 2 moving from a completely empty Red Bull Arena to Montclair State University and the Charlotte Independence heading to a new, but tiny (2,300-seat) sports complex in the suburb of Matthews, NC.

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Shivering in Utica and Syracuse

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 12, 2017

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Just like last year, this trip began by working a snow event as the day began at 2 AM. No rest for the weary as I immediately hit the road at 11:30 AM to try and thread the needle between the departing snow and returning snow squalls. It worked as the roads were fine as was the strategy of coming up to Utica from the east side (using I-87) to miss weather problems. Utica is a rust-belt city like many others in that initial prosperity faded as manufacturing and the population left. They’re now left with trying to rejuvenate areas and there are a few spots where it looks to be successful, like on Verick St. The interesting aspect of Utica is how it has become the home of many refugees as their stories and work ethic have given this city some lift.

My introduction to Utica was a slap in the face as I arrived to the Memorial Auditorium for outdoor pictures and I stepped out of the car to a biting 40 MPH wind and temperatures in the 20s. The time of year and preceding record warmth made this feel worse. After shivering through an exterior tour of the circular Aud, I checked into the hotel for an attempt at a few Z’s before the game. Dinner was at the excellent Delmonico’s, where I had a traditional Utica dish of Chicken Riggies. Game-time was 7 PM and I got there an hour before to take a tour and I was more than impressed, starting with the exterior. Inside, the small concourse featured so many displays and historical images of the city, arena and past teams, while inside is a rink built in 1960 that has a unique seating design. The most noticeable feature is the fanning out of cable wires, which made me think of MSG. Before the game, I got a good feeling about the atmosphere as Utica jerseys were aplenty and hockey talk abundant. However, when the game started…it was a disappointingly flat crowd. They barely noticed an impending PP and did little to induce noise. The fans did get better as the game went on though and they were quite vocal in the last two minutes. I also loved how most of the building lept to their feet after a goal, something you don’t see much of in the AHL. In addition, I know come playoff time, this is one of the loudest buildings in the league. Utica went on to win the game 2-1 and look for a full arena review (on the right) next week.

I woke up the next morning to a beautiful 7 degrees and chose to spend the morning catching up on sleep and reviews. Begrudgingly, I headed out late morning into the cold and made a visit to the Oneida County Historical Society. For lunch, I wanted to try a place really representative of the city and the refugee population has led to many, great ethnic restaurants. The largest group in the population are the Bosnian’s, so I went to Tarik’s Bakery and enjoyed an excellent lunch on a cold day. The owner helped me understand some of the dishes and I went with Burek and finished with a lemon dessert that was similar to Baklava. Great stuff! There is not much else to do in the city, so I stopped at Turning Stone Casino, before heading to Syracuse. I wish I remembered that the Boxing Hall of Fame was in nearby Canastota as the Thruway sign made me regret not doing that instead.
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In Syracuse, the last time I was here was to watch the Rochester Amerks win Game 7 in their first-round series against the Crunch in 2005. It was the most memorable game I have ever seen live thanks to the Amerks winning in OT. I do remember issues with the building, like our ticket being duplicated and it being stifling hot inside. Some things don’t change as this re-visit started with waiting in a cramped space too small for Will-Call as it didn’t open until 6 PM, forcing some to wait outside in the frigid cold and snow. Not a good start, but things got better inside as I took my tour around the 60+ year old building. Some stadiums are called “War Memorial”, but Syracuse takes this to heart. Remarkably poignant displays fulfill the concourse and ensure that the building is a true War Memorial. Take a look at some of these dedications (1, 2 and 3). The review has all the arena details and for this game, the Crunch fell in OT to St. John’s 3-2 in an entertaining affair. Overall, this is a building with character and one that is worth a trip in the AHL. Highlight of the game for me: Using the urinal next to a 6’6″ guy wearing a complete Hanson Brother outfit.
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A Central New York Hockey Weekend

