Tuesday, March 23, 2010

McMorran Arena, Port Huron MI

Basic Information
Team: Port Huron Icehawks (International Hockey League)
Game: Icehawks vs Flint Generals-3/20/2010
Team Website: http://www.porthuronicehawks.com/
Ticket Information: (810) 966-3800 or at the McMorran Arena box office
Tourism Information: http://www.bluewater.org/ or (800) 852-4242
Internet Broadcasts: No local radio, but games are broadcast on the B2 Network (http://www.b2livetv.com/)

Team History: Although this is just the third season for the Icehawks, professional hockey is no stranger to Port Huron. From 1962 through 1981, McMorran Arena was the home of the Port Huron Flags of the original International Hockey League. The Flags won the Turner Cup championship trophy in 1966, 1971, and 1972. After the Flags ceased operations in 1981, Port Huron was without professional minor league hockey until 1996, when the Border Cats joined the Colonial Hockey League (which would change its name to the United Hockey League and eventually to the International Hockey League in 2007). Although the team would change names from the Border Cats to the Beacons, then back to the Flags, the support was always there. However, in May of 2007, the new Flags ceased operations. Fortunately, Port Huron was not without hockey for long on this occasion, as the Ice Hawks were born just a month later.

How About That Name (And Some History): McMorran Arena was built in 1960 for just over three million dollars, and was named for Henry McMorran, a local businessman who also served in the United States Senate from 1903 through 1913.

Getting There: (from Detroit) Take 1-94 north towards Port Huron, exiting at Water St (exit 274). At the top of the exit ramp, make a right onto Water St. Follow Water St for 1.2 miles to 10th St, where you will make a right. Follow to Lapeer St, turning left onto Lapeer. Take Lapeer onto Erie St, where you make a left. Go over the bridge, and make a right onto McMorran Pl, where the arena and parking are located.

Nearest Airport: While Port Huron does have its own international airport, the closest major airport is Detroit International, approximately sixty miles southwest.

Where To Go Before The Game: Located near McMorran Arena, the Port Huron Museum is a great way to get a taste of the history of the area. The Port Huron Museum is actually five facilities in one: The Main Museum, the lightship Huron, the Thomas Edison Rail Depot Museum, the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, and the Coast Guard cutter Bramble. For more information, call (810) 982-0891 or visit http://www.phmuseum.org/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: While I didn't have a chance to sample the local cuisine during my visit, there are several restaurants near the arena. I would visit the area's tourism bureau for suggestions.

Where To Stay: One of the Ice Hawks' primary sponsors is the Quality Inn in Port Huron. For more information, visit http://www.qualityinn.com/ or (877) 424-6423.

Tickets: Ice Hawks tickets are priced at $15.00 (center ice) and $10.00 (remainder of the arena).

Parking: There is a large open parking area across the street from McMorran Arena which charges $3.00 per car.

The Good Seats: With just over three thousand seats, "intimate" is the word of the day when it comes to describing McMorran Arena. Most of the seating is located above the ice level, with the exception of three rows of seats placed on risers at ice level. One of the unusual parts of McMorran is that virtually all of the seating is located on the sidelines, with only two rows of seating on risers behind the east goal. The permanent seating is of the old-fashioned wood slat type, which just increases the old time "hockey barn" feeling.

Getting In: The main entrance to McMorran Arena is on the McMorran Place side, which is also the location of the main box office. Will call is located in this area as well. Unfortunately, the area is rather small, and got somewhat crowded as the time for gate opening grew near.

Arena Food: There are two main concession stands, each located under one of the grandstands on street level. The selection of food is what you might expect at an "older" arena. One of the more interesting "selections" at the concession stands are skate laces, hockey tapes, and pain relievers. This is due to the fact that many youth hockey teams play their games at McMorran. Price-wise, the food is very reasonable, with two hot dogs, an order of mozzerella sticks, and a large Pepsi costing an attractive $11.00.

In addition, the Ice Hawks have the "Under the Ice Grill", located next to the south goal. The Grill not only has a bar, but also sells hot food during the game. At the game I attended, the entrees were chili and barbecue sandwiches.

