Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Long Time Ago....

Yours truly, from the cover of the August 14, 1975 Bellmore Life newspaper.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hit The Road #1-You Never Forget Your First Time

As a guy who has been to over a hundred ballparks, and probably close to that number of indoor arenas and non-baseball stadiums, you'd probably ask yourself how did it all get started. Well, for me, it goes back to the summer of 1977, when I was 13 years old.
As one who spent his formative years growing up on Long Island, my dad and I would usually go to one or two Mets games at Shea Stadium per year, either with the rest of my family or with my dad's co-workers or his former fireman buddies. Usually the hour or so drive from Bellmore to the big ballpark in Flushing was pretty uneventful, and after making our way through the maze of parking spots, we would grab our mezzanine seats and watch the game, munching on our seventy five cent hot dogs and keepings score in the twenty five cent scorecards. I never usually paid much attention to the minor leagues, knowing only that it was the place where ballplayers came from. That all changed when my folks, my brother Dan, and I took our annual family vacation to the Finger Lakes region of New York state.
That summer, we drove the five or six hours to the Finger Lakes, and after seeing the sights there, found lodging in a small town in the southern tier of the state called Utica. There really wasn't much to the town, as it seemed, at the time, kind of a dump....sort of gray and depressed. I'm not sure how I convinced my parents, but after reading the paper, I noticed that there was a baseball game that night. The team was the Utica Blue Jays, an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, who were playing in their first season as a member of the American League.
The home of the U-Jays was Murnane Field, and it looked like a high school football stadium which had fallen into deep disrepair. Much of the seating was just wooden bleachers set up along the baselines and behind home plate. However, this being my first ballpark that the Mets weren't playing in, there was a bit of mystery and magic to my young eyes.
The playing field looked like the Okeefenokee, and the stadium lighting was spotty at best, giving the field a jaundiced yellow glow.
As I was looking through the game program, I noticed that the team's general manager was from my hometown of Bellmore. My mom and I went up to him and introduced ourselves, and it just so happened that he was the son of the Bellmore superintendant of schools! I'm sure he was as suprised as we were that a group of people from Bellmore would encounter each other at a crumbling ballyard in Utica.
I don't remember the exact final score, but it was a wild one, with a final of something like 21-15.
While much of that night faded off into my childhood memories, it turned out to be a catalyst for my future wanderlust, and turned into the seed that, thirty years later, would bring me to where I am now, a guy who lives for, and some might say, obssesses with, the idea of visiting sports venues around the country.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland OH

Basic Information
Team: Cleveland Gladiators (Arena Football League)
Game: Gladiators vs Spokane Shock-7/10/2010
Team Website: http://www.clevelandgladiators.com/
Ticket Information: (216) 685-9000 or http://www.clevelandgladiators.com/
Tourism Information: (800) 321-1001 or http://www.positivelycleveland.com/
Online Broadcasts: WJMO-AM http://www.praisecleveland.com/
Local Newspaper: Cleveland Plain Dealer http://www.cleveland.com/

Team History: After stops in New Jersey and in Las Vegas, the Gladiators arrived in Cleveland in 2008. Led by former Browns legend Bernie Kosar, the Gladiators made it all the way to the conference finals in their inaugural season. However, due to financial difficulties league-wide, the team, as well as the entire Arena Football League ceased operations after the 2008 campaign. Happily for Cleveland football fans, the Gladiators were one of the first teams to join the newly reborn AFL in time for the 2010 season.

How About That Name (And Some History) Quicken Loans Arena (formerly known as the Gund Arena), was opened in downtown Cleveland in the fall of 1994, replacing the legendary Richfield Coliseum (aka. The House of Thrills). The arena was named for the Gund family, who owned the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and was instrumental in the building of the new downtown arena. When an investment group led by Dan Gilbert purchased the Cavs and the Gund Arena in March 2005, Gilbert renamed the building the Quicken Loans Arena (aka. The Q), from his lead business.

The Q is also the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters, who are owned by the Cavaliers.

