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The Most Memorable Games I’ve Been To

Posted by Sean Rowland on April 9, 2016


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Ahh the memories. While most of my stadium visits nowadays are confined to visiting places during the regular season to ensure a more true gauge of a facilities’ atmosphere, I have seen my fair share of special moments. Of course, even a game that is not expected to be ‘big’ can produce an amazing moment and that is the beauty of sports. As you would expect, my most memorable games are those involving my favorite team, but there are some other really good ones sprinkled in as well. Below are my Top 5, starting off with the video you see at the top…

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1)  Buffalo Sabres vs Pittsburgh Penguins  –  2001 NHL Eastern Semifinals  –  Game 5  –  HSBC Arena

How times have changed…My friend, Lee, and I bought tickets a few weeks prior for just $53…that’s right $53. The series was tied at 2 and this was an early Saturday Afternoon game, which meant that us 17-year old youngins didn’t have to worry about breaking the law by driving past 9 PM. The Pens went up 2-0 and then in the third period, the Sabres roared back and the place went nuts when the visitors took a penalty. That led to the tying goal and the most nervous I’ve ever been at a game. After an endless 15 minute break for overtime, it took 8 minutes and 34 minutes of playing time to get the result. We heard the ping of the crossbar’s underside post and a breathtaking roar as Stuuuu Barnes won the game. I will never forget those two sounds for the rest of my life.

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2)  Syracuse Crunch vs Rochester Amerks  –  2004 AHL Western Quarterfinals  –  Game 7  –  War Memorial Arena at OnCenter

This was the year of the NHL Lockout and as a result, the AHL was loaded and my hometown Amerks had a core group of future stars with Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy. Being only 45 minutes away at college in Oswego, I drove down to Syracuse for Game 1, which the Crunch took. The series continued with strange scorelines and it eventually came down to a Game 7. My fellow Rochesterian and Sabre fan, Tony, joined me for the game and it was a memorable night. It all started with us being sold tickets from the box office to seats that didn’t exist. Given that it was a sellout, an usher found us seats to use and by the time we got there, we were already sweaty as the old building was stifling thanks to the warm weather. The place was extremely loud and there were plenty of Amerks fans. With tensions running high, the game went to OT and a Syracuse miss went around the boards, leading to a 2-on-1, which the Amerks converted and sent us into hysterics. 

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3)  Rhode Island Rams vs Charlotte 49ers  –  2011 NCAA Basketball  –  Ryan Center

Everything was going along like any other game. The Rams and 49ers were in a tight one and typical of about 75% of Division I college basketball games, the crowd was laid back in their following of the contest. I moved around a few times to different seats and as the game got down to the final seconds, I decided to video the ending as no one was around me (see link above). What I caught, was a Jamal Wilson put-back at the buzzer that reminded me of why I love sports so much. 

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4)  Quinnipiac Bobcats vs Robert Morris Colonials  –  2011 NEC Basketball Semifinals  –  TD Bank Sports Center

Fresh off of the amazing ending in Rhode Island just a month earlier, I was in for another basketball treat. As opposed to the Power 5, I’m a bigger fan of low-mid major basketball and the conference tournaments in these other 25 or so leagues are terrific spectacles. I drove to Hamden, CT in a continuous heavy rain to see the Semifinals of the NEC Tournament as Quinnipiac hosted Robert Morris. The students had the place rocking and the game was down to the final seconds. After a roar-inducing video played on the scoreboard, I figured this would be another home team celebration. However, Velton Jones had other ideas and his ridiculous runner that went in with four seconds left sent Robert Morris to the title game.

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5)  Lehigh Mountain Hawks vs Yale Bulldogs  –  2005 NCAA Football  –  Goodman Stadium

These teams let the ball fly and even though there were 103 passes thrown, the Division I-AA level means less breaks in play and better flow to the game. Lehigh came back from 21-6 down and even more impressive is they did it with their backup quarterback. With only four minutes left he led the Hawks to the tying TD and a beautiful 2-point conversion toss to the back of the end zone. In OT, Lehigh scored first and I had a great view of the action from the grassy hill behind the end zone. Yale had four chances to tie the game from inside the 10 and when their last attempt was stymied by a great defensive play, the Mountain Hawks rushed the end zone to celebrate.

