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Finally Made It To The US Open

Posted by Sean Rowland on September 8, 2018

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Thirteen years ago, I moved to New Jersey and a nice perk is being an hour or two (depending on mode of transportation) from New York City and all it has to offer. Being a huge tennis fan, I couldn’t wait to make it to the US Open, but year after year, it just never worked out. While watching the tournament this week, I kept getting this deep urge to see it live. Ignoring my usual long-range scheduling and planning, I decided just 24 hours prior that I was going to Queens. The Men’s Semifinal match-ups were enticing, the weather was perfect and I had a half-day at work. After waiting until the last minute for price drops on the secondary market, I got a single seat way up in the rafters way of Arthur Ashe Stadium and after reading
this ultimate guide, I made my trip in.

Plotting the best way to reach the tournament always has multiple options and I decided to take NJ Transit from Denville. It’s a longer trip then my normally-preferred method of driving to Secaucus and then taking a 10-minute train in, but a $30 parking lot on weekdays deterred me from that option. What I didn’t realize was that Denville has a $3 parking charge Mon-Fri, as like everything with all modes of transportation around the Tri-State, local knowledge is needed since things aren’t always exactly clear. I had seven minutes to make the train and I couldn’t find the pay station in time (in the secondary parking lot, which I didn’t know was the paid one) and made the split-second decision to just get on the train anyway instead of waiting another hour for the next one. Thankfully, my wife was out-and-about and she kindly was able to drive to Denville and move my car along with paying for the spot, thus avoiding a ticket and fine. With that taken care of, there was one more train needed as I got off at Penn Station and opted for the slightly more expensive Long Island Rail Road to reach Flushing Meadows. This was faster than walking eight blocks to get the 7 subway. And with that I had finally arrived!

Watching this tournament my whole life, it was special to walk around and see everything: the fountains, the Arthur Ashe statue, Court of Champions. I spent awhile on the grounds and really enjoyed the amount of plaza’s that allowed for fans to take it easy between play. There are tons of food options and of course, it comes at a hefty price. I considered splurging and getting the long-time signature cocktail, the Honey Deuce. Just couldn’t bring myself to spend $17 on a drink. Matches on all the outer courts were juniors and I wanted to take one in, but at this point, it was 3:00 PM and I wanted a tour of Arthur Ashe before the first Semi began. My plan is to go back next year and just do Armstrong and Grandstand, which is when I’ll do official stadium reviews for those. Heading into Ashe, I gazed up at the behemoth, knowing my end seating result was going to be a hike. The climb up thankfully involved escalators (going down does not), however, I was disappointed to see that the lower-level concourse was reserved for only patrons with seats there. That meant that all of the upper seats, at least 10,000 and probably more, have to squish through a single concourse that lacks a lot, namely comfort between sets. That’s a horrible set-up. As far as inside the stadium, some have called it the “Worst Stadium in the Country“. I wouldn’t go that far as there are some positives. For one: the roof and roof support adds a huge layer of comfort for fans as the extra shade is huge. Most tennis stadiums in North America, lack shade. Also, the stands are nicely steeped and that creates a favorable angle to seeing the court. However, that steepness is also a negative because the stadium is way too freakin’ big and it is a hike and a half to get to the top of the upper bowl. It is extremely rare to see Ashe completely full and it was unnecessary to have that many seats, thus leading to pretty crappy, unintimate views for so many. Then, you also have abundant catering to the high rollers as the small (but insanely priced) lower-level is followed by two rungs of suites and then you finally get to the more distant seating bowl for the regular folk. Despite all the negativity, it was special for me as a tennis fan to finally sit in this stadium for a match.

