Monday, July 27, 2009

Columbus Crew Stadium, Columbus OH

Basic Information
Team: Columbus Crew (Major League Soccer)
Game: Crew vs Toronto FC-7/25/09
Team Website: http://www.thecrew.com/
Ticket Information: (614) 447-CREW
Tourism Information: http://www.experiencecolumbus.com/ or (888) EXP-COLS
Online Broadcasts: http://www.wtvn.com/

Team History: One of the ten franchises that were a member of MLS in its 1996 inaugural season, the Crew finally reached the pinnacle last season, when they won their first MLS Cup last November, defeating the New York Red Bulls 3-1. The Crew acheived notoriety around the soccer world when they became the first MLS team to have it's own stadium, when Columbus Crew Stadium opened on May 15, 1999. A sellout crowd of almost 25,000 that night saw the Crew defeat the New England Revolution 2-0.

How About That Name: Since opening, the home of the Crew has always been known simply as Columbus Crew Stadium. However, many supporters of the Yellow and Black refer to their home as "Hunt Park", honoring Lamar Hunt, the late team owner and driving force behind the construction of the stadium.

Getting There: From I-71, exit at 17th St (exit 111). Head towards the Ohio State Fairgounds, and follow signs to Crew Stadium. Stay in the two right lanes of 17th St., as they will direct you to Crew Stadium parking.

What To Do Before The Game: Adjacent to Crew Stadium is the Ohio Historical Center, which serves as the crown jewel of the state's over fifty historic sites and museums. The Historical Center has a combination of permanent and rotating exhibits. The permanent collection boasts a large exhibit of artifacts spanning the entire history of the Buckeye State. For more information, go to http://www.ohiohistory.org/ or (800) 686-6124.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There is a McDonalds at the 17th St exit, but as far as I'm aware, that's about it near Crew Stadium. There is a Frisch's Big Boy at exit 112, but for more varied eating choices, I would recommend hitting Gemini Place (exit 121) or finding a restaurant off I-270 (exit 119A). If you're coming in from the south, there is a substantial number of restaurants around exit 101.

Where To Stay: There is a Days Inn at the 17th St exit, but I can't guarantee how busy it might be. I've never stayed in Columbus when heading to a Crew game, since home is only 125 miles away. However, with that being said, there are plenty of places to stay off I-71. Gemini Place has several hotels, as does the exits south of Columbus around exit 101.

Tickets: Crew tickets purchased in advance of game day are priced as follows: $39.00 (youth $29.00), $26.00 (youth $19.00), $22.00 (youth $17.00), $19.00 (youth $15.00), and $16.00 (youth $10.00). There is a game day ticket purchase surcharge, so plan accordingly.

Parking: There is a large amount of parking surrounding Crew Stadium, which costs $7.00 per car. However, the vast majority of the parking is in grass lots, so should it rain, virtually all of the fans who attend, will either be driving into or out of something akin to the Okeefenokee.

The Good Seats: Crew Stadium is basically rectagonal in shape, but with a few quirks. Lower level seating basically surrounds both sidelines and the south endline. Upper level seating is only on both sidelines. With that being said, my personal favorite seats are in sections 132-134, which are located on the northwest corner. You are sitting just above where the Crew enters the field, and the view of the field is outstanding. If you wish to stand and watch the game (like a proper supporter), you can watch the game from the concourse, where there are tables set up to place your food. Last year, the Crew removed approximately two thousand seats on the north end and built a permanent stage. Although this took out some prime seats, it also developed an area where some of the most fanatical supporters in MLS sit. Sections 139-142 and 101 are specifially set aside as the Crew Supporters Area, commonly referred to as the Nordecke. Fans in the Nordecke, representing the club's many supporters groups, are on their feet constantly throughout the game, waving flags, chanting, tossing streamers, and generally making a wonderful racket. However, there are signs placed at each section which specify (amogst other things) that "If you're an opposing supporter, STAY OUT!". It's a good idea.

Stadium Food: There are concession stands at each corner of the Crew Stadium concourse, serving your basic stadium fare. Donatos Pizza, a local brand is featured. The quality is OK, and price-wise is about the same (a hot dog and pretzel cost me $7.00). There is a Subway stand udner the west stands.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Crew Stadium features a large video scoreboard above the south stands. One of the nice features of it is that when they show the replay of a home goal, you can hear the excited call of long-time Crew announcer (and long time crony of mine) Dwight Burgess over the PA. There are also smaller scoreboards which show game information on the fascia of the east and west upper stands.

