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Spending Time with the Corner Crew and the Wolf Pack

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 10, 2018

It’s been a very cold and snowy start to the winter here in the East, so I felt fortunate to squeeze this trip in as it is rare to get a schedule to cooperate for two games in the Lake Effect Snowbelt. My drive up to Rochester was uneventful and timing couldn’t have been more perfect as I arrived at RIT’s Gene Polisseni Center right as the gates opened at 5:30 PM. That gave me plenty of time to take a tour at this beautiful facility built in 2014. The entrance is my favorite part of the arena as you enter into an atrium at ice-level that is accented by orange walls and a holographic-like Hall of Fame display. Given that this is the Rochester Institute of Technology, it was cool that they showed their stuff by having a pretty neat Virtual Reality experience. Upstairs, the area above the seating allows more room to walk around, view displays, get food or use the standing rail to watch the game. It’s probably one of the best concourse set-ups I’ve seen for a small hockey arena. The bowl itself rounds the rink in standard fashion and it is adequate, though the seats are a little tight. 

The most enjoyable part of the arena experience is the Corner Crew, RIT’s student section. While the rest of the crowd was surprisingly sparse and quiet, these guys and gals in Section 118 made their presence known. They were full of chants and choreographed cheers with my favorites being their rendition of “Happy And You Know It”. Their arm-bopping to “Jump Around” was great too. I got to see their post-goal traditions three times and it involves a siren, bell and “We want _#, It’s all your fault”. I’ll have some videos up on YouTube after the official review. The section doesn’t quite reach the level I saw at Michigan last year, but RIT has a noteworthy solid group nonetheless. The action on the ice was great as Sacred Heart went back and forth with the Tigers. RIT’s goals were quite entertaining, while the Pioneers were quite fortunate. They had a fluky goal in the 2nd period that came from a hot rebound off the backboards. After RIT lost the lead in the 3rd, the game went to OT and with less than 10 seconds to play, Sacred Heart was the benefactor of a bouncing puck that hopped into the air, bounced around, and eventually landed on the goalie’s back, where it barely fell over the goal line. Rough loss for RIT, though Sacred Heart did carry most of the play in the final 25 minutes.

The next day, I briefly stopped back at RIT to get some outdoor arena pictures (never fun with bare hands when it’s 25 degrees) and then made the drive to Olean. Similar to my last trip in 2002, I ran into light snow as I got into the Allegheny Mountains. This thankfully didn’t stick to the roads, but it made for a classic Winter background as I reached Saint Bonaventure. The setting may be pretty, but this is a campus that looks like it is stuck in the 1970s and the generally dull brick buildings don’t help with appearances, though a few statues add unique elements. The Reilly Center has a similar vibe with occasional wood-paneling and white-tile ceiling. It is an especially funky building with its numerous hallways and corridors that lead to many non-basketball things. It’s not everyday that you see a post office, a bookstore, a cafeteria and a replica of the Declaration of Independence all in the same building that houses a sports arena. Inside, it’s a simple facility with sideline seating that is broken up twice by a walkway. On the ends, there are small bleachers that contain students and the pep band before quickly reaching a wall. I was particularly interested by the seats that seemed original based on the wooden armrests and the unique cushions, that were quite comfortable.

Saint Bonaventure has always been regarded as a tough place to play and the Reilly Center was absolutely rocking for this one. Buffalo was in town and they came in undefeated and ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in their history. The Bulls showed why as they ran over the Bonnies, dominating from start to finish in an 80-62 win. Yet, it was the fans I noticed the most as they are so loud and into it. The place went bonkers when the Bonnies cut the lead to 15 (that’s 15!) as people got on their feet trying rally them on. The students were crazy loud, but they were also out of line and exceptionally vulgar. Just before the teams came out, they chanted “F*#& UB”. Thankfully, they didn’t do that during the game, but c’mon it’s a Saturday Afternoon and there were plenty of kids on hand. The rest of the way, the group chants were acceptable (I’m ok with “You Are Ug-ly”), but there were a few individual shouts that crossed the line. I loved the passion and volume of the Reilly Center, but occasionally cringed at the student section, especially from a school that preaches Franciscan Values.

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Villanova Stadium Stinks and the Gorgeous Giant Center

Posted by Sean Rowland on November 11, 2018

Last week, I said I didn’t mind the cold as long as it was dry. I lied. My 155lb body struggles mightily to retain heat and the 40 degree, 30 MPH conditions on the Main Line just outside of Philadelphia made it a bear to get through the football game at Villanova. Despite the few fans in attendance, I struggled to find a spot in the stadium that was protected by the wind until the second half, where I decided to stand in a corner to get some wall protection. In between, were trips to the tiny bathroom under the main stand, where others joined to crowd around a space heater. It’s too bad that Villanova’s Stadium disappointed as well. There is a set of bleacher stands on each sideline, but they are pushed back because of a track and they are low to the ground, meaning that sightlines throughout are poor. Even worse was the lack of a concourse as two tiny openings under the bleachers led to a bathroom. People maneuvering around the stadium need to use the track or a walkway in front of the seats. Just a poor facility all around. Most of the fans abandoned the game in the second half and they missed a late Villanova comeback. The Wildcats were down 24-7 to William & Mary in the 4th Quarter and they eventually cut the lead to seven. Villanova had a pair of attempts at the end, but they fumbled and had a loss of downs to lose 24-17. Before the game, I did take a bit of time to walk around campus and it is a really pleasant one. Most impressive is the Saint Thomas of Villanova Church. I’m looking forward to getting back here for a look at their renovated basketball arena.

