Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bowling Green Ballpark, Bowling Green KY

Basic Information
Team: Bowling Green Hot Rods (Midwest League)
Game: Hot Rods vs Lansing Lugnuts-5/28/2001
Team Website: http://www.bghotrods.com/
Ticket Information: (270) 901-2121 or http://www.bghotrods.com/
Tourism Information: (800) 326-7465 or http://www.visitbgky.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.1340wbgn.com/
Local Newspaper: Bowling Green Daily News http://www.bgdailynews.com/

Team History: The team that is currently known as the Bowling Green Hot Rods started out life in Wilmington (NC) Waves in 2001, when the South Atlantic League added two new teams as part of expansion. After just one season, the Waves, who were saddled with a sub-par ballpark, moved to Albany, GA, becoming the South Georgia Waves. The team would last just one season in Albany before moving to Columbus, GA, where they would play for six seasons as the Columbus Catfish. The Catfish would play for six seasons, before being sold and moved to Bowling Green, KY in time for the 2009 season. The newly christened Hot Rods, along with the Lake County Captains, moved to the Midwest League prior to the 2010 campaign.

Team Affiliation: The Hot Rods are the Midwest League (single A) affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, and have been so since the 2007 season.

Stadium Capacity: Bowling Green Ballpark has a seating capacity of 4,500, not including the berm seating in the outfield.

On The Town: Located approximately an hour north of Nashville and two hours south of Louisville, Bowling Green is one of the fastest growing cities in Kentucky. The city has a population of 58,010 as of the 2010 census. The General Motors plant located just north of town has been producing the legendary Corvette sports car since 1981, and the Cadillac SLR since 2009. Other companies with a presence in the city include Fruit of the Loom, Holley Performance Products, and Camping World.
The city of Bowling Green was settled by Robert and George Moore, who, along with General Elijah Covington, who moved from Virginia in 1794. Robert Moore donated two acres for the construction of public builrings. Later, Moore would donate another thirty acres, creating the central area which would become the town of Bowling Green, and the town would incorporate in March 1798.

