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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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A Harrowing Season Change

Posted by Sean Rowland on November 21, 2016

Schoellkopf Field Exterior

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This was a rare stadium trip that I was not looking forward to with my usual full enthusiasm for two reasons. First, I broke my finger playing football (Mallet Finger with a detached bone to be more precise), so the throbbing and annoyance of a splint along with the anxiety of an approaching hand specialist visit didn’t have me in the best of moods. Second, the beautiful weather was going to rapidly give way to snow and I feared for the drive back thru the Poconos. With that as a background, my journey up to Ithaca in the morning was delightful and I arrived at the Hoy Road garage a little early to do some exploring on the beautiful Cornell campus. Temperatures were in the 60s as I went with short-sleeves and I took a stroll to the Cascadilla Trail, where you could see why “Ithaca is Gorges”. I’ve been to Schoellkopf Field before, so I wasn’t in a hurry to get back and it was right at kickoff when I settled into my seat on the Crescent. This is one of my least favorite Ivy stadiums, but the view is at least a highlight. Interestingly, Cornell removed the stands from the visitor sideline because of “disrepair and lack of use”. Amazing that a school with such a huge endowment can’t put up some basic bleachers for the visitor side. Another huge boo goes to the concessions, of which there are just two stands and I missed nearly the entire second quarter by waiting 35 minutes for a sausage. Not a fan of this stadium. In the game, Penn took care of the Big Red 42-20 to give the Quakers a share of the Ivy title.

I’ve yet to walk thru much of Cornell’s campus, so seeing that this was not an official stadium visit and the game was well in hand, I headed out a bit early for another stroll. The grounds at Cornell are terrific and I particularly loved the central part of campus that included McGraw Tower, Uris Library and plenty of historical buildings with a few statues. Even better is the proximity to another gorge as the suspension bridge over Falls Creek is a must see. About this time, the temperature dropped 10 degrees as a cold front passed and the winds picked up…a quick reminder of the challenge ahead of me at the end of the journey. I hustled back to the car for one more stop before downtown. This one was to see Ithaca Falls, an amazing waterfall where I would have loved to relax at for more than a few minutes. I then drove into the center of Ithaca via their wacky, hilly streets and grabbed dinner at Red’s Place, one of many decent options.
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Lynah Rink Interior
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The main attraction for the trip was Lynah Rink, which would be Stadium #178. College hockey arenas have a reputation of being old-school and bare-bones and this was no different. I’ve been to so many minor-league arenas that it is refreshing to see a rink like this, though it does have some issues like the low hanging wood/duct work from the roof and the occasionally poor sightlines in various spots. It’s very hard to believe that the arena holds over 4,000 seats, but Cornell is quite precise in their media guide capacity. I’ve heard a lot about the Lynah Faithful over the years and the intimacy of the rink helps to make it a loud place. The fans indeed had traditional chants and cheers, making this a fun event to attend (but one that did not meet the hype, see the review for more on that). The Big Red did their part too, despite a poor start against perennially lowly Princeton. Cornell dug themselves out of a 2-0 hole and a third period comeback resulted in a 4-2 victory. Check out the full review, which will be posted on the right column in the coming days.

After the final whistle, I stepped outside to big, fat, sloppy snowflakes. Unfortunately a change from rain to heavy snow was going to last just a 4-hour period that aligned precisely with my drive home. I knew there would be a couple trouble spots: Route 79 from Ithaca to Whitney Point and the dreaded Poconos. With the elevation display on my GPS on, I headed out and got thru the first long stretch on the nervy two-lane road ok. After fighting off hallucinations while driving thru the constant steady snow that made it feel like it was “Star Wars”, road conditions were fine until the Scranton area, where coverage even at an elevation of 900 feet meant big trouble for the rise up to 1900′ in the Poconos. They had a solid 2-4″ with much of that on the roads and thankfully my wife’s Hyundai Santa Fe handled it ok at 25-30 MPH. That meant a white-knuckle hour before coming down the hill and seeing improving conditions. Even still, I was shocked at how hard it snowed and stuck when going thru NJ as my stomach dropping knowing our forecast for work did not go well at all. Four hours later, at 1:30 AM, I instead drove straight to work with jello-ie legs from the ride for a status check on how we were making out. The night didn’t end until I climbed into bed at 3 AM and as much as I enjoyed both Ithaca and Cornell hockey, it was a memorable trip for the wrong reasons. That’s the last time I make a journey with prospects of snow…..wait, didn’t I say that before?
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The Factory, The Big House and The Former Ralph