The next two hours were spent warming in the car on the way to Hershey, PA, where I would have my second look at an AHL facility that is at the tops of the arena rankings. Giant Center is a great building that is really clean and features plenty of historical displays that rightfully honor minor league hockey’s most storied franchise. The inside has an excellent design for hockey. The arena has some character (like the chocolate coloring all around), while checking off all the requisite boxes. I did note a few things that I didn’t pick up last time: the concourses are very crowded and some of that has to do with unnecessary merchandise stands that stick out into the walkways. Also, the upper deck here is really high as the middle suites and wall seem taller than normal, thus pushing them upwards. When I do the re-review in the next week, we’ll see if Hershey holds it place at the top and I have a hunch they will as the place still shines. Fans remain great here and though the arena was 60-70% full, it was a loud building. They make the atmosphere stand out with their “B-E-A-R-S Wooooo” cheer after goals and their old school jeering of referees and heels from the visiting team. Even after the game, calls of “Woooo” resonated throughout the parking lot as fans went home happy with Hershey beating Springfield 3-2. Getting out featured a lot of congestion as a high school football game at nearby Hersheypark Stadium finished around the same time. Otherwise, it was smooth sailing on the ride back home.  

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Football with Harvard and BC

Posted by Sean Rowland on October 1, 2018

It was a cool, drizzly start to the day as my brother and I headed out from New Jersey, just after the Morning Rush. The nearby steady rain moved faster to the northeast than our drive and it was nice that our walk around the area would be mostly dry. Boston is one of the cities I vow to never drive in, so we parked in the Alewife Station and took the T a few stops to Harvard. More on that horrible train station later. Cambridge is a cool hybrid between a city and college town and we explored on foot before taking a tour of Harvard. If you want to save money, avoid the ~$20 “Hahvahd Tour” that is advertised in the Square and head to the Information Center building on Dunster Street to sign up for a free, student-led tour. Our guide did a nice job and we enjoyed the introduction to the famed school. Campus had it’s nice spots, but I’ve been to plenty of other Universities that were much more appealing. Dinner was an early one at the Russell House Tavern.

It was a 15-minute walk down JFK Street from dinner to reach Harvard Stadium. The sight was one to behold as the historic building appeared and I felt we were a world away in Greece. The concrete exterior full of open archways gave way to a horseshoe-shaped interior that featured a walkway around the top, framed by Greek-like columns. Even more ancient were the seats, err, I mean concrete slabs that were equally fascinating and uncomfortable. While the debate between comfort and nostalgia raged in my head, there was no denying the terrific sightlines in the bowl and the close proximity to the field. The game below featured a 2-0 Crimson team that took on Rhode Island and it was the Rams that got the road victory. Their QB, JaJuan Lawson didn’t seem to miss in the first half. As Rhody slowed down in the second half, Harvard made a comeback and they cut the lead to 23-16. However, their four chances with possession in the final seven minutes all failed to get a touchdown and the Rams went back to Kingston happy.

The walk back to the T station in Harvard was pleasant thanks to the acoustic outdoor vibes as people were enjoying a Friday Night out. The subway ride was simple enough, but it was the awful Alewife station that hampered the departure. Aside from the fact that the parking garage itself is literally a hazard by falling apart, we could not find our way back to the car thanks to the lack of signage. Arriving from a part of the station that is not connected to the deck is not obvious for visitors. After figuring out where we were via Google, we then searched forever for a pay station and while signs are abundant to pay for exiting, machines are just the opposite. I gave up as the place started to get creepy and we ended up at the actual exit with no way to turn around. As I put my flashers on to go on the hunt again, a worker came up from the crypt to let me pay with a Credit Card. Ugh that place is a disaster.

Once we got out of Alewife, the hotel in Waltham provided a good night sleep and we headed out to Boston College a little after 9 AM. We weren’t a season-ticket holder, nor planning on tailgating for $40, so we used a satellite parking deck in Needham, then took a shuttle over to Chestnut Hill. Not that I’m advocating getting rid of jobs, but the folks at LAZ Parking should reconsider how many are needed to direct cars into the 5th floor of a parking garage in a business complex on a Saturday. It was comical to the point of laughing out loud at the double digit number of employees it took to “direct” you up a ramp and then point to the obvious location of the shuttle bus. Well, it’s better than the opposite and if I have to park away from the stadium, BC did a great job making the process seamless. We purposely got there early, so that we could walk around and take in the sights on this gorgeous campus. Everyone will want to go check out Harvard, but Boston College is the prettier one and well worth a look. As one of the first college’s to be designed in the Gothic style, Gasson Hall is exquisite and Bapst Library beautiful. Campus is hilly and to get to Alumni Stadium, we walked down several flights of stairs, where we reached a nice mix of tailgaters along Campanella Way. 

The Stadium itself isn’t anything special as the bleachered layout features a complete lower deck and then four, separate sections comprising of an upper deck. I did find the attachment with Conte Forum to be unique and was happy to see it open for exploring (they even use concession stands inside as they share the area with the stadium). I also found Alumni Stadium to be intimate and the setting to be nice, especially from the East Stands with Gasson Hall in the background. The game was against Temple, making it a “Conference” game in my fantasy world. You see, I’m a firm believer of geography dictating conferences and I was one that really disliked BC’s move to the ACC. I get it, but don’t like it. So, my conference (let’s call it the “Big East”) would be: Boston College, Buffalo, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse and Temple. Hate away Happy Valley! The game was a high-scoring affair and BC continued piling up points with their no-huddle offense. They won 45-35 and RB A.J. Dillon was stellar again with 161 yards and 2 TD on the ground. At times, the game was entertaining, but I still am astounded to see how college football doesn’t get more flak for game length. This one was eight minutes shy of 4 hours and it featured way too many replay reviews. My brother and I passed the time by quoting Step Brothers and seeing how many situations we could apply the “Trophy Fish” line. The crowd was slow to arrive and for the most part, tepid, though they did rise to their feet and give a nice pop during touchdowns. Students showed up for the first half and then remarkably disappeared for the second half as less than 50% returned to their seats after the break. I did enjoy their sing-a-long to “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers. Didn’t know this was a new tradition and it was a nice surprise. I also liked “Ring the Bell”, something that made sense given the daily chimes that go off on campus.  