Bowling Green is the home of Western Kentucky University, and is also the birthplace of Corey Hart of the Milwaukee Brewers, United States Senator Rand Paul, former NBA star Rex Chapman, and former professional wrestler "Hillbilly Jim" Morris.
Getting There: From I-65, exit at US 231-Scottsville Rd (Exit 22). At the top of the ramp, make a right onto Scottsville Rd. Stay on Scottsville Rd (which turns into Broadway once you get into downtown Bowling Green). Broadway dead ends at High St. Make a right onto High St, then make another right onto 12th St. Take 12th St to State St, then make a right onto State St. Follow to 8th Street. The ballpark will be on the right.
Nearby Airport: Although Bowling Green does have an airport, the largest major airport is in Nashville, approximately an hour south.
What To Do Before The Game: For car enthusiasts, a "must see" if you're in the Bowling Green area is the National Corvette Museum. Located ten to fifteen minutes from the Bowling Green Ballpark, the 115,000 square foot museum is the home to seventy different models of the famous muscle car. The museum also boasts driving simulators and examples of rare memorablilia and collectables. For more information, call (800) 53-VETTE or visit http://www.corvettemuseum.org/.
Where To Eat Before The Game: Along Scottsville Rd, there are myriad choices for pregame dining, with virtually every major chain represented.
Where To Stay: On this trip, the girls and I stayed at the La Quinta Inn in Bowling Green. Located just off the intersection of I-65 and Scottsville Rd, the La Quinta featured excellent sleeping rooms, complimentary breakfasts, an indoor pool, a fitness center, and business center. For more information, call (800) SLEEPLQ or visit http://www.lq.com/.
Ticket Prices: Hot Rods tickets are priced as follows: $10.00 (box seats) and $5.00 (Service One Credit Union Green Seats).
Parking: There is a large lot adjacent to the ballpark which costs $5.00. One note, getting out is a bit of an adventure since virtually all of the traffic is heading from all directions onto 8th St.
The Good Seats: Bowling Green Ballpark  is designed in the traditional "wishbone" ballpark pattern, and with just 4,500 seats, all of the seating puts you right on top of the action.
Getting In: The main gate appears to be on the first base side of the ballpark. However, for our visit, the gate was closed, and fans were welcomed to the park through the "Body Shop" souvenir store. There is a smaller gate on the third base side directly opposite of the souvenir store entrance.
Stadium Food: This is one area where the Bowling Green Ballpark excels. There are two main concession stands, one on each side of the ballpark, as well as several smaller carts on the concourse. I had two hot dogs, an order of french fries, and a souvenir sized soda, which cost a total of $12.75. The dogs were made by Philadelphia-based Dietz and Watson, and despite being served on a somewhat mangled bun, were hot and tasty with a bit of a spicy kick. The fries were hot, salted well, and quite tasty as well, and as Linda noticed, they were served "skin on", which made them even tastier.
Linda sampled the barbecue pork sandwich, which in her words was "a very good sized sandwich, which made for good value at $4.25. The bun was of an average quality, but the meat was well cooked, and had a smoky taste and was well coated in a tangy sauce".
She also sampled the "Frito Pie", which is a staple in the south, She thought that for $5.00, the price was on the high side, but the taste was delicious. The Frito Pie is made in a plastic cereal bowl, and contains piping hot chili and cheddar cheese served on a bed of Fritos. Linda said it was "yummy" and "a great little snack".
On the third base side concourse, the Hot Rods have "the Garage", a bar which features a very good selection of beers on tap and in bottles, as well as a selection of top shelf liquors. I was surprised to find that one of the beers featured was a personal favorite from England, Newcastle Brown Ale. I was even more surprised to find that it was only $5.00 a bottle.
The girls and I spent the evening outside the Garage sitting at some tables and chairs, which apparently, the team only started doing the night before. It gave a fairly good view of the action when people weren't standing in front of you, but the location on the concourse allowed the breeze to flow and kept the temperatures down.
Another unique deal at the Ballpark is the "helmet of popcorn". For $7.00, you can get a souvenir full sized helmet of popcorn. The good thing is is that you can get unlimted refills all night for free.
Here is a selection of concession prices from the Bowling Green Ballpark:
Hot Dog: $3.25   Nachos: $3.25   Draft Beer: $6.00   Pretzel: $3.75   Large Soda: $3.25   Ice Cream: $3.25   French Fries: $3.00   Pizza Slice: $5.00
Soft Drinks: Coca-Cola products are served at the Bowling Green Ballpark.
ATM's: There is a Citizens First Bank ATM located on the third base side of the ballpark between the concession stand and the Garage bar.

Souvenirs: The "Body Shop" is a large, brightly lit merchandise store which stocks a large line of Hot Rods gear.

Restrooms: Scattered along the main concourse, all are well stocked and clean.
Mascots: The Hot Rods have two mascots: Axle the Bear and Roscoe the Grease Monkey. Both circulate in the stands throughout the game.
Dance Team: None

Program: The "Turbo Times" is updated monthly, and is given free to fans upon entering the park

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Bowling Green Ballpark has a large scoreboard located in right center field. It features a lower portion which features basic game information, and the upper portion which has a large, high definition video screen. The video screen gets a very good amount of use, and has a very clear picture, even in the bright sun.
The ballpark's public address announcer is very good, and the music selection is fairly good as well. The general acoustics of the ballpark are very good as well.

Stadium Staff:  My impression of the folks that work at the Bowling Green Ballpark can be summed up in two words, and those are "southern hospitality". All of the people I encountered, both team and stadium staff, were incredibly friendly and outgoing, and to a person, had time to smile and chat for a bit.

Atmosphere: The Hot Rods are a very successful franchise, and families make up a large part of the fans that made it so. Linda and Joan both noticed that the kids that attended were very well behaved, which made for a very pleasant evening.

