Friday, August 27, 2010

Me vs Food #2-Simply Crepes...Simply Delicious

My limited prior crepe experience consisted of a decent blueberry and whipped cream crepe at Le Buffet at Paris Casino in Las Vegas and a skimply and unsatisfying fresh mozzarella and chicken crepe for lunch at a local food court in Cleveland.

When I saw the "Simply Crepes" stand at the Rochester Rhinos game (run my a local crepe restaurant), I was a little apprehensive. There were a large number of choices including dessert crepes, sandwich crepes and salad crepes. I settled on a $6.00 "fresh strawberry" crepe.

As I watched them build it, I realized that this was going to be anything but a skimpy disappointment! They started with a large crepe, some sort of sauce and some sweet crumbly substance, fresh sliced strawberries, a large amount of whipped cream, 2 scoops of very frozen vanilla ice cream, wrapped it up, topped it with strawberry syrup, whipped cream and powdered sugar. Wow! Not only was it a thing of beauty, it was huge!

It was absolutely delicious and very filling. The ice cream was frozen so hard that even with the last bite I still had unmelted ice cream! I finished off by slurping down the ounce or so of melted whipped cream from the bottom of my bowl. The fresh strawberry crepe is definitely a must if you are ever at a Rhinos game!

Marina Auto Stadium, Rochester NY

Basic Information
Team: Rochester Rhinos (US Soccer Division II)
Game: Rhinos vs Miami FC Blues-8/21/2010
Team Website: http://www.rhinossoccer.com/
Ticket Information: (585) 454-5425
Tourism Information: (800) 677-7282 or http://www.visitrochester.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.sportsradio950espn.com/
Local Newspaper: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle http://www.democratandchronicle.com/

Team History: Now in their fifteenth season, the Rochester Rhinos are probably the most successful non-MLS outdoor soccer team that has come along in the last 25 years. They have won their respective league championship on three occasions, and has won the Lamar Hunt Open Cup once. After playing one year at the University of Rochester and ten years at Frontier Field, the Rhinos have been playing at their own soccer-specific stadium, Marina Auto Stadium since 2006.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened in 2006 as PaeTec Park, Marina Auto Stadium is one of the top soccer facilities in the US. Boasting a full sized artificial turf surface, a full video board, the 13,000 seat stadium has hosted both the Rhinos and the US Womens' National Team, as well as high school football and professional lacrosse.

Getting There: From the New York Thruway (I-90): Exit at I-490 east (exit 47). Take I-490 to exit 12 (Brown St). Follow Brown St to Allen St. Allen St becomes Platt St. Take Platt St to Oak St. Make a left on Oak St, and follow to stadium.

Nearby Airport: Greater Rochester International Airport is approximately seven miles southwest of Marina Auto Stadium.

What To Do Before The Game: This trip didn't afford us much time for sightseeing, so I would recommend checking with the convention and visitors bureau for ideas.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There really isn't much in the area of the stadium, so I would recommend checking with your lodging of choice as to where to eat in the area. The Red Roof Inn that we stayed at had a BW3, an Olive Garden, and a Cracker Barrel within a 5 minute drive, and a Tim Hortons and McDonalds adjacent to the hotel.

Where To Stay: We stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Henrietta, which is approximately 10-12 minutes from the stadium and downtown Rochester. It was easy to get to, had clean, comforatable rooms, and at approximatley $70.00 per night, it was acceptable for our wallets. For more information, call (800) THEROOF or visit http://www.redroof.com/.

Ticket Prices: Rhinos tickets are priced as follows: $20.00 (club), $18.00 (premium), $15.00 (midfield), $13.00 (sideline), and $10.00 (reserved end and general admission).

Parking: There are several lots within a short walk of Marina Auto Stadium. We parked across the street at a fenced in lot for $5.00 which gave us easy access in and out of the stadium, and was five minutes from I-490.

The Good Seats: Marina Auto Stadium has seating on three sides, and is double decked along one sideline. The majority of the seating are plastic chairs with backs, with bleachers behind the north goal. All of the seats give a good view of the field.