Posted by Sean Rowland on September 26, 2016

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The trip to Michigan began early on a Friday Morning and I mean early as we were out before the sun was. We took a route that included Canada and it worked well with very minimal border delays in Lewiston and Sarnia. The early start was so we could spend the afternoon in Ann Arbor, in addition to grabbing lunch with Stadium Journey founder Paul Swaney. It was great to catch up and after we parted, a long walk around downtown and campus quickly burned off the duck sandwich I had. Both were awesome as A2 has a terrific downtown full of local restaurants and establishments, while the University of Michigan has a campus featuring several sights to check out. The Law School Quad, the Cube and the Library were among our pit stops, as was Pinball Pete’s, where I smoked my brother in multiple gaming challenges.
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From there, we made the 20 minute drive down Washtenaw Ave to Ypsilanti and Eastern Michigan University. First, we had to stop for a close-up look at the Water Tower, which looks like, well, you decide for yourself. Some locals describe Ypsi as the Brooklyn to Ann Arbor’s Manhattan and while I’m not sure that analogy works, I get it. We took a quick drive downtown and then went to the small couple block section of Depot Town, a popular area for an evening dinner. That’s all I would recommend because after a drink at the Sidetrack Bar & Grill, we walked down to the park (still in the daylight) along the Huron River, only to sift through sketchy characters and a plume of weed. The EMU game against Wyoming began at 7:30 PM and we were there early enough for a stadium tour and pictures. It’s a basic facility that is very typical of the MAC and the Eagles try to make themselves stand out from their big brother 20 minutes away by having a gray field and playing up The Factory theme. I could certainly do without that field color, but the rest of it was good and I applaud EMU efforts to draw fans. It wasn’t a big crowd for this Friday Night game, but they were noisy and showed great resiliency in their cheering as the team toyed with their emotions. The Eagles came back from a 17-3 deficit and eventually took a 20-17 lead when their QB threw the most egregious interception I have every seen, right to a Cowboy who walked in for a TD, giving Wyoming the lead back with 12 minutes to play. Given Eastern Michigan’s 7-41 record the last four seasons, you can’t fault many in thinking it was over. Not-so-fast-my-friends. Backup Brogan Roback stepped in and led the home side to a game-winning touchdown with less than a minute left. The Eagles went on to enjoy their first home win against an FBS school in nearly two years. The fans, who were eager to salute their team, didn’t get to do so as the players quickly exited to the locker room when a large group of protesters moved on to the field after the final whistle. It was certainly an overlying story during the game and it became the main talking point immediately after. Problems on campus led to the peaceful protest and while I won’t elaborate or get into social issues/politics here, but you can read more elsewhere and for those that saw the game on the CBS Sports Network, I heard that the crew did a terrific job covering the why’s of what was going on.
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Saturday was Michigan football day and with the game starting at 3:30 PM, plus College Football games taking forever, this would be a day long event. No complaints here as it was awesome to be in Ann Arbor and Michigan Stadium on game day. From our hotel, we got into town around 11 AM and the $20 Hill Street garage was a solid parking choice that served us well (though it was a close call as maybe 40 spots were left when we arrived). It was nearly a mile walk to the stadium, but that was fine as we got to sample the pre-game festivities and parties going on during a beautiful morning. After pictures of both the stadium and Michigan’s other athletic facilities, we went to the Football Museum in Schembechler Hall. Recently re-done, this is a must for anyone visiting as it is doable in an hour and quite enjoyable. Michigan Stadium has a nice looking brick exterior from the renovations that redid the concourse and side towers, then inside is a stadium better than a bowl as it fits the shape of a football field very well. Large and simplistic, the stadium quickly fills up with over 110,000 wearing the Maize and Blue, making for a wonderful sight that makes college football the most eye-catching of sports. Despite the late September sun beating down, I had goosebumps with their own goosebumps when the marching band came out, then the famous M Club sign and finally the football team. I may have grown up as a Syracuse fan, but Michigan was on TV a lot when I was a kid and that catchy Victors fight song was always in my head on football Saturday’s. Hearing that in person along with the “Let’s Go Blue” song was amazing. As for the game, Michigan laid the smackdown on Penn State as they quickly jumped out to a 21-0 lead and the total yardage was laughable at the end of the first quarter. The game quickly turned into an FCS-like blowout and Michigan won 49-10. After the game, we walked over to Cliff Keen Arena to watch the Wolverines volleyball team take on Iowa. This let traffic disperse while we enjoyed a sport that I’ve really taken to. This small venue (1,800 seats) doesn’t make The List, but it still was worth the pit stop as Michigan won 3-1. We moved our car then downtown for a late meal and with most of the restaurants packed, we choose a sandwich at the Maize & Blue Delicatessen. Solid decision.
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Sunday was another early start as we drove from Ann Arbor to Orchard Park, via Canada once again. After I got past my mistake of switching lanes at the border crossing near Detroit and getting scolded (despite all of two lanes open and a 5-minute wait before trying to make the switch to an open lane, whoops), we made the trip with no issues and good timing. Thank you by the way to the douchy Penn State fan in front of us at the Michigan game that provided our made up entertainment for the trip back. We got to Orchard Park right at Noon and my brother’s clutch work tickets in the Jim Kelly Club meant primo parking and decent tickets. I circled the stadium for post-renovation pictures and settled into the seat at 12:57 PM. Last week, as a typical Bills fan would, I griped about having to sit through another crappy performance, but quite the contrary as players love Rex Ryan and played play hard when his job is on the line. Buffalo dominated Arizona and the game was a blast. The stadium was absolutely rocking and very loud. I hope so much that this stadium survives as it is such an old-school place with an atmosphere at the top of the NFL. With random bursts of Shout, we walked out of the stadium to conclude a terrific trip.

Fun facts…home teams went 4-0! That is the first time since February 2012 where the home teams went undefeated on a stadium trip. The Bills win also meant that they are 5-0 in games I have attended in person. We did a lot of walking on this trip: 23.2 miles in three days. Thanks to my brother Eric for joining and providing high-quality, mostly immature humor throughout. It will take me awhile to get detailed reviews of each stadium up, but you can expect over the next couple weeks for these to be completed and they will be on the right column and this post once their done (Rynearson Stadium and Michigan Stadium).

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A Long, Strange Trip

Posted by Sean Rowland on August 28, 2016

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Image from themoviemind.com

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Something a little different on this visit wrap-up…
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3:25 AM:  Alarm goes off. Hit snooze Button.