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Running Blog: Stadium Tripping in North Carolina

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 18, 2018

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It’s been a rough March weather-wise in the Northeast, but thank goodness we got a break for a few days, as a Glens Falls – Lake Placid hockey opportunity only becomes a possibility every one or two years. My brother drove down to Jersey the day before to spend time with my daughter/his niece and then we left Friday Morning. Before Glens Falls, we stopped in Saratoga Springs, about 30 minutes away. This ritzy town was enjoyable to walk through and after lunch, we went to Congress Park to unfortunately find the museum closed. The spring water was available though as the fountains were running with the famous “healing” power of the mineral water this place became known for way back in the day. I tried the first one and it was refreshing, but the second and third, I just couldn’t get past that horrendous sulfur spell and carbonation. Wasn’t able to get myself to try Hathorn Spring One while Eric wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot-pole.

We went to Glens Falls for dinner and met a friend at the Downtown City Tavern before going to the arena. It’s amazing this tiny town has had professional hockey for so long and still does in this day and age. They’ve been close to losing hockey recently, but local ownership stepped up and the Thunder are in their second ECHL season. The building is small, but lovingly old-school. Just an opening, rectangular lobby in the front with corner food stands on the inside as the oval bowl steeply circles the arena. Way too many advertisements though, I mean, an insane amount. Definitely need to stop with the annoying PA saying “It’s another Queensbury Hotel Icing” in a soft voice or his grating yell of the “Catseye Penalty Kill…Catseye!”. Outside of that, the atmosphere is great and it reminded me so much of my childhood days going to Rochester Amerks games. Fans knowing the Referee name, booing the scratching of a player, ringing cowbells. Even though the arena was half-full, the crowd really shined during the exciting Overtime session as the Thunder scored with 57 seconds left on a nifty, patient move by Shane Conacher as they beat the Fort Wayne Komets 3-2.
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On Saturday, we made the 1.5 hour drive from Glens Falls to Lake Placid. Mountain weather quickly showed it’s teeth as a seemingly quiet morning gave way to wind-whipped snow as we snaked to the resort town by running through blowing snow from fields onto roadways. We started at the Ski Jumping Complex, where the burning wind and occasional snow showers didn’t damper a trip up the ski lift. At the top, the area around the 120m tower had some cool signs and markers that we read before taking the elevator to the observation deck. Wow, what a view and what a feeling. The snow cleared enough to give us an amazing visual of the surrounding mountains. Then looking down at that jump, while watching kids going off the 90 meter was awesome.

Afterwards, we drove into bustling downtown and parked at our hotel on the other side, the Lake Placid Summit Hotel. Lunch was at Big Mountain Deli and we hopped in and out of shops along this charming little town. Along the way, I kept picturing myself back to 1980 to think about how the Olympics must’ve been. We also took a walk on frozen Mirror Lake, while watching kids play hockey and sled dogs cross to the other side. It feels like another world up here! Then it was onto the Olympic Museum, a small, but well-done summary of the Games and impacts on Lake Placid. There was a youth hockey tournament going on as well and with the Museum being inside the Olympic Center that houses both the ’32 rink and the ’80 rink, it gave us a chance to tour the facility and for me to be in dreamland. The displays in the arena are really well done and both the lower bowl and scoreboard are first class. The upper-level though is really poor as they redid it so there is just a small balcony of wooden bleachers with most of seats obstructed by railings. Also the walkway/concourse behind the bowl led to quite the traffic jams and intermission long lines. All of this I can put up with though to soak in the arena history.

More sightseeing in town eventually led to dinner, but we didn’t start early enough at our first choice: Smoke Stacks. An hour wait was too long, so we walked over to Delta Blue for a more manageable 15 minute wait. The Louisiana-based menu looked really good, but the food was just eh. In the ECAC Tournament the night before, Princeton upset Cornell while Clarkson came back from a 4-1 deficit to defeat Harvard in OT. Thank goodness, because team fan support would’ve been low if it was Princeton-Harvard. The Golden Knights brought a very large contingent from Potsdam just over an hour away. Their green and gold colors filled the streets all day and they outnumbered Tiger fans in the arena 10 to 1. Frequent chants of “Let’s Go Tech” went for naught as Princeton took a 1-0 lead. It was a classic “underdog hanging on” in the third period, as the Golden Knights just couldn’t find the answer. Things were bleak and Clarkson had one last chance…and it went in! a miracle! 😉 Nico Sturm’s deflection with 6.4 seconds left sent Herb Brooks Arena into hysteria as Clarkson fans went bonkers, jumping up and down all around. Eric and I just stared at each other with mouth’s wide open, soaking in the craziness. What a moment. The building digested what happened in the 15-minute intermission and my gut started swaying towards wanting Princeton. With Clarkson able to get an At-Large bid to the NCAA Tournament in spite of a loss, Princeton was win or go home and what a heartbreaking way for the go home part to happen. Yet, sure enough just 2:36 into the extra frame, Princeton’s Max Becker won it and the Tigers went crazy, celebrating their first ECAC title in ten years. They beat the #1, #2 and #3 seeds to do it with one of the conference’s most remarkable championship runs ever. The game capped a truly special weekend and the 15-minute walk back to the hotel in the -5 degree Lake Placid air was one I’ll never forget. For a sports and stadium nut like myself, I do believe.
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The Year In Visits – 2017

