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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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Running Blog: Stadium Tripping in North Carolina

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 6, 2018

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Friday
Travel day. We started in the rain, but it wasn’t too bad and it was over by the time we reached Maryland. Hoping that’s the last of the wet stuff that we see all week. Our rough halfway point was Hagerstown, a city I’ve seen before on a visit to Municipal Stadium. Today, we took the little one to Discovery Station for some running around followed by a bagged lunch. After more driving, the end of the road was Wytheville, VA.
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Saturday
What a beautiful day. 75 and sunny with conditions perfect for our final drive through the mountains to Asheville. We actually went a good distance past the city to visit Chimney Rock, about 40 minutes to the east after traversing the curvy Rt 74-A. The slightly nauseous ride was worth it once got to the tiny charming town and the Rock that towers above it. There’s a lot to do here with several great trails, but the main one was time-consuming and energy-sapping enough for us. 499 steps brought us to the top of the famed granite outcropping with a view that was worth every step. Our 3-year old Shayla amazingly climbed probably 75% of it as her extra weight only needed to be carried down the stairs. She gave a “wow”, a few times, mostly at some of the neat side attractions on our way up.
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After a little break, our baseball game had an earlier 6 PM start and we headed over to McCormick Field at about 5:15 PM. That still was not enough time to find a parking spot in the tight surrounding area and we were forced to drive around side streets, looking for a place to park and accepting a long walk. I’ve been to 55 minor league ballparks and this is the worst parking situation I can remember. Once that debacle was over and our tired legs climbed up another hill to the entrance, I was able to enjoy a quirky ballpark with a lot of character that I really enjoyed. The elevation sets the frame for a unique concourse and inside, it gives a great view beyond the outfield. The seating bowl has the grandstand that I always appreciate. A nice crowd was on hand and they were treated to one of the best baseball games I’ve seen in awhile which included: five home runs, benches clearing after high heat and a home team comeback. Chad Spanberger’s three-run homer in the 7th put the Tourists up for good as the crowd went crazy. Asheville won 10-8 in a great showcase for McCormick Field.
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Sunday
This day was all about exploring Asheville and the perfect means for that is the Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour. With entertaining storytellers giving us insight to this remarkably historic city, we rode along while getting off at some sites. Grove Park Inn is remarkable and the Biltmore Village is a great little spot as well. Downtown, we checked out a lot of the main sights and the preserved architecture is awesome for nerds like me who enjoy that stuff. Austin is the capital of “Weird”, but I feel like that saying should be “Keep Asheville Weird” as it fits better here. There is such a collection of unique folks that make this city a quirky and fun place. A hipster’s paradise. For food, we enjoyed meals at Tupelo Honey and Luella’s, where my BBQ is a little backwards. They have an Eastern-style and I’ll wait til Wilmington (in the East) for the pork taste usually reserved for the Mountains.
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Monday
We’ve been very fortunate with weather and it was a gorgeous day as we spent it at the Biltmore Estate. Yes, this place is so big that it was a day-long affair. My wife, Cheryl, has always wanted to visit, so I took Shayla for a few hours in the morning to the Antler Hill section and let her play in the playground and barn while Cheryl got some needed alone time in the house. This is the closest I’ve felt to Downton Abbey and the whole place is incredible. Some stats from this French Renaissance Chateau built by the Vanderbilt’s in the late 1800s: 249 rooms, 43 bathrooms and nearly 180,000 square feet. The inside is as extravagant as you could imagine and the outside offers sweeping views of the rolling hills and Blue Ridge Mountains.
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Tuesday
The drive down from the Mountains to the Piedmont took a little over three hours and we arrived in Chapel Hill around lunchtime. The defining place to eat is Top of the Hill (Topo) and we went with that. Food wasn’t actually that great (I had a very plain chicken sandwich), but the upper deck view is cool and the inside bar seems like a great hangout. Afterwards, we walked Franklin Street a bit and then went on campus, which had a cool vibe as students were enjoying a long-awaited warm and sunny day. Wish I got to the Visitors Center first, which had a walking tour guide and a better description of the buildings than my name notes of what I wanted to see. Still got to look at Old East, Old Well, Morehead Planetarium, Wilson Library and the Bell Tower. 