3:35 AM:  Alarm goes off. Hit snooze Button.

3:39 AM:  Alarm goes off. This time it is the ‘real’ one.

4:00 AM:  Begin a half-day at work. The forecast is pretty straight-forward, which is welcomed on this day so I can breeze thru it and get other operational stuff done.

8:00 AM:  Make a quick pit-stop at home to drop a few things and say hello/goodbye to the wife and daughter. Also check traffic to see what frustrations I’m in for.

8:45 AM:  Depart for New Haven, CT to the Connecticut Tennis Center and the WTA Semifinals between Elina Svitolina and Johanna Larsson.

10:40 AM:  After cruising along pretty well and enjoying the toll-booth less Tappan Zee Bridge, the fun stops just 15 minutes from New Haven, where things comes to a screeching halt on the Merritt Parkway. Construction leads to a 30 minute delay as it takes me half that time for me to start yelling at nobody and looking deranged. Minutes checking out the facility fade fast.

11:30 AM:  Finally arrive at the Tennis Center. Still an hour and a half before the match starts, but I need all of that time to check out the facility, take pictures (remember no moving around during play) and eat.

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11:31 AM:  Instantly begin sweating. Temp: 82, Dewpoint: 73

12:50 PM:  Complete walking tour of the grounds, which are nicely maintained and have some great spots like the picnic tables under shade and next to the awesome food trucks. Settle inside the stadium with a New Haven-style pizza slice

1:00 PM:  Out walks Svitolina and Larsson to a crowd of about 500…here we go

1:12 PM:  Thank you clouds!

1:30 PM:  Please come back clouds!

1:53 PM: Svitolina takes the hard-fought first set 6-4. Larsson hangs in there to save some set points and this was a grueling set given the heat as both ladies pounded the ball. The row I sit in was the only one in the whole stadium with a sliver of shade, but it’s not enough. With the heat index now over 90, I move to stand under an overhang and watch the second set.

2:23 PM:  The 10th seed Ukrainian is too much and wins 6-4, 6-2. She’ll be in the final on Saturday and I hung around a little bit to listen to the on-court interview and watch her on the nearby ESPN set afterwards.

2:55 PM:  Stop in East Haven at The Shore Line Trolley Museum with about an hour to kill before heading to the next stadium.

3:20 PM:  While taking the historic trolley, the engineer says “The pole went down again”. As we wait for the next trolley ahead to proceed and the engineer adjusts this “pole”, the scene on the silent trolley in the middle of the salt marsh is peaceful and eerie at the same time.

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3:55 PM:  Head east to Norwich and the second stadium on the day. The cancellation of the Tri-City ValleyCats game I planned on attending last month, made me consider and add this Connecticut Tigers game and a visit to Dodd Stadium. Knowing it’s rush hour, I check Google and see the dreaded red color along 95.

4:30 PM:  After trying to avoid traffic (unsuccessfully) by using Route 1, I get back onto 95. It was an enjoyable alternative going thru coastal towns like Branford and Guilford. 

5:15 PM:  Dinner at Lazizah Bakery in the Yantic section of Norwich. Trip Advisor is my go to for the best food places and this was one of the very few times that the high-rated reviews didn’t match my experience. While reluctant to say much negative at a local establishment, I was unimpressed. Finished up my luke-warm Gyro and hoped that I just caught them on a bad day near closing. The gyro at least filled me up for the evening to come (and there were some good ingredients in there).

6:00 PM:  Arrival at Dodd Stadium, after going up the long, winding road that encompasses a pretty massive business park. Great job to the CT Tigers parking crew that direct drivers into your parking spot and then collects the $3 fee. Seamless and more teams should do this.

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7:07 PM:  First Pitch at a classic 1990s ballpark that I’ve seen the design of a million times before. Nothing special, but nothing bad. Certainly a big park for a single-A team, but that’s because it was built for AA. I settle in behind home plate for the first pitch between Connecticut and Vermont. On this night, they pay homage to that prior AA team, the Norwich Navigators! I like that name much better, they should go back to it. 

8:15 PM:  The Tigers Navigators finally capitalize on erratic Lake Monster pitching with a 4 runs in the fourth inning. All of them came with two outs. It may be a small crowd (1500?), but they have good enthusiasm for each run (and I like the song accompaniment).

9:44 PM:  Game Over. The home team wins 6-3. Plotting my 3 hour journey back home, I see construction near Bridgeport. Errr. Debating a detour around it, but decide to just hope that the 15 minute delay fades as night traffic should diminish as I approach.

10:45 PM:  No delays thru Bridgeport, Yea! Cue up Men In Blazers podcast, which always makes the car ride enjoyable. Then it’s a fight against fatigue for that last hour.

12:45 AM:  Arrival into Hackettstown and starving. Wendy’s is the closest option, but no homestyle chicken sandwich. Drive the extra five minutes to Taco Bell, which I’ll probably regret. Employees are much nicer here than Wendy’s

1:08 AM:  Home. Destroy Delicious Taco Bell, which inevitably destroys me and delays shower and bed time.

2:03 AM:  Almost 24 hours after the day began…Good Night!

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Stadium reviews for both the Connecticut Tennis Center and Dodd Stadium will be up in the next week or two. Check back here for the link once ready, or they’ll be on the right hand side of the page. Take care!