Made all the better was a mouth-watering semifinal card that first featured Nadal and Del Potro. While absolutely respecting what Rafa has done, I’ve never been a huge fan and I was pulling for DelPo in this one and it was fun to savor all the Argentine fans in the house. The first set was what I expected, a grueling and entertaining battle that lasted over an hour featuring booming ground strokes from DelPo and ridiculous speed by Rafa. Then, in the second, DelPo took over and at the end, it was noticeable that something wasn’t right with Rafa given how he was rushing serves. I took out by zoom camera to watch the chair closely and sadly, he needed to retire. Disappointing, but I was happy to at least see a quality set. That also meant I didn’t have to debate leaving early in the second match for train-catching purposes. The nightcap featured Djokovic and Kei Nishikori, two guys I really like. With Novak, he’s my favorite of the Big 4. He’s very personable and quite involved with fans and kids (love this clip), but I never understood why the crowd doesn’t warm too him and it makes me feel bad because I know he desperately wants that love. If Roger or Rafa are playing an underdog, New Yorkers never pull for the dog, despite their normal love for one. But with Novak? They always do and that was apparent with a huge urging on with Kei. Some might argue it’s because in this instance, they wanted to see more tennis after the short early match, but I’ve seen this before and it was more than that. I whole-heartedly gave some encouraging yells to Nole (always wanted to do that) and he dominated this match. His flexibility is so amazing to see in person. His 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win capped a memorable day. I can’t wait to get back to Flushing Meadows in future years to experience the other stadiums in the complex. 

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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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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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Feeling the Heat in Harrisburg

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 28, 2018


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Before checking out the Heat and New Holland Arena, I spent a little time in downtown Harrisburg. Now back in 2013 when visiting for a Senators game, I remember learning that this is a sketchy town. However, I really didn’t see any of that during my enjoyable walking tour that included the Walnut Street Bridge, Front Street and the State Capitol. This time around was a little different as the drive in from I-81 took me through some questionable areas and I was not exactly comfortable on my three block walk from the car parked on the street to the PA State Museum. Call me a softy suburbanite, but that’s just how I felt. Anyway, the state museum was good and the statue of Willam Penn is really something to behold. I thought the Transportation & Industry section was the most visually appealing and the most interesting permanent section. What really caught my interest was a temporary exhibit on the work of T. M. Fowler, who created 248 Birds Eye View maps of PA cities in the late 1800s and 1900s. I love those! After the museum, I stayed nearby for dinner at the Sturges Speakeasy. It looked like they had a party going on, but I still was able to take a seat on the side for dinner. As I felt increasingly ignored by the staff, time was getting to be a concern and I made the decision to hightail it out of there without ordering and try somewhere else. Clutch decision. I drove to the Appalachian Brewing Company (5 minutes from the arena) and was served quickly at the bar with a great dinner and a beer that was brewed on-site.

The game was at the New Holland Arena, one of many buildings that make up the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex. Before the corporate sponsor, it was just referred to as “Large Arena”. This is a truly impressive facility in both size and history, as it has hosted the largest agricultural gathering in the United States for over 100 years. During Farm Show week, the Large Arena hosts everything from rodeos to pony-pulling contests to tractor square dancing (yup, that’s right! check it out!). It also hosts indoor soccer as the MASL’s Harrisburg Heat play there, a team with a relatively lengthy history dating back to 1991. New Holland Arena from the outside is architecturally intriguing as the 1930s design features farm-related engravings at the top of the building. Inside, there is a distinctive farm smell that reminds game attendees that this is a unique arena for sports. The seating bowl reminded me a lot of Hersheypark Arena, located not too far away. Built in an era when everything was designed for a person sitting in a chair to watch below, there is a very steep grade to the oval structure. It lends to great sightlines. The arena is so outdated that there is an undeniable charm to it because of the nostalgia factor. Along with the aforementioned, you have tight chairs that date back decades and a scoreboard as basic as they come. This does not diminish the Heat experience as it is still a fun one that can be had in any other modern-day arena. For those missing an old-school sports arena, check this place out. Now that’s not to say there is no 21st century influence as a Heat game features goal celebrations complete with smoke machine and strobe light, plus the near-continuous playing of music interspersed with the PA imploring “Harrisburg make some noiiissseeee!” that gradually becomes ear-grating. While the music/PA may have annoyed me, this is undoubtedly a family event with kids everywhere (particularly youth soccer teams), so the game-day atmosphere caters very well to them. This was my first indoor soccer game (match?) and it was quite enjoyable as I dissected the flow and strategy. It is a really intriguing mix of soccer and hockey that has been around since the 80s. Harrisburg was playing the Florida Tropics and they had leads of 3-1 and 5-2. Harrisburg trimmed the advantage to 5-4 and tried to tie it up for much of the 4th Quarter. The Heat even had a 6 on 4 (Power Play plus pulling the goalkeeper), but failed to convert as the Tropics celebrated their win as the buzzer sounded. Stadium #191 was a very different experience from all the other visits and it was one certainly worth doing that featured a new type of arena and sport, both of which were refreshingly enjoyable.
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PIAA Championships at Hersheypark Stadium