Game Staff: While Crew front office staff are hustling around on game day, the stadium has a full staff of game day workers who are quite helpful.

Souvenirs: The Crew has a souvenir store on the plaza just as you walk into the Stadium. However, note that the store is quite small, and staff monitor the amount of people allowed in at any one time, so there will probably be a wait. In order to alleviate the wait, visit the small satellite stands located on the plaza before heading up to the seating area.

Atmosphere: Solid. I'm sure each MLS team has a similar supporters section, but the thousand or more fans in the Nordecke propel the rest of the crowd at Crew Stadium.

Overall: Although Crew Stadium doesn't have a lot of the bells and whistles that many new stadiums of all types have, it is a superb soccer stadium. I read somewhere once that when Crew Stadium was designed, it was specifically drawn up to be more of a "bare bones" or "serious" facility, echoing the team's crest, which features three stoic looking construction workers. It was done right, and the success that the Crew have had on 17th St makes that fact all too clear.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Good Eating in Fort Wayne-A Gastronomic Adventure!

by Linda Ibbett

As we entered Parkview Field in downtown Ft. Wayne, Linda’s rule of ballpark dining number 1 was first and foremost on my mind – Plan your attack before you attack the concession stands. I thought I’d done this by walking half way around the park checking out the stand offerings before I gave in at the rib stand in the outfield and ordered a quarter slab of ribs. Rich had told me about some of the food choices at the new stadium, and I had my heart set on trying the ribs. While sitting at a table near the BBQ stand, I started reading the free Gameday publication which was handed out when we entered the stadium. The publication included a guide of the concession stand menus, so I circled the items that I was interested in trying. Little did I know until further flipping through the publication later in the game that there were two more pages of food information. Next time I will thoroughly check out the team’s website and review the Gameday handout/program so I can review a full listing of the culinary offerings to better plan my ballpark dining.

The BBQ stand offered ribs, chicken, turkey leg and boneless chicken wings. For a dollar extra you could order the “platter” which also included baked beans and coleslaw or potato salad. Wanting to save room to sample as many things as possible, I stuck with just the quarter slab of ribs. I was impressed with the size of the order; there were four small bones but they were surrounded by a ton of meat…probably as much meat as I’ve had on a larger half slab of ribs at some restaurants. My “three minute” wait for the order obviously wasn’t long enough, as the ribs arrived between cold and room temperature. However, I was hungry, and they were still very tasty, so I just ate them rather than trying to wait for another serving. The generous amount of meat was smoky and covered in a tangy sauce. I was pleased with the size of the serving for $7.75, and, aside from the temperature, the ribs were as good as I’ve had in many restaurants.

Linda’s rule of ballpark dining number 2 – Get to the game early to hit the concession stands before the rest of the hungry hoarde. When you attend a game with Rich Paschette, you will always be there early, so this was not a problem. Even though this game was sold out with over 7,800 people, as you might expect, lines developed during the game at the concession stands. However, they had so many different concession stands and carts to choose from that the lines seemed to move pretty quickly. I also felt that the concession stand workers gave speedier service than I’ve seen at a most other ball parks.

Having broken my own new rule number one, I found when I got around to the other side of the ball park (near where we had come in), that there was a second BBQ stand, but this one had a different menu! This one offered several different BBQ sandwiches: beef brisket, pulled pork and pulled chicken as well as grilled corn on the cob. I couldn’t resist, so I picked up a beef brisket sandwich for Rich (and had him leave a few bites for me, since I was trying to “pace myself” since a baseball game to me is “nine innings of eating”). All the sandwiches were $5.25 each and provided a generous serving of meat on a large bun. The brisket was thickly sliced and smoky and served with an optional BBQ sauce. It wasn’t the best beef brisket sandwich I’ve ever had, but it was quite good. Unfortunately they were sold out of the grilled corn.

Rich had to follow his tradition of getting a hot dog since we were at a baseball game. Since he was also interested in sampling some of the other ballpark food, he limited himself to one regular hot dog (instead of two jumbo hot dogs). He gave me a bite so I could include the hot dog in my review. I’m pretty sure it was not an “all beef” hot dog, but for $2.50 it was a decent size for a “regular” hot dog and it was grilled instead of boiled and was quite tasty. The jumbo dogs at the stadium ran $3.50, and I imagine they may have been “all beef” which I by far prefer.