Overall Rating: Bowling Green Ballpark is quite simply, a top-notch stadium. With a combination of a fan-conscious staff, a facilty that is spotlessly clean, and smart promotions, the Hot Rods and the Bowling Green Ballpark have nothing but good things waiting for them, and the girls and I are unanimous with our hopes that we can make a return to Bowling Green in the future!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bank of Kentucky Center, Highland Heights KY

Basic Information

Team: Northern Kentucky River Monsters (Ultimate Indoor Football League)
Game: River Monsters vs Huntington Hammer-5/14/2011
Team Website: http://www.nkyrivermonsters.com/
Ticket Information: (859) 572-7975
Tourism Information: Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau (877) NKY-VISIT or http://www.nkycvb.com/
Online Broadcasts: None
Local Newspapers: Kentucky Post http://www.kypost.com/

Team History: The River Monsters and the Ulitmate Indoor Football League are both in their inaugural seasons in 2011. The six team UIFL has two teams in Kentucky (Highland Heights and Pikeville), and one each in Ohio (Canton), Pennsylvania (Johnstown), West Virginia (Huntington), and Michigan (Saginaw). The River Monsters are the first professional indoor football team to represent the area of Northern Kentucky.
How About That Name (And Some History): The Bank of Kentucky Center was opened officially on September 24, 2008, after just over two years of construction. The arena, which is located on the campus of Northern Kentucky University, has been known by it's current name since it's opening.

Capacity: The Bank of Kentucky Center seats approximately ten thousand for basketball, and approximately eight thousand for indoor football.
On The Town: Highland Heights is a town located in Campbell County, KY, just over the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Campbell County was incorporated in 1795, and was named after soldier in the Revolutionary War named Colonel John Campbell. The city of Highland Heights has a population of just under seven thousand. Northern Kentucky University moved to Highland Heighs in 1971.
Getting There: From I-71/75 south, exit onto I-275 east. Travel for approximately eight miles until reaching the exit for Three Mile Rd (exit 76). Make a right onto Three Mile Rd, and follow for approximately 2 miles. After going through a roundabout at the entrance to the campus, keep going straight, and the arena and parking will be on your left.
Nearby Airport: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is approximately 15 miles west of the Bank of Kentucky Center.
What To Do Before The Game: Located less than fifteen minutes from the Bank of Kentucky Center is the beautiful Newport Aquarium. The aquarium, built on the shores of the Ohio River, is "a million gallons of fun", and features seventy different exhibits and five acyrlic tunnels in which vistors get an up close and personal view of many different forms of aquatic life. Some of the featured exhibits include the Ohio River Banks, Shark Central, the Rivers of the World, and the always popular "Penguinpalooza". For more information, call (859) 261-7444 or visit http://www.newportaquarium.com/
Where To Eat Before The Game: There really isn't much in the immediate vicinity of the arena, since it is in something of a "rural" area. If you're in the Newport area, there is a large entertainment/shoppimg/dining complex called Newport on the Levee, which has myriad dining choices. If you're closer to the I-71/75 area, just about every exit has some form of dining, especially in the Florence area.
Where To Stay: On this trip, we patronized one of the River Monsters primary sponsors, the Clarion Hotel in Florence. The Clarion, which is approximately 10-15 minutes west of the arena, is a small, very tidy hotel which features very good guest rooms, a business center, a swimming pool, and a continental breakfast served in the lobby. The River Monsters rate for this season (advertised on the team's website) is a very agreeable $49.95 per night. For more information, call the hotel at (859) 371-0081.
Ticket Prices: River Monsters tickets are priced as follows: $25.00 (first four rows of the lower level), $15.00 (remainder of the lower level sideline), $12.00 (lower level end zone), and $7.00 (all upper level seating).

Parking: There is a large on-site lot adjacent to the arena. Parking there cost $5.00.
The Good Seats: The Bank of Kentucky Center is designed in what might be described as a elongated octagon with seating on two levels. For basketball, the lower level seating would completely surround the court, but in order to fit an indoor football field in the available area, the seating behind one of the end zones is retracted. In the upper level, the seating bowl surrounds three fourths of the lower level. All of the seating provides an excellent view of the action.