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 19, 2015

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After visiting Giant Center and Hersheypark Arena, there was one more venue to see in Chocolate Town: Hersheypark Stadium. With so few sporting opportunities at the stadium, I jumped at the chance to finally get there for the PIAA High School Football Championship. I talked a few days ago about how I do not include high school venues on The List, but do include facilities that consistently host their championships. It was about 3:30 PM when I reached Hershey, only to run into a decent amount of traffic along Hersheypark Drive. Maybe it was from people heading to the light display, but it was still daylight. Then I considered the earlier championship game in the A classification at 1 PM and maybe people were leaving, but that wasn’t it either. The last thing I was thinking was a concert on a weekday afternoon, but indeed the Trans-Siberian Orchestra were playing the Giant Center at 4 PM, which lead to the jam up. (Side Note…I love their stuff. Have you ever looked at their Tour Calendar, they load up on shows right near Christmas and must make all of their revenue in this month, which makes sense). Thankfully, I’ve been to Hershey a few times, so I knew that I could avoid the crowds getting into the Hersheypark parking by staying in the left lane and parking at Chocolate World, then walking over to the stadium. I only showed up early so I could get some exterior stadium pictures while it was daylight and while walking around, I encountered Bishop Guilfoyle fans buying their championship sweatshirts after the earlier game just ended. With extra time to kill, I walked over to Hersheypark Arena, where it looks exactly the same as it did in 2010. I sat in one of their old wooden chairs, mesmerized by such a beautiful old building. Fifteen years ago, they still played professional hockey here…hard to believe.

I went into town to grab dinner at the Chocolate Ave Grill. My sandwich was just ok and the waiter paid no attention to me. Around 6 PM, it was back into Hersheypark, where the game I saw was for the AAA Championship as two teams from opposite corners of the state played…Cathedral Prep (from Erie) and Imhotep Charter (from Philly). I got there just as the buses from Prep did as the kids in their orange sprinted across the parking lot to the stadium. It took me a bit longer to get in as I changed in the car…the layers of clothing were necessary for my skinny frame to survive the windy, 35-degree evening. The stadium is split into two sets of sideline bleachers and each school gets a side. Once inside, fans can not cross to the other sideline. That’s bad news for me in trying to photograph the stadium. Wish I knew ahead of time or I would have got a press pass. So, I needed to be creative and after earlier failed attempts, I finally sweet-talked the security guards to allow me over. There are metal detectors before entering the concourse, which meant three separate occasions of taking everything out and passing thru. Once all my reviewing chores were done, I hunkered into an upper corner, seeking protection from the wind and watched the contest while sipping Hot Chocolate.