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Ranking the Stadiums of Philadelphia

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 27, 2016

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A few months ago,  a trip to McGonigle Hall on the north side of Philadelphia completed a journey to all of the stadiums on The List within The City of Brotherly Love. Only Drexel’s basketball arena could be considered as missing, but it was not visited as the Daskalakis Athletic Center only seats about 2500. I’ve really enjoyed checking out games in Philly and I’ve found that their fans have been unfairly stereotyped. Every city has bad seeds and that includes Philadelphia, but the brush fans get painted with here is grossly unfair. As for the stadiums, there are many really good ones that range from modern to classic:

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1)  Citizens Bank Park  –  Philadelphia Phillies  –  Ranking: 79.5

Despite the overplayed “Retro” style, this is a stellar ballpark. Along with a well-designed seating bowl, I really enjoyed Ashburn Alley in the outfield, where fans gather nearly two hours before the game. The historical displays in this area are well done and CBP has food that could sustain fans for an entire homestand. The rating may be a little high because of the inflated Atmosphere ranking since I went in the middle of their World Series runs, but even with an adjustment, this would still be Philly’s best stadium.

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2)  Lincoln Financial Field  –  Philadelphia Eagles  –  Ranking: 75.5

Not far behind is this building just a short walk away in the same Sports Complex. It’s another design that is friendly to the fans and what really makes the home of the Eagles special is the consistent fan support and very loud atmosphere. In many NFL stadiums, it’s easy to spot empty seats, but that’s not the case here. Fly Eagles Fly.

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3)  The Palestra  –  Penn Quakers  –  Ranking: 75.0

Not many cities can boast three sports facilities that are Bucket List worthy, but Philadelphia can and for a college basketball nut like me, The Palestra is near the top. I can still remember that sensation I had five years ago, walking thru the narrow concourse opening inside to a crescendo of noise and a historic gym like no other. 

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4)  Wells Fargo Center  –  Philadelphia Flyers  –  Ranking: 71.5

If you like hockey and are not a Flyers fan, then I’m sure you hate them. As a Sabres fan, I was squirmy in my seat with an uncomfortable feeling at a Flyers game, but from a neutral perspective, the arena experience is decent. The focus is solely on the game and while the arena is kind of blah, it is nice to not see distractions in every corner.

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5)  Liacouras Center  –  Temple Owls  –  Ranking: 69.0

The original “Apollo at Temple” is a much better name, but regardless, the Liacouras Center is a very nice mid-sized arena. As it approaches 20 years in age, it looks much younger and many schools would desire a building this nice. Keeping in mind that Villanova is a suburban school, it is surprising that more Philadelphian’s don’t come out to the games. Temple’s campus is only a few miles north of Center City.

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6)  Franklin Field  –  Penn Quakers  –  Ranking: 66.0

The University of Pennsylvania is just full of history and right next door to The Palestra is the football stadium, At over 100 years old, Franklin Field not only hosts Quaker football, but it also is home to the popular Penn Relays. This place is so much better than any old bowl stadium as Franklin Field has character and unique spots. Check out this corner seat. As for the game, make sure to be in the stands at the third quarter for the traditional Toast Toss.

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7)  Hagen Arena  –  Saint Joseph’s Hawks  –  Ranking: 63.5

I visited Saint Joe’s after the old Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse transformed into Hagen Arena, an expanded and upgraded facility that is still quite cozy. It’s a little claustrophobic inside, but that’s part of the charm. Can you imagine watching the 2004 undefeated Hawks team here and what an enjoyable place it was. After the game, I highly recommend a cheesesteak across the street at Larry’s.

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8)  Tom Gola Arena  –  LaSalle Explorers  –  Ranking: 53.5

This is the only stadium of the bunch that I did enjoy all that much. LaSalle is a pain to get to on the north side of the city and the building is surprisingly cramped for something built in the late 1990s. At the least the game was terrific, as I saw a double OT thriller that the Explorers lost against Manhattan.

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9)  McGonigle Hall  –  Temple Owls  –  Ranking: 48.0

McGonigle used to host all of those John Chaney basketball teams back in the 80s and 90s. Despite the Liacouras Center being built next door, I love how they kept McGonigle alive by having the women’s basketball and volleyball teams play here. I saw volleyball on a Sunday Afternoon in front of a handful of fans and the Owls win meant that Philadelphia home teams went 6-3 in games I attended.