For those wanting a frosty cold one during the game, there are beer stands located on the concourse as well as a stand on the walkway behind the west goal.

Souvenirs: On the main concourse to the left of the box office is a small "pro shop", which stocks a fairly good line of Ice Hawks souvenirs.

Restrooms: There is a mens and ladies room on the main concourse under the main stands. Although the facilities are older, they are clean and in good working order.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: McMorran Arena has a small, center hanging scoreboard, which shows only basic game information. Smaller scoreboards mounted on the walls behind each goal post each team's shots on goal.

The Icehawks have a terrific PA announcer. He (I didn't catch his name) has a very good delivery, and is enthusiastic without being "over the top". The team also plays a good selection of music throughout the game.

Game Staff: Just about everyone associated with the Ice Hawks was welcoming and helpful. The Ice Hawks have a terrific cheerleading/dance/promotional team, the Hawkettes, who are involved with virtually all of the in-game promotions and entertainment, from the post-game "chuck-a-puck" to spinning the prize wheel, the Hawkettes were everywhere! The girls do a great job (including my new friend Chantel) and are a welcome part of the evening's festivities.

Atmosphere: There is no doubt that Saturday night is Hockey Night in Port Huron! While McMorran might not be the biggest or the newest arena in the nation, it has a terrific "small town" feel, and a great passion for the game. I'm sure that when a rival team comes to Port Huron and a big crowd is in attendance, it is a loud and boisterous place to be.

Overall: While Port Huron might be a bit off the beaten path, McMorran Arena is a terrific place to watch hockey if you really want that "old time" feel. And with costs that are definitely affordable, an Ice Hawks game doesn't put a dent in your wallet.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee FL

Basic Information
Team: Houston Astros (National League Spring Training)
Game: Astros vs Atlanta Braves-3/6/2010
Team Website: http://www.astros.com/
Ticket Information: (321) 697-3200 or http://www.astros.com/
Tourism Information: http://www.visitkissimmee.com/
Internet Broadcasts: see Astros website

Team History: The Houston Astros have been a staple of central Florida baseball since 1964, when the team played their exhibition games in nearby Cocoa. In 1985, the team moved thirty miles inland to Kissimmee and welcomed the New York Yankees to brand new Osceola County Stadium. In 2003, the park recieved a much needed $18.4 million renovation, which brought new seating, a new entrance facade, player areas, and concession stands. The Astros recently extended their agreement with Osceola County, ensuring the team will remain in town until at least 2016.

How About That Name (And Some History): The home of the Astros has been known as Osceola County Stadium since its opening. The stadium also hosted a Florida State League team (known as the Osceola Astros, and later as the Kissimmee Cobras) until 2002.

Getting There: Take US 192 (Irlo Bronson Hwy) to Bill Beck Blvd (you'll see a large sign for Osceola Heritage Park and the Kissimmee Visitors Bureau). Go north on Bill Beck Blvd for less than a mile, then turn left into the stadium parking area.

Nearest Airport: Orlando International Airport is approximately twenty miles north of Osceola County Stadium.

Where to Go Before The Game: While you're less than a fifteen minute drive from Orlando and the "attractions", there is plenty to do in the vicinity of the ballpark. Not far from Osceola County Stadium on US192is Old Town Kissimmee. Old Town Kissimmee is a day-long attraction in itself, featuring shops, amusement rides, restaurants, all done in an old-fashioned, turn of the century Florida theme. However, during weekend evenings, the turn of the century becomes a evening from the fifties with weekly classic car cruises and other special events. For more information call (800) 843-4202 or visit http://www.old-town.com/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: If you keep going west on US 192 closer to the Disney/Sea World/International Drive area, you will literally find every manner of food choice under the sun. From fast food to sit-down family style to international cuisine, US 192 will have it.

Where To Stay: See above. As you get closer to the "attractions" hotels and motels abound which will fit every wallet and taste.