My re-introduction to high school football left me thankful I don’t regularly travel to these games. It’s been 15 years since I was student at Hilton High School and watched my classmates play, so forgive me if this is naive and no offense to the kids playing…but are these games really this horrid to watch? I expected a lot more from two teams full of Division I recruits and instead got a mistake-filled contest full of dropped balls, fumbles and the inability to throw a forward pass in the wind. The start of the game didn’t exactly get off on the right foot either: It began with a failed onsite kick, where a player was laid out and a subsequent 10-minute delay. The next play was a re-kick that was fumbled. Then the following play, the head referee was hurt after getting knocked over. Yikes. This also wasn’t the best display for the dangers of the sport as the cart and ambulance twice made an appearance. A few bad seeds on the Cathedral side also didn’t help further the stereotype of the overbearing parent of an athlete. Some moron yelled that the coach’s son (the starting QB) sucks and to sit him. Later in the game, I heard this same lunatic tell the kids to “break someone’s leg”. Walking in to the stadium, another idiot said the metal detectors were there because of the people from Philly on the other side. Finally, we have Chris Hagerty, director of “strategic initiatives” (what?) at the school who at their pep rally referred to Saucon Valley High School (the semifinalists who lost to Imhotep 72-27) as something that sounded “more like a salad dressing than a football team“. I ended up rooting for Imhotep during this game and they went on to cruise to the state title, 40-3. It was also impressive at the end to see the class and respect from the Panthers (especially watch the end of the handshake line at around 1:33 below). This is the first state championship for a Philadelphia Public League school and the team dominated the competition all season long. What they have achieved is quite remarkable. I’m curious to see if in the future, we’ll hear the names of some of these players at the next level. Mike Waters ran for 201 yards and had 3 touchdowns, while TE Naseir Upshur rumbled down the field after his two catches. The wind wreaked havoc with Prep as they had 25 incompletions on the day.

The combination of the cold, idiot parents and poor play made this one of the very few stadium trips I have not enjoyed. There’s only around 50 of these stadium/arena types on The List and I’m glad these visits will be few and far between. I’ll have a review of Hersheypark Stadium up in a few days and a Stadium Journey review is coming as well.
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LaValle Stadium and the Seawolves

Posted by Sean Rowland on September 14, 2015

LaValle Stadium Interior
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With my SiriusXM on Auburn-Jacksonville State to provide FCS inspiration, I was primed for football, but first, before heading to campus, I went to check out Stony Brook for a little bit. This tiny hamlet on the North Shore of Long Island does not have a heart of town, but does have at least a street called “Main” worth exploring. I stopped first at the Grist Mill, which except for seeing the historic building, was a waste thanks to bumbling, unfriendly “Tour Guides” that made me change my mind. So I left there for the Village Center just down the road. Ward Melville’s idea of a bucolic shopping center back in 1941 still lives today and the white-colored buildings look much newer than their real age. I walked around for a bit, grabbed lunch at Fratelli’s and saw the historic Post Office before walking down to the marshy inlet that empties into the Long Island Sound. This area is rich in marine life and is futile ground for the university, which is a major research center. I marveled at the Fiddler Crabs all coming out at low tide before heading out for the game.

I thought going in football parking was $10 and was pleasantly surprised to not see any attendants as it was free (must have been looking at last year’s stuff). For those tailgating, the lot next to the gym is attractive, while for others like myself, I found it easier to park in the lot near the LIRR station. New this year is Seawolves Town, a fan fest section with games, food trucks and other activities. It’s just a small part of the initiative to attract more fans (and eventually money) as Stony Brook embarks on this grand plan to grow athletics. It’s already been a remarkable 20 years as the school made the move to Division I, built fine facilities and even made it to the College World Series. But they want more. “Together We Transform” is a part of AD Shawn Heilbron’s mission to become bigger and football is a significant part of that. He envisions expanding to a 25,000-seat LaValle Stadium and I’m guessing a move up to FBS. My thoughts…they certainly have the student body, the endowment and donor pool, the TV market and the population. But unless they get into the Power 5 conference, just moving up to be a part of The American or something like that is pointless and your chances of a national championship is zilch. If they can do it on their own dime, I’m fine with this transformation. But I will instantly root against them if taxpayer money is involved as it was only 15 years ago that $22 million was used to build this current stadium. In fact, they’ve already tried a sneak attack which was vetoed by Andrew Cuomo. Maybe they tried this after having to play basketball in a high school gym for 6 years while waiting for state funds to renovate their basketball arena. Still of course, no excuse for that crap and this sneaky business will turn locals against the school, becoming counter-intuitive to obtaining their ultimate goal. 