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The Year in Visits – 2015

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 28, 2015

2015 Stadium Visits

Locations of each stadium visited in 2015

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What would December 26-31 be without a recap of the departing year. Since this website is centered on reviews, It probably would make sense to summarize it all right? In total, we saw 11 new stadiums, ballparks and arenas. Going forward, I still plan on hitting double-digit venues each year, but this year’s number was the lowest in a year since 2007 for very good reason as we welcomed our beautiful daughter, Shayla, into the world. Let’s take a look at the past year in stadium visits:

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Favorite New Stadium:  Lincoln Financial Field……I’m not a huge fan of professional venues within the Big Four as they are overly corporate and stale. But I was quite pleased in the visit to a Philadelphia Eagles game as The Linc has a seating structure different than most stadiums. There are several things that give the place character and it helps that every seat is filled. Fans are passionate and crazy, but not as horrible as every media stereotype indicates. The only deterrence is the boring Sports Complex surroundings. Fly Eagles Fly!
………Honorable Mention: PNC Field

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Worst New Stadium:  Municipal Stadium……Give me a stadium built before 1939 and you usually have me at Hello. But, when arriving in the parking lot at Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium, the sad state of this bland, cheap facility was too much for me to cherish. This is old-school minor league baseball and the atmosphere is as such too with the lack of promotions. Typically this is refreshing (like in Williamsport or Elmira), but it wasn’t great here.
………Honorable Mention:
Hersheypark Stadium

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Favorite New City:  Frederick, MD……I had no idea how awesome Frederick is. Many cities have undergone a revitalization in the last few decades, but the City of Clustered Spires really has done a great job. Carroll Creek Park is such a fun place during the warm season and when I was there, the mini-Riverwalk held a craft beer festival. The main street thru town is full of excellent restaurants and pubs, plus the whole city is oozing history (especially Civil War) with interesting markers all over. 
………Honorable Mention: Hagerstown

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Really?:  Cal U. Convocation Center……I love stadiums and the game atmosphere, but even I had to question why California University of Pennsylvania needed a $59 million, 5,000 seat arena. Yes, it is a beautiful place, but the Division II school has had nothing but headaches and problems since the controversial completion of the project, which was vehemently protested by many. The former coal mining town of just 6,400 has not exactly seen a boom in concerts and events either. Now, this arena is never more than half full for any event and CalU struggles with debt and yearly losses.

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Best Restaurant:  Clyde’s…..On a stadium trip to the DC area, my Dad joined me and we spent some time in historic Georgetown. I always thought that Georgetown was only that school in gray I hated growing up and did not know it also is a neighborhood. It is an awesome place to walk around and a great evening was topped off with a meal at Clyde’s on M Street. It’s a classic place decked out in oak and I had the sublime Tuscan Sausage Ravioli.  
………Honorable Mention: Steve’s Prince of Steaks in Philadelphia, PA;  Pita Chip in Philadelphia, PA

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Best In-Stadium Food:   The Schmitter……This sandwich is best known for being at Citizens Bank Park, but it also has a stand at Lincoln Financial Field. Arriving from McNally’s Tavern in the Philly neighborhood of Chestnut Hill is The Schmitter, a sandwich that is “The Ultimate Cheesesteak”. This is not your normal Philly classic as this cheesesteak is loaded with stuff like tomatoes, special sauce, onions and it is on a Kaiser roll. Bring your appetite.
………Honorable Mention: None

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Best Game  Buffalo vs Canisius……During a Thanksgiving trip to see the family, I made the short drive to Buffalo for a return visit to Alumni Arena. What followed was another classic basketball game involving UB, similar to what I saw a decade earlier. After a bizarre sequence led to a five-point possession for Canisius, they eventually got the lead until a bomb from Jarryn Skeete tied the game for the Bulls with seconds left. In OT, the Griffs had the lead for much of the extra session, but a defensive breakdown led to a dunk by UB with less than 5 seconds left for the lead and the win. Great game.
………Honorable Mention: Southern Maryland vs Bridgeport;  Duquense vs Rhode Island
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Championship Teams:  None……The closest we came this year to seeing a championship winning squad was the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. Crustacean Nation saw their team reach the Atlantic League Championship Series, but they fell short to another dominant team with the nickname “Patriots”. Somerset won their 6th title three games to one.
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Best Drive:  US-15 in Maryland…..On my way to a baseball weekend in Northwest Maryland, I drove through Pennsylvania via I-78 and then I-81. I then cut southward along Route 15 and it really was a nice drive once I got into Maryland. Hills are all around and immediately after crossing the state line, one sees the quaint campus of Mount St. Mary’s University. Catoctin State Park is next in Thurmont and then Frederick is not too far away. 

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Worst Drive:  US-301 in Maryland……Driving in Philadelphia or DC is obvious, so let’s go with a surprisingly crap drive. That would be Route 301 in Southern Maryland between Waldorf and Upper Marlboro. Given that this is DC suburb territory, congestion should be expected. Adding to the frustration is that this four to six lane road has many stoplights. With big box stores all up and down the sides, it is an aggravating stretch for those on a long car trip. 

