Thursday, January 1, 2015

Santander Arena, Reading PA

Basic Information

Team: Reading Royals (ECHL)
Game: 11/28/14 Royals vs Greenville Road Warriors
Team Website: www.royalshockey.com
Ticket Information: (610) 898-PUCK or www.royalshockey.com
Visitors Information: (610) 375-4085 or www.gogreaterreading.com
Online Broadcasts: www.sportsradioberks.com
Local Newspaper: Reading Eagle www.readingeagle.com

Team History: The direct descendant of the legendary Columbus (OH) Chill, the Royals dropped their first puck in Berks County in the winter of 2001. For their first eight seasons, the Royals were affiliated with the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, but prior to the 2009-10 season, the club signed an agreement to join the farm system of the nearby Philadelphia Flyers. The affiliation paid dividends, as in 2013, the team won it's first Kelly Cup, symbolizing the championship of the ECHL. Probably the best known "graduate" of Reading is goaltender Johnathan Quick, who backstopped the Kings to the 2014 Stanley Cup championship.


Affiliation: The Royals are affiliated with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, their top farm club.


Seating Capacity: Santander Arena has a seating capacity of 7,083 for ice hockey.


Other Tenants: Previously, Santander Arena has hosted professional indoor soccer, minor league basketball, and indoor football. However, at this time, the Royals are the only professional sports tenant.


Getting There: From the Pennsylvania Turnpike, take exit 286 (US 222). Continue on 222 North to Reading. Merge on to 422 East towards Pottstown. Take the Penn Street exit, the second exit after the North Wyomissing Blvd. exit. The Santander Arena is located at 7th and Penn Streets. Parking garages are available on Franklin or Court Street.


How About That Name (And Some History): Opened in September 2001, the Santander (pronounced Sahn-tahn-dehr) Arena is located in downtown Reading on the site of the old Astor Theater. The building was originally known as the Sovereign Center, but was changed when the Spanish-based Santander Bank purchased the naming rights to the building. The Santander Performing Arts Center is also part of the arena complex.


On The Town: The seat of Berks County, Reading is located in south east Pennsylvania, and has a population of 87,893, making it the fifth largest city in the Keystone State. It is located approximately 70 miles from Harrisburg to the west and Philadelphia to the east.


The city was first established in 1748, when the Richard and Thomas Penn, the sons of state founder William Penn, mapped the area. The town was named Reading after the town of Reading in England. Many of the first settlers were originally from Germany who bought tracts of land from the Penn family. The first Amish settlement in the New World was built in the greater Reading area.


The Reading area became known as an iron and manufacturing center. During the Revolutionary War, Reading kept Washington’s troops supplied with rifles, cannon, and ammunition which helped him defeat the British.


With its central location, Reading became a transportation hub during the nineteenth century. The famous Reading Railroad was incorporated in 1833.


Famous natives of Reading include Pulitzer Prize winning writer John Updike, golfer Betsy King, Brooklyn Dodger legend Carl Furillo, and actor Michael Constantine.


Major Airport: Reading is served by Reading Regional Airport, but its proximity to Harrisburg and Philadelphia makes flying into those cities a viable alternative.


What To Do Before The Game: For me, this was an “in and outer”, so if you’re in the town for an extended period of time, you might want to contact the visitors bureau for more information.

Where To Eat Before The Game: With the arena being in downtown Reading, there are several restaurants within a walk. However, after the dark, the downtown area might be considered a bit “dicey”

Where To Stay: I stayed in Harrisburg on this trip, so I can’t report on lodgings in the area, but most major chains are serviced in the Reading area.


Ticket Prices: Royals tickets are priced as follows: $28.00 (glass), $23.00 (purple), $20.50 (red), $17.50 (green), and $12.00 (silver).


Getting In: The main entrance is on the Penn St side of the building, which brings you into the area which holds the ticket sales windows. This area isn’t particularly large, so I would recommend getting there fairly early to avoid waiting on the street. Once the building opens, there is a staircase which takes you up to the main concourse.


The Good Seats: With a capacity of just over seven thousand, virtually all the seats in the Santander Arena are close to the action and give a good, unobstructed view. The seats are all of the plastic, “flip-up” style.


Parking: There is a large covered garage directly behind the arena. It was just a five minute walk from the front entrance, and for $5.00, it was a good deal.

Arena Food: This is where the home of the Royals really shined for me. Not only were there a significant amount of different concession choices, the pricing wasn’t totally outlandish.


I stopped at an Italian themed stand, and ordered a meatball sandwich. It was not quite as big as your garden-variety foot-long Subway sandwich, but it was more than sufficient. It had a good amount of meatballs, sauce, and cheese, and combined with a bag of potato chips for $7.00, it was (to my wallet), a bargain. I added a large Diet Coke (which for eight dollars might seem to be high, but it came with a free refill), so I was well fed for $15.00.


In addition to the standard arena fare, there were stands selling fresh soup, kettle corn, Carvel ice cream, Mexican food, gourmet coffee, sticky buns, and crab fries made by Chickie and Pete’s, a famous Philadelphia restaurant.


Here is a selection of concession prices at the Santander Arena:


Hot Dog: $8.00 (combo meal)   Nachos: $5.00   Draft Beer: $6.00   Pretzel: $4.00   Large 0oda: $8.00 (one refill)   French Fries: $6.00   Personal Pizza: $7.00


ATM: There is a Santander Bank ATM near the main entrance.


Souvenirs: There are two “Fan-Attic” shops in the main concourse with an average sized line of merchandise, mostly shirts and caps.


Restrooms: There are matching sets of men’s and women’s rooms along the “long” sides of the building. The facilities appeared to be of the correct size and were clean, operable, and well stocked.


Mascot: “Slapshot” and “Tiara”, matching male and female lions


Dance Team: The Royal Ladies


Program: The team provides a free roster card with updated statistics.


Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Santander Bank Arena has a large, center hanging scoreboard which features full video capability. It got a decent amount of use, but wasn’t “overdone”. There is a smaller scoreboard behind one of the goals which is used mostly for advertisements and promotional information.