The aroma of fresh popped pop corn assailed me from various stands as I walked around the stadium and even wafted down to where we were sitting for the game, but I was strong and resisted the temptation. Instead, I made two more trips back to the BBQ stand later in the game before I finally caught a batch of corn just ready to come off the grill. I’ve never had grilled corn on the cob at a sporting event before – next time I will try to find a table to sit at to eat this because it’s not easy to juggle a plate and an ear of corn dripping in butter when sitting in your seat in the stands! Still, it was definitely well worth the risk of ending up covered in butter, and I managed to polish it off with only two small spots of butter ending up on my shirt.

One of my favorite things at Parkview Field was the apple themed food cart to go along with the whole Tin Caps/Johnny Appleseed theme. They served up apple pie, apple dumplings with vanilla ice cream, apple slices with caramel sauce, apple juice, apple cider, and apple crisp with caramel sauce (with or without ice cream). I settled on the apple crisp, which was an excellent deal for $2.75 with a generous serving of crisp thick sliced apples baked in a apple/cinnamon sauce with rolled oats – definitely enough for two people to share. The optional scoop of vanilla ice cream for $1.50 was very small, so I passed that up.

Later in the game Rich headed up to get some Dippin' Dots (ice cream). Now, I have never tried Dippin' Dots before. I always thought that they were an overpriced fad for kids that I couldn’t believe has lasted the test of time. Since I was suspect of the concoction, I just shared Rich’s serving with him. He picked the “rainbow ice” flavor which appeared to be the equivalent of Dippin' Dots sherbet. It tasted somewhat like rainbow sherbet and was also vaguely reminiscent of orange flavored children’s baby aspirin. The little balls of frozen sherbet came in a rainbow of colors that formed into a strange glob in your mouth. They were so cold that they were a little difficult to eat, though we thought this might have been particularly refreshing on a very hot day (which it was not). I wonder if the other flavors are creamier and taste more like ice cream, so for me the jury’s still out on dip n’ dots. I did think that the price of $5.50 for the “large” (served in a mini baseball helmet) was a better deal than the $3.50 for the “small” (served in a small cup).

Rich keeps trying to convert me to being a baseball fan by telling me, “Baseball is your favorite!” over and over again. I always respond with, “No, eating at baseball is my favorite!” I particularly enjoy going to ball parks that have something to offer beyond the ordinary stadium fare, and this ball park definitely exceeded my culinary expectations! It may have had the best variety of food and drink

Parkview Field, Fort Wayne IN

Basic Information
Team: Fort Wayne TinCaps (Midwest League)
Game: TinCaps vs Quad City River Bandits-7/18/2009
Team Website: http://www.tincaps.com/
Ticket Information: (260) 482-6400
Tourism Information: http://www.visitfortwayne.com/ or (800) 767-7752
Online Broadcast: http://www.tincaps.com/

Team History: While baseball has been played in Fort Wayne since 1862, the current TinCaps team has it's origins dating back to 1993, when the Kenosha Twins moved from Wisconsin to the Summit City. The new team, christened the Fort Wayne Wizards played their games at Memorial Stadium, which was located north of downtown Fort Wayne, just adjacent to the Memorial Coliseum. The Wizards quickly became a hit in Fort Wayne, drawing over 300,000 fans in it's first season. However, while Memorial Stadium was adequate, it didn't have the amenities needed to support a successful baseball team, so the team and the city of Fort Wayne agreed to build a new park in downtown, which was completed in time for the 2009 season.

Affiliation: The TinCaps are the single "A" affiliate of the San Diego Padres, and have been so since 1999.

How About That Name: The new home of baseball in Fort Wayne is named after Parkview Health, a system of hospitals in the Fort Wayne area.

Getting There: Take I-69 south to exit 109A (US 30/IN 930). This is Goshen Rd. At the first light (Coliseum Blvd), make a left. Follow Coliseum Blvd to Coldwater Rd. Make a right onto Coldwater Rd, then make a right onto North Clinton St. Stay on North Clinton (note: this street jogs around a bit, but just stay straight on it). Take North Clinton into downtown Fort Wayne (note: it turns into South Clinton). Make a right onto Washington Blvd. Take Washington Blvd to Webster St. Make a left onto Webster, then a left onto Jefferson, then a right onto Harrison, which will drop you off at Parkview Field's adjacent parking garage.