As for LaValle Stadium, it’s a fine facility with an intimate design featuring a lower section of seats surrounding three sides of the stadium and an upper deck on the south sideline that makes for great game viewing. Concessions and amenities are lacking as are any Stony Brook displays, but the place is clean and there is a decent amount of red that tries to add some school color. It’s a shame that the rain began no more than 30 seconds into the game as the fans were ready to go. Pre-game fireworks filled the sky as there was a great turnout by the students, who filled most of the north stands and the rest of the fans were loud and proud. The Marching Band was huge and had terrific sound, enhancing one of the better atmospheres I’ve seen so far at the FCS level. Then the rains came and gradually, fans retreated for cover in the concourse with some trickling out as the game wore on. Keep in mind, it’s been a rough start for Stony Brook as they had their game against Toledo cancelled due to lightning last week. This one would play on and it didn’t begin well with Central Connecticut getting a fluky 51-yard touchdown reception for the early lead. Foreshadowing it was not, as Stony Brook dominated the rest of the game. Their D held the Blue Devils to just 120 yards and Stony Brook’s running game could not be stopped as it was led by Stacey Bedell (22 rushes for 133 yards and 3 TDs). The Seawolves won 38-9 and I spent much of the game at the top row of the stadium, protected somewhat by the rain. It was there that I met Brent Ziegler, who’s son Kyle is a freshman on the Seawolves. Brent himself was a running back for Syracuse in the 1980s and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to stories from his playing days. It was great talking with him about many things as he made a dull blowout in the rain quite enjoyable. I should have a LaValle Stadium review up on the site by the end of the week, then look for a Stadium Journey review a few weeks later.

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New MSG – Not a fan, but still special

Posted by Sean Rowland on April 7, 2015

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I’m back on the stadium visit scene after a break with the birth of our first daughter, Shayla. It’s a wonderful, exhausting, yet amazing experience. She’s got her Sabres onesie all layed out for draft lottery day. Last night, I went to the Rangers game for a return to Madison Square Garden, a place that I wanted to come back to and see the complete makeover it received from 2011-2013. My first visit five years ago was incredible and despite the flaws, I was blown away by the atmosphere and the unique aura of being in the World’s Most Famous Arena. Getting into a Rangers game always was a pricey venture, but with their recent Stanley Cup Final run and the success of the team, tickets are downright outrageous now. In 2010, I spent $55 for a 400-level seat near the first row on StubHub. Now, finding a single crappy seat for less than $130 on reseller sites is a challenge. I resorted to a weeknight game and was able to find a seat in section 213 for $100. This was an experience I had to cherish as I won’t be venturing back with these prices.

This was the first time I used my go-to route for getting into NYC during a weekday and it worked just as well as it does on weekends. I left my house around 3:15 PM, got to Secaucus with no traffic, hopped on the train and was in the basement of MSG (Penn Station) at 5:00 PM. Plenty of time for me to head outside and take some pictures of the arena. Being a transplant to the region, no matter how often I go, each time I step out onto the streets of Midtown Manhattan, I get this feeling of awe, excitement and amazement that is hard to describe. I passed security into the “Chase Square” lobby to wait entry. The square is certainly a fresher section, but it could use more displays…especially because they won’t let you in until an hour before puck drop (I was hoping for a little extra time). That means a lot of fans milling around on their cell phones. The Chase Bank sponsorship of this “Square” is prominent throughout the building as it is Chase everything. MSG seems to shamelessly squeeze every little dollar out of corporate sponsoring of stuff.