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 27, 2017

Locations of the Stadiums I visited in 2017

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2017 recovered nicely after a horrible start as a planned trip to Wisconsin was cancelled due to an injury. That rescheduled flight turned into a late-season trip to Michigan that went very smoothly. Throw in a vacation to the Deep South, a journey into Canada and some football in Maryland and you have quite a year. I was able to visit 14 new stadiums in 2017, bringing the tally to 190 overall. It’s been fun and memorable, so let’s take a look at the past year in stadium visits:

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Favorite New Stadium:  Yost Ice Arena……Yost got a high ranking of 77 and while fourteen other stadiums have been ranked higher, this gem will always hold a special place in my heart. The students are phenomenal and their “Children of Yost” section made the hockey game a must-see event. They are clever and creative with a zest for a new cheer, plus the pep band compliments them beautifully. Oh yeah and the old barn of an arena is a beauty too, especially on the outside.
………Honorable Mention: Crisler Center, Molson Stadium, Riverwalk Stadium

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Worst New Stadium:  Pete Taylor Park……Southern Miss has a mighty fine baseball program, but The Pete just does not live up to the product on the field. The ballpark feels pieced together and disjointed with day games being particularily uncomfortable. I did like The Grove as it is a cool idea for their tailgaters.
………Honorable Mention:
Paterson Field

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Favorite New City:  Montgomery, AL……For nearly 150 years, Montgomery had a forgettable history. In the last 20, they have really turned it around and this place is a great city to live and visit. Central Alabama will not come up for many thinking of vacation, but three days here is three days well spent. Plenty of historical sites, museums and downtown attractions made Montgomery my favorite city of the year.
………Honorable Mention: Biloxi, MS

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Most Memorable Moment:  Dylan Burdeaux Last Home At-Bat……A college-town community saying goodbye to a hard-working senior in his final regular season at-bat. This one got to me because of the genuine emotion showed both on the field and in the stands.
………Honorable Mention: No Socks Kid at Michigan

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Best Restaurant:  Zingerman’s Deli…..Going back to Ann Arbor for a second time meant that I had the opportunity to try Zingerman’s, which I missed the first go-round. It doesn’t matter if you are a little overwhelmed by the menu at first because any food decision you make here will be a good one. This place was so good, it made me ask to see if they ship deliveries (sadly, they don’t).  
………Honorable Mention: Cafe Gia in Baltimore, MD;  Robin Square in Montreal, QU;  Stockyard Grill in Montgomery, AL;

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Best In-Stadium Food:   Pit Beef Sandwich……The last time I had a city food stable in a stadium, it disappointed (smoked meat at the Bell Centre in Montreal). This was better. You’re still better off going to a local dive for the best Pit Beef, but I was pretty happy with the one I got at M&T and it kept me full through the game.
………Honorable Mention: Murky Waters BBQ at MGM Park 

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Best Game  Michigan vs Minnesota……This was a terrific hockey game and it was Minnesota who jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Michigan fought back and by intermission, it was 3-2. Goals then flew in to start the third as Michigan tied it on a beautiful no-look pass by Tony Calderone, only to see the Gophers get back in front 33 seconds later. Another Wolverine goal tied it up until we went to OT, where a scramble in front led to a power play score for Michigan as Alex Roos got the game winner for the home side.
………Honorable Mention: Montreal vs Saskatchewan
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Championship Teams:  Russellville High School……What I love about championship games at the High School level is that many of them are played in tenant-less stadiums or older facilities. Alabama’s High School Baseball Championship is split between two ballparks in Montgomery and that gave me a chance to add Paterson Field to my belt. Russellville took Game 1, which we attended, by a long margin and then after a defeat in Game 2, took the decider against Faith Academy. The Golden Tigers won their third straight AL title and they brought hundreds of friends and family to the championship series.
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Best Drive:  US-90 between Gulfport and Ocean Springs…..This drive brings both beauty and bad memories as the latter comes from thinking back to what Katrina did along and beyond this stretch of highway in coastal Mississippi. Yet, the beauty comes in the breathtaking scenery with the water and white sand on one side and a mix of fine sights on the other. Ocean Springs ended up being my favorite little town on the trip. 

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Worst Drive:  I-81 in NY between Syracuse and Cortland……This section of 81 is prone to snow given their elevation and geography. I knew I was pushing the envelope by taking a trip to Utica and Syracuse on a bitterly cold March weekend. Lake effect / Orographic snow turned out to be scary enough to strongly consider getting off the highway and crashing at a friend’s house in Tully. But just deviating from the tracks on the road was scary in and of itself, so I pressed on and breathed a deep sigh of relief once the snow let up near Marathon.

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Weather:  7-5-2……The 7 wins (no-issues weather): Flint, Baltimore, Montreal, Auburn, Montgomery (x2), Biloxi. For the 5 losses, we had a bitterly cold and windy day in Utica that made me reconsider taking exterior arena pictures. Southern Mississippi had me sweating under the sun on a hot afternoon. Towson football featured an unseasonably chilly wind that my summer-weathered body was not used to yet. Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor took that to another level on a 10-minute walk to the arena. Finally, I call the 2 “Ties” as situations that weren’t ideal, but didn’t have any bearing on the experience. Those were: rain heading to the arena in Ypsilanti and bitter cold on a much shorter walk to the Crisler Center.