The arena has very good acoustics, and the PA announcer has a good, solid delivery. The music is also pretty good and is played at a decent volume.


Stadium Staff: Most of the people seemed fairly helpful, but were not overly so. One usher reminded me rather sternly to “not shoot any video” when she saw my camera.


Atmosphere: Fairly good. It was a hockey-smart crowd, and despite the attendance of about three thousand, they knew when to cheer and when to heckle.


Overall Rating: I was told by several friends who visited the arena during the reign of the ill-fated Pennsylvania Roar soccer team that the Santander Arena was a jewel. I have to agree. It had everything that a small arena needs and more, and is something for the citizens of Reading to be proud of.





Sunday, June 22, 2014

McCormick Field, Asheville NC

Basic Information
Team: Asheville Tourists (South Atlantic League)
Game: 6/8 and 6/9/2014-Tourists vs Kannapolis Intimidators
Team Website: www.theashevilletourists.com
Ticket Information: (828) 258-0428 or www.theashevilletourists.com
Tourism Information: (828) 258-6101 or www.exploreasheville.com
Online Broadcasts: WRES-FM 100.7 www.wresfm.com
Local Newspaper: Asheville Citizen Times www.citizen-times.com

Team History: While minor league baseball has been played in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains since the end of the nineteenth century, the current franchise known as the Asheville Tourists came to be in 1976. The Asheville Orioles moved to Charlotte after the 1975 season, but McCormick Field would not be empty for long, as an expansion team in the Western Carolinas League (now known as the South Atlantic League) was awarded to Asheville in time for the 1976 season. The current franchise has won two league championships, in 1984 and in 2012.

Affiliation: The Tourists have been the "high-A" affiliate of the Colorado Rockies since 1994, making it one of the longest current affiliations in minor league baseball.

Seating Capacity: McCormick Field has a seating capacity of 4,000.

Other Tenants: McCormick Field is also the home of the University of North Carolina-Asheville men's baseball team.

How About That Name (And Some History): Named after Dr. Lewis McCormick, a local resident, McCormick Field was built in 1924. At ninety years of age, the home of the Tourists one of the oldest minor league ballparks still in use today. Lights were added in 1930, and after 1991, the largely wooden ballpark was rebuilt in concrete, as the original facility developed severe leaks. One of McCofrmick Field's "trademarks" is it's short right field distance. In order to combat the short 300 foot home run distance, a new 38 foot high wall was erected in right and right center field.

On The Town: With a population of 84,000, Asheville is the largest city in western North Carolina, and the 11th largest city in the state. Asheville is located in the western third of the state, approximately 2 1/2 hours from the Charlotte and four hours from the state capital of Raleigh.
The first European to come to what is now known as Asheville was Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. In 1540, de Soto's party made their way to western North Carolina, and came across the Cherokee nation, who had lived in the area for centuries. Unfortunately, the meeting would have long-lasting effects, as the Spanish brought diseases to the aboriginals which they had no resistance to. This seriously depleted the local population.

In 1784, Samuel Davidson received a "soldiers land grant" and built a cabin at the banks of a creek near what is present-day Asheville. Soon after, Davidson was killed by a Cherokee hunting party, and his family sought refuge at a large fort nearby. After making a safe return, other members of Davidson's family made a punitive expedition against the Cherokee who killed Samuel. After the expedition, members of Davidson's family returned to the area and built a settlement. In 1797, the settlement, now with a population of a thousand, incorporated. The settlement, originally called Morristown, as renamed Asheville, after state governor Samuel Ashe.

Famous Asheville natives include soul singer Roberta Flack, author Thomas Wolfe, and MLB umpire "Country" Joe West.

Major Airports: Although the city is serviced by Asheville Regional Airport, the nearest "major" airport is located in Charlotte.
What To Do Before The Game: If you're in the area, a visit to the Biltmore Estate is an absolute must. The Biltmore is the largest privately-owned house in the US, measuring almost 180,000 square feet. The estate took almost seven years to build, starting in 1889 and finishing in 1895. It was the home of the famous Vanderbilt family and was opened as a tourist attraction in 1930 while the family still lived in the mansion.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There really isn't much in the immediate area of the stadium, so I would check with your lodging choice or on the city's visitors information website.

Where To Stay: On this trip, we stayed at the Red Roof in Asheville, which is located approximately ten minutes from McCormick Field. This location is right near the interstate, and is close to several restaurants. For more information, call (800) THE ROOF, or visit www.redroof.com.
Tickets: Tourists tickets are priced as follows $25.00 (dugout suites), $15.00 (press row),  $10.50 (box seats), $7.50 (general admission). Note that there is a $1.00 additional charge for tickets purchased on game day.

Getting In: The main entrance is near the right field foul pole, and is up a hill from street level. However, if you time it right, you might be able to hitch a ride up to the ballpark from the nice gentleman who drive's the team's golf cart.

Parking: Parking is at a premium in the immediate area of the ballpark. There are two small lots, one which is reserved for season ticket holders, and the other is open for general parking. The general parking lot costs $5.00 to use, is supplanted by some street parking.

The Good Seats: With a capacity of four thousand seats, McCormick Field is intimate, with all of the seats near the action. The first five rows are flip-up plastic seats and the upper ten rows are aluminum bleachers with backs. About half of the upper level is under cover.

Stadium Food: For a park of it's size, the home of the Tourists had an excellent selection of concession choices. The selection runs the gamut from the standard ballpark favorites to Carolina barbecue to cheese steaks. I sampled the traditional ballpark hotdog, which was very good, served freshly made and hot when presented. The pizza wasn't half bad, with the $6.75 portion consisted of what would be two normal sized slices.

Linda had the barbecue pork sandwich which was served "Carolina style", which means with cole slaw on a large Kaiser bun. She ordered the "meal deal", which included a bag of potato chips and a soft drink, which for $7.50 was a pretty good value. She said the sandwich was "very good", and not "pre-sauced", which means you can add as little or as much as you'd like. Joan had the taco salad, which could be made with either beef or pork in a large taco shell with a substantial amount of add ins for $7.75.