Inside, there is more room in the two-level concourses and the displays throughout are excellent. Plenty of course has happened in the history of this building and I enjoyed checking out each moment and display. Food is much better too, but $14.50 for a Corned Beef Sandwich! Holy Crap! Even though the space is still tight, the introduction of the Bridge really helped to disperse traffic in between periods (bathrooms though remain super cramped). Ah, the Bridge. This is the defining feature of the renovation…a skywalk that includes three rows of seats way above the playing surface, allowing for a unique birds-eye view. The concept is great and if you are sitting up here, the view is awesome. However, the execution of the whole thing sucks and I hate these bridges because for a majority of the upper sections (Row 10 and above in the 200s), the bridge blocks the view of the scoreboard and rest of the arena. Yes, they put very nice, adequate video screens on the back of the bridge, but still, you feel closed off and secluded from the rest of the building. I was not a fan of that segregated feel.. I’m also not a fan of the change in seating bowl as it is essentially an entirely new arena. Granted, while the original design had a gentle sloping bowl and not the best sightlines, it was remarkably unique in it’s circular layout and unobstructed view to the ice as three levels of seating were only separated by walkways. Of course these changes were all done for money as the remodel added a significant amount of suite/club sections at the end of the arena. For the common fan, the in-arena experience is worse off now, which is a shame for such an iconic building.

The atmosphere has suffered a bit too as I noticed on TV during playoff games, it was just slightly not as loud as before (down a notch or two on the volume/boisterous scale). That has nothing to do with the fans though as they are tremendous, with the exception of the rich elite that are entertaining clients sitting in the highly visible lower 100s. After Monday’s re-visit, I still think the fans as a whole are the best that I have seen so far (and I’ve been to Montreal, Toronto and Philly). Their knowledge of the game is excellent, along with their knack of knowing when to make noise and what to do. Not to mention the high-comedy that many true New Yorkers provide in the stands. I’ve never heard so many f-bombs at a sporting event in my life, but I’ve also never laughed so much to myself at the number of one-liners thrown around. It is still a very noisy building and near the top in league, just not to the extent it was pre-2011.

What a game I picked to experience that fandom. There’s only a few games left in the regular season and the Rangers are trying to get the most points in the NHL and earn the Presidents Trophy. Columbus was the opponent and before the game, Cam Talbot received the Steven McDonald Award, a prestigious honor in the organization and a very special ceremony. The game was entertaining and close as Columbus came in on a hot streak. Henrik (love that chant) kept the game at 2-2 as he was his usual stellar self, until midway thru the third when ex-Ranger Brandon Dubinsky gave the Jackets the lead. The Rangers pressured late and with the goalie pulled, Derek Stepan tied the game with 27.5 seconds left. An exciting overtime ensued and the Garden erupted as Stepan scored again with less than a minute left in the extra frame. Despite my feelings on the renovated building, walking out of Madison Square Garden in the middle of New York City after a crazy Rangers win is a remarkably special experience.  

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A Day in Brooklyn

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 10, 2014

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

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On Sunday, the spotlight for me was on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where Visit #146 would take place at a Nets game in their relatively new arena. It was a little odd seeing a league that I’m not particularly fond of (NBA) when my favorite sport (College Basketball) was approaching it’s pinnacle…but I will take a new stadium anytime I can squeeze it in. Originally, I thought about doing a doubleheader and seeing the Rangers in the afternoon at the renovated MSG, but I wanted to do some exploring and check out Brooklyn, especially since the weather was tolerable after this brutal winter.

