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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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Yale Bowl – Wonderfully Historic, yet Literally Falling Apart

Posted by Sean Rowland on September 29, 2013

Yale Bowl Interior

On a sun splashed afternoon perfect for football, Stadium Visit #140 was a historic one. Built in 1914 and site of some amazing moments, the Yale Bowl would be my fifth Ivy League stadium. Last April, we visited New Haven and Yale for a baseball game across the street, so Saturday was just for football as the slightly over two hour drive went smoothly. A winding, yet well-directed path led my car to lot D, where plenty of quiet tailgates with old alums were going on in the grassy field. It was a nice, welcoming atmosphere and everyone I encountered on this trip was very pleasant. Walking to the stadium, I had to rub my eyes a couple times trying to figure out if this was really it. The bowl is built below ground, so aside from the press box, fans just see a low-surrounding wall and then some tall grass above. Very peculiar and unexpected, yet the design was revolutionary for the time and it is a marvel when you think that the giant bowl was essentially excavated. After walking around the outside pathway, through the long tunnel I went for that always awesome moment of first reaching the inside of a new stadium.

The place definitely has a wow factor and I spent a minute just gazing. It is quite an amazing sight and while there is nothing architecturally earth-shattering about a 62,000 seat literal bowl, the thought that it was the first of it’s kind and 99 years old has an impact. After taking it all in, my eyes focused a little more to the closer surroundings, where I realized that in it’s current state, this is not such an ideal stadium. Every one of the seats is a blue, wooden bleacher that looks every bit like they’ve been there a century. Most of these bleachers are crumbling as there are paint chips and broken wooden pieces everywhere and there are even broken seats and concrete stairs. It feels like the stadium seating is falling apart. Walking the aisles is a hazardous operation thanks to the potential giant splinters, while sitting in the seats comfortably is an impossible task, especially since my 6’2″ frame barely fit. The best a fan can hope for is to seek out a wooden bleacher seat that is less splintered than the others. While I greatly appreciate and admire the history of this famed bowl, the uncomforable-ness is hard to overlook.
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Yale Bowl Seating

The game was Yale’s home opener and there was a nice turnout over 10,000 that came out to root on the Elis. The opponent was Cornell and interestingly enough, I have seen the Big Red in four of the five Ivy League stadiums visited. Yale’s start was impressive as they took advantage of a long kickoff return and then zipped down the field in their quick offense to score the first touchdown. The game slowed down after that and at the half it was tied at 10. In the second half, Yale bubble-screened the Big Red to death and dominated by scoring 28 unanswered. Receiver Deon Randall had all four of the touchdowns. Cornell had a couple meaningless scores late and the game ended 38-23. Harvard also opened 2-0 and I hope the Ivy title is on the line at the end of the season when The Game is played at Yale in what is a packed house and great atmosphere. It’s on NBC Sports Network (Nov. 23) this year and is worth a look. I will be working on a detailed review of Yale Bowl this week and a new review at Stadium Journey will be up as well. Have a great week!

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Baseball on an Island

Posted by Sean Rowland on August 19, 2013

Overhead image from Google Maps showing Harrisburg's unique Metro Bank Park on City Island

Overhead image from Google Maps showing Harrisburg’s unique Metro Bank Park on City Island

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The State Capitol of Pennsylvania was site of stadium visit #139 and this one had a little special meaning because it was the 12th and final ballpark visit of the Eastern League. I’m looking forward to recapping the league’s ballparks in the coming weeks and it was a nice achievement that didn’t really become a goal until I realized how close it was. Hopefully, plans in Ottawa fall through and they don’t come and ruin things anytime soon. Sunday was an unusually cool (but welcomed) August day and it rained through the morning, but just enough so you didn’t need the umbrella. I got to Harrisburg early to check out the city and was surprised at the charming architecture. Though the overall vibe feels more 1970s and 80s, there are several historic buildings interesting to look at. Also kudos to having several markers and descriptions around downtown describing the area and/or landmark. Highlighting the architecture is the State Capitol complex and after roaming the dead quiet streets, I stopped in for a tour. This is the 13th state capitol city I have been in, but only been able to visit a couple buildings. While not quite as impressive as the ones in Denver and Madison, this capitol does have amazing features and the paintings in both the Senate and House are incredible.