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Best Side Trip:  Sloan Museum……I elaborated last month on how much I enjoyed my trip to Flint, Michigan and how unfair the city’s reputation is. While the Farmers Market in downtown is terrific, the Sloan Museum really takes the cake in terms of places to visit. Arguably one of the best museums about a city’s history that I have been to.
………Honorable Mention: Alabama State Museum in Montgomery, Biloxi Tour Train in Biloxi, Historic Ships in Baltimore

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Michigan Wrap-Up, plus Flint is Fun!

Posted by Sean Rowland on November 14, 2017



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My “winter-sport” trip began appropriately as it was freezing, both in New Jersey and when I arrived in Michigan, where I wouldn’t see the temperature break 40 F the whole trip, despite the calendar saying November. The flight was on time and after about 10 minutes of initial bumpiness, smooth. Lack of earlier sleep made me opt for a brief hotel nap instead of a quick visit to the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments in Ann Arbor. I staggered back to my feet for dinner and Zingerman’s Delicatessen was just what I needed, a hearty delicious meal. Zingerman’s has a crazy consortium of buildings and once I navigated it to the menu and ordering section, the big board blew me away. So many yummy choices! As badly as I wanted to try their renowned corned beef, I opted for #85, JVW’s Detroit St BBQ. It was then onto Yost Ice Arena for a bucket-list visit.

Yost is a historic old building evidenced on the outside by the brick facade and field house appearance. Inside, the renovations are obvious as the concourse displays and center scoreboard are most notable in regards to updates. The seating is awkward in that overhanging club sections make for a closed and almost obstructed appearance for the back four rows on each side. The design is such that each side has flat seating, so the corners are not a desireable place to sit. The inside does not do the exterior appearance justice and that’s because this is not an original hockey rink as it was retrofitted to become one in the 70s. What makes Yost special is the atmosphere thanks to the students and band. They were both phenomenal and made for a really fun place to watch a game. There are only a handful of stadiums that I have been to where I left craving more and thinking about the game for days after. This was one of them. Their “Sieve” chant is terrific and so is their originality, evident by the 10-year-old kid who joined them after the students went bonkers as he obeyed their request by taking his socks off on the zamboni ride. And that band! My opinion they have the best three-song combo in the country (Hail to the Victors, Lets Go Blue and Can’t Turn You Loose). The game was phenomenal as well after things looked bleak when Minnesota grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second period. The Wolverines came back and the game went to OT before Michigan’s Alex Roos put home the winner. Great experience that lived up to my lofty expectations.
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Saturday, I made the hour trip up US-23 to Flint. This is certainly a city that has it’s share of struggles, but media portrayal makes it seem like this is the worst place in the world and no one should step foot there. Absolutely not the case. As a visitor, I found enough to entertain me for the day. People were warm and in my driving and walking, I never felt concerned or threatened. I started in the Flint Cultural Center, a complex developed several decades ago to enhance quality of life for locals. I spent a couple hours in the Sloan Museum, which had a history of the city and several intriguing exhibits. There is also a huge kids section and it was quite popular, with the Clifford section being busiest. I love museums and have been fortunate to see some real good ones of late as Sloan ranks up there with the Alabama State Museum I saw earlier in the year. For lunch, I went downtown and explored the Flint Farmers Market, a year-round local shopping/eating destination. This place had everything and after a nice lunch at Steady Eddy’s, I wandered for awhile and bought a few things to bring back home. After a quick walk down historic Saginaw Street, it was off to Dort Federal Event Center for an OHL game with the Flint Firebirds. This building certainly shows signs of its 1969 birth, but a refurbishment has improved it into a quality OHL arena. Seating is simple and decent, while I really liked the concourse, which was baseball style as fans could walk around and still see the ice. It just needs more in the way of color and displays. The Firebirds had this game at 3 PM as it was part of a Veterans Day celebration that was very well done. The team did a lot of great honoring and there was even an Oath of Enlistment between periods. Unfortunately, the Firebirds fell to the Soo Greyhounds 8-2 as poor goaltending, penalties and some quality shot-making did Flint in.
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For the next game, I was eagerly watching the clock and my phone as traffic was building due to construction on 23-South. A huge thank you to Google Maps and technology as during my drive back to Ann Arbor, they deftly maneuvered me around 20 minutes of traffic and got me to the Crisler Center an hour before gametime. I needed every minute of that time as the arena is remarkably modern after a 2012 renovation. Concourse displays had so much for me to take in and I was really impressed at the crisp, clean nature of the building. I’ve always viewed Crisler as a dark and blah arena on the inside from my college basketball following and that is partially the case. However, arena seating is comfortable and their lack of a suite deck (replaced by “Champions Boxes” on a would-be middle walkway), makes for solid sightlines. Typical of most Power 5 programs, this non-conference game only filled half the building as the Wolverines played North Florida in a close one. Not until 10 minutes left, did Michigan pull away and the Ospreys look to have the capability to challenge for the A-Fun title this year. The students, while not as energetic or vocal as their Yost brethren, did fill their sections.
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On Sunday, I spent the morning doing work-related stuff before heading to Ypsilanti. With rain falling and the thermometer nervously flirting with 32, I was thankful not to find any ice and that the temperature gradually climbed through the day. The Convocation Center was the destination as Eastern Michigan basketball took on Michigan, Dearborn that is. A non-D1 school is not out of the ordinary for the Eagles as they play around four per season. Their arena is a nice building, one of the best in the MAC. The spacious lobby a nice welcome and the interior is designed well for basketball. They have a beautiful scoreboard too. Unfortunately, not many see it as I counted about 350 in attendance and that’s not far from the norm as the team usually is last in league attendance. The Eagles predictably won, but it was an entertaining affair that had good pace. Final score: 97-73 over the Wolverines. I know their part of the UM system, but why can’t Dearborn use their own nickname and logo?