My route of choice lately for getting into NYC (specifically Manhattan) has been to drive the hour to Secaucus Junction and then take one of the many NJ Transit trains into Penn Station. I used to drive to Denville and then take the 90 minute train ride, but the Secaucus way has turned out quite well in saving both time and money (plus it’s very easy to drive to). After arriving at Penn Station, we took the 3 train on the subway to Borough Hall. Prior to my pre-stadium research, I never knew that Brooklyn was almost like it’s own city (complete with downtown and business district). Borough Hall put us right in the middle of this and we started the journey by walking the Brooklyn Bridge. The architectural marvel was packed with wind-blown tourists, all of whom were snapping pictures like myself. It’s a very cool experience and for someone like me who loves skyscrapers and skylines, the view is breathtaking. The exercise and multi-mile walk was ruined by Shake Shack, yet totally worth their burger. Exploring then continued in the nearby Brooklyn Heights section. This is such a lovely neighborhood with gorgeous historic buildings and houses. We took an impromptu walking tour after seeing a flyer pointing out the sites and then went down to the Promenade for more amazing views. Finally, a stop at the Historical Society capped off the tour of this small district. It’s hard to ignore the stereotypes and generalizations that cities gain, but within each one it is vital to take a closer look, then see, explore and appreciate as Brooklyn is a prime example.
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Barclays Center Exterior

My inexperience in subway riding showed back at Borough Hall, where we wandered around for awhile trying to find a way to get to the side of the tracks that would bring the 2 or 3 train deeper into Brooklyn. We found the right train and got to the Atlantic Ave station, which to my surprise features the entrance to the arena right at the top of the stairs out of the station. The Barclays Center has by far the most striking exterior design that I have seen in all my visits. Take a look at the picture above and here as this remarkably modern and sleek face to the arena provides a lasting introduction. The only main entrance offers an expansive lobby and a peek inside the arena, but you can primarily just see the scoreboard as there is a club if you try to get much closer. A sharp-looking concourse is immaculately clean and the charcoal walls give a preview of the black/white/gray color scheme to come. Food is impressive not only for the offerings and local flavor, but also in it’s pricing ($16 for deli sandwiches).

In order to talk about the interior, one has to actually see right? Well I can’t offer much because it was so darn dark inside! I mean so dark, that I could not read my program at any point of the experience, from one hour before tipoff, to during the game to halftime. Purposely, I arrived 90 minutes early to check everything out and snap pictures. Half of that time was me waiting in my seat for the lights to turn on, but they never did…so I settled for crappily lit photos taken during the game. I understand a few NBA teams like that effect (Lakers, Knicks) to showcase the court, but jeez when you can’t read in your seat, are tripping over people’s feet in the aisles or struggling to see getting up stairs…it’s probably time to turn up the lights.

Aside from that huge annoyance, the inside is decent enough, but I liked the AT&T Center down in San Antonio a little better (Barclays had some obstructions from glass partitions in my section and additionally the arena does not have a true stand-out feature). I’ll save the in-depth discussion for the detailed review. But my impressions of the arena started sky-high and then settled a little bit once inside watching the game. Despite the highly-controversial building and development, I do think Brooklyn is a much better home and place for the Nets than New Jersey was. The crowd was lively, but needed to be prompted by the scoreboard or PA to make more noise or chant a little bit. Ironically, this was my second NBA game and both games featured an opponent that was last-place in the Western Conference. The home team had cruised to a win during each game, though Sacramento had a little run before Brooklyn blew them out to open the fourth quarter. Overall, it was a great day in a city that is mostly happy to have a professional franchise back.

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Monmouth’s MAC

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 2, 2014

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It was not too long ago that I paid Monmouth a visit, as their new basketball arenaopened in 2009 with a weekend series against FIU and then nearby Seton Hall. I went to the Seton Hall game and it was at this contest that a couple rules came to me when making a stadium visit. #1. After a new building opens, I should wait a year or two so that they get the kinks out and fix any necessary tweaks (this proved important on holding off before seeing Citi Field). #2. Don’t see a game against a rival or big-name opponent (which tends to skew atmosphere and fan support). I’ve stuck with this little mini-pack lately and been pleased, but I wanted to get back to Monmouth to see a conference game after they have settled into their comfy confines.