Getting In: The main entrance and box office is on the ground floor of the building. Once tickets have been purchased, fans go up a staircase to the main concourse level. A nice touch in the entrance area is the rest room located directly across from the box office.

Arena Food: There are two main concession stands at the Bank of Kentucky Center, located on the concourse on the "long" ends of the arena. While the selection of food wasn't exactly the largest, Linda and I found the quality to be quite good. While the prices might have been a little bit on the "higher" end of the arena/stadium food spectrum, the quality and service made up for it.

I sampled the arena hot dog, which was large, hot, and juicy and served on a fresh bun. Two of them filled me up quite nicely. The french fries were also hot when served, and were cooked perfectly. According to Linda, her hamburger was "better than expected". Served with cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato, and two slices of bacon on a fresh bakery bun, she said the burger "looked and tasted like it was made of hamburger, not mystery meat filler".

Specialties at the arena included Gold Star chili, Montgomery Inn barbecue sandwiches, and Dippin' Dots.

Here is a sampling of some of the concession prices at the Bank of Kentucky Center:

Hot Dog: $5.00   Hamburger: $6.50   Nachos: $6.50   Draft Beer: $6.00   Pretzel: $3.50   Large Soda: $4.50   French Fries: $4.00   Pizza Slice: $4.00

For all of you popcorn fans in the cyber-world, you can get a $5.00 tub of popcorn with free refils at the Bank of Kentucky Center.
Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at the Bank of Kentucky Center.

ATM's: There are three Bank of Kentucky ATM's in the arena. One is located in the lobby/box office, and two are located on the concourse.
Souvenirs: There is a souvenir table set up in the concourse next to the staircase leading up from the box office. The River Monsters sell a larger than expected line of merchandise, which included t-shirts, baseball caps, and fishing hats.
Restrooms: Located on the main concourse, they seemed a bit on the small side, but were clean and serviceable.

Mascot: A large, unnamed green object, which I assume was supposed to be a "River Monster". He looked like someone that was wearing a "Gillie" suit, which is worn by Marine and Army snipers. He pretty much stayed on the field level, and didn't circulate in the stands or with the fans.

Dance Team: Ah, yes. The River Monsters' dance team...the unfortunately named "Bait". In their defense, I will say that they tried hard to get the fans enthused, but they just weren't that...successful.
The half dozen or so members of the dance team were dressed in cutoff jean shorts and cut off t-shirts with the troupe's name (Linda described their "look" was something out of 'Coyote Ugly'). Basically, they did one or two dance numbers, tossed out promotional items, and not much of anything else.

Program: None. I asked one of the ladies working at the souvenir tables if the team had a game program. She looked at me and said (in a sort of spaced out voice) "We used to...I guess we don't have them anymore."
Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Bank of Kentucky Center has a very impressive centrer hanging scoreboard. The upper portion features the boards which feature the pertinient game information, and the lower features four large, crystal-clear video screens. The video screens work in concert with long video boards which are mounted  along the front facings of the upper level seating bowl.
The Monsters' public address announcer left something to be desired. At the beginning of the game, he did not welcome the fans to the building, did not announce who the visitors were, the visiting roster, and that night's game officials. He did have a decent delivery, but needed some serious training in how to be a professional public address announcer.
The music selection was prettygood, and played at an appopriate level. The sound system and acoustics at the arena were excellent.
Arena Staff: The arena staff were absolutely outstanding. Everyone had a welcoming attitude and a smile on their face. Before the game, Linda and I visited the Customer Service booth, in order to see if they had a "Designated Driver" program, where you could get a free soft drink if you promised not to consume alcohol. The lady there was incredibly helpful, looking to make sure that we got the forms to fill out, and she answered all our questions. The concession people were equally as pleasant. In terms of the team staff...if there was anyone, I didn't see them. In addition, while circualting around the arena, there were no pocket schedules, no ticket brochures, no ticket sales people...not even a flyer or poster informing you of the next game!
Atmosphere: As you might expect with a crowd of maybe seven hundred in an arena that holds over ten times as much, there really wasn't much of one.
Overall Rating: The Bank of Kentucky Center is a true jewel. For an arena that is on the campus of a NCAA Division II school, I'll bet that it has better facilities than some Division I facilities. Everything that is under the control of the arena is done in a first rate manner. However, the game operations of the team requires some serious work if it is to be at the same level. With that being said, a River Monsters game is a very pleasant evening out.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jerry Uht Park, Erie PA

