Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Me vs Food #3-The Meat-A-Holic

by Linda Ibbett

The Meat-a-Holic served at Road Ranger Stadium in Rockford is great ball-park fare for meat-loving sports fans. The $5.50 "dish" packs a satisfying array meats onto a wooden skewer: two meatballs, two slices of Italian Sausage, one slice of kielbasa and one slice of hot dog. I've often felt that the bun is just a means for holding the hot dog, sausage, etc., so I though it was a great idea to skip the bun and make more room for more meat! I ate mine plain so as to not cover up the flavors with condiments.
All the meat selections were quite tasty. I'm not sure exactly how they were cooked, but it was hot and fresh. I don't think it was grilled, which would have made it even better; I'm partial to grilling. I'll definitely order another Meat-a-Holic if I make it back to a Riverhawks game in Rockford!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Road Ranger Stadium, Loves Park IL

Basic Information
Team: Rockford Riverhawks (Frontier League)
Game: Riverhawks vs Washington Wild Things-8/20/2011
Team Website: http://www.rockfordriverhawks.com/
Ticket Information: (815) 885-2255 or http://www.rockfordriverhawks.com/
Tourism Information: (800) 521-0649 or http://www.gorockford.com/
Online Broadcasts:  WTJK-AM http://www.espn1380.com/
Local Newspaper: Rockford Register Star http://www.rrstar.com/

Team History: The history of the Rockford Riverhawks goes back to the first season of the Frontier League, when in 1993, they played as the Portsmouth (OH) Explorers. They would play in the south central Ohio city for three seasons before moving to Springfield (IL), where they became the Capitals. In their first three years in Springfield, they won the Frontier League title twice. After the 2002 season, the Capitals would move again, this time to Rockford, which had recently lost it's Midwest League team. The new Riverhawks would play four seasons at Marinelli Field, which was for many years, the home of the Midwest League teams that called the Rock Valley home. In 2006, the Riverhawks moved into the new Road Ranger Stadium in suburban Loves Park. The Riverhawks moved to the Northern League for the 2010 season, but returned to the Frontier League for 2011.

Stadium Capacity: Road Ranger Stadium has a listed capacity of 3,279.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened on May 30, 2006, the home of the Riverhawks has had the Road Ranger Stadium name since May 2007. Based in Rockford, Road Ranger is a chain of gas stations and convenience stores with locations in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio.

On The Town: Illinois' third largest city (after Chicago and Aurora), Rockford is located approximately ninety miles west of downtown Chicago. Access is provided by Interstates 90 and 39. The population of Rockford is just under 340,000.
Originally settled in 1834 by three settlers from Galena, IL, the new town was originally known as Midway, but since the location of the settlement provided an excellent crossing (or ford) of the Rock River, the town became known as Rockford.

By the late 1800's, Rockford became one of the top manufacturing cities in the country. An influx of Swedish craftsmen and investors helped cultivate the business, and by the beginning to the 20th century, Rockford was the second largest furniture manufacturing center in the US (after Grand Rapids, MI).

During World War II, Rockford was home to the famed Rockford Peaches womens' baseball team, which played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was made famous in the film "A League of Their Own".

Notable celebrities from Rockford include US Men's National Soccer Team star Steve Cherundolo, actress Susan Saint James, and legendary rock band Cheap Trick.

Getting There: From Chicago, take I-90/I-39 tollway west to the Riverside Blvd exit (IL-55). Make a right onto Riverside Blvd and proceed approximately a quarter mile to Interstate Blvd. Make a left onto Interstate Blvd, and follow for a half mile to the stadium parking lot.
Nearby Airport: Chicago Rockford International Airport is located approximately ten miles south of Road Ranger Stadium. In addition, Chicago O'Hare International Airport is approximately 75 miles southeast of Road Ranger Stadium.

What To Do: Linda and I had an appointment at the Rockford Public Library as soon as we got into town, so we didn't have any time for sightseeing. I would contact the Rockford Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information.

