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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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Hudson Valley Renegades vs Tri-City ValleyCats

Posted by Sean Rowland on July 18, 2018

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I did this for the first time a long ways back (eight years ago) and forgot how enjoyable it is doing a stadium comparison. Last month, I made a very spur of the moment stadium trip to see the Tri-City ValleyCats, up in Troy, NY. It was a nice visit and the stadium draws some of the largest crowds for an NYPL team. While driving back, I passed the Lower Hudson Valley and thought it would be interesting to compare the two stadiums, separated by 90 miles. For reference, the Hudson Valley Renegades are also in the NYPL and their stadium (Dutchess Stadium) was built in 1994. I visited the park in 2011. Joseph A. Bruno Stadium (The Joe) opened in 2002. Fun Fact: HV and TC were stadium visits #98 and #198. Let’s take a look at it all….Tale of the Tape style!


Location
Neither are great as each ballpark sits relatively alone in an open area. The Joe is on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College, but at least it has a couple quality restaurants near the entrance to the school along Route 4. It also has Troy, five minutes away. Not exactly a vacationer’s paradise, at least the downtown is architecturally intriguing. Can’t say as much for Dutchess.
………Slight win to Tri-City

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Accessibility/Parking

Gravel lots and an odd arrangement of cars at Dutchess Stadium gives the edge to the ValleyCats. Both are easy to get to, but the parking situation and traffic egress is a little better in Troy.
………Slight win to Tri-City

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Exterior
Lots of slight edge wins here for the northern team and the exterior is no different. Dutchess Stadium uses the classic kelly green / brick look that is so overdone in minor-league baseball. The Joe goes a different route, but is less appealing as the drab brown, tan and faded green isn’t a great look. The big difference is the outside landscaping as it is wonderful around Bruno Stadium.
………Slight win to Tri-City

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Concourse
It’s nice that Hudson Valley offers protection from the elements, however the main area is behind the seating structure and it is a little cramped (not to mention bathroom space is limited). The area is decorative at least. While The Joe’s concourse is almost completely exposed, it is wider, open to the field and features some nice, side hangout areas.
………Slight win to Tri-City

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Food
A win for the Renegades, but not to the fault of the ValleyCats. I loved my burger and salt potatoes from Buddy’s and also appreciated some of the local beers. Each stand had a main theme with multiple variations of the highlighted item. Where Hudson Valley got the win was the wide variety of both beer and food available. My favorite: the Edible Arrangement fruit cups (wonder if they still have them?).
………Slight win to Hudson Valley

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Cost
Ugh, they nickle and dime you all over the place at Dutchess Stadium: $5 for parking, $3 for a program, $2 extra on tickets to fireworks night. You don’t see any of those shenanigans in Troy, plus the tickets are cheaper.
………Win to Tri-City

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Interior
I flat out dislike the seating set-up at Bruno Stadium. It’s a spread-out set of sections that go way down the line, putting many away from the infield. The pitch of the seating bowl is very shallow too and it’s easy to have somebody’s head get in your way. Sightlines are a lot better at Dutchess Stadium. Not too say their ballpark is perfect (huge gap openings to concourse and not all seats are chairbacks).
………Win to Hudson Valley

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Scoreboard
These are practically identical.
………Even

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Displays
There is a lot of team recognition throughout Bruno Stadium and that always scores points with me. I loved the little touches here too, like the paws on the walkway and the sign that says “430 Feet – 79 Altuves” (as in Jose Altuve, who played here as part of the Astros organization). In Hudson Valley, they were missing a lot of the team stuff, but they did have a cool section on the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame.
………Win to Tri-City

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Fan Support
These two teams do very well in the NYPL attendance standings and on each night that I attended, there was a good crowd in the house. Playoff attendance over the last five years is staggeringly close as well with both averaging 2100 – 2200 (tops in the league).
………Even