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Sea Creatures Playing Hockey

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 9, 2016

Before getting to the games involving the Penguins and the Otters, this trip started on Friday with a basketball game. After another 2 AM shift with an early morning snow, I was able to squeeze in an hour nap before heading up to the Finger Lakes. The Ithaca Ale House makes some really good burgers, so I stopped there before going up the hill to Cornell’s confusing campus. Newman Arena is home to the Big Red and it really is a glorified high school gym. At least the displays in Bartels Hall, an adjoining concourse shared with Lynah Rink, are pretty decent. This was an important game in the Ivy League as Yale needed a few wins to clinch at least a tie. The Bulldogs jumped out to a big lead and then Cornell closed it to 22-18. Then, Yale blew the game open as they simply outclassed the Big Red, winning 88-64. A couple hours later, Harvard beat Princeton and that set up the Bulldogs winning their first Ivy League Title in over 50 years the next night with a victory over Columbia.
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Following Cornell, it was on to Rochester to pick up my brother, Eric, and then we drove to Pittsburgh on Saturday. If you need a hotel, I highly recommend the Hampton Inn Downtown as the location is perfect, parking is free and the price is right. We set up shop there and then walked to the Consol Energy Center. The strip along 5th Ave in front of the arena is a disappointing slew of older buildings and businesses as we settled for “The Souper Bowl” for lunch. It was a crappy one all around that is not worth elaboration. Gametime was 3 PM and I took my usual laps around. It’s a nice building (at 6 years old, it should be) and it has all the bells and whistles expected nowadays. There’s a great feature in the lower level with an interactive display of players and moments, but half of the monitors didn’t work. Inside, again, nice sightlines, it’s just that I have an affinity for the older buildings and the Igloo was unique, while the CEC is the same design seen all over the place. As for the game, the Pens converted their few chances into a pair of goals and they were tied with Calgary at 2 going into the 3rd period. From there, the Flames grabbed the lead and the boobirds came out as Pittsburgh lost an uninspired game 4-2. For much more arena experience details, check out the official review on the right-side of the page in the days to come.

After the game, we took the Light Rail to Station Square and then up the awesome Monongahela Incline to Mount Washington. I could walk that area all day with those breathtaking views. Dinner was at the Shiloh Grill and their food is just as amazing as their creative menu. We went back downtown afterwards, where this 32-year-old fart crashed in the hotel while my brother sampled the Steel City nightlife. The next morning, we checked out the Heinz History Museum, where we spent half the time acting like a kid again as they just opened a temporary exhibit highlighting classic toys. Two levels of the museum are devoted to Western PA sports and most of our time was spent here, though the Heinz section was quite interesting too. Then, it was on to Primanti Brothers for Pittsburgh’s most famous food item. Here’s a description and picture of the sandwich for those unaware and I gotta say, it is good, but I wasn’t gaga over it. The fries just dominate the sandwich and I can’t taste much meat. Regardless, it is certainly something to try when in Pittsburgh. After lunch, we walked off the likely 1500 calories we just ate by going down the Strip District. This literal strip between the river and hills feels and looks gritty, but it really is a great place to shop, eat and walk.
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Two hours up I-79 is Erie and that was the site for our third OHL arena visit. I was here back in 2002 when it was known as Tullio Arena and I was planning on calling this a “re-visit”. However, after seeing the extent of the renovations that changed so many parts of the building, it’s hard to not consider this a “new” arena. I hate doing that as it brings up the question of “Where do you draw the line between renovation and rebuild”. This is a rebuild as the exterior and concourse are completely different and while the interior has the same shape the seating design is different. So, like PNC Field, we’re going to the very rare situation in treating this as a new arena. And it is a good one! The sleek, rounded entrance leads to an inviting concourse. Then, the horseshoe seating design is intimate and conducive for noise, where Erie notoriously excels. This is a loud building and when the Otters are good (like now), the atmosphere is fun. McDavid jerseys were everywhere as we took our seats for the 5 PM game against Niagara and despite a 48-12-1 record, the Otters fell to the IceDogs 4-2. A review on the experience will follow soon. That wrapped up our hockey venture as all went well in the western half of PA!

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A Special Day In The RVA

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 8, 2016

Virginia State Capitol

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Friday was travel day and it started quite early as a quick snow storm meant my work shift began at 2 AM. Fighting fatigue, I still wanted to hit the road immediately after, so I left midday and the ride was ok until I got into Maryland and the dreaded Beltway at rush hour. It was a slow crawl that continued on 95 in Virginia, where traffic goes from 5 MPH to 65 to 25 in minutes. Very frustrating. Finally, it opened up past Fredericksburg and not long after I got to the hotel in Richmond, I hit the sack for a needed lengthy sleep.

Refreshed, I left for downtown Richmond a little before 8 AM so I could check out the State Capitol building before heading to the VCU game. The morning was cold, but in mid-winter form, my body was seasoned to walk outside for an hour as I checked out the surrounding grounds and views from the city on top of the hill. The original building dates back to Jefferson’s design in the late 1700s and as you would expect from this commonwealth, there is an abundance of statues and history here. After an hour here, I moved my car to a lot closer to VCU, but still a 20 minute walk away as I wanted to see Richmond between the heart of the city and campus. Probably not the greatest idea as there wasn’t much to see and a few spots were a little sketchy, so even though parking can be a challenge, I recommend buying a $7 pass ahead of time and parking at the Laurel Street Deck. Despite a young age, the Siegel Center is not the prettiest building on the outside, however past the main doors, the hallways and concourse are nice and brightly lit with Rams memorabilia all around. Inside the arena, the design simply features four sides of one-level seating with a walkway behind the seats. I was not a huge fan of the set-up because of the shallow slope to each seating side, which led to seats further from the court than expected. Plus, the end of the sideline seats went so far beyond the baseline, that it lead to less than attractive sightlines. While I was not a huge fan of the arena design, it did set-up one thing…noise! That is what makes VCU’s Siegel Center a special place and I was absolutely blown away by the atmosphere…

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VCU.