Getting There: The Q is located just south of downtown Cleveland on the intersection of Ontario St and Huron Rd. From I-77: exit at E 9th St. Go north on E 9th or Ontario St for approximately a half mile to the Arena. From I-71: exit on Ontario St. Go north on Ontario St for approximately a half mile to the Arena.

Nearest Airport: Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport is approximately 20 miles from Quicken Loans Arena.

What To Do Before The Game: Since The Q is located just adjacent to downtown, there are many things to do within an easy walk. A ten to fifteen minute walk north on E 9th St will take you to the lakefront and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center. the Rock Hall, one of the city's most popular attractions, features memorabilia and multi-media presentations from the greatest musicians from the "Rock Era" and beyond. For more information, call (216) 781-7625 or visit http://www.rockhall.com/. Just to the west of the Rock Hall is the Great Lakes Science Center. The Science Center features "fun for all ages" exhibits, as well as things aimed strictly for the younger set. Starting last year, the GLSC became the new home of NASA's Glenn Research Center's Visitors Center. featuring over fifty artifacts from the Space Age, including those which feature the work of the Glenn Research Center, which is located near Hopkins Airport. For more information call (216) 694-2000 or visit http://www.greatscience.com/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Being downtown, your choices are almost limitless. We recommend Harry Buffalo's, a two minute walk from the arena's main entrance. Harry Buffalo's is a "family style" sports bar which serves good bar style food at reasonable prices. There are other restaurants in the area, including a Hard Rock Cafe (located in Tower City Center, which is just across the Ontario St), and a Buffalo Wild Wings on Huron Rd, a five minute walk from the main entrance.

Where To Stay: There are many choices here. One of the closest is a Hilton Garden Inn on E 9th and Carnegie Ave, which is less than ten minutes from the Arena. It features a restaurant/bar and well appointed guest rooms. However, with it's location, it will probably be pricey. For information, call (216) 658-6400 or visit http://www.hiltongardeninn.com/. For those of you who are looking for more moderately priced accomodations, virtually every chain is represented in the area. You might want to check out the Independence area (approximately a ten minute drive south of downtown) or the airport area (fifteen to twenty minutes away).

Tickets: Gladiators tickets are priced as follows: $55.00, $45.00, $39.00, $28.00, $22.00, $18.00, and $13.00. However, there are ridiculous surcharges added on to these prices at the box office, so BE WARNED!

Parking: There are multiple choices for parking near The Q. We usually park at the large covered garage on Ontario and Huron Rd. It's right across the street from the main box office and entrance, and costs $10.00 for Gladiators games.

The Good Seats: Surprisingly, for a newer arena, seating runs the gamut from "excellent" to "poor". In order to fit in the luxury suite seating, the seating in the lower sidelines is not angled particularly well, and even though you're right near the action, you will be craning your head to see around the guy in front of you. The end zone and upper level seating is angled much better, and gives a great panorama of everything going on. We sat in the upper level corner seats and were quite content with our view.

Getting In: There are two main entrances on Huron Rd, each with it's own ticket area. Getting into the arena is interesting, as you will be forced to walk through a metal detector as well as opening any bags you have, and remove your cellphones!

Arena Food: Befitting an arena the size of "The Q" there are many choices in terms of arena eats. These include two Quaker Steak and Lube stands (one inside the Arena bar), four DiGiornp Pizza Stands, a Zoup! stand (upscale soup), as well as beer-only stands, eight nacho carts, several Cold Stone Creamery locations, and a stand called "Just 4 U", which serves health-conscious fare. However, some of these may not be open for the Gladiators or the Monsters, but they will all be open and running for the Cavs and larger events.

I sampled a hot dog and a pretzel, and both were quite tasty. The hot dog was grilled, served quite hot, and on a fresh bun. The pretzel was fresh, hot, and salty as well.

Here is a sampling of some of the items served at The Q:

Hot Dog: $4.25 Nachos: $5.50 Hamburger and Fries: $8.75 Draft Beer: $6.75 Soda: $4.75 Pretzel: $3.50

Soft Drinks: The Q serves Pepsi products.