Linda and I split a funnel cake which was absolutely huge! It was freshly made, not greasy or overdone at all, and was a definite winner.

Here is a selection of the concession prices at McCormick Field:

Hot Dog: $3.50   Cheeseburger: $5.50   Nachos: $4.50   Draft Beer: $5.75   Large Soda: $3.50   French Fries: $3.75   Pizza Slice: $6.75 

Soft Drinks: Coca Cola is the soft drink of choice at McCormick Field

ATM: An ATM is located near the main entrance adjacent to the merchandise stand.

Souvenirs: The "Tourist Trap" (love the name) merchandise store is located near the main entrance. The store, while small, has a nice sized line of merchandise.
Restrooms: Located in the concourse along the first base side, they are large, clean, and serviceable. They were recently renovated.

Mascots: The Tourists have two mascots: Ted E. Tourist, a large friendly bear, and Mr. Moon, a large "moon headed" character. Both are very active in the crowd, and some of the best mascots I've seen in some time.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The Tourists have a large scoreboard built into the 38 foot high right field wall. The scoreboard features a large area for the score and basic game information, and a smaller video screen which is used for advertising and player data.

The stadium voice is good and clear, and the music played at the stadium is very good.

Stadium Staff: One of McCormick Field brightest points is the class of people that work at the park. The place just oozes "Southern Hospitality". Everyone I encountered was friendly, helpful, and welcoming, almost to a fault.

Atmosphere: Tourist fans are loyal, baseball savvy fans who know the game and are loyal to their team.

Overall Rating: McCormick Field is a true jewel in western North Carolina. While recently renovated, the old ball field in Asheville retains the old time and small town charm which should make it a "must see" for anyone who appreciates fine old ball parks and anyone who just likes a great night out on a balmy Southern night.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

NYSEG Stadium, Binghamton, NY

Basic Information
Team: Binghamton Mets (Eastern League)
Game: 5/23 and 5/25/14 Mets vs New Britain Rock Cats
Team Website: www.bmets.com
Ticket Information: (607) 723-METS or www.bmets.com
Tourism Information: (800) 836-6740 or www.visitbinghamton.com
Online Broadcasts: WNBF-AM 129O www.wnbf.com
Local Newspaper: Binghamton
Press and Sun-Bulletin www.pressconnects.com

Team History: The Mets have had their double-A affiliate in New York's Southern Tier since 1992. Prior to that, the team played in Williamsport, PA as the Williamsport Bills, and were affiliated with the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners before being purchased by the Orange and Blue. The Mets have won the Eastern League championship on two occasions (1992 and 1994), and have reached the playoffs on five other occasions.

Affiliation: The Mets are (logically enough), the Eastern League affiliate of the New York Mets.

Seating Capacity: NYSEG Stadium has a listed capacity of 6,012.

How About That Name (And Some History): Construction on the home of the B-Mets was begun in July of 1991, and was completed in time for Opening Day the following season. The park, which was known as Binghamton Municipal Stadium from 1992 through 2001, cost $4.6 million to build. The park received it's new name, NYSEG Stadium (pronounced nice-egg), prior to the 2002 season when naming rights were purchased by the New York State Energy and Gas Company.

On The Town: Binghamton is located in New York's "Southern Tier", which runs along the border the state shares with Pennsylvania. Binghamton, which is seat and largest city in Broome County, has a population of just over 46 thousand, according to the latest census.

Binghamton is located in a bowl-shaped valley at the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers. Today, it is serviced by Interstates 81 (which connects it to Syracuse) and Interstate 88 (which connects it to Albany). State Route 17, which runs along the southern border of New York and connects Binghamton to the greater New York City area, is in the process of being upgraded, and will, when completed, be renamed Interstate 86.
What is now known as Binghamton was named after William Bingham, a wealthy Philadelphia land speculator, who purchased the rights to the area in 1786. His agent decided upon a pleasant point between the Chenango and Susquehanna rivers, and in 1834, the city of Binghamton was incorporated. While agriculture was a major force in the growth of Binghamton, the opening of the Chenango Canal in 1837, which created a link to the famous Erie Canal, helped spark industrial growth in the area. Binghamton became a major transportation hub ten years later with the opening of the Erie Railroad, which connected Binghamton with New York City.

Binghamton was the home of the "Link" Trainer, which to this day, has helped pilots of all types hone and practice their flying skills. Edwin Link invented the trainer, which was originally invented to help pilots fly on instruments without visual cues, was built in the pipe organ factory his family owned in 1927.

Notable Binghamton natives include sixties and seventies actor Jim Hutton, comedienne Amy Sedaris, and former major league umpire and author Ron Luciano.

Major Airports: Greater Binghamton Airport is located eight miles outside of downtown Binghamton.

What To Do Before The Game: As a part of this trip, I made it a point to spend part of one day at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The Hall is approximately ninety minutes north of Binghamton, and for even a baseball fan, is worth at least a once in a lifetime visit.

The Hall of Fame is located in downtown Cooperstown, on Main Street, and is the main focal point of the entire city. In addition to the enshrinement area, the museum features exhibits on the history of baseball, it's influence on American culture, and the game around the world. For more information, visit www.baseballhall.org.

Where To Eat Before The Game: With the exception of a small Italian restaurant/bar across the street from NYSEG Stadium, there really isn't much within a walk of the ballpark.

Where To Stay: I stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Johnson City, which was a ten minute drive to NYSEG Stadium. It was convenient to the interstate and had several restaurants (Friendly's, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Friday's) just adjacent. For more information, call (800) THEROOF or visit www.redroof.com.
Ticket Prices: B-Mets tickets are priced as follows: $11.00 (Box Seats) and $9.00 (Reserved Seats). There is a one dollar increase for tickets purchased on game day.

Getting In: The main entrance is located on Henry St, which leads you into the main concourse behind the seating area. There is a ticket window outside the stadium and inside on the concourse as well.