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Atmosphere
Maybe I caught the ValleyCats on a bad night, but I was unusually annoyed at this game. There was more people than normal getting up and down during the game and they made a habit of just standing there in my way, either chatting with a neighbor or randomly contemplate something. They also managed to loudly cheer an out from a rundown despite the fact that it led to giving up two runs. Hudson Valley was more of a typical minor-league experience with only mild care to what was going on on the field. It just wasn’t as bad as Troy.
………Big win to Hudson Valley

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My Gut
These are both stadium experiences that are quite typical across the country. I have a hard time with this one because interior design and atmosphere are big components in what I want in a stadium visit. That advantages goes to Hudson Valley, while most of everything else, I liked better in Troy. I want to call this even, but that probably isn’t fair. I’m going to go with that I probably overvalued the atmosphere in HV and caught Tri-Cities on a night where I was particularly irritable, so the very slight edge goes to Joseph L. Bruno Stadium where I would rather watch a game.
………Slight win to Tri-City

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Final Result
Let’s add them up! One point for a slight win, Two points for a win and Three points for a big win. The head-to-head comparison is listed below, as is my Total Experience Ranking from each game. Atmosphere and Interior count a lot in those rankings as I value them highly, that’s why this is a close one. Tri-Cities wins the numbers game, I’m curious where you would rather go?
        Head to Head Final:                        Joseph L. Bruno Stadium 9-6
        Total Experience Ranking Final:    Joseph L. Bruno Stadium 60.5 – 59.5  

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Visiting Classic Park and the Lake County Captains

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 30, 2018

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I spent most of last week in Cleveland for a work-related
Snow & Ice Symposium. The show went well and so did the host city as I really enjoyed my time in Cleveland. The hotel was downtown, which afforded me the opportunity to sight-see during down time and there were many nice spots to walk around in. Of course, the big attraction is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and it indeed was a great place to check out. Also, all of the city’s major league facilities are within relative walking distance and I took an exterior look at all three (Progressive Field, Quicken Loans Arena and FirstEnergy Stadium). The Indians were on the road, but luckily there are a couple of minor-league options nearby and I fortunately had Thursday Night free to venture to one. The town of Eastlake is about 20 minutes east of Cleveland and it is home of the Lake County Captains, a single-A team in the Midwest League. Rush hour was not crazy and that afforded me time to see the Boulevard of 500 Flags. After a quick walk through that, I grabbed a dozen donuts for later from local favorite Biagio’s and then went over to Classic Park. I averted the ridiculous $8 parking lot by utilizing n a $5 private lot that was just as close.

Before giving a brief review, I must preface that with how Classic Park came to be, because it’s not good. Long story short, in the early 2000s, former Mayor Dan DiLiberto strongly pushed ahead with the building of a ballpark to bring a team to the area. He lied to citizens in saying that this would not involve taxpayer money. Surprise, surprise, it did. To the tune of the entire project costing over $30 million, which put Eastlake in significant debt, resulting in the city cutting services and jobs, not to mention creating a significant distrust between citizens and local government. This is a story that plays out many times across America, no matter how many times it happens in other places.

It is unfortunate, but this is a stadium review website and we’ll mostly stick to that. I feel really crooked in saying that the money spent resulted in a beautiful ballpark, but it did as there were no shortcuts here. I really liked this facility. The brick and sand exterior gives off a towering presence and then inside, the blue seats go well in an intimate seating bowl. The concourse is at the top and protected overhead by the suites and the walkway continues on to go around the outfield, which has some nice open spots. Given their proximity to Lake Erie, the team is called the “Captains” and several touches on the nautical theme give the ballpark some character. There’s the Lighthouse in the outfield, the human mascot Captain Kenny and of course, calling the bathroom, the “Poop Deck”. There are a few things I didn’t like (which will be noted in the forthcoming review soon to be found on the right), but overall, Classic Park is a good one. This Thursday game featured a relatively low number of fans and that’s too bad as they missed a good game. Lake County was cruising until the 8th inning when Jalen Washington hit a towering two-run shot for Fort Wayne that tied the game. We went on to extra innings, where I saw the new format that the minors are using. A runner begins the inning at 2nd base, in an attempt to limit the number of extra innings. If a side goal was to reduce game-time, I don’t see that helping since this added element adds more strategy and slowed delivery. Both teams put the run across in the 10th and then the TinCaps got two in the 11th. They finished off the Captains with a rare 6-3-5 double play. I will say that the game was nicely fast-paced before extra innings and I even thought there was a chance we’d finish this 7:00 start in daylight (Ohio is in the western part of the time zone and the time of year was near Summer Solstice). Check back later in the week for the full review.