What To Do Before The Game: Fort Wayne's Children's Zoo was recently rated as one of the top ten zoos in the US. It features an Indiana farm section, a section devoted to the Australian outback, the Indonesian rain forest, as well as a newly opened African Adventure area. For more information, call (260) 427-6800 or visit http://www.kidszoo.org/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: The food is so good at Parkview Field (see subsequent article by Linda), you really don't want to load up too much prior to your visit. However, if you are in dire need of sustinance, Coliseum Blvd has many different choices of fast food and sit-down type restaurants that can suit every taste and price range. I like to recommend the Liberty Diner, which is at the intersection of Coliseum Blvd and Goshen Rd. It has a terrific list of specialties and is fairly inexpensive.

Where To Stay: I like the Red Roof Inn, which is also located at the intersection of Coliseum Blvd and Goshen Rd. Like other Red Roof's, it's clean, comfortable, not too expensive, and is within easy reach of where I need to go. For more information, go to http://www.redroof.com/ or call (800) THE-ROOF.

Tickets: Tickets for the TinCaps are as follows: $12.50 (scout seats), $10.00 (left field porch), $9.00 (all-star), $8.00 (reserved), and $5.00 (lawn). Like the Toledo Mud Hens, I recommend purchasing your tickets in advance, as the club has sold out a third of their home dates previous to the game I attended.

Parking: The TinCaps boast substantial parking around Parkview Field. "Within a block of home plate in each direction, you have enough parking to fill the stadium," team CEO Jason Freier said in the TinCap's yearbook. The best option is a large parking structure located just beyond right field at Parkview Field. Parking there cost $4.00 and was a five minute walk from our seats.

The Good Seats: With a capacity of around seven thousand, Parkview Field has nothing but good seats. There is the traditional seating going from foul pole to foul pole, as well as the pavilion in the left field porch, and lawn seating just to either side of dead center. One of the more unique seating areas at the home of the TinCaps is area in right field called "the Treetops". Elevated above the right field walkway, these seats boast a panoramic view of the park, similar to the rooftops seats at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Treetops also features a buffet which is rotated every two innings. Sadly, tickets for this area is only available for groups.

Stadium Food: On this trip, I defer to Linda Ibbett, who wrote a substantial article about dining at Parkview Field, which will be posted here.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Parkview Field boasts one of minor-league baseball's largest and most advanced scoreboards, which is mounted above the Treetops seats in right center field. It is 53 1/2 feet wide and 26 feet high, and handles all the scorekeeping duties, as well as a crystal clear video system for replays and other entertainment. The stadium's PA announcer is professional and handles his duties well.

Game Staff: I found the TinCaps staff to be helpful and friendly in all areas. I had a nice conversation with several of the ushers, who have told me that they have met more than a few "ballpark travel aficionado's" like myself this season.

Souvenirs: "The Orchard", the TinCap's souvenir store is located just to the left of the main entrance to Parkview Field. They carry a substantial line of souvenirs, and do a brisk business. I did notice the next day at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo that a significant number of people that I passed were wearing TinCaps gear.

Atmosphere: While the emphasis is on the game, the TinCaps do a good job of keeping things lively. Team mascot "Johnny" (as in Johnny Appleseed), is in constant motion, participating in many contests in between innings. A special guest at the game I attended was "Myron Noodleman", who calls himself "The Coolest Nerd in the Biz". To be honest, I've seen him before, and he's not exactly one of my favorites. He looks like a cross between Jerry Lewis and Humphrey Bogart, and does three routines in between innings, and does some circulating in the stands, mostly latching on to cute girls. However, I think the best non-baseball entertainment that night was a flyover by four F-16's from the Indiana Air National Guard. They buzzed the stadium early in the game, scaring the bee-jezus out of a helicopter which was giving tours of downtown Fort Wayne!

Overall: One word. Wow. Parkview Field is probably the nicest facility in single A baseball that I've ever been at. Architecturally, esthetically, and for sheer comfort, Parkview ranks at the top in all areas, if you ask me. I don't think that there is anything I would have done differently if I was designing a ball park. Parkview Field is a jewel, and will be such for many years to come, and I rank it as a "must-visit" for any baseball fan.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fifth Third Field, Toledo OH

Basic Information
Team: Toledo Mud Hens (International League)
Game: Mud Hens vs Indianapolis Indians-7/11/09
Team Website: http://www.mudhens.com/
Ticket Information: (419) 725-HENS
Tourism Information: http://www.dotoledo.com/ or (800 ) 243-4667
Online Broadcasts: http://www.wcwa.com/