Basic Information

Team: Erie SeaWolves (Eastern League)
Game: SeaWolves vs Bowie Baysox-4/23/2011
Team Website: http://www.seawolves.com/
Ticket Information: (814) 456-1300
Tourism Information: (800) 524-ERIE or http://www.visiterie.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.seawolves.com/
Local Newspaper: Erie Times-News http://www.goerie.com/

Team History: While professional baseball has been played in the city of Erie since early in the last century, the history of the current team got its start in 1995. The SeaWolves got their start as the single-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, playing in the short season NY-Penn League. The good people of Erie took to their new team in a big way, packing the brand-new downtown home, Jerry Uht Park. When Major League Baseball expanded in 1999, it was determined that two new teams would be added to the Double-A Eastern League. With their excellent stadium and good local support, Erie moved to the top of the list of potential markets, and along with Altoona, PA, was welcomed into the EL for 1999.

Team Affiliation: The SeaWolves are the Double-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.
How About That Name (And Some History): The home of the SeaWolves is named after Gerald "Jerry" Uht, a local businessman who started a fund to raise money to build a downtown ballpark. In their gratitude, the city of Erie named the 8.7 million dollar park after Uht. The new park, which was completed in time for the 1995 season, replacing the outdated Ainsworth Field, which had hosted previous baseball teams since it's opening in 1947. Ainsworth was reonvated as late as 1980, but was not up to the current standards required by Minor League Baseball.

"The Uht" got a four million dollar renovation in 2006, which added a picnic area, a beer garden, and a new high definition video scoreboard.

On The Town: Located on the shores of Lake Erie, the city of Erie is virtually equidistant from Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh. Erie has a population of 105,000, making it the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania, after Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Allentown.

For centuries, Erie was part of the lands in which the Iroquois Confederation called their home. In 1753, the French built Fort Presque Isle, near where Erie currently lies. In 1789, the Iroquois released the land known as the "Erie Triangle" in exchange for payments of $2,000.00 from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and $1,200.00 from the federal government.
In order to get control over Lake Erie during the War of 1812, President James Madison ordered the construction of a fleet of warships at Erie. The ships built at Erie helped the fleet led by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry win and maintain control over the vital Great Lakes shipping lanes.

While Erie was once a center for shipping and manufaturing, health care, gaming, and higher education are now driving the city's economy.

Getting There: From I-90 East, exit to I-79 north. take I-79 north to E 12th St (exit 183A). Make a left onto State St. Take State St to E 10th St. Jerry Uht Park will be located on your left.

Nearby Airport: Erie International Airport is approximately seven miles miles southwest of Jerry Uht Park

What To Do Before The Game: This trip was a "quick in and out" for me, so there wasn't a lot of time for sightseeing, but after several previous trips to Erie, I would recommend either the Erie Martime Museum (located in downtown on the lake front) or the Presque Isle Downs and Casino (located on I-90) about fifteen minutes from the ball park). For more information on these places, check out my review of the Tullio Arena fron September 2010, or contact the Erie vistors bureau at the phone number and website listed above.
Where To Eat Before The Game: Again, since this was a quick trip for me, there wasn't a need or time for me to have a meal. If you are traveling on I-90, there are many places to eat at the Peach St. exit (one exit past I-79) going north.

Where To Stay: Most of the major chains have a presence in the Erie area, so I would just check with your preferred lodging choice. However, since Erie is located near some of the more popular weekend spots (ie. Presque Isle and the Pennsylvania Wine Country), rates do tend to go up substantially in the prime tourism months.