For the stadium visit, it was a UNC baseball game at Boshamer Stadium. Getting there was a mini-adventure thanks to mis-direction for parking on the website and then a lack if signage to the ballpark after walking out of the parking garage. Once we reached the stadium, we encountered a traditional modern brick facility with an open concourse above the green seating bowl. I did love the elevated bowl that began with seats about 10 feet higher than the field. UNC also did an awesome job with displays including a spectacular trophy room. The crowd was expectedly sparse for this mid-week non-conference game and it was a snappy start with 0’s on the board for the first four innings. Then Asheville scored two in the 5th before the Tar Heels put their foot down with a 10 spot in the bottom half. Bad news, the inning took 1 hour. Ugh. The game took 3:30 as UNC-Chapel Hill won 11-5.
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Wednesday
The second stadium in less than 24 hours comes at a cost: Education Day. I definitely am lucky to have an understanding wife put up with that and a side trip on a family vacation to Kinston, NC. It was really sad to drive down Queen Street and see nearly the entire center of town quiet and boarded up. But there are signs of a little hope and development as a luxury boutique hotel recently opened up and minor-league baseball is back. The Wood Ducks debuted in Historic Grainger Stadium last year and even won the Carolina League title. This park was built in 1949 and it is so wonderful. It’s everything my nostalgic self loves: completely covering roof (with ceiling fans!), water tower in the background, occasional train horn. Pure bliss, except for the deafening school kids. This was another lengthy game as it lasted over three hours as well. Home teams move to 3-0 on this trip as we saw Down East defeat Buies Creek 15-3. After the game, I stopped at Kings Restaurant to pick up a bottle of their BBQ sauce and will use that on my Chicken and Pork this summer. It was then on to Carolina Beach, where we took a stroll on the beach and boardwalk before dinner and bed.
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Thursday
Beach Day. We got a hotel right on the ocean, which is great for spending time in the sand and surf. I’m not a big beach person, but Cheryl and Shayla are and they enjoyed the morning and midday with beautiful weather continuing. It’s still kinda offseason here, so many of the boardwalk shops weren’t open. For the afternoon, we went to the North Carolina Aquarium, which is in the Fort Fisher area. After dinner, it was a boardwalk stroll with some ice cream.
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Friday

We saw two cities today as we began in the Port City of Wilmington. It’s a great little place along the Cape Fear River, we just didn’t have things go our way today. The exception was where we started at the Cape Fear Museum. We walked into a great little program that was free for Ages 2-5 as Miss Pepper led the kids through a Crafts Program. That also gave us access to the museum, which I really wanted to see more of, but Shayla was obsessed with the Classic Toys room. That means we were stuck there longer when we wanted. After a solid lunch at Chops Deli, we walked the historic downtown. This is a mini Hollywood and I pointed out a few Dawson Creek sights for my wife, who was the exact genre that show targeted in its heyday. However, the spots (found on a TripAdvisor Forum) were barely recognizable from 20 years ago. There’s also plenty of tours and we picked the wrong one. Cape Fear Riverboats was the dullest waste of $12. I usually can find interest in something, but our guide was so dry and then when we spent 30 minutes travelling along the industrialized and undeveloped parts of the river, I wanted to fall asleep. Too bad the benches were breaking my back and the wind slapping me in the face. Can’t win them all.
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We then made the 2+ hour drive to Durham, which took a little longer because of rush hour traffic. The Bulls game coincided with “May the Fourth” and Fireworks, so that meant a packed house. Durham Bulls Athletic Park is one of the best minor-league parks I’ve been to and the whole place has a very “major” feel to it. Nice design, complimented by excellent displays including their famous “Hit Bull, Win Steak” in left-field. Tremendous local beer options here as well. The game was a good one too and Durham scored in the 7th to take a 5-4 lead and hang on the rest of the way. Home teams finish 4-0 on this trip! I’ll start working on detailed stadium reviews a few days after settling back home.
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Saturday
Our last day here in North Carolina and we stayed in Bull City. I’ve fallen in love with Durham and think that it is a fantastic place to live. Probably because I’m most impressed with all of the redeveloped tobacco warehouses that have turned into mixed-use spaces. First, we started at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, on the campus of Duke University. It is one of the top Gardens in the country and I can’t argue that. So much natural beauty to see and it is all free. What a great space to spend a morning or bring a picnic for lunch. It also gave us a chance to see Duke and the Gothic architecture on campus is impressive. I may not be a fan of their basketball, but the grounds are beautiful (better than UNC, sorry Chapel Hill). We went inside the Duke Chapel, a mighty impressive structure.