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 8, 2017

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Didn’t I say before that I was not going to be driving in anymore snow for a road trip (here, here and here)? Well, here we go again as a four-month hiatus from the sports tripping scene has me itching desperately for a visit and I’m hoping to thread the needle between areas of snow for a relatively stress-free drive. Once the snow ends late morning Friday in North Jersey, I’ll try to dodge post-storm snow showers and head up into Central NY for a weekend hockey trip. The first stop is Utica, where the AHL made a surprise comeback to the city in 2013 after nearly 20 years away. Friday Night’s game is against Bridgeport in their home, the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Every “Aud” I’ve come across has a special atmosphere and I’m hoping to see the same here. Then, as long as lake effect snow does not get impede my travels, I head an hour west to Syracuse for a return visit to the War Memorial Arena Saturday Night. I’ve seen the Crunch play a few times back in my college days (both were Rochester Amerks playoff victories!) and I’d like to update my review for a regular-season crowd. With St. John’s moving next year to Laval, I realized that after this trip I will have seen games in 10 of the 14 AHL Eastern Conference Arenas. The remaining four are all within driving distance, so I may strive complete the conference over the next few years.
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2017 College Basketball Conference Tournaments

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 27, 2017

Palestra and Playoffs together is mouthwatering

Palestra and Playoffs together is mouth-watering

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It’s my favorite time of year again! The College Basketball season is winding down and the first conference tournament of the year begins tonight. While the NCAA Tournament is the core of March Madness, the Conference Tournaments should not be overlooked as there is plenty of excitement within each bracket. Since this is a stadium website, I like to break down each College Basketball conference and their respective tournament location. It’s not as fun when more conferences nowadays need a plane ticket just to travel to a road game, but nonetheless, long-time lovers of this sport can’t resist getting excited when the calendar hits late February. This year, we welcome the Ivy League to the party, a bittersweet change that ends the 14-game championship. Every conference and tournament location is placed below into one of three categories: “Good”, “OK” and “Bad”.

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Good

  • Big East:     New York, NY – Madison Square Garden

    • I know it is not the classic Big East, but at least there are still five original members
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  • Big Sky:     Reno, NV – Reno Events Center

    • Great move by the Big Sky last year. This is a spread-out conference in the western half of the US and with Vegas already packed with other tournaments, the next best choice is Reno. The Events Center is relatively new and mid-sized, a venue that fits wonderfully.
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  • Big XII:     Kansas City, MO – Sprint Center

    • Perfect spot in a basketball-rich city that loves the conference and always supports this tournament well.
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  • Big West:     Anaheim, CA – Honda Center

    • The California Bus League features most if its members in SoCal, so Anaheim is a great host
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  • Ivy:     Philadelphia, PA – The Palestra
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    • This post is about best tournament locations, not whether a conference should have a tournament. With that in mind, Yes! The Palestra is an incredible place to watch basketball already. Can you imagine the atmosphere on a doubleheader semifinal or a championship final? My one qualm: What if Penn gets in for future years as a #3 or #4 seed? That’s quite unfair to the other teams if they don’t bring their own fans. We’ll see how it plays out.
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  • MAC:     Cleveland, OH – Quicken Loans Arena

    • Excellent location and fans travel well here. It’s a great tournament made even better by a natural bracket with no double-byes.
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  • MEAC:    Norfolk, VA – Norfolk Scope Arena
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    • Norfolk is probably the best option around for this league.

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  • Missouri Valley:     St Louis, MO – Scottrade Center

    • Hands-down, Arch Madness is the best conference tournament in the country.
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  • Ohio Valley:     Nashville, TN  –  Nashville Municipal Auditorium

    • A long time home for the OVC tournament that is a natural fit. The venue is perfect for the crowd size and the atmosphere has been pretty good in recent years.
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  • Pac-12:     Las Vegas – T-Mobile Arena

    • New arena, same great neutral site. Vegas baby.
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  • Southern:      Asheville, NC – Asheville Civic Center

    • The Southern Conference has struck gold as they enter their seventh year here. Crowds have been good and Asheville is a terrific city
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  • Southland:     Katy, TX – Merrill Center

    • Small arena in a Houston suburb that is an ideal host for the Southland
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  • Sun Belt:     New Orleans, LA – Lakefront Arena

    • New Orleans is centralized and offers a lot for visiting fans. Great move in playing this year’s edition at the Lakefront Arena as that is a much better venue for the Sun Belt, than the Smoothie King Center.
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  • West Coast:    Las Vegas, NV – Orleans Arena