Souvenirs: There are two souvenir stands on the concourse which sell Gladiators merchandise. There is also a large store located near the main entrance which sells Cavs gear only.

Restrooms: Located throughout the concourse, they are all clean and well stocked.

Mascot: Rudarius (Rudi)-a large lion dressed as a Roman centurion. The Gladiators also have the Goddesses dance team and the Kickoff Crew, a co-ed cheerleading squad.

Game Program: Free

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Q boasts one of the largest scoreboards in any arena I've been to. Each of the four sides is broken up into two screens, the upper showing the pertinent game information, and the lower portion features a large high definition video screen. There are also four video screens in the upper level of the arena, one on each corner. However, these were not used used for the Gladiators game. My understanding is that they are used to provide in depth stats during the Cavaliers games.

The PA announcer was quite enthusiastic, and he was assisted by my old friend "Munch" Bishop, who hosted most of the on-field contests. The music leaned towards heavy metal and was played at a fairly loud level.

Game Staff: Plentiful and professional.

Atmosphere: Cleveland is a football town, and is passionate about it. While the Gladiators haven't drawn the same crowds that they had in their first year, the fans that go are enthusiastic and back the team.

Overall: Quicken Loans Arena is a world-class arena, there is no doubt of that. The only issue is that when smaller events like the Monsters and Gladiators play there, they smaller crowds seem to get swallowed up in such a large building. However, a visit to The Q is recommended for any event, just to see how Cleveland has changed over the past twenty years.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Security Service Field, Colorado Springs CO

Basic Information
Team: Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Pacific Coast League)
Game: Sky Sox vs Las Vegas 51s-6/19/2010
Team Website: http://www.skysox.com/
Ticket Information: (719) 591-SOXX or http://www.skysox.com/
Tourism Information: (800) 368-4748 or http://www.visitcos.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.skysox.com/
Local Newspaper: Colorado Springs Gazette http://www.gazette.com/

Team History: Named after a Colorado Springs team that played in the Western League in the fifties, the city of Colorado Springs joined the Pacific Coast League in 1988 when the Hawai'i Islanders moved from the volcanic mountains of Oahu to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The Islanders originally started out in 1918 in Sacramento, CA, playing as the Solons before moving to Hawai'i in 1961. The Sky Sox were the top affiliate of the Cleveland Indians from 1988 until 1993, when the Sky Sox joined up with the nearby Colorado Rockies.

Team Affiliation: The Sky Sox are the triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

How About That Name (And Some History): The home of the Sky Sox was known as Sky Sox Stadium until 2005, when Security Service Federal Credit Union, a Colorado-based banking institution, purchased the naming rights.

Getting There: From I-25: Exit at Garden of the Gods Rd (exit 146). Make a left onto Garden of the Gods Rd, and follow for 4.3 miles, then make a slight right onto Barnes Rd. Follow Barnes Rd to Tutt Rd, making a right onto Tutt Rd. Follow Tutt Rd to the ballpark.

Nearest Airport: Colorado Springs Municipal Airport is ten miles south of Security Service Field.

What To Do Before The Game: In my humble opinion, if you are in Colorado Springs, a "must see" is the Garden of the Gods Nature Center. Located in the shadow of legendary Pikes Peak, the Garden of the Gods is a great way to explore some of the most amazing and beautiful rock formations anywhere. The Visitors Center, located at the front of the park, features a short film about how the rock formations were created millions of years ago, and is the starting point for guided bus, hiking, biking, and Segway tours of the actual park. There is a small cafeteria at the visitors center as well as a souvenir store. For more information, call (719) 634-6666 or visit http://www.gardenofgods.com/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are many selections along Garden of the Gods Rd from fast food to more formal sit-down type places.

Where To Stay: For this trip, I stayed at the La Quinta Garden of the Gods location. Located at the intersection of I-25 and Garden of the Gods Rd, it was convenient to everyplace I needed to be. This trip was my first experience with the La Quinta chain, and I was quite impressed, as I stayed with them for both my Denver and Colorado Springs portions of my trip. I found both La Quinta's to be clean, with large, utilitarian rooms, and for an average of $70.00 per night, definitely in my price range. Both hotels featured a complimentary breakfast and an outdoor swimming pool. For more information on the location I stayed at in Colorado Springs, call (719) 528-5060 or visit http://www.lq.com/.