During the afternoon, we split off as Cheryl and Shayla went to the Museum of Life and Science while I went to Durham Athetic Park, the former home of the Bulls and scene of Bull Durham. The ballpark still hosts baseball as North Carolina Central uses it and they had a game against Florida A&M. Capacity may be too small for an official review, but it was well worth a visit for historical purposes. Watching a game here took me back in time and the comments from the peanut gallery in the back row made it all the more entertaining. Even better, I walked to 70 year old King’s Sandwich Shop to bring in my hot dog, fries and coke while watching the game. I’ve definitely had some great baseball experiences on this trip. 

I didn’t stay the whole time as I wanted to explore the city on foot more and I checked out Main Street, the Bull Statue, the Durham Museum and Brightleaf Square before heading back to pick up the ladies. Dinner was at Bullock’s and this was a taste of a true local BBQ place. Families were laughing and enjoying a great meal and I savored some succulent pork, ENC-style. And with that our trip was complete as a full driving day followed to reach home. Check back for updated reviews of each stadium on the right side of the page.
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North Carolina!

Posted by Sean Rowland on April 24, 2018


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The Tar Heel State, here we come! We’ll be taking a week-long family vacation on a visit to our 27th state, trying to get in as much of North Carolina as we can by going from the Mountains to the Piedmont to the Coastal Plain. Our mountain adventure we’ll begin in Asheville, the quirky “Portland of the East”. With both city and surrounding area offering plenty of attractions, we’ll be spending three days there. Given that it snowed just last week in the city, we’re really hoping for some pleasant weather, especially during a couple of our ventures into the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge. Saturday is going to be the first of several official stadium visits, as we’ll be at Historic McCormick Field for an evening Asheville tourists game. Midweek college baseball is a schedule planner’s savior and for this go around, we’ll be taking advantage of the Tar Heels having a home game (ironically, against UNC-Asheville). The afternoon will be spent in Chapel Hill before going to Boshamer Stadium. Piecing the next part of the trip took some thought, but a weekday late morning game in Kinston an hour away worked well with the schedule. That’s where we’ll see the Down East Wood Ducks at Grainger Stadium. Now unfortunately, I think you all know what a Wednesday 11:00 AM game means…School Day. Kids, screaming kids will be everywhere we turn and I’m hoping we’ll be able to find a corner of the stadium to keep my sanity that day. Right after the game, we’ll head south to the beach with a few days in the Wilmington – Carolina Beach area. The Seawolves (UNC-Wilmington) aren’t in town, so that will be a sports-less few days that I’m sure the wife and daughter will be happy about. Towards the end of the week, we’ll drive up to Bull City, where we’ll spend time in Durham. I was really hoping that USL’s, North Carolina FC would be playing in nearby Cary, but they are unfortunately on the road. I wouldn’t exactly call a visit to Durham Bulls Athletic Park as “settling”, because that should be an awesome stadium visit in and of itself. I’ll also be taking in a brief bonus game Saturday afternoon as North Carolina Central University plays at the original Durham Athletic Park (scene of Bull Durham). They have an afternoon doubleheader and though the stadium doesn’t meet capacity for The List, it is well worth checking out. The venture gets kicked off later in the week and let’s cross our fingers for no rainouts! I will try to give a daily update on the blog, depending how early I zonk out each night. Until then!
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2018 Soccer Stadium Updates