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Conference and a Ballpark

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 24, 2018

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This coming week, I’ll be heading to the SIMA Snow & Ice Symposium for work and the host city is Cleveland. I’ve never been to Cleveland and I was pleasantly surprised to find a good amount to do in the city if/when we have any down time. It’s not just about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here as there is a lot more than that. Our hotel is conveniently downtown and a five-minute walk to Progressive Field. My dramatic schedule unveiling to see if the Indians were home ended in disappointment as the team is on a road trip. I’ll still try to take a very early morning walk before the show to see an outside tour of Cleveland’s three major-league sports facilities that are all downtown. Now just because the Indians are away doesn’t mean the stadium scene is shot. Within an hour drive of the area, there are three ballparks. One of them, I’ve been to (Akron’s Canal Park), so it was down to two chances for a Tues-Thurs home game. The Lake County Captains were the winner as they are playing Fort Wayne at 7:00 PM Thursday Night. That Thursday timing worked well last year as the trade show wraps up around 5 PM and I did a similar thing in Montreal, by going to see the Alouettes play. This year, I’ll be driving and I’ll make the 20-30 minute drive out to Eastlake for the game and my first Midwest League ballpark. If I get there early enough, I’m hoping to try authentic Croatian food or at least make a stop at Biagio’s for one of their famous donuts. The weather looks good right now and looking forward to visiting Classic Park later this week.
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The Stadiums of Newport, RI

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 8, 2018


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Last weekend, we spent some time in Newport, Rhode Island. The occasion was our 10-year wedding anniversary, so sports was not necessarily on the agenda. Despite that not being the main travel objective, there still were some takeaways on the stadium scene in Newport. First, a little about the town: It is a ritzy place on the rocky shores of coastal Rhode Island and the city’s location on both the Ocean and Narragansett Bay have a significant influence. Lots of history in this longtime summer oasis and it does indeed make for a great place to get away for the weekend. Just make sure you’re willing to shell out a lot of dough as everything is quite expensive. My favorite attraction was the 3.5 mile Cliff Walk. The winding trail of both smooth pavement and uneven rock is never short of scenery as the entire walk features a breathtaking and everchanging visual. Framed by the ocean on one side and historic mansions on the other, the varying terrain made this a really nice multi-hour activity, even in spite of a periodic mist. We did the entire trail and then hopped on the trolley to get back to our car. The other main attraction in Newport are the Mansions. Being THE place to have a summer getaway way back in the day, many of America’s elite had incredible houses (cottages) built here. The Preservation Society of Newport County runs 11 of these mansions and they are available for tour. Most of them are near the Cliff Walk and along Bellevue Ave and we had time for only two. We kept with the theme of 2018 being about the Vanderbilt’s as we followed up our Asheville visit to Biltmore by seeing their two homes in Newport: The Breakers and Marble House. Both were remarkable. Outside of that, we ate at some delicious downtown restaurants and strolled Thames St. We also hung out along the multiple Wharf’s while watching the boats go by. Those that don’t have a boat or connections with an invite onto one, can still take one of several public boat tours. We didn’t have time for that, but I’m sure narrated information combined with impressive aquatic sights would make for a great time.