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Best Side Trip:  Steamtown……This National Historic Site is located in Scranton and it is great for those looking to channel their inner Sheldon Cooper. Locomotives are the theme here and the historical information and visuals are impressive. They have a roundhouse and a train tour that is perfect for adults and kids. Steamtown is also right downtown and I enjoyed an old-fashioned Texas Weiner afterwards at Coney Island.
………Honorable Mention: Washington Monument in Boonsboro;  National Mall in DC;  Georgetown in DC;  Dr. Samuel Mudd House in Waldorf

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Best Return Visit:  MCU Park……Speaking of Coney Island, I went back to Brooklyn last July to see if the home of the Cyclones is still the highest rated minor-league ballpark that I have been to. It still is. This park does it all right and it takes advantage of an unparalleled setting. All the more special is how the ballpark survived and the neighborhood recovered from Hurricane Sandy.
………Honorable Mention: The Palestra;  Madison Square Garden

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September Stadiums Update

Posted by Sean Rowland on September 22, 2015

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For the 2015 season, we have no new college football stadiums as the overlying theme this season is a growing reversal from the last few decades. Instead of increasing capacity, Universities are now removing seats in favor of adding club sections and higher-priced perks. It always boils down to making money and schools are seeing more bang for their buck by adding the specialty areas instead of just selling more seats. Of course, this is happening everywhere. The most significant stadium renovations debuted this season are at Kentucky, Mississippi, Duke and Cincinnati. The Bearcats, in fact, didn’t even play in Nippert Stadium as the overhaul meant a season shared with the Bengals at Paul Brown. But they are back on-campus this year. Other notes include the bizarre fiasco at UAB, where they
dropped football, then a few weeks later reinstated the sport and now will wait to come back for a few years while this all gets sorted out, maybe. At the FBS level, we have the opposite as East Tennessee State is revived after the program was cut in 2003. Their introductory period begins at a high school stadium (Kermit Tipton) in Johnson City before their new stadium is completed in 2017. Also, Kennesaw State begins their inaugural football season in the Big South. They will play out of Fifth Third Bank Stadium, a place originally built a few years ago solely for soccer.

In the NFL, Miami is in the middle of a two-year renovation to Sun Life Stadium. This is the second nine-figure remodel to the facility in the last eight years, which is mind-blowing (at least the owner funded this version). The most interesting aspect of the renovation will be the creation of living room “pods” in the prime lower bowl seats. The four-person box will be created with a home feel as it includes TVs. Sun Life Stadium will be a completely different facility, one that will personify professional sports in the 2000s. Also of note, the Titans’ home has seen a name change to Nissan Stadium.

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The Summer Baseball Leagues Update – 2015

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 22, 2015

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Hello Muzzy Field! On your 100th birthday, we welcome you and the Bristol Blues to The List

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June updates to The List focus on the short-season leagues, including Summer-Collegiate baseball, where those looking for quaint purity can enjoy America’s pastime. Let’s start in New England and one of the more successful circuits, the Futures League. I wrote about the remarkable success and rebirth of The Ballpark at Old Orchard Beach last year, however things have sadly gone downhill over the past several months. The owners of the Raging Tide couldn’t keep going and they tried to sell the team to someone in the local community, but there were no takers. The team was sold and moved to Bristol, CT (more on that later) and all that great work at The Ballpark seemed short lived. However, a team would return to this summer community in the form of the new, independent East Coast Baseball League. That lasted all of one month as mis-management led to the ECBL’s quick demise. There were teams ready to go and rather than see hard work and ready players go to waste, a hastily put together North Country Baseball League was formed, involving four of the ECBL franchises, including OOB. With the person running the NCBL also in charge of “Cheeburger, Cheeburger“, it’s hard to see the NCBL stay alive. But all the best to them and I hope this is not the sad end to a true success story in Maine.

OK, where were we? Oh yeah, the Futures League. So the arrival of the Bristol Blues is awesome! That means that Muzzy Field will be hosting games and this 4,900 seat relic is turning 100 years old this summer. On a trip to New Britain in 2013, I stopped to take a look at Muzzy and am thrilled to see a professional team play here. In the Coastal Plain League, we have a couple teams not on The List, but worth mentioning. With Columbia’s Capital City Stadium now gone, nearby Lexington County has become home of the Bluefish and they opened a baseball stadium last month that looks very nice. Also starting play in 2015 are the Holly Springs Salamanders, who have moved into the 1500-seat North Main Athletic Complex. Despite the college field sounding name, it’s also a nice place. There is also a new ballpark in the Prospect League, where the Kokomo Jackrabbits will play. Despite numerous issues at the stadium site, it’s amazing this stadium opened up to baseball after so much controversy (which is still ongoing).