After the game it was off to DTW for a flight back home. A very successful and fun trip and thank you to those involved. 4 stadiums in 3 days: Yes! I will have the reviews on each one in the coming weeks.
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Baltimore Ravens and Towson Tigers

Posted by Sean Rowland on October 2, 2017

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Seasonal tolerance is a funny thing. After a week of near 90 degree late-season heat, temps in the 50s and low 60s certainly made a football trip more bearable, but man, did I need to layer up as we began on Saturday. My brother and I arrived in Baltimore late in the morning and Parking Panda was clutch in scoring a good garage at a decent price. Those that haven’t been, make it a future destination as I just love the Inner Harbor. Even if it’s not to see an attraction, grab a seat and watch a street performer on the weekend. We did do some paid stuff in the form of the Historic Ships and the Observation Deck. Both awesome. For the ships, if you are short on time, go with the Constellation and the Torsk (the submarine). For lunch, we took a walk to Little Italy and had a filling meal at Cafe Gia with a pastry at Vaccaro’s.

The first stadium visit was about 20 minutes north in Towson, where the FCS Tigers took on Villanova. We arrived to a pretty crappy parking situation as the stadium lots were full 45 minutes before game time, that led us to a garage a good distance from Johnny Unitas Stadium. And this was just with the place at a quarter of the capacity! Inside, the stadium is built in a hill, offering a neat perspective. They made a lot of renovations not too long ago and that has made the concourse, food options and displays pretty decent. For detail, check out the review coming later in the week. Seating is just ehh as it is mostly sideline bleachers that are distanced because of a track. The Tigers struggled in what was a real sloppy game that featured 7 total turnovers. Villanova capitalized on a couple in their end during the second half and those scores led to a 24-9 victory. One of the highlights at Unitas Stadium is the Towson Marching Band, who put on a great show and entertained with plenty of numbers during the game.

Sunday we woke up to brilliant sunshine, which remained with us all day. M&T Bank Stadium is near downtown and since we weren’t tailgating, it was super clutch to get a $10 lot in the city and walk a mile to the game. It also allowed for a cost effective, easy exit. We got there quite early to do the Ravens Walk, which is a great pathway to the stadium along Eutaw Street that features entertainment, freebies and food. While Eric immersed himself in the swag, I walked the stadium with an exterior look including the two statues (Johnny Unitas and Ray Lewis). Inside, nothing really set the stadium apart, except for the purple seats. The design is fine, but I don’t like the upper-deck because of the non-continuous flow thanks to the awkward corners, plus they are high and far due to the double-decked suites below. What I did really love was Baltimore’s Marching Ravens. One of only two NFL teams with a band, I did my homework a few nights earlier and watched the wonderful 30 for 30 on their history dating back to the Colts era. Terrific story and the band did not disappoint in their performances. Those that did disappoint were the Ravens, who were abysmal in this one as they went down to the Steelers, 26-9. It wasn’t a good day for the fans either and while I still genuinely think that Baltimore has a great fan base, they did not look good. There were a surprising number of empty seats for a rivalry game on a perfect day and my eyeball count put the stands at 85% capacity. Then, we had the pregame debacle. To set the stage, the PA said something to the effect of the team would like a moment for prayer to reflect on equality. The fans cheered. Then the Ravens took a knee. The crowd booed. Loudly. The Ravens then stood back up and all stood before the anthem played. I am not here to get all political and I understand the sensitivity of the issue, but I sincerely hope that those booing fans just weren’t paying attention to the announcement and THOUGHT they were kneeling through the anthem. If that was not their thought, then yikes. Listening to conversations within my section, I heard no remorse for the booing, misdirected or not.

So for the second year in a row, social issues overshadowed a football game I attended. These intersections between Sports and Real World are certainly understandable and as I completely understand why it happens and hope that whatever issues occur lead to awareness and progress towards change to the good, I continue to follow sports and make sports trips as a distraction to real life. Life is hard and especially after not getting the horrors of what happened in Las Vegas last night out of my head, we all need an outlet to block out the stresses of life. Sports and travel do that for me and after 16 years of hitting the road to see a game, it will continue to be an outlet as long as I can do so.

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Alabama and Mississippi Trip