A fight through some late Jersey rush-hour traffic got me to the game about seven minutes into the contest as I scurried through the parking lot to the main lobby. They put the box office outside on the side of the building, which is not a good spot and I missed it, having to ask a clearly perturbed woman at will-call where it is (she’s probably been asked a thousand times). The inconvience was made up by the sales guy who gave me a much cheaper student ticket. The arena name couldn’t be more generic (Multipurpose Activity Center or MAC), but the inside is lively and a first-class facility inside the team’s new conference home (MAAC). Though it is a sorta pull-out gym with the stands folding in and out as it sits on an indoor track, once your sitting and watching, the cozy interior is comfortable with great sightlines and aesthetics. One thing I was hoping would improve is the decorative feature of the entrance hallway (Leon Hess Champions Hall). Unfortunately it remains the same as what I saw four years ago, with a distinct lack of displays and the feel of student union as opposed to an arena concourse honoring athletics.

My guess of 1500 fans in attendance was reflected in a surprisingly accurate official attendance number (1,475). Not exactly a big crowd and while this is fairly close to their league average this season of 1828, that average attendance ranks third in the MAAC. It was a typical crowd in terms of energy and it was nice to see they  produced loud cheers and applause after dunks and big plays. The Hawks were on a nine-game losing streak, but this contest was over before I knew it as I walked in and it was 25-13 in favor of the home side. Monmouth ran Niagara out of the gym and they had a lead of 30 at one point, before completing their last home game with a W. Keep an eye on Andrew Nicholas next season as he looked real good throughout, finishing with 27. Check out the full review of Monmouth’s arena as it has been updated. Next up, a trip to Brooklyn for a Sunday evening NBA game. This will be my second NBA arena (the other was AT&T Center in San Antonio) and am looking forward to the visit. I even saw the Rangers playing an afternoon game, so I’ll be working on trying to get to both as I want to see the renovated MSG.

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St. John’s Basketball

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 20, 2014

Carnesecca Arena Interior

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Most are familiar with Madison Square Garden as being the home of St. John’s Red Storm basketball, however unlike many of their other compatriots in the Big East, the Johnies do have an on-campus home in Queens. This was a straight-forward trip as I didn’t venture around the area and just went straight to the game. Surprisingly, it was very easy to get to the small catholic university. By using I-295 off the Throgs Neck Bridge, Exit 2 onto Union Turnpike made for an easy find and though the Red Storm website is terrible regarding where to park, I found a huge open lot right near the gym. And the best part coming/going….no traffic!

The arena was known as Alumni Hall for quite awhile before it was renamed to honor popular coach Lou Carnesecca. Despite its 53 year age, a recent refurbishment really makes the place look good. The opening entrance way includes several nice displays and a decent segment designated to Louie (it even has one of his sweaters!). Aside from the awkward location of the ticket scanners (they are on the sides, not right after the initial entrance and security screening), this area is a nice introduction. Inside, is an arena with three sections of sideline seating from top to bottom. What I really liked was the clean look which included a form of carpeting on the walkways, re-done ceilings and bright red throughout the building. While the building has a nice aesthic look, comfort level is certainly not optimal as it is quite cramped in the higher sections. I could barely stand and move my legs in to let someone pass by when walking thru an aisle. The tight quarters are especially pronounced near the lone primary concession stand, which is in the middle of a tight hallway.

Most Red Storm games in Carnesecca Arena come in the early season and against non-conference foes. Occasionally, a weeknight conference game is played here, but typically Big East contests are at the Garden. The game I saw was late in the year but against out of league Dartmouth. About two-thirds of the place was full and most of the students weren’t back on campus yet. It was a fine atmosphere, nothing special, but not lacking noise either. It was a little subdued as the Johnies were coming off a 5 game losing streak. After a second half in which the Big Green competed well and stayed within striking distance, St. John’s eventually dominated the second half as the visitors only shot 27%. Interesting sidenote, take a read down the Red Storm roster to find some intriguing names like: God’sgift, Sir’Dominic and JaKarr. With Visit #145 wrapped up, I’ll have a review done hopefully by the weekend and then a Stadium Journey review next week.

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