Finally, in affiliated ball we have one change. The New York-Penn League continues to cheat on its name and the Jamestown Jammers have moved to Morgantown, WV. With a classy logo, the West Virginia Black Bears will begin play at Monongalia County Ballpark. It’s neatly built into a hillside with 2,500 fixed seats and more on the berms. The ballpark is actually in Granville, just across the river from Morgantown, and yes, it is the new home for West Virginia University. This is a trend I am disliking as I prefer college baseball to be separated from cities hosting professional baseball. I understand all the reasons why this happens, but am not a fan. Russell Diethrick Park will still live as the Jammers have turned up in the Prospect League, replacing Lorain County. 

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May List Updates

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 12, 2015

Welcome back Skylands Park (err...Stadium)

Welcome back Skylands Park (err…Stadium)

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In the month of May, we turn our attention to baseball’s Independent Leagues. I am happily surprised to see the Can-Am League still trudging along and the circuit even welcomes back a pair of returning teams that I never thought we would see again. In rural Sussex County, NJ, a franchise is back in the league after folding five years ago. The Sussex County Miners will play in Skylands Stadium, which curiously adjusted their name from “Park” to “Stadium”. It’s an interesting place for a team as the county is barely considered part of the NYC suburban network. I wish all the best for the Miners (only a half-hour or so away from where I live), but they need to improve the ballpark and the experience as it is rated the lowest out of the 49 minor-league facilities that I have been to thus far. Also making an unexpected re-appearance is the Capital of Canada. Remember the Fat Cats? Well they are not back, but instead we have the “Champions”. Hmmm…OK. Anyway they will play in a refurbished Lynx Stadium (the old AAA park), which has been renamed (deep breath): Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park. That’s not a person, but rather an advertisement for some advisory firm. I think we’ll call this place RCGT Park.

Over in the American Association, perhaps the nicest stadium in all of independent baseball is almost complete. The St. Paul Saints will move into CHS Field this summer and the gorgeous $63 million dollar ballfield is downtown and full of local character. I highly recommend a Twins-Saints weekend in the Land of a Thousand Lakes. As for Midway Stadium, it will become extinct as the land on which it sits is turned into an industrial park. Also joining the league is the Joplin Blasters. They will play in Joe Becker Stadium, which has had a facelift. It took me awhile to find the real capacity and even though it is listed at 4,200, about 2,500 of those “Seats” are of the grass variety, so they will not be included in The List. This is another place to root success for as Joplin continues it’s rebuild from the devastating tornado four years ago.

In league news, United League Baseball finally folded after prolonged folly. This does unfortunately mean that Texas ballparks LaGrave Field (Fort Worth) and Harlingen Field (Harlingen) go without a tenant. On the other side of the coin, we welcome the Mount Rainier Premier Baseball League and the East Coast Baseball League. Both are quite small, however the latter league includes Old Orchard Beach, where The Ballpark makes the move from Summer Collegiate ball to Independent.

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April Stadium List Updates

Posted by Sean Rowland on April 14, 2015

Say goodbye to the lack of electronics in Wrigley Field's Outfield

Say goodbye to the lack of electronics in Wrigley Field’s Outfield

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After a lonnnggg winter in the Northeast, even those not fans of baseball become happy at the first crack of the bat as that means Spring and warmer weather. This year, there are no new Major League ballparks, but there are a few notable goings-on. The sacrilegious demolition of Wrigley Field continues as being a billionaire just isn’t enough for Tom Ricketts as he finds more revenue streams from the Cubs. That means ad boards! No longer will Wrigley be a complete step back in time as the place gets a makeover, including a video scoreboard. Of course, they’re making a mess out of the whole thing as the Bleachers are in shambles. Even the Cubs website is pathetic in their display of the whole thing. Restore means to “Bring Back”. Wrigley wasn’t exactly dead. Meanwhile, to someone who knows how to properly treat an old ballpark, Janet Marie Smith continues her work on Dodger Stadium and their gradual improvements seem to be for the good. Lastly, Cleveland copied the success seen at Coors Field last year by creating a social gathering bar-type section called The Corner. Expect more trends like this around the league as the sport tries to stay “hip” with the younger crowd and advertise the game as a hang-out. This new section at Progressive Field reduced capacity by about 6,000.

In the minor-leagues, Nashville opens First Tennessee Park, at the site of the old Sulpher Dell ballpark. Not many tears were shed at the moving out of the 36-year old, vanilla Greer Stadium. The only signature piece fans wanted to see make the move was the guitar-shaped scoreboard, which is very cool. It will be interesting to see if this ballpark spurs other development in this downtown section of Nashville. Also in the PCL, the Oklahoma City franchise has been renamed the Dodgers. Boooo to that, I hate when a minor-league team loses it’s identity and character. Hope it’s not a trend as the same thing happened to South Bend.