I always knew that VCU had one of the better atmosphere’s in college basketball, but it wasn’t until attending live did I know that it was this good….like Top 10 in the sport good. Fans hang on every single play and the amount of passion in each roar, cheer and boo was notable. They understood the game and it is one of the very few places that I have been to where a scoreboard was not needed to egg a crowd on. It also is insanely loud and I completely believe the 110 decibels it once hit. Then you have the incredible pep band, which makes the scene all the more festive. The Peppas are the best pep band I have heard and they’re playing thru nearly the whole hour pre-game was quite enjoyable. When they play “Havoc” and the “Hey” song with the VCU chant…it is special. The students are terrific too and they play their part in the event very well. The game was against GW and the Rams came in undefeated in the A-10. This was a terrific game of basketball with a great flow and the Colonials showed incredible poise in such a hostile atmosphere. They ended up keeping the game from getting out of reach and then took the lead on a Joe McDonald 3-pointer with a minute left. VCU was down two and had the ball with 10 seconds, but they could not convert a couple of attempts as GW somehow walked out with a win. Despite the tough loss, I walked out of the building blown away by an amazing sporting experience.

The 20-minute walk back to my car allowed me time to reflect and for my ears to stop ringing as I got ready for the next game at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The University of Richmond is a small, private school on the very edge of the city that is very suburban as opposed to VCU’s large urban campus. Before getting to Richmond’s campus, I took a drive down Monument Ave and saw the famous General Lee statue. I also stopped at the only “attraction” near UR and that is the Wilton House. I normally like old house tours, but this one was so incredibly awkward as the tour guide I had would not even be suited to have a phone conversation with somebody. The $8 waste of uncomfortable-ness thankfully only lasted 25 minutes and I hightailed it out of there for an early dinner on Grove Ave at The Continental.
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Richmond
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My early arrival on Richmond’s campus meant that I could park within walking distance of the arena instead of using the shuttle and I also walked past their beautiful football stadium. The campus has terrific scenery and brick buildings and the Robins Center follows the theme with a brick exterior. Even though the arena was built in 1972, a significant renovation a couple years ago essentially turned this into a new arena. I uttered an “Oh Wow” passing from the concourse to the interior as the set-up is terrific. Everything from the seating design, slope of the seats, four premium corner spots, the color scheme and the abundance of athletic logos and wordmarks all flowed so beautifully. The Spiders took on UMass and this game was more common of modern-day sports. It was shamefully announced as a “sell-out” despite about 25% of the seats being empty. The fans were good with a fine amount of noise, but it was only when the “noise-meter” came on where the loudness really increased. Richmond ran away 69-53 from a terrible Minutemen team that settled on almost every possession for a three-point shot. A couple cool things from the visit…the videos involving “Tarrant”, the Spider mascot and the pre-game video that highlighted all of the NCAA Tournament runs by previous Richmond teams.

I’ve been longing for a great college basketball experience and this past weekend certainly delivered with an incredible atmosphere at VCU and a beautiful arena at Richmond. I highly recommend a trip to RVA for anyone who loves the sport.

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Bouncing around Philly for Temple and Penn

Posted by Sean Rowland on November 16, 2015

McGonigle Hall Interior.
A lot had to be timed right for this final Philadelphia stadium venture and thankfully, it all came together perfectly. First, the weather had to be good for work purposes and it was as the region basked under beautiful sunshine with temps in the 50s. Once that was settled out, it all came down to the speed of the games and reliance on mass transit schedules (gasp!). That worked out too. A month after boarding a PATCO train in Woodcrest, NJ with Eagles fans, I did the same thing again. Though I loathe SEPTA, using the trains and subways would save me about $20 in multiple parking and the hassle of driving in the city. After arriving in Center City, I split off from those in green jerseys and went to the other side of the Broad Street Line, heading northbound to the Cecil B. Moore Station, which exits right at Temple University. There is a student center nearby with food options open to the public and while planning the trip, I saw this included Tony Luke’s. Despite the 11:30 AM hour, I had cheesesteak on my mind (When In Philly), but they were closed and apparently only open for “Special Events” (boo to that). A quick Google Maps search for food led me across the street to Pita Chip, which turned out to be awesome. This place is essentially a Mediterranean Chipotle and I had a really good customized wrap with beef shawarma.