The Good Seats: NYSEG Stadium is designed in the traditional wishbone style with the main grandstand extending just past first base to a similar position on the opposite side. All of the seating provides a good view of the game.

Parking: There is a stadium-run lot behind the right field fence, which cost $4.00 and a small private lot across Henry St, which costs $3.00. Parking anywhere else isn't exactly recommended since the area can be a little "dodgy", especially after dark.

Stadium Food: NYSEG Stadium has a decent selection of concession items, ranging from the ballpark standards to local favorites.

On Saturday night, I sampled the stadium's barbecued pork sandwich, which was one of the best I've eaten in some time. It was of a good size, made fresh, well marinated with a sweet, yet tangy sauce, and for just $4.50, was a real bargain. The pizza wasn't quite as good, however. I purchased a slice around the bottom of the fourth inning, and it had obviously been sitting for a while. While it was fairly warm and crispy, it didn't have much of a taste, just generally "meh". On Sunday, I sampled the ballpark burger, and that was a definite plus! It was a half pound patty, grilled fresh, and served on a Kaiser bun with white cheddar cheese. The ballpark hot dog, made by Hatfield's, was quite tasty, and despite being purchased around he midpoint of the game, was still warm, and the bun was still fairly fresh.

In right field, a local restaurant, Lupo's runs a small stand which sells spiedes, a local sandwich made of marinated cubed chicken or pork.

Here is a sampling of the concession prices at the home of the B-Mets:

Hot Dog: $3.50   Hamburger: $7.00    Nachos: $4.50   Draft Beer: $6.25   Pretzel: $4.00   Large Soda: $4.50   French Fries: $3.50   Pizza Slice: $3.50

Soft Drinks: Coca-Cola is poured at NYSEG Stadium

ATMs: A "no-brand" ATM is provided in the main concourse in the team office

Souvenirs: A nice-sized souvenir store is located adjacent to the team office on the third base side.

Restrooms: While showing a big of age, they are all useful and clean and well stocked.

Mascot: Buddy the Bee
Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: NYSEG Stadium has a large video-capable scoreboard in right center field, which provides all the basic game information, as well as good quality video playback. A nice touch is the pre-game show shown as fans walk into the park. The show, hosted by the team's radio announcer, gives a recap of the most recent game as well as information on that day's game. There is a small color "ribbon" board in left center which is used exclusively for advertising messages. The team's PA announcer is good and the "in-game" host is enthusiastic without being overly so.

Stadium Staff: Everyone I encountered was pleasant, friendly, and welcoming.

Atmosphere: While both crowds were both on the "smallish" side (around three thousand), everyone there knew their baseball and had a good time.

Overall Rating: NYSEG Stadium is a nineties era park, but is still in good shape, and will continue to serve Binghamton and their fans well. It's definitely worth a stop if you're in the beau


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Lockhart Stadium, Ft. Lauderdale FL

Basic Information
Team: Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (North American Soccer League)
Game: 4/11/15-Strikers vs Ottawa Fury
Team Website: www.strikers.com
Ticket Information: www.strikers.com
Tourism Information: (800) 22-SUNNY or www.sunny.org
Online Broadcasts: www.sofloradio.com
Local Newspaper: Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel www.sunsentinel.com

Team History: While this edition of the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers has only been around since 2011, Ft. Lauderdale has hosted professional soccer since 1977, when the Miami Toros of the original North American Soccer League moved 30 miles up I-95 to intimate Lockhart Stadium. The team, under colorful coach Ron Newman, began to take hold, and by the end of that first campaign, sellout crowds of eleven thousand began to pack the stadium. The Strikers thrived during those years, and the stadium was expanded periodically, growing to a capacity of over 20,000. The Strikers moved to Minnesota after the 1983 season, but pro soccer established was in Broward County, as several other clubs called Lockhart home. In 1998, the ill-fated Miami Fusion of MLS played at Lockhart for 3 seasons before being folded by the league. In 2009, the story went full circle, as the Miami FC club of the USL moved up to Ft. Lauderdale, and in 2011, the Strikers name was reborn.  

Seating Capacity: Lockhart Stadium has a total capacity of 20,450, however the north grandstand is not sold for Strikers matches, reducing capacity to about 14,000.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened in 1959, Lockhart Stadium was part of a sports complex which also featured Ft. Lauderdale Stadium, a ballpark which until recently, was used by several Major League teams for Spring Training. The home of the Strikers, originally designed to host track and field and high school football, was named for Doug Lockhart, a former Ft. Lauderdale city commissioner.

Other Tenants: Lockhart is still used by several local high schools for football and soccer.

Getting There: From I-95, exit onto Commercial Blvd westbound. Follow for approximately a a half mile, then turn right onto NW 12th Ave. Follow NW 12th Ave for approximately a half mile, and the stadium will be on your left.

On The Town: With an average high temperature of 77 degrees, Ft. Lauderdale is a true "all-season" playground.
Located on the southeast coast of the State of Florida, Ft. Lauderdale is 23 miles north of Miami and is the seat of Broward County. The city has a population of 165,000, but if you include the remainder of the south Florida metropolitan area (which includes Dade and Palm Beach counties), the total population of the area is over five million. Ft. Lauderdale is serviced by Interstate 95 and Florida's Turnpike, which run on either side of the city, and I-595 which cuts across it east to west.

The city got it's name from William Lauderdale, who led a detachment of soldiers in building a fort on the site where the city now stands during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). However, development of the city did not start until fifty years after the war ended.

The area was originally inhabited by the Tequestra indian tribe. However, when Spanish explorers came to the area in the 17th century, they unwittingly brought smallpox to the area. The Tequestra had no immunity to the disease, and combining that with frequent conflicts with their neighboring tribes, the Tequestra slowly shrank in numbers, until the final members of the tribe were evacuated to Cuba when the Spanish ceded Florida to England in 1763.

Ft. Lauderdale began to grow in 1896, when the Florida East Coast railroad came through the area, and by the 1920's, the area boomed in population. By the time World War II was underway, Ft. Lauderdale became a major military base, with a Naval Air Station and a Coast Guard station was built. After the war, another population boom hit the area, dwarfing the one earlier in the century.