Getting In: There is one main entrance, located in the south end of the stadium. This is where the main box office is also located.

Stadium Food: Since my last trip to the home of the Rhinos in 2006, the food has been completely upgraded. For this season, they have added "a Taste of Rochester", which includes Red Osier roast beef sandwiches, Abbott's frozen custard, Nancy's fried dough, and Bill Gray's Cheeseburgers.

I decided to sample the cheeseburger, and I fell in love with the first bite. The burger was made fresh, and was garnished with white American cheese, and served on a fresh and tasty kaiser roll. It was incredibly good, and the half pound burger lasted me virtually the entire first half! The fries, like the burger, was hot and freshly made, and combined with a bottle of Coke Zero, made for a terrific meal. The total cost was $11.50, which I felt, for the quality of the food, was an acceptable price.

Linda sampled some of the stadium food, and her report will be forthcoming.

Here are some of the prices for the food at Marina Auto Stadium:

Hot Dog: $3.00 Nachos: $3.00 Pretzel: $5.00 Draft Beer: $5.00 Soda: $3.00 Ice Cream: $3.00

Soft Drinks: Marina Auto Stadium serves Coke products.

Souvenirs: There is a souvenir tralier located at the open end of the stadium. It has a moderate sized line of team merchandise. The tralier isn't very big, so there can be an issue getting in and out.

Restrooms: There are restrooms under both of the sideline grandstands. They are fairly clean, and of an appropriate size.

Mascot: Rex the Rhino and the Rhinoette's cheerleaders.

Program: Team yearbook costs $5.00.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: There is a large scoreboard with video screen in the south end of the stadium. The main board is supplemented by a smaller fascia board hanging off the front of the upper level in the double decked stand. The stadium's PA announcer is fair at best, and didn't add a lot to the atmosphere.

Game Staff: They were there, but didn't do a lot.

Atmosphere: To be honest, there wasn't much. The five thousand or so in attendance (the team announced over nine thousand, but there was no way there was that many in the stadium), was just there, not making a lot of noise. This was surprising given the long history of the team and it's support.

Overall: Marina Auto Stadium is a top flight soccer stadium, of this there is no doubt. However, if you're looking for a lot of passion and emotion, there really isn't a lot of that.

Me vs Food #1-The Sign Read "Bob Evans Grillin' Sausages"

I was walking around the Dayton Dragons stadium purveying the food options before the game when I saw a sign that read: "Bob Evans Grillin' Sausages". I have never had one of these before, so I walked up to the stand and ordered one and was faced with a dilemma: "Italian or Brat?" I asked the very friendly group of concession stand workers which was best. They said "They are both good!" That didn't help much! One of the ladies then said "I've been told that with the peppers & onions, people don't taste much of a difference". Another said "I like the Italian one", so I went with that. It was an excellent and nice-sized Italian sausage, hot off the grill. It was grilled just right and placed on a very good bun...better than your average bun. It was topped with onion and red and green peppers; I added yellow mustard.

I thought the cost of $4 was quite fair...I would not have been adverse to having paid $5 for it if I was at a major league park or a park in a larger city. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if the onion and peppers had been cooked differently. They seemed to be steamed, while they would have been a tastier topping if grilled in some sort of oil and with a little salt and pepper. After I finished the sandwich back at my seat, I went back to the same stand for a $3.25 bottle of diet soda.

The friendly concession stand ladies remembered me from my earlier purchase and asked me how I'd liked the sausage sandwich! I was also happy that they let you keep the bottle cap. (Some stadiums are afraid that you will turn your $3.25 beverage into a projectile if they let you keep the lid.) I topped my meal off with 2 chuerro sticks for $3.00, which was a more than fair price for the two 10 inch plus sticks, which were freshly made and hot and yummy. There were many other good offerings that I didn't room to try. This stadium is definitely a place to come and eat! Come early before the concession lines get long.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fifth Third Field, Dayton OH

