If I average one new stadium per month, I would call that year a success. 2019 featured 13 of them and considering we welcomed our second daughter into the world during the middle of the year, I impressed myself with the front-loading and back-loading of the schedule to make it work. After a business trip related visit to Arizona to start the year, I kept things within driving distance the rest of the way. In addition to the qualifying 13 new stadiums, I made a repeat visit to Citizens Bank Park and saw 3 small college hockey rinks along the way. It’s been fun and memorable, so let’s take a look at the past year in stadium visits:
Favorite New Stadium: Louis Armstrong Stadium…..The second show court at the U.S. Open rates way better than the one that gets the most action at the end of the tournament, Arthur Ashe Stadium. Most importantly at Louis Armstrong is great sightlines throughout most of the facility and there is plenty of shade. Aesthetically, the stadium is gorgeous and I enjoyed a match where the crowd was into it. I have only 9 out of 218 stadiums rated an 80 or higher and this is one of them.
………Honorable Mention: FirstEnergy Stadium
WORST NEW STADIUM: ECTB Stadium…..This feels harsh because this is a summer-collegiate team and a league that normally plays on high school fields. What’s amazing though is that the current home of the Allentown Railers used to house a professional, independent-league outfit. How? There’s almost no parking, barely a concourse, an all-dirt, softball-like infield and a broken scoreboard.
………Honorable Mention: Sal Maglie Stadium
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: “Tickets Please….”…..The Railers also provided my favorite moment of the year. In a quiet ballpark on a warm evening, I felt serenity doing what I love, watching sports. In the background, I could hear the radio play-by-play and then the Railers hit a home run. Young Brian Brown, who was calling this game like there were 44,000 people listening as opposed to 44, had a fantastic line for the long-ball. “Tickets please…as this ball has left the station!” followed by a couple blows on a wooden train whistle that reminded me of AC Slater on Sports. It’s still on their Facebook page if you go to 3:01:45 in.
FAVORITE CITY: Providence…..You don’t hear many people say “Let’s go to Providence this weekend”. They should. Not only are there things to do, but Federal Hill and College Hill rival any big-city neighborhood when it comes to strolling and eating. Unique to the city is WaterFire, a show that lights up the River.
………Honorable Mention: Cleveland
BEST RESTAURANT: Yard House (Glendale, AZ)…..This choice is more about all of the eating/drinking options in the Westgate Entertainment District. Right across from Gila River Arena is a plethora of pre and post game options to go along with fountains and colorful lighting to spark the mood. Yes, it may feel a little forced and manufactured, but you can’t go wrong with all these beers on tap at Yard House
………Honorable Mention: East Side Pockets (Providence, RI)
BEST IN-STADIUM FOOD: Nothing…..I had some choices like the Fuku Chicken Sandwich at the U.S. Open or the Chick Magnet from FirstEnergy Stadium, but both disappointed. Over $10 for a chicken the size of a Tyson patty and there was more bread than decent toppings. I also ate a few burgers along the way that qualified as Ballpark Dreck. Even Citizens Bank Park, a place lauded in MLB foodie circles, couldn’t satisfy as the brisket at Bull’s BBQ was salty and failed to live up to expectations.
BEST GAME: Hartford vs Albany (82-80)…..With all of college basketball’s annoyances (the reviews, the timeouts), they still find a way to rope me back in. At a game in the Chase Family Arena, perpetually mediocre Hartford was in contention for a 3 seed in the upcoming conference tourney and they played their hearts out in this one. After a double rim-out in regulation, the Hawks prevailed in Overtime. Not many people were there, but you could feel their passion to see them succeed.
………Honorable Mention: Brown vs Dartmouth (21-23)
CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS: Niagara Power and Allentown Railers…..A pair of summer-collegiate baseball teams won their leagues and for Allentown, that is their 4th title in 5 years. For Niagara, it’s pretty cool to see a student-run organization do so well. Plus they made a great recap video.
MOST UNDERRATED FANS: Youngstown State Football…..The Penguins have quite a history on the gridiron and I was excited to visit Stambaugh Stadium to check out a game. They draw better than most at the FCS level and though there were plenty of open seats, I like how they brought the noise. You could tell it was a little different here when seeing all the red while walking to the stadium. I think I still hear that Steam Whistle in my dreams.
THE WEATHER: 4-2-4…..As in 4 nice days, 2 crappy ones and 4 eh ones. In Arizona, it was 55 degrees and raining. While that doesn’t matter much when going to a hockey game, it’s the desert in January and my east coast blood wants warmth! The other event that was rough came at the US Open, where temperatures hit 90 degrees. Thankfully, I sat in shade at Grandstand, while Louis Armstrong Stadium is covered. The “Eh” weather games were cold related as football at Brown, Youngstown State and Canton all featured temperatures in the 30s and 40s. On my Springfield-Hartford trip, both drives to the arenas were dry, but in between snowed. Finally, the pleasant games came in Cleveland, Niagara Falls, Allentown and Boston College.
BEST SIDE TRIP: Niagara Falls (NY side)….. I’ve been to the Canadian end and never to the American end until this day. While it is true that the views are much better from Canada, the State Park offers a splendid look that is super up-close. Particularly memorable was going down to the rocks next to the crashing water and rising mist. Such a great afternoon and getting through the kitchy-ness of the town is a small price for seeing a fascinating natural wonder.
………Honorable Mention: Pro Football Hall of Fame