Tickets: Sky Sox tickets are priced as follows: $12.00 (lower box) $9.00 (upper reserved), and $5.00 (berm). Tickets for children, the military, and senior citizens are discounted $2.00 for the box and reserved seats.

Parking: Sky Sox on-site parking costs $5.00.

The Good Seats: The main grandstand at Security Service Field is of the traditional "V" shape, and runs from third base and extends to first base. The grandstand is divided into two levels, with a concourse that runs between. Lower level seating features fold down seating, and the upper level has metal bleachers with backs. Along the right field line is the Coors Light Terrace, a structure which features the team offices, a banquet hall, and a picnic area which is reserved for large group parties and events. Just past the Coors Light Terrace is the "World Famous" Sky Sox Hot Tub, which is available for rent. According to Sox GM Tony Ensor, the Sky Sox were the first team in sports to install a hot tub for fan use in their stadium.

Getting In: The main entrance, ticket windows, and souvenir store are located in a plaza behind home plate.

Stadium Food: The Sky Sox do have a larger than average line of concessions jammed into their several stands. Some of the more unique items (according to the list in the team program) include: beef jerky, churros, garlic parmesan french fires, and Wisconsin bratwurst. In addition to the stands in the concourse, there are smaller portable sale points for Domino's Pizza, sno cones, and Dippin' Dots. Along the third base concourse, the Hall of Fame Club is available for those who would like a mixed drink or something stronger than a draft beer.

I sampled the team's signature foot long hot dog. I found it to be grilled fresh, quite tasty, and served upon a fresh bun. Along with a large Pepsi, my meal cost $10.50.

Here is a sampling of some of the concession items and costs at Security Service Field:

Foot Long Hot Dog: $6.25 Hamburger: $7.75 Nachos: $4.75 Draft Beer: $6.75 Pretzel: $3.50 Large Soda: $4.25 French Fries: $3.50 Pizza Slice: $4.00

Soft Drinks: Security Service Field pours Pepsi products.

Souvenirs: Located at the main entrance, a small souvenir store "the Fox Den" has a moderately sized line of Sox merchandise.

Restrooms: The restrooms are quite large, clean, and well maintained. The one mens' room is located on the third base side, and the ladies' is located on the first base side.

Mascot: Sox, a lively Fox, is one of the best mascots I've seen this year. He is constantly circling the stadium, and makes his entrance to the field on a large unicycle.

Game Program: Free

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: There is a suitably sized scoreboard located in left center field, which has a video board and a score center for providing pertinent game information. Unfortunately, it's location is right in line with a setting sun, which washes out the video screen until the sun goes behind the first base grandstand. The PA announcer has a good delivery, and on-field host Jon Eddy helps keep things moving between innings.

Game Staff: Everyone I encountered during my visit to the Sky Sox was wonderfully friendly and approachable, and had time to chat with a tourist. As one of the ushers said to me before the game "Hey, I'm working at the ball park. How can you be in a bad mood?". I would like to especially thank GM Tony Ensor, PR director Mike Hobson, merchandise manager Erin Eads (a fellow Parma-ite), community relations manager Jon Eddy, and the guy inside Sox (I never did get his name) for their warm welcome and assistance during my visit.

Atmosphere: While it was on the laid-back side, it was still pleasant and friendly. The in-game promotions were low-key, as not to make a distraction. Combine all of that with an absolutely glorious weather night, it made for an incredibly positive night.

Overall: While Security Service Field might not have all the up-to-date technology and features of a Victory Field in Indianapolis or Fifth Third Field in Toledo, the atmosphere, the scenery, and the wonderful attitude of the people there made my trip to see the Sky Sox one of the most enjoyable nights I've had at a ballpark in recent memory. If you're in the area, you owe it to yourself to stop by.