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 22, 2017

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Friday
Travel day #1 and it went ok as the first half was rain-free. We stopped halfway to check out the Shenandoah Caverns which included an hour in their underground cave. It’s pricey, but a good stop full of interesting visuals including the awesome Rainbow Lake (pictured above). Our 2-year old, Shayla, was excellent today in the car and enjoyed the Main Street of Yesteryear display. Part 2 of the drive was a struggle as a constant rain slowed things on 81 and the last hour got heavy enough where it was nerve wracking. Wearily, we arrived in Abingdon, VA and before checking in, ate at Luke’s Diner. Sorry, no Lorelai or Rory to be found.
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Saturday
Thankfully, we had much better weather on Day 2 as it was dry with clouds giving way to sunshine as we made our way through Tennessee and into Alabama. Our midway stop was in Gadsden, AL where lunch at a regional fast food joint (Jack’s) was followed by a few hours at Noccolula Falls Park. Glad the drought down here has improved and it also allowed for the water to flow into the beautiful Falls in the northern part of the park. Our final long drive dragged on the rather dull stretch of I-59 that goes into Mississippi. But I’ll take dull scenery anyday over tough driving. We reached Hattiesburg in the evening and starving, I was very much looking forward to good Barbecue at Leatha’s. After the
good reviews I read, I was sure this would deliver. Wrong! I left so disappointed and discouraged, it kinda ruined the night. A waitress/server, didn’t come by until 10 minutes in, then they told us no chicken, just pork left. Bad news for my wife (Cheryl), who doesn’t eat pork. She was gracious enough to stay and just eat the sides knowing how bad I wanted Southern BBQ. So we waited and waited, until 45 minutes later finally getting food. I understand the slowness, but the disappointing part is not once having their staff let us know how long it would be, or even check on us during the meal. Even worse, they talked to EVERY other table but ours and was friendly with them. They didn’t even say goodbye to us. It’s not like we’re not friendly, was it because our accents gave away we’re Northerners? Errrr and the food was just ok, pulled pork was fatty and I’ve certainly had tastier. Better days ahead.
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Sunday
Hopes of sleeping in were dashed by a 6 AM Shayla wake-up, but that was ok because we went to the elegant campus entrance and rose garden at Southern Miss before it got too hot. This would be the only day where the family would separate as the ladies went to the zoo and I saw college baseball under the afternoon sun (well, I did grab a seat where there was limited shade). The Golden Eagles took on UAB and their 8-0 shutout win gave USM the conference regular-season title. It wasn’t a big crowd at Pete Taylor Park, but they were appreciative and supportive of their players on Senior Day. My favorite ballpark feature was The Grove, where trucks lined up down the right-field line and outfield to tailgate and watch the game. Very cool. After the game, we drove through the Pine Belt to the Gulf Coast, where dinner was much better this time as we ate at Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant in Ocean Springs. This is a beautiful town and we spent the rest of the evening strolling the boardwalk.
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Monday
We moved on to Biloxi, where it was a beach morning before climbing the Lighthouse and seeing the Visitors Center. We also took the Biloxi Tour Train, led by the wonderful Carla. This was a great tour of the city as it is a fascinating place with a history and present worth exploring. Carla also talked (and showed) Katrina and my heart broke at the sights and stories. Media focuses(d) on New Orleans, but these coastal communities were destroyed as well. After heading back for a Shayla nap we went to Ballpark #2 on the trip: relatively new MGM Park. The Shuckers arrived just a few years ago from Huntsville and their home is near the center of the city as the massive Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino towers over right field. An impressive sight, but one that does block a beach and water view. The ballpark does not have a front entrance, thus leading to a continuous concourse wall and an area more exposed than usual as the suites are set further back. Unfortunately, the Braves blew out Biloxi, ending my 7-game winning streak. This was Shayla’s first sporting event and she spent 75% of the time fascinated by “Big Bird”, aka Schooner, the team’s mascot.
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Tuesday
This day was more for the girls as we all started by visiting the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in nearby Gulfport, where Shayla had a blast in the two-story kids play area. I would love to have something like this back at home for her. We ate lunch at the peaceful Blow Fly Inn before continuing in Gulfport at the Marine Mammal Institute. Cheryl is a Veterinary Technician and the tour we took was a great behind-the-scenes look at their research and rescue. For dinner, we went to the Beau Rivage and sampled the pretty good buffet. The day was capped off with a perfect finale walking along the sand in Ocean Springs.
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Wednesday
We said goodbye to Mississippi and hello again to Alabama as we drove three hours to the capital in Montgomery. It was a food day that I very much enjoyed as our first stop was lunch at the Stockyard Grill, located where cattle are sold. I’ve never seen a place like it as people from all walks of life were eating: Police Officers, Ranchers, Businessmen, Retired Couples. It was a true blend of people enjoying darn good food and my Ribeye Steak was a perfect lunch. Dinner was at Martin’s, a Montgomery institution. Had to have the Fried Chicken and it was as good as expected. Two trends that I have noticed down here: You get the bill right after ordering, so does that mean dessert is supposed to be ordered with the meal? Second, they ask if you want your drink to go. I like that. In between food, we spent time at the Alabama State Museum. This was done very well and I could have stayed for hours. It has been a rough 300 years for this state, but the last few decades, life has improved quite a bit and I applaud this museum for their terrific displays and storytelling, despite challenging and sad subject matters. In the evening, we went to Paterson Field, a good example of an older stadium that has survived to serve an alternate purpose. They co-host the High School State Baseball Championships and we saw Game 1 of the 5A Final between Faith Academy and Russellville, who was looking for their third straight title. They looked well on their way with a 9-1 win. I was hoping for more character from the ballpark, which was built in 1949 and while the structure was all well and good, the lack of overhang and metal bleachers made for a generic place.
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Thursday
9.2 miles. That was how much walking I did, but the journey led to me falling in love with Montgomery. It’s a city that has had so much pain and trouble, but now it features a diverse population with plenty to do, good food, little traffic and increasingly trendy areas. First, we went to Old Alabama Town to spend the morning, which took us back to 1800s Alabama. We then took a step back in time with lunch at Farmers Market Cafe. More Wood Paneling! This Fried Chicken was better than yesterday’s at Martin’s. While, Cheryl and Shayla went back to nap at the hotel, I explored all around downtown. This included stops at Riverfront Park, The Alley, the Visitor’s Center in Union Station and the Rosa Parks Museum. We ate dinner at Dreamland BBQ and then went to Riverfront Stadium, which was awesome! I’ve seen plenty of ballparks do the train theme, but none have been more appropriate or effective than how Montgomery did it. The actual exterior is an old train station and inside, more old station decor sets the ballpark apart. It is a unique set-up as well. To make the game even better, we had a storm in the background, so I went to centerfield to watch the game with the city skyline and lightning in the background. Despite my astonishment that the game went on despite the electrical threat, it was a perfect evening. Except that the Biscuits got burnt (ooohhhhhh) as they lost to the Jackson Generals 12-6.
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Friday
Last day in Montgomery and we ventured out of downtown to the Zoo, which was crawling with school groups. Shayla enjoyed the animals, but the heat really bogged us down. I’ll take the heat in place of rain as it allowed us to achieve all of our plans. We had a little extra time before heading to Auburn, so we did the Capital Building tour and drove down Dexter Ave. When we got to Auburn, I had to make sure we stopped at Toomer’s Drugs to get a refreshing cup of lemonade, which was everything it was hyped up to be. As for “The Loveliest Little Village on The Plains”…meh. I mean it was quaint and nice and all, but maybe the “SEC is Greatest” mindset has me soured a tad. This is combined with little things that were annoying, like the lack of parking at our hotel and the ticket lady telling us that ALL fans needed a ticket and our 2-year-old couldn’t get in without one (despite her sitting on our lap). I will say campus was beautiful, as was Plainsman Park. Lots of team honors and great seating touches make this one of the best college ballparks in the sport, though I could do without the kitschy design features likes the Green Monster. The Tigers beat up on Ole Miss as they won 9-1, concluding a trip of complete blowouts (which doesn’t help a sport that can be dull to begin with).