Where To Eat Before The Game: When in Rockford, I have three words: The Machine Shed. Located on East State St, less then a half mile from I-90/39, The Machine Shed has an amazing amount of good "home cooked" style meals at pocket-friendly prices. Done in a farm motif, The Machine Shed is a chain of restaurants dedicated to the American farmer. We discovered The Machine Shed on our first trip to Rockford a few years back when I was the director of operations for the American Indoor Soccer League, and it is a "must stop" for the girls and I whenever we are in the area. Linda and I both had turkey dinners, which included large chunks of white meat turkey, home made mashed potatoes, rolls, and for desert, I had a large slab of apple pie, and Linda had coconut cream. The total bill for the stomach-expanding meal was an agreeable thirty dollars. For more information or to view a sample menu, visit http://www.machineshed.com/.

Where To Stay: We stayed at the Red Roof Inn on East State St, which was about a ten minute drive south of the ballpark. Like all others in the chain, they are clean, comfortable, and moderately priced. For more information, visit http://www.redroof.com/ or call (800) THE-ROOF.
Across the street from the Red Roof is a Radisson (which is quite good), and about a quarter mile east on State is the Clock Tower Resort (also very good). Both are on the pricey side, though.

Ticket Prices: Riverhawks tickets are priced as follows: $15.00 (Premium Box), $12.00 (Home Plate Box), $10.00 (Infield Box), $8.00 (Outfield Box), $5.00 (Grandstand).

Parking: Parking at Road Ranger Stadium is $2.00 per car. There is a large on-site lot just outside the main entrance.
The Good Seats: Road Ranger Stadium is designed in the traditional ballpark seating design, with seats running from foul pole to foul pole. With just ten rows of seating in the main grandstand, you will be right on top of the action mo matter where you sit. All of the seats in the main grandstand are of the chair back variety. In addition to the main grandstand, there is a smaller area behind the left field line which is dedicated to the "all you can eat" seating plan, a small picnic area behind the right field line, and the Miller Lite Party Porch which is located behind the right field fence.

Getting In: The main entrance at the home of the Riverhawks is directly behind home plate. The box office is located immediately to the left of the main entrance.

Stadium Food: This is one area where Road Ranger Stadium truly shines, as they have a line of concessions which would put a double or triple A team to shame. Not just content with the standard ballpark fare, some of the specialty items served here include Bobak's sausages, Culvers frozen custard, Maciano's pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, veggie burgers, sweet corn, barbecue pork sandwiches, and two of the park's true signature items, the "Codfather" (obviously a fish sandwich), and the "Meat-A-Holic". As I am trying to watch my weight and sodium intake, I passed on the Meat-A-Holic, but Linda was more than happy to oblige (doing her journalistic duties). Her report on the Meat-A-Holic (and photo) will be coming shortly.
I sampled the ballpark hot dog, made by Bobak's. Although it was pre-made, it didn't taste too bad, but it could have been served a little hotter. However, for $2.75, I couldn't complain too much.

Here is a sampling of the concession prices at Road Ranger Stadium:

Hot Dog: $2.75   Hamburger: $3.75   Nachos: $3.50   Draft Beer: $4.50   Pretzel: $2.75   Large Soda: $2.50   Ice Cream Dish: $3.50   Fries: $3.00   Pizza Slice: $3.00 

Soft Drinks: 7UP, RC Cola, and Dr. Pepper products are poured at Road Ranger Stadium.

ATM: I did not see an ATM on the ballpark premises.

Souvenirs: The Riverhawks have a souvenir store located just to the right of the main entrance way. The store has a decent sized line of team wear and novelties. At the game we attended, I bought a t-shirt/hat combination for my dad for just 12 bucks.
Restrooms: The restrooms at Road Ranger Stadium are located down the first base side of the park. I thought they were a little cramped, but had sufficient facilities and was clean and well stocked.

Mascot: Rocko the Riverhawk prowls the stands on a constant basis, greeting and entertaining the fans.

Dance Team: None.

Program: The large, informative Riverhawks program is given free to fans upon entering the ballpark.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Road Ranger Stadium has a "standard-type" scoreboard located just to the left of center field, which has an area for the line score and basic game information as well as an average sized video board. The video board is only used for advertising, promotions, and game information. I did not notice any replays or in-game action shown.
The PA announcer was good, and the musical selections were pretty good as well.

Stadium Staff: All of the people I spoke to from the Riverhawks team staff were more than pleasant and helpful. Each fan got a personal welcome from staffers as they entered the park, and to me, that goes a hell of a long way towards a positive experience.