Team History: Long before Jamie Farr made the his favorite team famous in the legendary television show M*A*S*H, there have been Mud Hens playing baseball in the Glass City. In 1896, Charles Strobel bought a team for Toledo in the American Association. Ten years later, the team, which Strobel christened the Mud Hens, played their first game at the-then state of the art Strobel Field, a 11,900 seat stadium which was constructed in an amazing four months. The Hens would play at Strobel field until 1952, when the team was sold and moved to Charleston, WV. However, Toledo would not be without baseball for long, as a new team, affiliated with the Milwaukee Braves, would take up residence. This team, which lasted just three years before moving to Wichita, would be called the Toledo Sox. It would be ten years before baseball would return to Toledo, when in 1965, the New York Yankees moved their top fam team to the Glass City, where the new Mud Hens would play at Ned Skelton Stadium, a converted race track. They would play there until 2002, when the new Fifth Third Field would open it's doors.

Affiliation: The Mud Hens are the top affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, and have been so since 1987.

How About That Name: Fifth Third Field is named for Fifth Third Bank, one of the largest banks in the Great Lakes area. Ironically, this is the third park with the banks' name. The other two are in Dayton and Grand Rapids.

Getting There: Take I-75 north towards Toledo. Exit at Exit 201B. At the bottom of the exit ramp, make a left onto Erie St. Follow Erie St to Washington St. Ballpark will be on the left.

What To Do Before The Game: Toledo features one of the finest zoos in the Midwest, with over 4,800 animals at the facility, as well as some of the finest historic architecture in the city. For more information, visit http://www.toledozoo.org/. I also recommend the Toledo Firefighters Museum. Located in an old fire station near downtown, it has a large collection of fire equipment and memorablilia. To learn more, contact http://www.toledofiremuseum.com/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: With Fifth Third Field being right smack in the middle of downtown Toledo, there are many places to eat, but if you're a fan of hot dogs or M*A*S*H, you need to stop at Max Klinger's favorite place, Tony Packo's. Located just outside Fifth Third, Packo's at the Park is not the original Packo's that Jamie Farr's charachter longed for-that one is located north of the ballpark on the other side of the Maumee River. However, the location at the park maintains the traditional Packo's flavor and quality. It's a good place to eat, but since it is a "tourist attraction", consider getting there a bit before the game. You can eat, relax, and watch one of the many large screen TV's in the restaurant. Packo's at the Park also has a fairly substantial souvenir shop just as you walk in. A nice touch by the Mud Hens is a list and map of nearby restaurants in the Muddy Times free game program.

Where To Stay: There are several choices downtown, but there are substanially more along I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike.

Tickets: Tickets for Mud Hens games are $9.00 each, but I strongly recommend that you purchase your tickets ahead of time. The Hens are one of the top drawing teams in the minors, and often sell out. I believe that as of my trip to Toledo, the Hens sold out almost a third of their home games to that date.

Parking: There is parking around the stadium, but it is all privately owned, so costs vary. According to the team, there are over six thousand parking spots within a quarter mile of the park. I parked at the lot at the intersection of Washington and St. Clair, which is just across the street from Fifth Third. Parking there was $8.00, but it can get kind of tight getting in and out.

Seating: Fifth Third Park, nestled inside a city block, has the majority of it's seats between the foul poles. It's one of the few double decked stadiums in minor league baseball, but the majority of the seats in the upper level are sold out for the season as season tickets. All of the seats on the lower level are good, and are angled towards the infield. In addition, fans who prefer to stand, can watch the game from around the outfield fence. One unique seating area at Fifth Third Park is the "Roost", a triangle shaped seating area located in the upper level in extreme right field. Called by some publications, the "best seats in the minors", you are a bit away from the action, but the panoramic view is incredible.

Stadium Food: Very good! There is an excellent selection located at multiple stands around the concourse. I sampled a black angus burger and fries from "Gilhooley's Grill", named after a long time Hens broadcaster. It was tasty, and for a ballpark burger, surprisingly hot. the burger, fries, and souvenir soda was around $12.00. The Hens also serve Toft's Ice Cream, an superb local brand (try the Bullpen Chocolate!).

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Fifth Third Park boasts not one, but two, full sized video boards, one in left center, and the other in right center. The game information is displayed on the left field board, and the one in right shows information on the game, upcoming promotions, and messages from sponsors.

Team Staff: Easy to find, professional, and helpful.