After the tour, I walked towards and over the Susquehanna River via “Old Shakey” The Walnut Street Bridge is a historic pedestrian bridge and it wasn’t until after the runners on the bridge made it bounce did I read the sign explaining this is normal, which was little help as I became a speed walker during the cross. The bridge extends from downtown to City Island, a very unique land area in the River that has developed into a recreational spot, especially for the kiddies. Mini-golf, pony rides, batting cages and a trolley attract families, while there is also a paddle boat that runs varius cruises throughout the summer. I took the Pride of the Susquehanna on a 45 minute tour and it was enjoyable. The captain had some good stories before the ride and then an audio recording took over on the boat. It was a strange ending though as the pre-recorded music after the narration was an odd mix of porno-style saxophone and early 90s R&B.

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Metro Bank Park Interior

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Also on the Island are sports facilities. Since 1987, the AA Harrisburg Senators have played at Riverside Stadium, now known as Metro Bank Park. Next door is a soccer field and the USL-Pro’s Harrisburg City Islanders play here. Holy crap is the Skyline Sports Complex terrible. It wouldn’t even pass as a high school field and yet a third division professional team calls this home. From the
bleachers to the “bench…yikes. I wonder what the players think when they travel up to Rochester and play in the same league at a soccer-specific venue. Anyway, back to the task at hand and baseball, because Metro Bank Park is a different story. This stadium has turned into a very nice ballpark thanks major renovations in 2008-2010. Despite the 80s architecture, I found the ballpark to now have a lot of character and really enjoyed the design. It almost had a bandbox feel to it and it is quite different (in a good way) than the standard 90s minor-league template. Though there is a home-plate facade, the main entrance is in the left-field corner and unlike New Hampshires awful entrance, this one is markedly better. It leads to what they call the “Boardwalk”, a concourse-like walkway that surrounds the stadium at seating level. This greatly enhances the otherwise buried concourse behind home plate. Throughout this outdoor boardwalk are small unique seating sections, including some in the outfield. There is also a new team store that is quite impressive. The main seating section behind home plate is covered partially by a roof and it has a cozy feel, though the cheaper aluminum base would be much better as concrete. Looking out to the field, the right-side features a stunningly sharp and large scoreboard, complete with fancy graphics. While crowds have improved the last few years thanks to the great renovations and some guys named Strasburg and Harper, the team still draws at the lower end of the Eastern League. This Sunday Afternoon crowd was at best a few thousand and they were treated to a quick-moving game that had nearly all of the action in the fifth inning. Thanks to some Senator miscues, Portland scored a pair of runs (to the delight of several Red Sox fans on hand) and Harrisburg countered with a solo home run in the bottom of the inning. The Senators had a shot to tie or win the game during the last frame, but Carlos Rivero left runners at 1st and 3rd to end the game.

Home teams have fallen to 2-6-1 on my first visit to their stadium in this year of 2013 and I would love to see that turn around. The next few days, I’ll be working on a detailed review of the whole stadium experience and that should be up soon. Barring any last-minute baseball playoff games, that should wrap up the ballpark season and we’ll look forward to football in September. One item of note regarding football, Stadium Journey just put out a Cookbook inspired by each NFL team. Included are items for tailgates and I’ve had a peak…the appetizers and entrees look awesome, especially from those in the NFC South. Check it out. I’ll be back next week with a run-down of each Eastern League Ballpark, then it’s off to football!
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Posted in Stadium Reviews | 1 Comment »

Love PPL Park…Dislike Media Credentials

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 30, 2013

PPL Park Interior|
When I started this whole venture some 11 years ago, I began with an interest on the stadium design. That quickly manifested into an interest with everything surrounding the stadium experience from a fan’s perspective. I have remained steadfast with that through the years as the site has grown, along with my work for Stadium Journey (incredibly going on my third year of writing there and enjoying it thoroughly). Even though the opportunity for a media credential has come up the last couple visits, I have turned it down in favor of a seat in the stands. However, on this trip to see the Philadelphia Union, it was difficult to turn this one down and I decided to give it a shot. The experience assured me that sitting with the fans is where I want to be.