Basic Information
Team: Dayton Dragons (Midwest League)
Game: Dragons vs West Michigan Whitecaps-8/7/2010
Team Website: http://www.daytondragons.com/
Ticket Information: (937) 228-2287
Tourism Information: (800) 221-8235 or http://www.daytoncvb.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.daytondragons.com/
Local Newspaper: Dayton Daily News http://www.daytondailynews.com/

Team History: As far as I know, no team has ever been more wildly successful after relocating than the Dayton Dragons. After moving to the "Gem City" for the 2000 season, the Dragons have sold out every game in the team's history. In 2009, the Dragons averaged over 8,400 per game in a ballpark that has permanent seating for just 7,200! That average put them seventh highest in all of minor league baseball. Not only were they the top drawing team in the Midwest League and in Single-A ball, the six teams ranked above them in attendance were all Triple-A teams. They were just over a thousand a game less than the Columbus Clippers, who led the minors in attendance last season.

Team Affiliation: The Dragons are the Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.

How About That Name (And Some History): Fifth Third Field was constructed in downtown Dayton specifically for the Dragons, and has been known by that name since the park's opening in April of 2000. Fifth Third Bank, a Cincinnati-based financial institution, also owns the naming rights to ballparks in Toledo and Comstock Park, MI.

Getting There: From I-75: Exit at First St. Go east on First St until you reach the stadium, which will be on the right.

Nearby Airports: Dayton International Airport is located approximately fifteen minutes north of Fifth Third Field.

What To Do Before The Game: In my article about Dayton's Hara Arena, I mentioned that I highly recommend the United States Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, which is located just north of downtown Dayton. For more information on the museum and other attractions in the area, contact the Dayton Convention and Visitors Bureau with the contact information listed above.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There isn't a lot in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark, so I would recommend heading a bit north on I-75 for a selection. The best bet would be for you to exit at Wyse Rd, and then make an immediate right onto Miller Rd, where you will find a large choice of restaurants, including Hooters, Smokey Bones, Bob Evans, Skyline Chili, and Olive Garden. This exit is located approximately ten minutes north of downtown Dayton.

Where To Stay: On this trip, Linda and I stayed at the La Quinta Inn in Tipp City, which is located just north of I-70 on I-75. While this is a little farther out than I would normally stay, the La Quinta is a good choice, as it has easy access to the major highways, large comfortable rooms, an indoor swimming pool and hot tub, a business center, and free continental breakfast. You can stay at the La Quinta for approximately $70.00 per night if you book in advance. For more information, call (937) 667-1574, (800) SLEEP-LQ, or visit http://www.lq.com/.

Ticket Prices: All Dragons tickets are priced at $15.00 with lawn seating costing $8.00. As I mentioned before, the Dragons are Dayton's "hottest tickets", so I would recommend purchasing tickets as far ahead as possible! If you want to purchase tickets over the web, the team uses Ticketmaster, so be prepared to pay the normal exhorbitant surcharges.

Parking: There is parking in all directions around Fifth Third Field. We parked at a lot directly across the street from the entrance plaza which cost $5.00.

The Good Seats: Fifth Third Field is laid out in the traditional "V" shape, with seating running from approximately two thirds of the way down the left field line, bending around home plate, and ending just short of the same place down the right field line. There is lawn seating from the end of the seating areas down both foul lines, and a large berm in right center and center field. My only complaint about the set-up is that the seats could have been sloped with a little more of a more severe angle, as Linda and I both noticed that there were more than a few occasions that you had to "dodge" the head in front of you to see the action.

Getting In: The main entrance plaza is behind home plate, which also houses the box office and souvenir store. There are satellite entrances in left and right field.

Stadium Food: There are many choices for your dining pleasure at Fifth Third Field. There are the normal ballpark standards in the main concession arenas, but in addition, there are smaller carts spread liberally throughout the concourse. The specialty cart items include: Tex-Mex favorites, sandwiches, Dippin Dots, specialty beers, and a Bob Evans area selling, amongst other items, their outstanding sausage sandwiches.