Down in the South, the Huntsville franchise moves to Biloxi, where the Shuckers will take the field as another clever Brandoise designed team. The Shuckers will have to start play their first few months on the road and still in Huntsville, as MGM Park will not be ready until (hopefully) early June. Not good planning by all involved as the city is on the hook for nearly a $1 million to expedite the process and $10,000 for every missed home game. Probably should have thought that through better. As for Joe Davis Stadium back in Huntsville, it unfortunately is slated to be demolished. In a piece of great news, the Brevard County Manatees once again will partake in the Jackie Robinson Celebration Game. This contest is held at Holman Stadium in Vero Beach (former Dodgertown) and with it becoming an annual event, we see that historic venue back on The List.

In soccer, the lower divisions have resumed play this month and while the NASL sees little change (just the Jacksonville Armada join, making their home in the Baseball Grounds), big moves have been made in the third tier USL. I wrote about this last month and how much I hate it as the USL is evolving into a sort of MLS Reserve League. After LA Galaxy II played last year, there are now 8 MLS franchises that own an USL team playing in the same city. Most of these have some sort of symbol for “2” after their name, while only Salt Lake went with a different name (Real Monarchs, you know for all of that Spanish Royalty in Utah). Four of them play in MLS stadiums while the other four use a smaller facility within the region, none of which make The List. These are UBC Thunderbird Stadium (Whitecaps), Merlo Field (Timbers), Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila (Sounders) and the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughn (Toronto FC). Why I hate this trend is the ugly mix we now have between a reserve league with teams that have way different goals than the other independently run teams. Just make a stinking Division 4 and call it MLS Reserves.

The USL did expand in other ways too as there are five new teams in cities that did not have professional soccer. Again, none of these independently make it on to The List and two of them are using baseball parks (Louisville and Tulsa). The Austin Aztex will set up shop in House Park, a downtown stadium that has been the center of High School Football for decades. It is in a cool spot for the trendy/hipster crowd that likely will take to soccer well. Colorado Springs will play in a refurbished Sand Creek Stadium, right across from Security Service Field. Lastly, St. Louis may correctly be thought of as a baseball town, but there is a deep history and passion for soccer (see the Women’s friendly last week). It’s good to see a team there and they will use Soccer Park in Fenton.
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March Stadium Updates

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 17, 2015

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Goodbye to the Pershing Center in Lincoln (pictured above, image from KFOR1240.com)…but hello again to Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque!

 

This month is about indoor football and the start of baseball, where we will start first…College Baseball began a month earlier and a couple new ballparks have opened, neither of which are on The List as they are under capacity. After years of delays and waiting, Coastal Carolina finally opens their 2,500-seat Springs Brooks Stadium (hard to say). The Chanticleers have a top program and the ballpark matches the direction they are headed. The other park is a product of the stupid conference re-alignment. With the generally weak baseball program of West Virginia joining the powerhouses in the Big XII, a ballpark to at least fit in the league was needed. The temporarily-named Monongalia County Ballpark will serve that purpose, but not just yet as this winter has delayed the opening. Out in Arizona, the Sun Devils followed their rivals’ footsteps as they join the University of Arizona in moving off-campus to a former spring training home. Arizona State leaves Packard Stadium to the briefly vacant Phoenix Municipal Stadium (Oakland moved their Spring Training back to Mesa and a renovated Hohokam Stadium). The move was a success in Tucson, not sure how it will pan out for the Sun Devils. Finally in the SEC, a big renovation to Sewell-Thomas Stadium means that Alabama will play all of their 2015 home games at the Hoover Met, which is still the host of the conference tournament. Georgia also made renovations to their ballpark, Foley Field.

In the world of indoor football, the United Indoor Football League folded, while two leagues merged as the CPIFL and LSFL created Champions Indoor Football. The fewer of these smaller 4-8 team leagues, the better. Not all teams made the move as a few moved to different leagues, while some ceased operations all together. One of those teams sadly was the Lincoln Haymakers. Their home, the Pershing Center has been closed and the future is in doubt for the smaller venue that now sits in the shadows of the gleaming Pinnacle Bank Arena. It’s a sad demise for the venue. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the debut of the Duke City Gladiators brings Albuquerque’s Tingley Coliseum back from the abyss. The venerable facility located on the New Mexico State Fairgrounds will be host to the Gladiators this season.