The first game was a Temple Volleyball contest at McGonigle Hall. This is the old basketball home for the Owls before they moved next door to the Liacouras Center (visited in 2013). I still had some time to kill before the 1 PM start, so I ventured a little deeper into Temple and saw their famous Bell Tower. When it was game time, I encountered a high-tech, fancy building as Pearson Hall (which contains McGonigle) has been remade into an impressive facility with an outdoor glass facade. The small gym seats a shade less than 4,000 and the seating is quite simple…mainly bleachers and all on the sideline, rising from the floor to the ceiling. What I liked about the arena is the amount of maroon (or Wild Cherry as Temple calls it). There is so much color and character with logos everywhere and a cool set of Owl Eyes looking down onto the court. Temple is having a great volleyball season, but their move to The American from the Atlantic 10 means no conference tournament and unfortunately, the Lady Owls likely will miss the NCAA Tournament as SMU wins the league. This match was against South Florida and Temple took all three sets, winning 25-14, 25-20 and then rallying in the third, 25-23. As much as I was enjoying the match, I was rooting hard for that third set comeback as that meant a 2:30 PM finish, allowing for good time to make a return visit to The Palestra for the Penn-CCSU bball game.
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Palestra Interior.
I took the subway to City Hall and from there, connected to the Market-Frankford Line (MFL) to reach Penn’s campus, which is two stops away on 34th Street. Not gonna lie, it was certainly shady waiting in that area underground for the subway, despite it being a Sunday afternoon. Twice I was panhandled and then an idiot next to me lit up a cigarette in that enclosed area. I exited for fresh air into University City and it took a bit for me to get my bearings as the area has the unique distinction of two separate colleges bumping up to each other (Drexel and Penn). The lack of signage to the Palestra meant another peek at Google Maps and I successfully navigated over to the unassuming brick building that from the outside, you would never know the basketball history contained inside those walls. I wrote about this place in 2011 and it gave me goosebumps again, walking those hallowed halls and then stepping foot inside the gym. What struck me this time is the reverberation of noise. It is remarkable how loud The Palestra, even with few fans. When the band was playing, it produced such a loud echo that it was hard to hear myself talk. I’m so thankful I went to that Big 5 game to experience what a game is like full throat. Maybe a thousand fans turned out for this, Penn’s second game of the young season. November is typically a tough draw and it didn’t help the Eagles were playing as well. Central Connecticut kept the game close through the first half, but in the second, the Quakers pulled away and I was particularly impressed with Sam Jones, a 6’7″ sophomore with a Mike Dunleavey type game. Penn went on to win 77-61 to open their season with a pair of wins against NEC opponents. 

The game ended at 5:50 PM and while planning this journey out, I saw it would take as much time to walk to the PATCO station then to use the subway and walk back to 34th Street. So I walked to Walnut Street and turned right, heading into the city and it turned out to be a terrific stroll (and not in the least nervy despite it being night-time). On a pleasant, mild evening, I went over the Schuylkill River, past Locust Point, stopped by Rittenhouse Square and then thru a bustling section where people were enjoying a Sunday Dinner before reaching 15th/Locust for the PATCO station. Timing was perfect as I got there at 6:24 PM and the train left at 6:26. Not long after, I got back to Woodcrest and hopped in the car home. I mentioned last post how this completed all of the stadiums on The List in the city of Philadelphia….Home teams went 6-3 for those games. I’ll have a McGonigle Hall review up on the right later this week and a pair of Stadium Journey reviews forthcoming as well. 

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The Citi Open and the Blue Crabs

Posted by Sean Rowland on August 11, 2015

Rock Creek Park Tennis Center Exterior

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Seeing a new sport live for the first time is quite exciting and since there are not many left I haven’t seen, this made my first tennis visit even better. I left Jersey around 8:30 AM and with my Dad having the same great planning and timing sense as me, we met within a minute of each other in Gettysburg (he departed from Rochester, NY). After a small and rather terrible lunch (really snack) at the Gettysburg Visitors Center cafe, we then went into the Visitors Center, which was exponentially better. It’s relatively new and the museum does a great job not only depicting the horrific battle, but also the Civil War times before and after battle. Even if you can’t see the rest of the town or battlefields, stopping at the Visitors Center for a few hours is a must-do.

We then drove an hour to Gaithersburg, MD, where we set up shop for the weekend. I researched for a while the best stop and this was ideal for the simple access to the hotel and easy drive to the large parking at the Metro Station in Shady Grove. Speaking of DC’s subway system, the Metro is awesome as a visitor. It’s easy to follow and the stations are straight-forward as they are mostly underground in that brutalist arcing cylinder. Everything is clearly marked as we had no problem all weekend finding our route and following the right line and direction. Plus the SmarTrip payment method is simple. For the Citi Open, we took the Red Line from Shady Grove to Van Ness and after a little looking around, found the 20-seat shuttle bus to Rock Creek Tennis Center. The District’s biggest park has been home to this ATP event since 1969 and we were there for the Quarterfinals. We entered into the grounds where merchandise tents led to a crowded pseudo food court, which featured expensive items, highlighted by a Thai stand (give me Paradorn Srichaphan, one time!). Centering the surrounding outer courts is the Main Stadium, which I still can’t figure out its official name. The facility is older, but the intimacy makes for great views all around. Unfortunately, it’s bleacher seating in the upper level, while the “box seats” down below surprisingly feature temporary folding chairs. For the match, it was John Isner against Ricardas Berankis. Congrats to the Lithuanian for making the Quarters, but I was really hoping to see Andy Murray in his spot. Regardless, this one at least went three sets as it looked like the Big Man was going to dominate after taking 28 minutes to win the first set. Berankis got an unexpected break to win the second, 7-5 and then the best part of the match was Isner’s immediate break back in the third. He went on to win 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. Though I’m not a fan of big serve, short rally  tennis, I very much like Isner and have followed his career closely. He is a genuine, nice, humble person that I wish the best. Look for much more details in the stadium review of the Citi Open later in the week.
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Georgetown