On the sports-side of things, Newport is also home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and being the big tennis fan I am, my wife was kind enough to agree to a visit. This is the 7th sports hall of fame that I have visited (more on that in a future post) and though it lacked the pizzazz of the others, it was still an enjoyable tour through Tennis’ history. The actual setting for the HOF is the best I’ve seen as it is intertwined with Newport’s historic grass courts that have long been here, dating back to the days of the Newport Casino. The grounds featured people playing, plus we got to see 3,000-seat Bill Talbert Center Court, site of an ATP 250 level event during Hall of Fame weekend. What a unique place to watch tennis as the covered grandstand in the picture above dates back many decades. The only “stadium seats” in the place are in the taller structure at the far end as each other side features hospitality sections or tents. The Hall of Fame Tennis Championships are again an event certainly tailored to those in the know and with high-end connections. This would be a cool event to attend, but I would probably wait to see if known names make the Finals or Semifinals before forking over a three-figure dollar amount to get a seat. 

The other stadium I saw was a quick 5-minute look at Cardines Field, Newport’s ballpark that is in downtown, just across from the Visitors Center. At 3,000 seats, this also doesn’t meet criteria for The List, but a visit is well worth it as the ballpark is a special one. Built in the late 1930’s, the mostly stone and wooden structure is quite unique in and of itself. With a youth game going on, I was able to step inside and wow-wie. Wooden stands are right over the field in a claustrophobic setting that I would be both nervous and excited to cram into with others to watch the game. It’s not just the seating bowl that is quirky, check out this website that lists all of the different aspects at Cardines Field (right portion of the page). There is an NECBL team that plays here as the Newport Gulls spend their summer in the ballpark. If you are a lover of sports or stadiums and are ever in the area, it is definitely worth wondering inside to spend 10 minutes in this beauty of a relic.  
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2018 Ballpark Changes

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 24, 2018

SRP Park, new home of the Augusta GreenJackets (photo from Stadium Journey – Lloyd Brown)

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It’s a slow year for 2018 ballpark changes across the nation, but that’s ok, I’m happy with stability in the stadium world. In all of Major and Minor League baseball, we’ll find just one new ballpark. In Augusta, Georgia well, technically North Augusta, South Carolina on the other side of the Savannah River, SRP Park opens a new era for the GreenJackets. This new park is certainly a major upgrade and it has been warmly received by locals. They leave their former home, Lake Olmstead Stadium, a mere 22 years after debuting there. Thankfully, it remains alive as Augusta University will use it during their season. The Independent Leagues have a few notable changes, including the debut of the Chicago Dogs in the American Association. First, I love that logo! I don’t think any city uses their flag more than the Windy City. Secondly, would you believe yet another sports facility is arriving in Chicago? It is amazing how many they now have. Mere months after Wintrust Arena opened, we see Chicagoland open its 6th ballpark. This one is in Rosemont and it is called Impact Field. Over in the Atlantic League, we mourn the loss of the Bridgeport Bluefish, yet another casualty of the 1990s explosion of Indy ball along the I-95 corridor. The reason for this one is that the city decided to turn the Ballpark at Harbor Yard into an outdoor concert venue (angering the arena next door in the process). That’s too bad for baseball and ballpark fans. Although, Harbor Yard didn’t rate too well in my rankings as the experience there was 46th out of 57 ballparks.

In NCAA baseball, the for-profit Grand Canyon University continues their facility explosion. Baseball unveiled the rebuilt Brazell Stadium. Now called GCU Stadium, they have an amazing 3,500-seat place for ballgames. I don’t know how the money flow works, but their facilities are certainly a growin’. Elsewhere, Boston College quietly opened Bright Campus Baseball Field as I guess they needed something to look acceptable to their ACC cohorts. Down in the SEC, where they are absolutely dominating the world of College Baseball, the two Mississippi schools are in the process of getting ballpark work done. By the way, this week, conference tournaments are going on. My picks for places to go: the Hoover Met, for high-quality baseball and a stadium that only is alive during the SEC Tournament. Durham Bulls Athletic Park for the ACC Tournament, because I just went there and the city and stadium are fantastic (review will be finished in a few days). And MGM Park for the C-USA Tournament, because it’s another great place and Southern Miss fans rock that park.
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