Tickets: Astros Spring Training tickets are priced as follows: $22.00 (dugout box seats), $20.00 (outfield box seats), $18.00 (upper reserved seats), $15.00 (outfield reserved). There is a three dollar per ticket surcharge for "premium games". See the Astros schedule for those dates.

Parking: Parking is plentiful in large grass lots surrounding the stadium. Spring Training parking costs $7.00.

The Good Seats: With just 5,500 seats, Osceola County Stadium is one of the smaller parks in the Grapefruit League. With that being said, every seat in the stadium is right on top of the action, with no seat being more than a hundred feet from the playing field. Sun worshippers and shade lovers will both enjoy a game here, as there is plenty of seating in both categories for all. In the last renovation, all of the previous bench seating was replaced by individual stadium seats.

Getting In: The main entrance is behind home plate, with the main ticket office and an auxiliary entrance beind third base.

Stadium Food: Like many of the other Spring Training parks, the food selection at Osceola County Stadium is fairly good and with a wide variety. There are three main concession areas, one behind home plate, and one each under the grandstand on each baseline. The concession stands on the baselines feature several different styles of hot dog, including Chicago-style, Cincinnati-style (served with chili and cheese), as well as four or five other different types. There are also tents in the main concourse selling specialty items like sausage and pepper sandwiches and fresh lemonade.

Souvenirs: The main souvenir stand is a well laid out, self-contained store behind home plate. It has a very large line of Astros and Spring Training souvenirs.

Restrooms: There are rest rooms on either baseline, which are both clean, well-stocked, and of an appropriate size.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: There is a small scoreboard in right center field giving just the basic game information. The PA announcer has a professional delivery and a good voice (who to me, anyways, sounded like former ESPN talker Dan Patrick).

Game Staff: Everyone I encountered seemed very friendly and welcoming.

Atmosphere: Very pleasant. As with most other Spring Training parks, it was very laid back with little of the added promotions and mascot hijinks that is associated with a regular season baseball game. As much as I like a lot of the promotions in the majors and minors, it was quite refreshing to be able to sit at the park and concentrate on the game and having an enjoyable afternoon with my Dad.

Overall: Good baseball played in a low-pressure atmosphere on a beautiful sunny March day in Florida. Can't beat it. Osceola County Stadium brings everything you need for a terrific day out. I highly recommend a trip there if the Astros are in town.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland FL

Basic Information
Team: Detroit Tigers (American League Spring Training)
Game: Tigers vs Toronto Blue Jays-3/4/10
Team Website: http://www.tigers.com/ or http://www.lakelandflyingtigers.com/
Ticket Information: (863) 686-8075 or (863) 668-4437
Tourism Information: (888) 599-9617 or http://www.visitcentralflorida.com/
Internet Broadcasts: None

Team History: In an era when professional baseball teams change their Spring Training homes at the drop of a check, the Detroit Tigers and the city of Lakeland are a unique case, as the Motor City Kitties have been proudly affiliated with the central Florida city of Lakeland for the past 74 years. For the past 43 seasons, the Tigers have made Joker Marchant Stadium their home ballpark, and with the recent major renovations, it doesn't look like the Tigers are going anywhere soon.In addition to being the home of the Tigers' Spring training operations, Joker Marchant Stadium is also the home to the Lakeland Flying Tigers, the Tigers' Single-A affiliate, which plays in the Florida State League. The Flying Tigers have been a member of the FSL since 1967, one of the longest affiliations in the league.

How About That Name (And Some History): Joker Marchant Stadium was originally opened in 1966, and was named for "Joker" Marchant, the late director of parks and recreation for the city of Lakeland. Originally seating 4,500, the park underwent seeveral renovations in the seventies, which raised it's seating capacity to over seven thousand. Another renovation, this time in 2003, which included new seating areas, a redesigned exterior facade, improved concessions, and other amenities, raised the stadium's capacity to its current level of 8,500.