The Georgetown Waterfront in DC

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Saturday was all about touring DC and though I’ve been at the National Mall twice, it was during my grade-school days when I didn’t have the appreciation I do now. The weather was great…85 degrees with relatively low humidity on a DC August day is a gift. We hopped on the Metro again and the free parking at Shady Grove made that the right choice as we used the Red Line to reach Metro Center and then hopped on the Orange for the Smithsonian. After gasping at the torn-up lawn and our tainted Monument/Capitol views, we checked out the original Smithsonian building in what is essentially a castle. Then it was over to the packed Natural History Museum. Pretty cool, but it’s such a broad overview of everything that I prefer more specific museums that go more in depth into a subject. Still some great stuff in here with the big ticket item being the Hope Diamond. We had a great lunch at the cafe next door and then we walked over to the Air & Space Museum. However, the line to get in was so long that we changed plans and went back to where we started, in front of the National Archives. This stuff interested both of us and we couldn’t go wrong, so we spent the rest of the afternoon here and it was well worth it. It’s more than just historical documents as the displays are quite varied and well done. From there, we went to Georgetown, which is not just the University. This neighborhood is a former city that actually is older than Washington. It’s an up-class section loaded with shops, bars and restaurants along M Street. Tree-lined streets frame the hilly sections to the north and the Georgetown campus has a few impressive photo-ops. Then there is the Waterfront along the Potomac River which has turned from industrial dredge when my Dad was there in the 70s, to a bustling park. We had dinner right on M Street at Clyde’s and the Tuscan Sausage Ravioli was superb. To get back to the hotel in Gaithersburg, we hopped on the DC Circulator bus to the DuPont Circle, which led to the Red Metro to Shady Grove. We probably walked 5-10 miles on the day, but DC is such an incredible city (that many in the East Coast take for granted) and there is soooo much to see. I was glad to spend it with my Dad and take in as much as we could.

The nice weather continued Sunday as we headed our separate ways with my car pointed Southeast. The destination was a section of the state that is quite rural and different from the 95 corridor…Charles County in Southern Maryland, more specifically Waldorf. That’s the home of the Blue Crabs from the Atlantic League, at least Waldorf is the stated city as if you look at the map, getting a true ballpark location is a challenge. There’s not much in this area, but I did see the historical home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who unknowingly fixed the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, just hours after assassinating Abraham Lincoln. The story is fascinating and the scene on this country farmland makes it so easy to visualize what happened 150 years ago. This is such a terrific stop as the non-profit volunteers who run the tours are delightful. This is a part of sports travel that I did not expect when starting out, but have fallen in love with. Getting to stadiums brings you to parts of this great country you wouldn’t normally go and there are always surprises at each stop.
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Regency Furniture Stadium Interior

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The town of Waldorf is not exactly historic however as the center is a six-lane road that is a national chain store paradise. Go ahead, think of a big-box retailer or a nationalized restaurant and I bet it is in one of the side strip malls lining this road. Not my cup of tea, but it serves this booming area 30 miles southeast of DC. Housing is exploding in the area and that is evident on the drive to Regency Furniture Stadium. The vast parking lot in front of the park leads to a refreshingly different exterior design, which actually resembles a house with its beige siding and red panel roof. Given that this is the Atlantic League and their ballparks are so darn similar, I was expecting more of the same. Instead, I was blown away by such a terrific set-up. Check it out in the picture above as I love how the seats turn inward towards home plate (though you better watch every pitch). I even like the partially enclosed concourse behind home plate as it is not necessary to have the walkway 100% open to the field. The Blue Crabs have a great thing going on with an excellent park, though other aspects could be a little better, like the underwhelming food selection. Also, as unpopular an opinion this may be, I found the on-field MC Ron Lord (the tye-dye guy) to be incredibly annoying. He constantly was getting in the way of watching the game, whether it was standing on the dugout during action or his interrupting comments, I moved seats a few times just to get away. Even while the Blue Crabs were in a decisive moment in the 10th inning, he was loudly spewing some non-sense unrelated to the game. From a neutral perspective, his interactions with the fans were awkward too. While he drove me nuts, I was certainly in the minority as the crowd loved him. As for the game, it was a battle of blue ocean creatures as the Bridgeport Bluefish took on the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. The visitors built a 3-0 lead, but to the delight of the home fans, a Gustavo Molina blast tied the game in the 6th inning. Despite only six runs scored, the game past the 3 hour mark before going to extra innings (note to baseball at all levels: you need to fix 9-inning games that go longer than 3 hours!). We went to the 10th, where a Bridgeport run was answered by Southern Maryland in the bottom half. Casey Frawley was inches from winning the game, but his long shot hit the top of the wall and only one run scored. The Bluefish finally put the game away in the 11th and won 5-4. The trip home was thankfully pleasant as I took a route that avoided all traffic and tolls, getting back to NW NJ in less than five hours. Look for official reviews on the right-side of the page by next week.

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The Suns and The Keys

Posted by Sean Rowland on June 2, 2015

Frederick's Carroll Creek Park

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I’ve often had to look at the Northwest part of Maryland on a map for work purposes and this trip was nice to put a better visual in my mind. The small cities of Frederick and Hagerstown are just a half-hour apart and they both have a single-A baseball franchise, thus making for a convenient weekend visit. I started in Frederick because that city has more to see and Saturday’s game was in the evening. It was jammed downtown when I pulled into a parking garage and the plethora of 20-somethings made sense once I saw they were headed to a
Craft Beer Fest. The City of Clustered Spires really has become a trendy, hot spot for those looking to get away from DC, but still close enough to commute. I absolutely loved this downtown with Carroll Creek Park being the highlight. A remarkably creative flood control project done over the last few decades has turned this creek into a calm and stationary stream of water that the city built around and turned into a mini-version of San Antonio’s RiverWalk. As evidenced by the beerfest, this is a great place for events and for citizens to take a walk and enjoy the day.  Especially awesome is the Community Bridge, an artistic mural with so many intrinsic details and images that the public contributed to. The park is less than ten years old and further expansion/development plans are just going to enhance what is a terrific place in the city.