I sampled the Fifth Third Ballpark hot dog as my pre-game meal. Taste-wise, it was OK, but it was a rather unnerving color of light tan/yellow. It was boiled, and the bun was fresh. I also sampled the churros sold at the Tex-Mex stand, which were excellent.

There is a enclosed, air conditioned bar, the Fifth Third Club along the right field line.

Here's a sampling of the Dragon's concession prices:
Hot Dog: $3.25 Hamburger: $5.00 Pretzel: $4.00 Large Soda: $4.00 Draft Beer: $6.50 Nachos: $6.50 Dippin' Dots Ice Cream: $5.00

Soft Drinks: Fifth Third Field serves Pepsi products.

Souvenirs: There is a large store located in the main concourse to the left of the main entrance. This store has a good line of souvenir items, but I found the prices to be on the high side. There is also a smaller store located in the outfield.

Restrooms: There are restrooms located on each side of the main concourse, which are clean and in good working order.

Mascots: A male (Heater) and female (Gem) dragon.

Game Program: "Play Ball" is free and is handed to fans as they enter the stadium.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: One of the signature features of Fifth Third Field is the large scoreboard in left center field. One of the largest in the minors, it has a large, high quality video screen, a main game information center, and two large dragons that snort smoke when the home team hits a home run. The video board was utilized very well, including showing in-game action. In addition, there were video boards on the right field fences, which gave helpful lineup information. The stadium sound system was very good, the PA announcer was professional, and the music was typical "stadium rock".

Game Staff: There were a lot of them. They all smiled, but seemed to be all business.

Atmosphere: The best way to describe it was that it was a major league production in a minor league ballpark. Everything done there was done with a quality and production standard that you would find in a major league sports venue. The "Green Team" did a great job motivating the crowd, and the "Retirement Village People" were one of the most entertaining between-innings promotions I've seen in some time.

Overall: Fifth Third Field has it all, and anyone who considers themselves an aficonado of ballparks should make a visit.

Note: Due to computer issues, there are no photographs of Fifth Third Field to accompany this article.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chicks Dig The Sports Traveler Online!!!

The Good Guy and the lovely in-game host of the Dayton Dragons, Madison
(You can also call this photo "Beauty and the Beast")

Huntington Park, Columbus OH

Basic Information
Team: Columbus Clippers (International League)
Game: Clippers vs Buffalo Bisons-6/30/2010
Team Website: http://www.clippersbaseball.com/
Ticket Information: (614) 462-2757
Tourism Information: (866) EXP-COLS or http://www.experiencecolumbus.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.clippersbaseball.com/
Local Newspaper: Columbus Dispatch http://www.dispatch.com/

Team History: Baseball has been a staple in Columbus since 1866, when a group of former soldiers returning from the Civil War brought the game back from the battlefields, and the first amateur team, the Excelsior club, was formed. Ten years later, the Columbus Buckeyes became the city’s first professional squad. Over the succeeding years, teams called the Solons, the Senators, the Red Birds, the Jets, and finally the Clippers represented Ohio’s capital city.
Since the 1930’s, the teams would play their games at Franklin County Stadium (later renamed Cooper Stadium), a large ballyard just southwest of downtown Columbus. Eventually, “the Coop” was realizing the end of its useful life, and the team planned a new state of the art home in downtown Columbus. In 2009, the dream was realized, and Huntington Park opened its doors last April.

Team Affiliation: The Clippers are in the second year of their affiliation with the Cleveland Indians.

How About That Name (And Some History): The home of the Clippers has always been called Huntington Park, named after Huntington Bank, a Columbus-based bank which has branches in six states.

Getting There: From I-71-Exit at I-670 west. Take I-670 to the Neil Ave exit. Turn left onto Neil Ave. Proceed on Neil Ave for a half mile, and the ballpark will be on your right.
Nearest Airport: Port Columbus International Airport is nine miles east of Huntington Park.

What To Do Before the Game: My trip didn’t give me a lot of time to explore, but if you want to learn more about what to do in the area, contact the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau at the website or phone number listed above.