Souvenirs: The Swamp Shop is a large, well stocked store located at the right field foul pole. It not only carries a large stock of Hens goodies, but a substantial amount of merchandise from the Toledo Walleye hockey team and Toledo Bullfrogs arena football team, both of which will start play this fall in the brand new Lucas County Arena, being built just down the street from Fifth Third. Both of the new teams are owned and operated by the Hens' management.

Atmosphere: The Hens put on a terrific show, but the game is still the main focus. Muddy and Muddona, his and hers Mud Hens circulate in the stands, leading cheers, and being a part of the in-game contests.

Overall: Fifth Third Field should be on any baseball fan's "must see" list. It's simply one of, if not the best, ball park in the entire minor leagues. On a beautiful summer night, which I was treated to, it's an experience that can't be beat.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

All-Pro Freight Stadium, Avon OH

Basic Information
Team: Lake Erie Crushers (Frontier League)
Game: Crushers vs River City Rascals-7/10/09
Ticket Information: (440) 934-3636
Tourism Information: http://www.visitloraincounty.com/ or (800) 334-1673
Online Broadcasts: http://www.lakeeriecrushers.com/

Team History: The Crushers are the Frontier League's first foray into northeastern Ohio. The Crushers joined the independent league for the 2009 season.

How About That Name: The home of the Crushers is named after All-Pro Frieght, a logistics and distribution company based in Avon.

Getting There: Take I-90 to exit 151 (OH 611). At the top of the ramp, make a right onto OH 611. Continue straight to 2nd light, where you will make a left, which takes you into the stadium parking lot.

What To Do Before the Game: All-Pro Freight Stadium is less than a half an hour from downtown Cleveland, which has many ways to occupy and entertain. For information about things to do in Lorain County, contact the county's convention and visitors bureau.

Where To Eat Before the Game: There is a McDonalds on at the exit for the ballpark, but unfortunately, that is the extent of the eating possibilities in that area. However, if you go north on I-90 towards Cleveland, you will find more and varied restaurant choices.

Where To Stay: Again, as with food selection, lodgings at the exit for the ballpark are limited (I do believe that there is an extended-stay hotel at the exit, but I don't have any information on it). However, if you north on I-90, there are more hotel choices.

Tickets: Single game Crushers tickets are as follows: $10.00 (terrace box), $9.00 (home box), and $6.00 (general admission). In addition, the team has a package where for $60.00, you can purchase a four person table and chairs which are located at the top of the seating area, giving an excellent view of the field.

Parking: There is sufficient parking on the stadium grounds for $3.00 per car.

Seating: The majority of All-Pro's seating is located from foul-pole to foul pole in the traditional "V" or wishbone shape. The main seating bowl has less than a dozen rows, so no matter where you are, you're right on top of the field. There is also a berm in left field for those who prefer lounging out on a blanket or beach chair. One of the more interesting parts of the berm seating is that you can stand right up and lean on the outfield fence, giving a "outfielders-eye" view of the action.

Stadium Food: Not bad. The usual stadium fare is available at the two concessions stands, one down each foul line. The tasts is fairly good, and the price is tolerable (two hot dogs and a pretzel cost $7.50).

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: All-Pro Freight Stadium features a standard scoreboard in right center, providing basic game information. With the design of the scoreboard setup, I'm assuming that the team purposely left area for a video board to be installed in the future. The Crushers have a very good PA announcer, who is very enthusiastic, but does it in a manner that isn't annoying or over the top. The team has an excellent selection of music, which it utilizes very well. The selection is a good mix of traditional "jock rock" to sixties to eighties to TV theme songs.

Team Staff: Plentiful and easy to find. All seem friendly and enjoy their work.

Souvenirs: The Crushers have a good selection of merchandise in their team shop, which is immediately to the left of the main gate.

Atmosphere: All in all, it's pretty laid back, but still entertaining. The team's mascot, Stomper, is very active and entertaining, and is all over the stadium during the game. One unusual facet is the "home run bucket". Every time a Crusher player takes one deep, "home run buckets" are circulated throughout the stands, for the fans to drop a donation into, and the home run hitter gets whatever is collected. It's a tradition that goes back to the forties and fifties in Texas, where fans would stick dollar bills through the fencing surrounding the field with one of their players would nail a round-tripper.