The rest of the downtown area is great as well with so many historic buildings and stories on displays along the way. This is a place with a colorful past, especially during the Civil War era and a walking tour illustrates that quite well. I had lunch at Firestone’s and while the bar was great, the food as eh. Shoulda picked Brewer’s Alley. There are tons of choices in this city, including Brian Voltaggio’s Volt (I love Top Chef, but didn’t feel like getting a super fancy meal). After strolling thru town some more and picking up soda at a cool Pop Shop, I headed to the hotel a few minutes away to rest a bit from the heat.
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Harry Grove Stadium Interior

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The Keys game was at 6 PM and a good crowd joined. Of course, the usual reason for a decent draw at a minor-league baseball game is fireworks and that indeed was the case here (I try to avoid fireworks night to get a more accurate gauge of fan support/atmosphere, but this was inevitable). After walking thru the oddly elongated parking lot and getting past the 10 minute wait at will call, I found a ballpark very common amongst Orioles affiliates. Though on the older side (1989), Harry Grove Stadium has the usual features seen in places like Aberdeen, Bowie and Delmarva…a middle aisle in the seating bowl, a carousel, an intermediate press box and a design laid out in brick (in this case, somewhat drab in color). The home of the Keys was built just on the cusp of the ballpark boom and they have at least made some efforts to personalize the park, like the orange lower seats. Displays however are sorely lacking. The crowd also partakes in a cool tradition during the middle of the 7th inning, where the fans shake their car keys as a corny, yet catchy and enjoyable theme song plays. In the game, Frederick just could not overcome the 6-spot that the Lynchburg Hillcats put up in the first inning. Offensively, the Keys would exceed that number, but pitching/defense let them down in the fourth inning as well with another six runs scored by the Hillcats. By the way, it’s almost impossible to spot a home run ball thanks to the three tiers of advertisements on the outfield wall and the invisible yellow line. Frederick ended up falling to Lynchburg, 12-8 in a 3 hour, 25 minute game, badly illustrating why the “A” level leagues need the same time rules that AA and AAA have this season. One final note, keeping in mind seating capacity is 5,400. The announced attendance was 8,344. Estimated actual attendance by me…4,000 (see picture above). Yikes, inflating numbers sadly remains alive.

Sunday started with me doing some forecasting. Given their topography, Hagerstown is a favorable spot for t-storms and I was fairly convinced they would get one on this day. It was almost enough for me to consider an alternate plan (like maybe heading down to Woodbridge, VA for a game instead), but I decided to risk it and dearly hope the scattered nature of the storms would work in my favor. Before heading to the Hub City, I traveled US 40-Alt, better known as The National Road, the first true road in this country. Taking me through small places like Middlestown and Boonsboro, I began the morning at the first Washington Monument, located in it’s own State Park along the Appalachian Trail. While the monument was enjoyable, it was the view from the top that was really worth the short hike (and to get away from the gnats at the bottom). On this Sunday, they also had a demonstration featuring the firing of a Civil War era cannon. While many think of Gettysburg and that part of PA as “Civil War”, this section of Maryland is so historical and the state does an excellent job displaying various markers and historical sites.
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Washington Monument

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I then went into Hagerstown, which is smaller with less to do than Frederick, yet still charming in it’s own right. I keep throwing around “historical” for lack of alternate words, yet this was another downtown that displayed it and I enjoyed walking around and admiring the architecture and informational markers. With a lack of touristy stuff in the city itself, I stopped into the visitors center and unexpectedly enjoyed a 30-minute conversation with Roger who’s wealth of local knowledge was remarkable. Small world in that he talked to me about Nathaniel Rochester, a resident of Hagerstown and founder of my hometown of Rochester, NY. There is also some German heritage in Hagerstown and a well-regarded Bavarian restaurant called Schmankerl Stube was my original plan for lunch. However the heat and humidity made me not crave a filling German meal, so I opted for 28 South, a trendy spot that was a great choice too.

With skies still clear, I got to Municipal Stadium early to get all of my pictures without any disrupting rain. At the same time, I wondered why do the Suns start their Sunday games at 3:05 PM instead of around 1 PM like everyone else? Anyway, mission accomplished with the pictures and I sat down for first pitch with dark clouds gathering. Despite the threat, amazingly we skirted the storms and came away with just some light rain that allowed for the game to be played in it’s entirety and myself rejoicing in a reasonable arrival time back home. The Suns are celebrating their 35th year in Hagerstown and that is an anniversary worth celebrating. Often the subject of a relocation, the team has survived despite neglect by both city and team ownership. Municipal Stadium is not exactly a cute, charming 1920’s era ballpark. Instead it is a deteriorating facility that was originally built on the cheap and badly in need of some TLC. While it’s unique to experience affiliated baseball without the classic appearance or usual shtick, the state of this ballpark and franchise is sad. As for the game, The Suns fell 7-5 and I have yet to see a new stadium home team victory in 2015. Look for reviews on the right later in the week. That wraps up a weekend of baseball in an area of the country I wouldn’t normally visit and I’m so glad sports brought me to Northwest Maryland.
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Municipal Stadium Interior

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