Famous Ft. Lauderdale natives include former NFL great wide receiver Isaac Bruce, NBA star Mitch Richmond, and tennis legend Chris Evert.

Major Airports: Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport is 12 miles south of Lockhart Stadium.

What To Do Before The Game: This was a quick trip for me, so I didn't have a lot of opportunity for sightseeing.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There isn't a lot on Commercial Blvd on the approach to the stadium other than fast food. There is a McDonalds, a Miami Subs, and a Waffle House at the intersection of Commercial and Powerline Rd (the only major intersection between I-95 and NW 12th Ave).

Where To Stay: For simple convenience, you can't do better than the Red Roof Inn on Powerline Rd. If you were so inclined, you could walk to Lockhart from the Red Roof, but the area is a bit dicey, especially at night. However, that shouldn't dissuade you from choosing the Red Roof it you plan on attending a Strikers game. All of the rooms are comfortable, and at approximately $80.00 per night, it's not a bad deal. For more information, call (800) THE ROOF or www.redroof.com.
Ticket Prices: The Strikers have two ticket options: Reserved Seats (main grandstand) are $20.00 if you purchase in advance ($25.00 on game day) and general admission (goal view) are $12.00 in advance ($15.00 on game day). The supporters section is located in sections 131 and 132 in the east grandstand.

Getting In: The main entrance to Lockhart is in front of the south grandstand. Once you get in there is a small courtyard which has picnic tables, assorted inflatables for children, the souvenir trailer, and concession stands.

The Good Seats: The south grandstand is the "main" grandstand used for Striker matches. It is a combination of plastic "bucket" seats and aluminum backless bleachers. The east and west grandstands have all aluminum backless bleachers.

Parking: There is a large gravel lot in front of the stadium which serves as a parking area. Parking here costs $7.00.

Stadium Food: To be honest, there isn't much. There is a smallish stand directly under the south grandstand which serves the basic items. Service is OK, not great. Here is a selection of prices:

Hot Dog: $2.50   Nachos: $3.00   Pretzel: 3.00   Large Soda: $3.00   Pizza Slice: $4.00

I ordered the pizza slice. It was filling, acceptable taste-wise, and that was about it. I did get a pretzel at half time being served out of a small cart in the entrance area. It was freshly made, cooked over charcoal, and salted to my taste. It was quite tasty and definitely quashed the hunger.

ATM: None

Souvenirs: There was a trailer next to the south grandstand which was run by a local soccer shop. They had an average sized line of merchandise, which to my eyes, was fairly well priced. I purchased a Strikers scarf, which was a bargain at $10.00 (most scarves I've purchased cost somewhere in the $15-$25 range.

Restrooms: There are two sets of restrooms, a permanent set under the south grandstand, and a "temporary" looking set on the west side of the stadium. The permanent men's was in fairly good order. The other set was....about what you would expect.

Mascot: Hot Shot, a human character with a flaming red hair do was a carry over from when the team was known as Miami FC.

Dance Team: The Striker Girls performed a few numbers during the game and passed out programs to fans entering the stadium.

Program: A complimentary full-color program was handed out to fans entering the stadium. An interesting feature was the listing of each Striker player's twitter handle with the roster.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Lockhart has two scoreboards. The west side scoreboard is used for advertisements and player pictures, as it has animation capability. The problem is that the sun sets right behind the scoreboard and makes it difficult to see at times. Above the east stand is a smaller scoreboard which shows the score, time, and pertinent game information. The stadium's PA announcer is good, and the music selection is OK.

Stadium Staff:  Abundant and helpful.
Atmosphere: I was a little disappointed at the opening night crowd, which was in the four thousand range. However, it was a lively crowd, led by the bunch in Flight 19, the Strikers' main supporters group. Like any good supporters group, they were up and enthusiastic, singing and chanting for the entire ninety minutes. When the Strikers scored what would be the game winning goal late in the second half, the game winning goal scorer (I can't remember his name), immediately ran to the Flight 19 section, leaping into the arms of the fans.

Overall Rating: OK. Lockhart will never be confused with a modern soccer facility with all of the bells and whistles. However, the team makes do with what they have to work with, and the home of the Strikers is a lively place to watch a match on a gorgeous, cloudless, Florida night.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Copps Coliseum, Hamilton ON

Basic Information
Team: Hamilton Bulldogs (American Hockey League)
Game: 11/29/13 Bulldogs vs Toronto Marlies
Team Website: www.hamiltonbulldogs.com
Ticket Information: (866) DOGS-TIX or www.hamiltonbulldogs.com
Tourism Information: (800) 263-8590 or www.tourismhamilton.com
Online Broadcasts: www.hamiltonbulldogs.com or www.ahllive.com
Local Newspaper: Hamilton Spectator www.thespec.com

Team History: The Bulldogs have made the Copps Coliseum home since 1996, when the former Cape Breton Oilers moved from the Maritimes to Ontario. Now in their seventeenth season, the Bulldogs are the longest-tenured non-NHL city in Canada. The Bulldogs have appeared in the Calder Cup finals on three occasions: 1997, 2003, and 2007, in which the Dogs finally won the AHL's playoff trophy.

Affiliation: The Bulldogs are the AHL affiliate of the NHL's legendary Montreal Canadiens.

Seating Capacity: Copps Coliseum has a hockey seating capacity of 17,383, but for Bulldogs games, the upper concourse is usually closed off, giving the building a capacity of approximately 7,500.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened in September 1985, the Copps Coliseum was built in hopes of bringing NHL hockey to Ontario's third largest city. Since it opened, several attempts have been made to purchase an expansion team or moving an existing team to Copps, but were thwarted by the ownerships of the teams in Buffalo and Toronto, feeling that a Hamilton based team would cut into their market. The most recent effort to bring the NHL to town came in 2009, when a Canadian investor attempted to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Hamilton. The investor, Jim Basille, previously attempted to purchase and relocate the Nashville Predators and move them to a renovated Coliseum.