    • Big crowds fill this casino arena just off The Strip as each team brings a high number of fans. They are doing very well here

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Ehh

  • America East:    Campus Sites

    • I know this conference is too small to generate a big crowd at a neutral site. But I think Springfield, MA and the MassMutual Center is a solid location for them. Side Note: They have unusual spacing between the games with AE’s long-time format as three rounds are spread out over 11 days.
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  • Atlantic-10:     Pittsburgh, PA – PPG Paints Arena

    • Well, it’s not Atlantic City…but it’s a bit better than Brooklyn as Pittsburgh can be considered more “centralized” than Brooklyn. Though Duquense gets an advantage here.
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  • Atlantic Sun:     Campus Sites

    • Campus sites are fine for this constantly evolving conference. They still could try for better…how about Savannah and the Civic Center? It’s a nice destination town within driving distance of most schools
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  • Conference USA:     Birmingham, AL – Legacy Arena at the BJCC

    • Similar boat as the American Conference (just realized their league names are similar). At least Birmingham is kind of the middle for this far-reaching conference.
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  • Horizon:     Detroit, MI – Joe Louis Arena

    • Detroit and Oakland certainly will have an advantage in the Motor City and I think that Detroit is a fine host. But, I still believe Fort Wayne would be a perfect fit for the Midwestern City School league.
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  • MAAC:    Albany – Times Union Center

    • Despite it being Siena’s home court, Albany has been the best of the many places tried by the MAAC the last few decades. I wish they would consider Newark’s Prudential Center as it is closer to the core of the league’s teams.
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  • Mountain West:    Las Vegas – Thomas & Mack Center

    • See above (UNLV’s home). How about Salt Lake City?
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  • NEC:    Campus Sites

    • Not ideal, but there probably isn’t a suitable place for them in the NYC Metro area
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  • SEC:     Nashville, TN – Bridgestone Arena

    • Nothing at all against this fine city and arena, but both Atlanta and the SEC are Kings of the South. This event should stay in Atlanta.
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  • Summit:     Sioux Falls, SD – Denny Sanford Premier Center

    • The Sanford Premier Center is a beautiful new arena and Sioux Falls is a fine town to host an event. It’s just that the Summit League is so spread out that it is understandably hard to get fans to make the trip.
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  • SWAC:     Campus Sites
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    • Sadly, the right move to head back to campus as the amount of empty seats at any attempted neutral site is embarrassing

 

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Bad

  • ACC:     Brooklyn, NY – Barclays Center
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    • C’mon man, Brooklyn? I hate these big leagues and their spread out schools. I long for the days of seeing the teal and purple court in Greensboro. Games were routine sellouts as most schools were within a six hour radius from the tourney.
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  • American:     Hartford, CT – XL Center
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    • It really doesn’t matter where the tournament is since this conference is a random mix of teams stretching halfway around the world. The American did take a step back this year as Hartford is a slightly less desirable destination city to bring in fans than last year’s site: Orlando (just slightly).
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  • Big South:    Campus Sites

    • Surely they can do better as the league footprint has plenty of mid-sized cities that could host. Roanoke, Greenville, Florence, Greensboro. Even going to Myrtle Beach would be worth a shot.
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  • Big Ten:  Washington, DC – Verizon Center
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    • Blasphemy! Well, I guess if you are going to expand to Maryland and Rutgers for $ and TV eyeballs, then anything is fair game. I’ll miss Indy and hope Maryland loses early so that there are a lot empty seats.

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  • Colonial:     Charleston, SC – North Charleston Coliseum

    • A great city and warm climate for a tournament…but, it’s not even close to 70% of the league’s members. My heart longs for the good ol’ days in Richmond when this was a Virginia-centric league.
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  • Patriot:     Campus Sites

    • OK Patriot, it’s time to take a step and grow up…especially since you decided to make the curious move to 10 teams a few years ago by adding Boston and Loyola (MD). Allentown and the relatively new PPL Center would be perfect.
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  • WAC:     Las Vegas, NV – Orleans Arena

    • What kind of crazy teams play in this league again?
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