Overall: I'd have to say that the Crushers are well on their way to becoming one of the top franchises in the Frontier League. With a strong team and a comfortable stadium, there is no reason that Avon won't become an operation that other teams around the minors can take a look at.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Applebee's Park, Lexington KY

Basic Information
Team: Lexington Legends (South Atlantic League)
Game: Legends vs Rome Braves-7/4/09
Team Website: http://www.lexingtonlegends.com/
Ticket Information: (859) 252-4487
Tourism Information: http://www.visitlex.com/ or (800) 848-1224
Online Broadcasts: http://www.wlxg.com/

Team History: The Lexington Legends played their first game in April 2001, after joining the South Atlantic League as an expansion team the spring before. However, it was a long and difficult voyage to bring baseball to the heart of bluegrass country. Several efforts, dating back to 1984, failed to bring a minor league baseball team to Lexington. At times, it was rumored that the Charleston Alley Cats (now the West Virginia Power), the Tennessee Smokies, and a proposed independent team were moving to the state capital, all without success. However, in 1999, a private group of local businessmen announced that they would privately finance a new stadium, and the effort picked up speed, culminating in the construction of Applebee's Park and the birth of the Lexington Legends.

Affiliation: The Legends are the single "A" affiliate of the Houston Astros, and has been since their first season.

How About That Name: The ballpark recieved it's moniker in time for the team's opener in April 2001, when the restaurant chain announced that it had purchased the naming rights to the new stadium.

Getting There: Take 1-75/I-64 to exit 113 (the US 27/68 exit). This is North Broadway. Turn right at the bottom of the exit ramp, and follow North Broadway for approximately one and a half miles. The stadium will be on the right side.

What to Do Before the Game: Lexington is in one of the most scenic and interesting parts of the country, with more than a little bit to see and do. One of the most popular destinations in the area is the Kentucky Horse Park. Located almost due north of downtown Lexington on Iron Works Pike just off I-75, the Horse Park tells the complete story of Kentucky's love affair with the horse. It features the International Museum of the Horse, a working blacksmith shop, an area devoted to horse racing, live demonstrations and horse shows, and more. For information, call (800) 678-8813 or visit http://www.kyhorsepark.com/. For those of you, like me, who love a good sip of bourbon, central Kentucky is famous for that as well. Several of the major bourbon distillers, such as Makers Mark, Jim Beam, Four Roses, and Woodford Reserve, all have their distilleries in or near the Lexington area. For more information on the "Kentucky Bourbon Trail", visit http://www.kybourbontrail.com/.

Where To Eat Before the Game: Choices near the stadium are limited, but there are a selection of fast food restaurants near the intersection of I-75/I-64 and North Broadway.

Where To Stay: When I am in the area, I usually stay at the Red Roof Lexington. It's right at the North Broadway exit, and is convenient to the park, dining, and downtown.

Tickets: Single game tickets are: $16.50 (super club), $14.00 (club), $10.00 (field box), $8.00 (box), $5.00 (bleacher), $4.00 (lawn).

Parking: Parking is plentiful at the stadium site, and costs $3.00.

The Good Seats: Applebee's Park is designed in the traditional "V" or wishbone layout, with virtually all the seats between the foul lines. Sightlines are good all the way around, but there is limited seating under cover. The stadium roof only provides shelter for the top five or so rows, which was helpful for me on this trip, as it rained off and on most of the game.

Stadium Food: Well above average. Although the selection is not extravagant, what they do, they do well. Along with the normal fare of hot dogs and hamburgers, Applebee's Park features a very good barbecue chicken nugget platter, brats, pizza, and chicken sandwiches. Price was about average, with two hot dogs and a souvenir sized Pepsi costing about ten bucks.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Applebee's Park features a typical minor league scoreboard/video screen in right center field. In addition, there is a hand-operated board in left center which features scores of that night's Astros game, as well as all of the club's other minor league affiliates. One of the more unusual features of the main scoreboard are the "victory flames" which shoot from the top of the scoreboard at the start of the game, and to signify a Legends win. The park's stadium voice is good, and he is assisted by "Super Mario", the team's on-field host and "Director of Fun".

Game Staff: Outstanding! Everyone connected with the team is outgoing, friendly, and helpful. From team owner Alan Stein to the young lady at the souvenir store (who "sold" me ny new Legends cap) had the time to chat a bit, and gave me a warm welcome, and a "thanks for coming".

Souvenirs: The Legends feature a good-sized, well stocked souvenir store just to the first-base side of the stadium's main entrance.