Getting There: From I-4 eastbound or westbound: Take exit 33 (State Route 33-Lakeland Hills Blvd) south for approximately two miles. Stadium will be on the left side.Nearby Airport: The closest major aiport is Tampa International, which is approximately 40 miles away. Orlando International Airport is approximately 50 miles to the east.

Where to Go Before The Game: While you are about an hour's drive from the attractions in Orlando, Lakeland has it's own "draws" if you're not interested in visiting Mickey-land. Located about fifteen miles from Tigertown, Lakeland's Fantasy of Flight is the place to go if you're interested in how man has left the ground and has made the traveling into the air commonplace. It is the home of more than forty historic aircraft on display, a simulated ride on a B-17 bomber, tours of their restoration facilities, and more. For more information, call (863) 984-3500 or http://www.fantasyofflight.com/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are many restaurants along Route 33 and in downtown Lakeland. Check with the Lakeland/Polk County Visitors Bureau at the phone number or website listed above for suggestions.

Where To Stay: My schedule did not allow me to stay in Lakeland for my trip there. I would check with your favorite hotel chain for suggestions.

Tickets: Tigers Spring Training tickets are priced as follows: $19.00 (field box), $18.00 (box seats), $16.00 (reserved), $13.00 (left field reserved), $10.00 (general admission), and $8.00 (berm seating). There is an additional $3.00 charge per ticket for "premium" games. Flying Tigers FSL game tickets are $6.00 (box), and $5.00 (reserved).

Parking: There is parking in grass lots behind and in front of Joker Marchant Stadium. Parking for the Spring Training games is $7.00. I'm not aware of any parking charges for the Flying Tigers games.

The Good Seats: Since Joker Marchant Stadium is one of the larger stadiums in the Grapefruit League, there are seats available for all tastes. There are plenty of seats in the main grandstand for both sun lovers and people like me who prefer sitting in the shade. The game that I attended, much of Florida was in the throes of a "cool" snap, with temperatures during the day barely reaching sixty. I admit that I wasn't dressed correctly, so I decided to move from my seats under the roof behind home plate to one high up in the left field bleachers. The view was surprisingly good, with those seats giving a great panorama of the field while also getting some much-needed sun. There is a large berm area in left field if you bring your own blanket.

Getting In: The main box office and entrance is located behind home plate. There are auxiliary entrances behind first and thind bases.

Stadium Food: For the Tigers' Spring Training, there is a surprisingly large selection of concessions located throughout Joker Marchant Stadium. The two main concession stands are located under the stands on the first and third base sides, and under the left field bleachers, which sell most of the standard ballpark favorites. Along the concourse set up in portable stands are a unique and tasty selection which includes Chick-fil-a sandwiches, barebecue nachos, shaved ice, chicken fingers and fries, and strawberry shortcakes made with vanilla soft serve ice cream.In terms of cost, two hot dogs, a pretzel, and souvenir soda cost $13.00, which I felt was reasonable. The taste was pretty good as well.

Restrooms: There are mens' and ladies' rooms located behind home plate, and under the left field bleachers.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Joker Marchant Stadium has a combination scoreboard/video screen in right center field. The scoreboard posts the basic game information, but the video board doesn't get as much use as I would have guessed. Unfortunately, the positioning of the video board puts it right in the sun for most of the game, which washed out much of the picture. The stadium's PA voice was about average, and the music played leaned more towards fifties and sixties pop classics and an occasional Frank Sinatra tune.

Game Staff: Friendly and helpful. Everyone seemed to have a smile on their face and a pleasant attitude.

Atmosphere: It was the opening day of the Tigers' Spring Training schedule, and everyone was ready for it. The park was virtually sold out, and all was right with the world. However, it seemed to me that it was surprisingly quiet in the stands. The promotions were very low-key, as the game is the main focus.

Overall: Joker Marchant Stadium is a terrific facility to watch baseball, both for Spring Training and Florida State League action, as no matter where you sit, you get a good view of the action. Although the home of the Tigers is 44 years old, Joker Marchant Stadium is immaculate, well kept up, and state of the art in many ways. I highly recommend stopping by if you're in central Florida and want to get away from the tourist crowds