Our long drive back home would be split into two days and there wasn’t much noteworthy with our stopovers. We had a great family trip to our country’s Deep South and it is an area I hope to return to for future sports journeys. Thank you to the weather, which was great since the rain stayed away. The stadiums I saw were pretty good and they should rate well when I get to completing their thorough review over the next month.

 

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Shivering in Utica and Syracuse

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 12, 2017

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Just like last year, this trip began by working a snow event as the day began at 2 AM. No rest for the weary as I immediately hit the road at 11:30 AM to try and thread the needle between the departing snow and returning snow squalls. It worked as the roads were fine as was the strategy of coming up to Utica from the east side (using I-87) to miss weather problems. Utica is a rust-belt city like many others in that initial prosperity faded as manufacturing and the population left. They’re now left with trying to rejuvenate areas and there are a few spots where it looks to be successful, like on Verick St. The interesting aspect of Utica is how it has become the home of many refugees as their stories and work ethic have given this city some lift.

My introduction to Utica was a slap in the face as I arrived to the Memorial Auditorium for outdoor pictures and I stepped out of the car to a biting 40 MPH wind and temperatures in the 20s. The time of year and preceding record warmth made this feel worse. After shivering through an exterior tour of the circular Aud, I checked into the hotel for an attempt at a few Z’s before the game. Dinner was at the excellent Delmonico’s, where I had a traditional Utica dish of Chicken Riggies. Game-time was 7 PM and I got there an hour before to take a tour and I was more than impressed, starting with the exterior. Inside, the small concourse featured so many displays and historical images of the city, arena and past teams, while inside is a rink built in 1960 that has a unique seating design. The most noticeable feature is the fanning out of cable wires, which made me think of MSG. Before the game, I got a good feeling about the atmosphere as Utica jerseys were aplenty and hockey talk abundant. However, when the game started…it was a disappointingly flat crowd. They barely noticed an impending PP and did little to induce noise. The fans did get better as the game went on though and they were quite vocal in the last two minutes. I also loved how most of the building lept to their feet after a goal, something you don’t see much of in the AHL. In addition, I know come playoff time, this is one of the loudest buildings in the league. Utica went on to win the game 2-1 and look for a full arena review (on the right) next week.

I woke up the next morning to a beautiful 7 degrees and chose to spend the morning catching up on sleep and reviews. Begrudgingly, I headed out late morning into the cold and made a visit to the Oneida County Historical Society. For lunch, I wanted to try a place really representative of the city and the refugee population has led to many, great ethnic restaurants. The largest group in the population are the Bosnian’s, so I went to Tarik’s Bakery and enjoyed an excellent lunch on a cold day. The owner helped me understand some of the dishes and I went with Burek and finished with a lemon dessert that was similar to Baklava. Great stuff! There is not much else to do in the city, so I stopped at Turning Stone Casino, before heading to Syracuse. I wish I remembered that the Boxing Hall of Fame was in nearby Canastota as the Thruway sign made me regret not doing that instead.
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In Syracuse, the last time I was here was to watch the Rochester Amerks win Game 7 in their first-round series against the Crunch in 2005. It was the most memorable game I have ever seen live thanks to the Amerks winning in OT. I do remember issues with the building, like our ticket being duplicated and it being stifling hot inside. Some things don’t change as this re-visit started with waiting in a cramped space too small for Will-Call as it didn’t open until 6 PM, forcing some to wait outside in the frigid cold and snow. Not a good start, but things got better inside as I took my tour around the 60+ year old building. Some stadiums are called “War Memorial”, but Syracuse takes this to heart. Remarkably poignant displays fulfill the concourse and ensure that the building is a true War Memorial. Take a look at some of these dedications (1, 2 and 3). The review has all the arena details and for this game, the Crunch fell in OT to St. John’s 3-2 in an entertaining affair. Overall, this is a building with character and one that is worth a trip in the AHL. Highlight of the game for me: Using the urinal next to a 6’6″ guy wearing a complete Hanson Brother outfit.
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