Going up to the top tier Arena Football League, Pittsburgh and San Antonio folded, while in a surprise move, the Iowa Barnstormers dropped down to the IFL. For decades, the Barnstormers have been a mainstay in the Arena League and they draw quite well in Des Moines, so this move caught me off guard. They will continue to play in Wells Fargo Arena. Meanwhile, Vegas gets a team that will play in the Thomas & Mack Center. In the IFL, to go along with the Iowa move, the Wichita Falls Nighthawks replace the Texas Calvary and in Big Sky Country, the RimRock Arena becomes home to a permanent tenant again as Billings takes the place of the Wyoming franchise that played in Casper. The Casper Event Center will remain on The List as it hosts the state basketball tournament each year. Down to the lower leagues, Georgia (Rome) and Harrisburg are out of the PIFL, while Erie is in. Meanwhile, the AIF and X-League had too many changes for me to muster the energy to discuss.

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The Best League To Take a Trip Through

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 7, 2015

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Regardless of sport, for those that enjoy stadium travel in the US and Canada, it can be difficult to find an entire league to visit. Several reasons are to blame for the geographical divergence, money being the main one (I’m looking at you, NCAA). However, there are still a few options for those wanting to travel only by car and none are better than the Ontario Hockey League. Diversity is the biggest positive for choosing a journey through the OHL. Cities range from the capital in Ottawa to tiny Owen Sound (population just over 20,000). There is great opportunity not only to visit the province, but the league also ventures into Michigan and Pennsylvania. The arenas provide a nice variety in size and architecture with old classics like those in Kitchener and North Bay mixed with modern beauties like in London. Finally, a very important factor in my book is the atmosphere and in many of these towns, there is a deep, vested interest in their home hockey franchise. That translates to a much better crowd experience than typically found in the professional hockey minor leagues.

This is why over the last few years I’ve made some trips up to Canada and I am planning on making the trip through the league. My brother Eric has been joining me and my family back in Rochester, NY is a strategic place to branch off from as 19 out of the 20 teams are within a six hour drive (the remaining city, Sault Ste. Marie, is a hike from anywhere). In the last few years we have seen Barrie and Kingston, just enough to wet our appetite for future years and trips. For anyone looking to go the same route, check out The OHL Arena & Travel Guide, a longstanding online fixture that is the definitive source for the entire experience.

There are a couple of other leagues worth an honorable mention……In basketball, the vastly underrated experience is the Missouri Valley Conference. It matches the OHL in many categories and can be done all by car. From Chicago to Cedar Falls to Carbondale and points in between, fans come out in droves during the freezing winter months. Probably the best experience in all of college basketball is at the Roundhouse in Wichita State. The set of arenas is as diversified as the sport has to offer……For a more laid-back leisurely league trip, check out the Southern League, in the AA-level of Minor League Baseball. Comprised of 10 teams, baseball’s everyday schedule allows for this trip to be done in a two-week period if crafty with planning. Lots of new ballparks to enjoy and there are nice places to tour along the way as Jacksonville, Pensacola, Biloxi and Chattanooga all are in the league’s footprint. 

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2014 Year In Review

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 22, 2014

Providence Park Interior

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It’s that time of year again for reflection as we conclude our 5th year of this website and 12th year of visiting stadiums. There was a lot to enjoy in 2014 which included a week in Oregon and a game in six other US states. In all, 14 new venues were reviewed and with our first child on the way, that number likely will drop a little next year as we excitedly look forward to that life-changing event. Let’s take a look at the past year in stadium visits:

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Favorite New Stadium:  Providence Park……As if there was any question on this. If I had a Bucket List, this venue would be close to #1 as I have been fantasizing about making a visit and it was a key reason we chose Oregon for a summer vacation. The home of the Portland Timbers combines everything that I love in a sports venue: history, unique design, special touches and amazing atmosphere. There will be no other soccer stadium like this in the country and the re-design to become home of Portland’s MLS team in 2010 is remarkable. Add in the Timbers Army and you have a very special place.
………Honorable Mention: Ron Tonkin Field, K-Rock Centre, Nationals Park

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Worst New Stadium:  Volcanoes Stadium……What an awful ballpark. It’s amazing that Volcanoes Stadium is only 17 years old as this park feels like 1985. The edge of suburban setting in Keizer, OR sets the stage for a blah experience in a drab stadium. The lowlight is the faded-red seats which now resemble a pink color.
………Honorable Mention:
Jack Kaiser Stadium

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Favorite New City:  Kingston, ON…..Just yesterday, the Limestone City was featured on Rogers Hometown Hockey. Kingston was the site of our second OHL trip and I was pleasantly surprised at the beauty and vibrancy of this city on the shore of Lake Ontario. A walk down Princess Street is full of eclectic eateries and it may be possible to go a season with trying a different post-game establishment after each Frontenacs contest. The city’s architecture is appealing and a lot of history can be explored on a visit here. 
………Honorable Mention: Portland (OR), Lynchburg, Charleston (WV)

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I Need Light:  Barclays Center…….Jay-Z’s obsession with all things dark is a little overboard. Along with the Nets logo and Barclays Center interior, the lighting is kept to a minimum, so much so that walking up and down stairs in the upper deck of seating is a challenge. I could not even read my program without the use of a cell phone flashlight! The whole spotlight on the court thing may look cool, but let’s save the dimmed lighting for theatres.