Posted by Sean Rowland on April 8, 2018

We welcome Banc of California Stadium and Audi Field to the Stadium List

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It was a busy offseason in the North American soccer world and before we get to the reshuffling in the lower divisions, let’s get into the two new stadiums opening in MLS. New franchise LAFC is poised to soon open Banc of California Stadium in the location of the old Sports Arena (right across from the LA Coliseum). I am whole-heartedly against MLS’ corrupt expansion tactics which include: two teams in the same market and holding cities hostage for more new stadium taxpayer money. What they are doing to Sacramento is a crime, while their strategy regarding the next expansion team potential in Cincinnati is ridiculous. Yankee Stadium is ok during the foreseeable future for NYCFC, but Nippert Stadium is not ok for Cincy? It’s hard to feel bad for the LA Galaxy (Zlatan!), but they will be working extra hard to sway the neutral with newbies LAFC joining. While the StubHub Center is a beautiful pitch, Banc of California looks amazing from the renderings, plus it will be right in the city as opposed to the Galaxy’s southern location in Carson.

On the other side of the country, DC is finally opening up a home of their own in Audi Field. It won’t be ready until July, but the wait will be worth it as they set-up shop in Buzzards Point, just south of Nationals Park. FC Dallas completes their stadium renovation with the completion of the National Soccer Hall of Fame behind one of the goals. The HOF will include a club section that seats 3,500. An induction ceremony will kick off the new addition in late October. In Minnesota, the Loons will play one more year in perennially borrowed TCF Bank Stadium as they await their facility next season. Finally, the Portland Timbers are beginning a 2-year renovation to Providence Park, which will redo the East Stands. Hard to imagine the best stadium in the country (that’s right) getting even better, but I believe this will do just that. I can’t recommend going to a game here enough.

The troubled NASL has folded and that means a lot of movement below the first division. FC Edmonton, Puerto Rico, New York Cosmos and San Francisco have all folded. Of those four teams, only the last one had a stadium on The List and that won’t change as new team San Francisco City FC begins in the PDL at Kezar Stadium. Both FC Miami and the Jacksonville Armada will drop to the NPSL (a league I’m increasingly interested in thanks to Chattanooga and Detroit). North Carolina FC and Indy Eleven move to the USL, but the Eleven made the stupid move of playing games in nearly empty Lucas Oil Stadium instead of staying at Carroll Stadium.

There are plenty of other changes within the USL, including several new teams. Unfortunately, the following all are going to play at a minor-league ballpark instead of a dedicated soccer facility: Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, Nashville SC and Atlanta United 2. Loyal readers know I’m not a fan of MLS B squads playing in the USL, but I’m mildly enthused that several of them made good stadium moves this year. Seattle Sounders 2 shifted operations to Tacoma and while they’ll play in Cheney Stadium (ballpark) for the near-term, it sounds like work is progressing towards a stadium and a transition to a Tacoma name. TFC 2 is moving from the bare-bones Ontario Soccer Centre to Lamport Stadium, which has now been added to The List. Also moving is Swope Park Rangers, as they’ll play at a high school stadium in Shawnee, KS. Real Monarchs get to play in the 5,000-seat Zions Bank Stadium, part of a training academy for RSL.

I was glad to see a couple teams on hiatus: Orlando City B and Vancouver Whitecaps 2. However, I am deeply saddened to see the lone American club I support, Rochester Rhinos, go on life support and sit out the 2018 USL season. I wrote about the sad state of the team back in 2010 and it has just gotten worse in the Flour City. While following local soccer (especially among millennials) is increasing rapidly, it never happened in Rochester and a multitude of factors led to dismal support for the team. I may live 300 miles away now, but the glory days of drawing 10,000 to Frontier Field for each Rhinos games is still etched into my happy memories as a youth. I still hope for the best and wish I was there to try and play a tiny part in getting something back the city could be proud of. To those that are local: the Lancers will be playing their NPSL season in Capelli Sport Stadium. I encourage you, research the grass-roots support that has built something special in Detroit, Chattanooga and Shreveport and let’s try to build a culture for the Lancers that grows and Rochesterians can be proud of. 

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