Where to Eat Before the Game: Fortunately, Huntington Park is located across the street from the Nationwide Arena, which itself is the cornerstone of a bustling neighborhood, cleverly called the Arena District. Within a five to ten minute walk from the stadium is a BD’s Mongolian Grille, a Boston’s Pizza (highly recommended), a Chipotle’s, and a Buca De Beppo’s, amongst other choices.

Where To Stay: There are several high-end hotels in the Arena District. However, if your tastes (and wallet) lean a bit more towards the budget hotels, many large chains have locations on I-71 just north and south of downtown Columbus.

Tickets: Clippers tickets are priced as follows: $12.00 (box seats), $7.00 (reserved seats), $6.00 (bleachers and general admission). On game day, there is a three dollar increase in prices for reserved and box seats.

Parking: There are several parking lots around the ballpark and in the Arena District, and prices vary. I paid $5.00 to park across the street from the park in a lot adjacent to Nationwide Arena.

The Good Seats: Honestly, I don’t think there is a single bad seat in Huntington Park. The main grandstand runs from foul pole to foul pole, and there is a bleacher section as well as seating on the grass berm in left field. You can also sit in the Hall of Fame bar, located in the second floor of the building in left field. If you really want a true “birds eye” view, you can sit in the special bleacher seating located in the Roosters sports bar, located on the third floor of the outfield building. Sitting in those seats, you get a view similar to that in the apartment buildings across the street from Wrigley Field in Chic ago. A sign at the back of the bleacher section states that it’s 480 feet from home plate, and I was told that no one has ever put a homer into those seats.

Getting In: There are three main entrances, one near the center field box office, another in the left field corner, and another behind home plate.

Arena Food: One word...Outstanding! There is a large selection of food at many sales points, and is of excellent quality, and at an agreeable price. Interestingly enough, all of the companies that have their own stands at Huntington Park are all Columbus-based companies: Bob Evans, Donato's Pizza, City Barbecue, Wendy's and Tim Horton's.

The main concession stands are located on the concourse, but instead of being mounted in the wall of the park, they are large, square stands sitting in the middle of the concourse, which allows the fan to keep up with the game while waiting.

I sampled the ballpark hot dog served in a pretzel bun. I can't say enough about it. The dog was hot, grilled fresh, and served in a fresh hot bun made of pretzel bread. At $4.00, it was well worth it! If the pretzel dog wasn't enough, I picked up a pulled pork sandwich served at the City Barbecue stand located in the right field corner. There was a significant line waiting for service, and I could see why. For $5.00, the sandwich was fresh, hot, tasty, and with a delicious sweet sauce, it was a meal in itself.

Here's a sampling of the concession prices:
Hot Dog: $3.00 Hamburger: $5.00 Nachos: $4.00 Draft Beer: $6.75 Pretzel: $3.50 Large Soda: $5.00 Ice Cream: various prices French Fries: $3.50 Personal Pizza: $7.00

Soft Drinks: Huntington Park serves Pepsi products.

Souvenirs: There is a main souvenir stand in the outfield building, and smaller stands along the concourse.

Rest Rooms: Located throughout the concourse and in the left field building. All are clean and well stocked.

Mascots: The Clippers have two mascots: a seal named Lou (Lou Seal) and a pirate-garbed parrot names Crash.

Game Program: The Clippers' game program costs $2.00.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The main scoreboard is located in right center field, and features a large hi-defintion video board, as well as two smaller "crawler" scoreboards which flash other pertinent information. Atop the main scoreboard are two smaller video boards which flash advertisements. There are two small scoreboards mounted in the main concourse showing game information, and two large pitch speed indicators. The PA announcer has a good delivery and voice.

Game Staff: Very pleasant and helpful all around.

Atmosphere: Very professional, but with the park's intimacy, you feel like you're right up close to all the action. The Clippers are one of the top drawing teams in AAA baseball, and having a park like this, you can see why.

Overall: Huntington Park was named the "2009 Ballpark of the Year" by three seperate websites, and that title is well deserved. The new home of the Clippers is probably the best Triple-A ballpark that I have ever been at, and I believe that it is a "must see" for any ballpark aficionado.