The Coliseum, which has hosted events such as curling, pro wrestling, and myriad other events, was named for Victor Copps, a former mayor of Hamilton.

Copps Coliseum will be a venue used during the 2015 Commonwealth Games, which will be hosted by Toronto and Hamilton.

Getting There: Copps Coliseum is located in downtown Hamilton, on York Blvd. From Buffalo, cross over the Peace Bridge and get onto the Queen Elizabeth Expressway eastbound. Proceed for approximately 50 miles into Hamilton. Exit the QEW at Burlington St (exit 90). Follow Burlington St for 4.3 miles, making a left onto Wellington St N. Follow for a mile, making a right onto Wilson St. Take Wilson St until it turns into York Blvd, and the Coliseum will be on the left.

On the Town: Known as Canada's Steel Capital, Hamilton is located on the shores of Lake Erie in south central Ontario, approximately one hour east of Buffalo, NY and an hour west of Toronto. With a population in the metropolitan area of almost 750,000, Hamilton is the third largest city in Ontario, and the ninth largest metropolitan area in all of Canada.

What is now known as Hamilton was originally inhabited a aboriginal nation known as the Neutral Indians. They were driven out of their homeland by the Five Nations before the French and Indian War. The Five Nations allied with the British in their battle against the French and their Huron allies. In 1784, ten thousand British settled in "lower Canada" (southern Ontario). Shortly after the end of the War of 1812, one George Hamilton (the son of a local entrepreneur, not the heart-throb actor), purchased a local farm. Hamilton, along with the local representative of the British crown, began selling land parcels in the area, and in 1846, the town of Hamilton was incorporated.

Well known Hamilton natives include Second City TV alumni Martin Short, Dave Thomas and Eugene Levy, Neil Peart, drummer from the legendary Canadian rock trio Rush, Olympic ice skating star Toller Cranston, and Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden.

Major Airport: Munro Hamilton International Airport is located approximately seven miles southwest of downtown Hamilton.

What To Do Before The Game: This was an "up and back" for Linda and I, but on a previous trip, I visited the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, which is located in downtown Hamilton, not far from the Copps Coliseum. Like it's counterpart in Canton, the museum in Hamilton tells the story of not only the Canadian Football League, but the growth of high school and collegiate football in Canada. For more information, visit www.cfhof.ca.

Where To Eat Before The Game: We arrived at the Copps just before the doors opened, so we decided to eat at the arena. However, the Jackson Square mall is located just adjacent to the Coliseum, and the mall has a food court if you want a quick meal beforehand.

Where To Stay: I didn't stay in Hamilton on this trip, deciding to stay closer to home in Buffalo. I would check with your favorite chain to see if they have locations in the area.

Ticket Prices: Bulldog tickets are priced between C$34.80 to C$24.00. Note: the Bulldogs sell their tickets online through Ticketmaster, so expect to pay the normal ludicrous surcharges.

Getting In: The main entrance is on York Blvd. Once entering the building, there is a flight of stairs which takes you to the concourse.

Parking: While there are several surface lots within a walking distance of the Copps. we decided to park next door at the Jackson Square shopping mall. For five dollars, it was a good call, as it was adjacent to the arena, and was well lit for departing.

Arena Food: As one might expect for an arena of this size, Copps Coliseum has a significant selection of concession items and prices. In addition to the standard hot dogs and other arena fare, the Coliseum featured stands featuring several Canadian and local products including Pizza Pizza, Coyote Jack's (gourmet sandwiches), and Cin City Mini Donuts. Linda and I decided to purchase our dinner at the Coyote Jack's stand, which we found we really enjoyed while visiting the arena in Sarnia two years ago. I had a hot dog, an order of French fries, and a bottle of Diet Pepsi, which as a "combo" meal, cost C$10.00, which I didn't find to be too out of the ordinary. The fries were hot, salty, and tasty, and the frank was larger than average sized, delicious, and served (in what seems to be a Canadian thing) on a large "hoagie" style bun.

Linda had a sausage sandwich, and (for the purposes of this article), sampled the Canadian staple, poutine. Here's what she had to say:

"I had turned down several prior opportunities to try poutine, which is French fries, with cheese curds and beef gravy, at other hockey games in Canada. This time, I promised Rich that I would try ut for the sake of the website. After stopping at the Coyote Jack's stand, I bravely ordered a portion. It was huge! There was definitely enough to share. The fries were hot, and done to a crispy finish that really held the thin and savory beef gravy. The white cheddar cheese curds provided a touch of melty goodness. In a word, I have to say that I found poutine to be-DELICIOUS! The hearty dish was a perfect choice to have at a hockey game. It was my first serving of poutine, but definitely won't be my last!"

My impressions of the poutine were similar. I thought it was quite tasty, but I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more if the cheese was a bit warmer. However, that wasn't a deal breaker for me.

Here is a sampling of concession prices at the Copps Coliseum:

Hot Dog: C$4.42   Hamburger: $7.08   Nachos: C$5.99   Draft Beer: $8.63   Pretzel: C$4.40  Bottle Soda: C$3.79   French Fries: C$4.20   Pizza Slice: C$4.42

Soft Drinks: Pepsi is the brand of choice at the Copps Coliseum.

ATMs: There are several "no brand" ATMs in the arena main lobby.

Souvenirs: There is a small alcove in the concourse which sells a smaller than expected line of merchandise.

Restrooms: Scattered along the main concourse, all are clean and well stocked.

Mascot: Bruiser the Bulldog

Dance Team: None

Scoreboard: The Copps Coliseum has a fairly standard sized center-hanging scoreboard, which has four HD-quality video screens, as well as four sections which provide all of the standard game information.

The PA announcer had a good delivery and voice, and the music (due to a promotion with a local country station) leaned towards that genre, which thrilled Linda no end!! The music was clear and was played at a decent volume.

At one end of the arena was a large Bulldogs sign which emitted smoke after the home team scored.