Ticket Prices: SeaWolves tickets are priced as follows: $10.00 (box seats) and $7.00 (reserved seats).

Parking: There are several private lots and garages within a short walk of Jerry Uht Park. I parked at a small private lot on E 10th St, just across the street from the main entrance. Parking there cost $4.00.
The Good Seats: Due to it's site in a city block, "The Uht" has several seating quirks, which make it not only one of the more interesting ball parks I've been to, but it also has some of the best sightlines.

The seating bowl is in the traditional wishbone configuration, with the grandstand extending just short of the left field foul pole to virtually the same position along the right field line. The grandstand has two seperate levels with a walkway between. While the thrid base upper level starts just directly behind the walkway, the first base upper level is elevated approximately fifteen feet above the walkway, giving those lucky seat holders one of the best views of the game in the minors.
For those who like to watch the game from the outfield, there is also a standing area in the walkway between the outfield fence and the back wall of the Tullio Arena, the home of the OHL's Erie Otters. However, I was told by a SeaWolves staff member that the upcoming expansion and renovation of the arena will probably eliminate that standing area.

Getting In: The main entrance and box office is located on the E 10th St side of the ball park. The main entrance is under a big red tower, which makes it easy to find.

Stadium Food: SeaWolves management hired a new company to handle their concessions for 2011, and from what I was told, it's one of the largest companies of it's type in the minors. There are two main concession stands, one under the first base grandstand and the other under the third base grandstand. Both serve the same menu of items. In the area behind home plate, there are several small concession carts, which sell Dippin' Dots, draft beer, cheese steaks, and "South of the Border" items. In addition, there is a "Sausage Shack" on the left field concourse near the childrens play area.

I sampled the hot dogs, made by Smith's, a local firm. They were served fairly hot, and of a decent quality. the pretzels were salty, but not as warm as I would have liked.

Here is a sampling of the concession items at "The Uht":

Hot Dog: $3.25   Nachos: $3.50   Draft Beer: $5.50   Pretzel: $3.25   Large Soda: $4.75  
Ice Cream: $3.50   Pizza Slice: $4.00

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are poured at Jerry Uht Park.

Souvenirs: There is a souvenir stand set up behind home plate just inside the main entrance, which sells an average sized line of merchandise.

Restrooms: They were serviceable, but could honestly use a little renovating work.  For some reason, the air conditioning was blasting in both of the mens' rooms, which meant there was condensation everywhere!
Mascot: C. Wolf, a large, yet friendly wolf dressed in pirate garb circulates throughout the stadium during the game.

Dance Team: None, but the SeaWolves has the Wolf Pack, who assists with in-game promotions.

Program: The SeaWolves' large, full color program costs $4.00.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Jerry Uht Park boasts a large, high definition scoreboard located in right center field. Similar to the set-up in Midland, MI, the scoreboard features three large video screens, one large one which handles the majority of the game information, and two flanking boards which are used mostly for advertising. Below the main video board is a standard set up which handles the line score and other pertinent data.
The team's PA announcer is pretty good, and the selection of music is acceptable as well. From what I could tell, the acoustics were good all around the park.

Stadium Staff: Everyone I encountered was pleasant and helpful.

Atmosphere: To be honest, there really wasn't much of an atmosphere, and I'm sure that was mostly due to the fact that the weather had been iffy the entire week, which kept the attendance down significantly. It actually turned out to be a very pleasant day, and the crowd that was there (my guess was around seven or eight hundred) got their moneys worth, as they pounded Bowie. It turned out that the rainout the Wolves had the night before turned Saturday into a double header. Unfortunately, I had to boogie right after the first game ended, as I had to be in Pittsburgh by 6PM.

Overall Rating: Despite a few small drawbacks, Jerry Uht Park is a jewel. As I mentioned to a Wolves staffer, the park was built during the "renaissance" of ballpark design, and has enough quirks to make it interesting. Virtually all of the seats give an outstanding view, and there is no reason that I would not turn down a night with the SeaWolves if you're in the area.