Prior to arrival at PPL Park, I was notified that my name would be on the parking list for the media in Lot B. It was not. Thankfully, the attendants were very nice and when I explained who I was and contacted, they let me through. Unable to find the media gate after walking around the stadium, I finally spotted it, only to reach the table and learn my name was not on the credential list. After a quick minute, staffers tracked down my contact and let me in with a new pass. After finishing my walking and picture-taking of the concourse and interior bowl, it was time to head up to the press box (very strange for me to write that). I reached a three-level room feeling completely out of place as all the writers had their laptops and cell phones at their counter space. Awkward ol’ me took out my Mead 3×5 notepad, camera and program. I tried to absorb it all for a little bit, including sampling the media buffet as I got ready to watch the game from up top. One problem with the actual watching of the game: there was a giant metal post in my way! (see picture below). My seat was most impacted, but there were certainly others in the room that had to deal with this obstruction. I have no idea, maybe this is a common thing since this is a such a new stadium, but it was remarkable to me how the people writing about the game couldn’t completely see the field, while those in the seats had no issue. This partition, in addition to being secluded from the game atmosphere, led me to leave after ten minutes of game-time in search of a seat in the packed stadium. I settled by standing behind the seats on the party deck (which I got into since I was coming downstairs from the media level). From there, I was able to scope out corner seats that were open and moved there for the second half. Needless to say, my original mission and thoughts remain as adamant as ever. No press box, No suites, I want to be in the seating bowl with the fans.
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None of this diminishes my thoughts on PPL Park…what a beautiful soccer venue! Set on the banks of the Delaware River in Chester (about 10 miles SW of Philly), the Park’s defining feature is the view of the river and the towering Commodore Barry Bridge. Highly recommend sitting on the west side of the stadium (Sections 102-112) for not only shade, but to also take full advantage of the view. The stadium design is excellent too, with overhangs on the sidelines and a sleek one-level seating bowl that is pleasing to the eye. Philadelphia’s faithful supporters are the Sons of Ben, a group created even before the Union and they were instrumental in getting an MLS franchise. The group is named after Philadelphian Ben Franklin and they sit at the river end, singing and chanting songs like “Four Leaf Clover” “Philadelphia” and “C’mon the U”. The Union have drawn fans very well their first four seasons and the rest of the crowd is fully engaged and quite knowledgeable. Not to mention loud, as evidenced by this roar from a goal. This is a sports mad city and the Union have taken residence with the region’s other big franchises.

The game was thrilling, but not one that ended well for the home side as boos reigned down from people familiar with supplying them. The Union struck first as a long throw in from Sheanon Williams was headed home by Amobi Okugo in the 20th minute. FC Dallas had the equalizer a few minutes later and they went to the break 1-1. In the 68th minute, JeVaughn Watson for Dallas was sent off and Philly spent the late minutes trying to win. Finally, a cross was finished off by sub Aaron Wheeler and the Union looked poised to win with just minutes left. In the 90th minute, FC Dallas was pressing and Williams cleared the line to save the game. It wasn’t until I got home that I saw the replay and it looked to have been a goal. It wasn’t over however as in the dying moments, Dallas was awarded a free kick from midfield. Goalie Zac MacMath attempted a catch on the long ball, lost control and the scramble went Blas Perez’s way who tied the game remarkably in the 95th minute. The Union had one more chance at the end, but failed and the game ended in a 2-2 tie that felt like a loss. It also felt like a loss for me, as this was the first tie I’ve witnessed in 136 prior stadium visits

Look for an official PPL Park review on the right side of the page in the coming days and I’ll have an updated review over at Stadium Journey as well.

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