Stadium Staff: As in most buildings I've visited in the Great White North, the staff at the Coliseum was quite pleasant and friendly, although they get a small black mark from me when I tried to get directions back out to the QEW after the game, and one or two had absolutely no clue. One girl I asked smiled at me sweetly and said "I take the bus, I don't know any of the streets here".

Atmosphere: It was a rowdy Friday night at the Copps when the Bulldogs took on their provincial rivals, the Toronto Marlies. While there were a decent amount that came from Toronto, the atmosphere was friendly, yet passionate.

Overall Rating: It's obvious that the Copps Coliseum was built with the NHL in mind. The arena has all the bells and whistles that a "top flight" arena needs, it serves the AHL quite well. While I think the ticket prices are a little on the high side, the home of the Bulldogs is definitely worth a look if you're in Canada's Steel City.




Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Convocation Center, Athens OH

Basic Information
Team: Ohio University Bobcats (MAC)
Game: 11/16/13 vs Heidelberg College
Team Website: www.ohiobobcats.com
Ticket Information: (800) 575-2287 or www.ohiobobcats.com
Tourism Information: (800) 878-9767 or www.athensohio.com
Online Broadcasts: NA
Local Newspaper: The Athens News www.athensnews.com

Team History: The final charter member of the Mid American Conference still in the league, Ohio University has had a men's basketball program since 1907. The Bobcats have won 6 Mid-American Conference tournament titles in 1983, 1985, 1994, 2005, 2010, and 2012. As well as 9 MAC regular season titles in 1960, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1985, and 1994. In addition, Ohio has qualified for the NCAA men's basketball tournament thirteen times, most recently in 2012. The have played in the National Invitational Tournament four times, with their best finish being runner-up in 1941.

Seating Capacity: The Convocation Center is the largest arena in the Mid American Conference, with a seating capacity of 13,080.

How About That Name (And Some History): The Convocation Center was opened on December 3, 1968 when the Bobcats defeated Indiana University 80-70. The arena, which cost over eight million dollars to build, is directly across Richland Ave from Peden Stadium, the home of the Ohio Bobcat football team. Recent renovations of the building have included new offices for the men's' and women's basketball programs, expanded locker rooms, and a new playing surface and scoreboard.

Other Tenants: The Convo is the home of both the men's and women's basketball teams, women's
volleyball, and wrestling squads. The building has also been the host of many concerts, including Led Zeppelin in 1969.

Getting There: From US-50 West, take Exit 17, for OH-682 North. Turn right at the first traffic light, onto Richland Ave. Follow for less than a quarter mile. At the traffic circle, make a right. The Convocation Center will be on your immediate right. Turn right into the second parking lot.

On The Town: Located in south central Ohio on the banks of the Hocking River, Athens is approximately an hour south east of Columbus, 45 minutes south of Zanesville, and 45 minutes from Marietta. As of the 2010 census, Athens has a population of just over 23,000.
The area that is now known as Athens was the home of aboriginal tribes for over a thousand years, with the Adena and Hopewell, and later on, the Algonquin tribes residing in the fertile valley. The first white settlers came in 1797, but Athens did not become an incorporated village until 1811. The learning institution which would become Ohio University began in January 1802, when the governor of the Northwest Territory (part of which would become the state of Ohio in 1803) approved a bill from the territorial legislature establishing what was then called the American Western University. In 1804, the name was changed to reflect the new state, and Ohio University was born.

After the city passed five thousand residents in 1912, the state of Ohio granted Athens city status.

Well known Athens natives include long time Major League Soccer star goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, Austin Page, the founder of video game outfit Xbox, and artist Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

Major Airports: The largest airport near Athens is Port Columbus International, approximately sixty
miles from Athens.

What To Do Before The Game: This trip was an in-and-out for me, so there wasn't any real time for sightseeing in the area.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There wasn't anything immediately near the Convocation Center, but if you go south of Richland Ave, there are several fast food restaurants (McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy's) as well as a few smaller local pizza shops and other restaurants.

Where To Stay: I didn't stay in Athens on this trip, having decided to stay in Parkersburg, WV for the night. However, if you're planning on being in the area, I would check with the local visitors  bureau for lodging information.

Ticket Prices: Bobcat men's basketball has tickets in all price ranges. My seats were in the fifth row of the upper level at the top of the free throw arc. This seat, which cost $15.00 (with a one dollar service charge, gave a very good view of the action.

Getting In: The main entrance and ticket window is located on the east side of the arena.

Parking: There are several lots on the Convo grounds, as well as a large lot across the street at Peden Stadium. I chose to park at the football stadium, and for $5.00, was not too bad, and made for easy egress after the game.

Arena Food: While the Convo doesn't have a huge line of concessions, what they do serve is actually pretty good. I ordered two hot dogs and a diet Pepsi for my pre-game meal. The hot dogs were of a good size, and although they were pre-made, were fairly warm and pretty tasty. The whole meal cost a total of ten dollars, which, in my eyes, wasn't a bad deal.

Here is a sampling of the concession prices at the Convo:

Hot Dog:  $3.00   Nachos: $4.00   Pretzel: $3.00   Souvenir Soda: $4.00   Personal Pizza (Donatos): $4.00

ATM: There is a "no brand" ATM located in the lobby of the building near the ticket booth.

Souvenirs: The "Coach's Corner" is a small alcove near the main entrance which sells a (in my opinion) tiny line of team merchandise.

Restrooms: There are several restrooms located along the arena's concourse, but signage is non-existent. I just happened to stumble across a men's room, which was fairly clean and in good working order.

Mascot: Rufus the Bobcat prowled the stands during the game.

Dance Team: The Bobcats have both a dance team and a co-ed cheerleading squad.

Program: The Bobcat's basketball yearbook is a large-format color magazine which covers both the men's and women's squads. For a cost of $5.00, it is a pretty good deal.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice:  One of the more unusual features of the Convocation Center is the scoreboard system. Instead of the standard center-hanging scoreboard, the Convo has the score and video boards on the floor level behind each baseline. Each side has a scoreboard that has the basic game information and a small video screen opposite. The video screen, while seemingly capable of showing video replays, is used sparingly, only showing "rah-rah" messages and advertisements during the game.