Atmosphere: Very good. Although the game I attended was delayed for over an hour by rain, the team's on-field host "Super Mario" kept the fans involved with contests for virtually the entire delay time. The team's "Mac Attack" team was constantly working the crowd, encouraging the crowd to stay in the game, despite the poor weather. One thing that I noticed was that the team encouraged the fans to root on the tarp pullers when it was time to remove the cover. I mean, you don't hear the crowd at an Indians game almost in unison yell "PULL THE TARP" when encouraged by the team who were ready to go!

Overall: This was my third trip to Applebee's Park, and I plan on making it a regular stop during my spring and summer travels. The Legends and their staff work hard to make their home welcome to everyone who attends, and they do it well.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Firestone Stadium, Akron OH

Basic Information
Team: Akron Racers (Womens Pro Fastpitch)
Game: Racers vs Philadelphia Force-6/24/09
Team Website: http://www.akronracers.org/
Ticket Information: (330) 376-8188
Tourism Information: http://www.visitakron-summit.com/ or (800) 245-4254
Online Broadcasts: None

Team History: The Akron Racers are a member of Womens Pro Fastpitch, a professional women's softball league that started play in 1995. The Racers were originally known as the Orlando Wahoos, and moved from central Florida to Akron for the 1999 season.

How About that Name:
The stadium was named after the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, who built the stadium for the recreational use of it's employees. Firestone Stadium was opened in 1925, and was dedicated by Harvey Firestone, the founder of the company which bears it's name. The stadium is now owned by the City of Akron, which took possession in 1988, after Firestone donated it to the city.

Getting There: Take I-77 to the Wilbeth Rd exit. Go west on Wilbeth Rd for approximately 1.25 miles until you reach the Main St. intersection. Go north on Main St, and the stadium will be on the left side of the street.

What to Do Before The Game: One of the more unique points of interest in Akron is the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Located in downtown Akron, the Inventors Hall of Fame is dedicated to those whose creativity and ingenuity helped make the technology which makes our world what it is today. In addition, Akron features a top-flight zoo, the Hale Farm and Museum, and the Goodyear World of Rubber Museum. In addition, if you schedule your visit right, you can catch an Akron Aeros baseball game at the outstanding Canal Park, which is also located in downtown Akron. The Aeros are the AA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.

Where to Eat Before The Game: Firestone Stadium is located in a residential area, so dining choices near the park are non-existant. However, there are many places to eat before the game along I-77 and in or near downtown Akron.

Where to Stay: There are many choices for lodging around the Akron area for all budgets and tastes. Contact the Akron-Summit Visitors Bureau for a list of hotels.

Tickets: Single game tickets are $9.00 (club seating). $8.00 (VIP), $7.00 (Stadium), $6.00 (LF Bleachers), $5.00 (RF Bleachers).

Parking: There is sufficient parking at Firestone, located behind the stadium and along the left field line. Parking for Racers games is free.

The Good Seats: Firestone Stadium is a throwback to another era of stadium design. With it's brick arched main entrance, to the iron girders which support the roof, it would be very easy to imagine yourself here watching the Firestone company team take on their opponents in 1935. It is a classic park in all facets. Since it seats less than two thousand, all the seats are right on top of the action. Much of the main grandstand is covered by a roof, so weather or sun won't be much of a problem. All of the seating is bleacher-style without backs.

Stadium Food: The concessions at Firestone are fairly standard, but like virtually everything else there, it's a decent quality and good value. Two slices of Gionino's Pizza (a local outlet) and a bottle of Pepsi cost me a reasonable $7.00. Firestone also features Strickland's soft serve ice cream, a northeast Ohio favorite.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Firestone Stadium has a standard scoreboard in right center field, which gives only the basic game information. The PA announcer has a good voice and a good delivery.

Game Staff: The Racers have a small, yet hard working staff which circulates around the park constantly.

Souvenirs: The Racers "Garage" is a small building located down the left field line which has a surprising large line of merchandise.

Atmosphere: Although Firestone Stadium was about half full the night I attended, it was a lively and knowledgable crowd. Racers management keeps things moving the whole evening with between inning contests and games. Wheelie the Jaguar is a fixture at Racers games, leading cheers and giving high-fives to the kids.

Overall:
It's a shame that the Racers don't have more of a footprint in the Akron market. The Racers staff and players work hard to put on a good show, which I feel that they do successfully. WPF softball features some of the best players in the world, and Firestone Stadium is a terrific venue to see them show off their skills on a warm summer evening. I highly recommend going to a Racers game. It's good, inexpensive, family-friendly sports.