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Best Restaurant:  Depot Grille…..Only a few weeks before our visit, this restaurant was closed because of a train derailment. Everything was back up and running in this scenic spot at the bottom of Lynchburg’s downtown hills. The old train depot decor really makes this place a great spot, while the classic American food is decent as well.
………Honorable Mention: Harpers Burger Bar in Kingston, ON;  PDX 671 in Portland, OR;  Shake Shack in Brooklyn, NY

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Best In-Stadium Food:   Ben’s Chili Bowl…..Not for those with weak stomachs, this DC institution is popular all game long at Nationals Park. In a ballpark full of great food options, I went with Blue Smoke (BBQ), but did at least have a sample of Ben’s famous “half-smoke”, which is a sausage smothered in chili sauce. Good stuff.
………Honorable Mention: Junior’s Cheesecake in the Barclays Center; Pork Bahn Mi in Ron Tonkin Field

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Best Game  Lynchburg vs Winston-Salem……In what was a good year for the home teams (10-4), the only good finish to a game took place on Memorial Day in the Carolina League. We went to the ninth inning with Lynchburg down 6-4. Aided by a pair of walks, the Hillcats loaded the bases and with one out and Jose Peraza at the plate, the game was in doubt. Peraza ripped a single to left field and a misplay by Courtney Hawkins led to three runs scoring as the jubilant Hillcats celebrated on the field. This also marked the first walk-off hit I have seen live.
………Honorable Mention: Colgate vs Holy Cross
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Championship Teams:  Hillsboro Hops…….After the Beavers left Portland in 2010, there was no baseball within the Portland Metropolitan area. That did not last long as Hillsboro, a suburb 30 minutes to the west, ended up building a ballpark that drew a Northwest League franchise. With clever branding and a shorter season, fans have filled Ron Tonkin Field nightly and they were rewarded with a championship this season. Our game featured a rare loss by the Hops, but that was an anomaly as Hillsboro went on to win 20 of their last 26. That included a sweep of Vancouver in the championship round.
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Best Drive:  US-97 and US-26 from Bend to Portland…..We went everywhere in our week-long trip thru Oregon and after spending some time on the edge of the high desert (where we saw the Bend Elks play), we made the 3-hour drive back to Portland with some incredible scenery. The Central part of the state is unknown to many as the terrain is more stereotypical Arizona than Pacific Northwest. The entire time, snow-capped Mount Hood is the focal point and quickly, the route climbs back into the Ponderosa Pines that surround the famous mountain. From there, it is all downhill to the Rose City.
………Honorable Mention: US-220 in Western Virginia, I-68 in the Panhandle of Maryland 

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Worst Drive:  I-81 to Hamilton, NY…..This isn’t so much a bad drive as it is more annoying than anything else. Colgate University’s campus is smack dab in the middle of New York state. With no highway access, there really isn’t good way to reach the tiny, charming town of Hamilton and some old-school map skills are needed for the best route. Rolling farmland generally follows the ride along the quiet two-lane roads, which can be a little scary if on them at night. 

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Best Side Trip:  Vandalia Gathering…..West Virginia has a backwoods reputation that limits visitors to those just focused on outdoor recreation. However, I would encourage everyone to also venture into Charleston, where we found the little city along the Kanawha River to be full of great people. Each May, the grounds of the State Capitol host a celebration of all things Appalachia and before a game to see the West Virginia Power, we hung out at the festival enjoying jam sessions all over with banjos, violins, fiddles and the like. This was followed by a visit to the free and excellent West Virginia State Museum. Great food, great people, great sounds, Charleston was a pleasant surprise.
………Honorable Mention: Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, Yale University in New Haven, Lynchburg Museum in Lynchburg

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Best Return Visit:  Bell Centre…..With nearly 150 more stadium experiences under my belt, a trip back to hockey heaven in Montreal was long overdue. My brother joined me for a memorable return to Quebec that included a trip up Mont Royal and a walk-through Old Montreal. Despite the constant cold and nursing of Eric’s leg infection, the trip was great and a Canadiens game remains a top experience in the NHL. I may not be a huge fan of the building itself, but the atmosphere is terrific and the team hall of fame is remarkable.
………Honorable Mention: Red Bull Arena, Carrier Dome

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