The Convo's PA announcer is good, having a good voice and delivery style. The music is of the standard style and the building has good acoustics.

Stadium Staff: Didn't see a lot of them, mostly yellow jacketed arena ushers who basically stood around and smiled.

Atmosphere: I'm sure that if the game was a mid-season game against a better known opponent, there would have been a more lively atmosphere. However, a Saturday afternoon against a Division III school wasn't much of a draw, with only about three thousand in attendance. The people there were loyal fans who were into the game.

Overall Rating: The Convo for an Bobcats game is a pleasant way to spend time if you're in the area. With ticket and concession prices reasonable, the Convocation Center is something the people of Athens can be proud of.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The England Adventure-Part One

Game 1: Blackpool at Millwall 9/17/13

“You’re going to Millwall?” was the most commonly heard response when I told people that we would be attending that night’s match.  I admit that reading some stories about the old Millwall stadium, it was a place that foreigners feared to tread.  However, the experience was much more pleasant and stress-free than I expected.
As our cab driver, a wonderful Cockney, (I wish I had gotten his name) navigated the streets of East London, he told us that the Millwall area was where the “real Londonder’s” lived.  By the way, we had no intention of driving to the stadium.  Driving in London is just simply something you don’t do if it can at all be avoided. 
The “new” Den, now in it’s 20th year is in a rather dicey neighborhood, with the approach to the stadium with middle income housing and some ramshackle-looking tire shops.  We were concerned about getting back to our hotel, but fortunately our driver said he would come back for us and wait for us until the end of the match. 

Right before you enter the stadium, there is a small open air cafĂ© which serves (meat) pies, hot dogs, beer, etc.  Our first stop was the Millwall club shop, a small while building under one of the grand stands.  The store had a good-sized line of team merchandise and was doing a brisk business.  The club’s soccer shops in the UK are located outside the stadiums and close before their games start. No merchandise is sold inside the stadium.
It look a while to find the correct window to pick up our tickets and then finding the right entrance.  Unlike most stadiums in the US, your entrance is marked on the ticket and that is the only one that you can use.  Some of the more plump fans will have trouble getting through the very narrow turnstiles at UK stadiums (but they will let you in another door). 
Once inside the stadium, your movements are restricted to the area near your section; you cannot walk completely around the stadium.  The New Den is made up of four separate stands of seating which enclose the pitch.  All four of the seating sections have wind screens on either end and have covered roofs.  There is a video score board in the East corner, which shows game action and advertisements.   It was almost impossible to read the time and the score of the game from where we were sitting because they were so small, and there was no auxiliary scoreboard.  If there were any “luxury boxes”, we could not see them from where we were sitting.  The stadium was “basic”, not having the “bells and whistles” that were have been accustomed to in newer US stadiums.  By American standards, the layout would be considered quite basic, but with that being said, it is every utilitarian and services the needs of the fans quite well.  We enjoyed not being overwhelmed by advertising at every turn, not outside the stadium, inside the stadium, on the scoreboard, or over the PA system.
As opposed to stadiums or arenas in the U.S., concessions at the Den were quite limited.  There was a larger variety of food available outside.  In our area, there were a hot dog stand, a (meat) pie stand, and a burger stand and a beer stand.  (When we were leaving and were able to more freely walk around the stadium, we did notice some additional types of food stands, but those were not accessible to us during the game.) 

The hot dog stand advertised “New York Style” hot dogs.  This was slightly untrue.  The hot dog was good sized and served on a hoagie bun, but tasted like a kielbasa.  My travel companions who like kielbasa said it was very good.   They also said the steak pie was very good. One of the more interesting things was that although beer was available in the concourse, it must be consumed in the concourse.  You cannot take your beer to your seat.  Many fans rushed out to have a pint at the half, just finishing it as the second half whistle blew. 

I found the staff to be friendly and helpful, especially after they found out how far we’d come to see the match.  I found the fans we spoke to were the same.  After mentioning that we were Americans that had come to see the game, broad grins spread across their faces. 
Our seats were approximately 6 rows from the field giving an excellent view of the match.  We seat between the center line and the top of the penalty area.  The seats were of the plastic flip up type but were comfortable and had good leg room.

The crowd was working class regular people and we felt very comfortable with them.  They were very genuine fans.  The crowd was mostly men with few women and fewer children.  We didn’t hear any racial slurs but some of the language was unique- the security and ushers didn’t respond. We were impressed at how many times they could use the “F” word in one sentence!  Some of their other language and cheers were a little colorful as well. This was interesting because there were signs down by the field saying anyone using foul language or racial slurs would be expelled. 
The crowd of 8,415 (about half the stadium’s capacity), was treated to an unexpectedly exciting game.   Millwall was in last place and the opponents, Blackpool, were in first place; it seemed that the home fans didn’t have great expectations for the game.  Blackpool got the first goal of the match, and a sense of dread came over the fans.   However, Millwall could equalize in injury time of the first half on a penalty kick and would score twice in the second half to ice the match.   The Millwall faithful absolutely exploded in cheers after equalizing and again after the go ahead goal was scored in the 71st minute.  After they scored the third goal, they went absolutely bonkers.  We really enjoyed the home fan’s cheer of “We scored 3 goals, you must be shit!”
Blackpool, on the northwest side of England, brought travelling support of approximately 300-400 who were seated in the upper level behind the goal, separated from any local fans.  They were vocal and boisterous and made a good counterpoint to the home fans. There was a substantial police presence around the visiting support, but other than some verbal jabs, there were no issues.
We left a few minutes before the game ended in hopes that our faithful cabbie was waiting for us.  The stewards and security were more than helpful in getting us to the main entrance and after a 5 minute walk we were happy to find that our ride was waiting.  (The roads right near English stadiums are closed down before/during and after a match, so you always had to walk a ways to where you can catch a cab.)
Overall, my first experience with soccer in England was a more than positive one.  The new Den is a fine facility and despite a few drawbacks a terrific place to catch the atmosphere of English soccer.