Atmosphere: I thought that it seemed a bit quiet, considering that the game we attended was a scoring fest (thirteen runs going into the third inning). However, the three thousand or so that were there were having a good time, and were supportive of the team.

Stadium Features: After each Riverhawk home run,. a staffer circulates in the stands with the Home Run Bucket, where fans contribute a dollar or two each. The Riverhawk who left the yard would then receive the contents of the bucket. This is an outgrowth of a tradition that started in the southwest where fans would stick dollar bills through the holes in the fence to be collected by their team's home run hitter.

Overall Rating: When it comes to a pleasant night out at the ballpark, Road Ranger Stadium has all of the necessary ingredients...a pleasant evening (until the rain came in the 6th), good food, friendly people, a well maintained facility...I don't think you could ask for a lot more. We'll be back. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

CONSOL Energy Park, Washington PA

Basic Information
Team: Washington Wild Things (Frontier League)
Game: Wild Things vs Florence Freedon-8/13/2011
Team Website: http://www.washingtonwildthings.com/
Ticket Information: (724) 250-9955 or http://www.washingtonwildthings.com/
Tourism Information: (866) 927-4969 or http://www.visitwashingtoncountypa.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.msasportsnetwork.com/
Local Newspaper: Washington Observer-Reporter http://www.observer-reporter.com/

Team History: In 2011, the Washington Wild Things are celebrating their tenth season in the Frontier League. Prior to moving to the Pittsburgh suburb, the Wild Things spent four seasons as the Canton Crocodiles, before being purchased by a local investment group and moved to Washington. According to the Wild Things' 2011 program, the ownership group was originally looking to purchase a farm team of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but after that deal collapsed, they looked to the independent Frontier League. One of the team's first employees in their new home was Kent Tekulve, the former star relief pitcher of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who served as the new team's director of baseball operations and pitching coach. Since moving to Washington, the Wild Things have won the Frontier League's regular season championship on four separate occasions.

Stadium Capacity: CONSOL Energy Park has a listed seating capacity of 3,200.

How About That Name (And Some History): The home of the Wild Things was opened in 2002, when the home team lost to the Canton Coyotes (who were moved to the Ohio city to replace the Crocodiles, who became the Wild Things). At the time the ballpark was known as Falconi Field, named after local businessman Angelo Falconi, who's donation helped finance the building of the park. In April 2007, CONSOL Energy, a locally based coal mining corporation, purchased the naming rights to the park. However, a statue of Falconi was erected in front of the home plate entrance to the park, saluting him for his contribution.

On The Town: Located approximately 45 minutes south of downtown Pittsburgh, Washington, PA is the county seat of Washington County. The town, the largest in the county, has a population of 15,268.

In 1781, the Pennsylvania General Assembly authorized the creation of a new county, which would be the first in the new United States to be named after George Washington. It was rumored that the county and city were named because the first president spent the night in the region once. However, this was not true.
Washington, PA was the center of one of the first acts of rebellion against the new United States Government. The Whiskey Rebellion, started in 1791 after a tax was levied against whiskey distilled in the region. Local distillers rose up and took up arms, but the rebellion was put down by government forces.

Notable Celebrities who are native to the city include Joe Walker, a test pilot who flew the X-15 rocket plane in the early sixties, NFL Hall of Famer Pete Henry, and former professional wrestler and mixed martial artist Sylvester Terkay.

Getting There: From I-79 South, exit onto I-70 west (towards Wheeling). Exit I-70 at Chestnut Ave (Exit 15). At the bottom of the ramp, turn right. Go approximately a half mile to North Ring Rd (this is the access road to the Washington Crown Center mall). Make a right onto Ring Rd, and follow to the ballpark, which is behind the mall.
Nearby Airport: The closest major airport to Washington is Pittsburgh International Airport, which is approximately 40 miles north of Washington.

What To Do: This was an "in and out" trip for me, so I really didn't get the chance to do much in the area, however Linda and Joan recommend the Meadows Race Track and Casino, located not far from the ballpark. The Meadows features live year-round harness racing, a bowling center, a food court, and over 3,700 slot machines. For more information, call (724) 503-1200 or http://www.meadowsgaming.com/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are several chain restaurants along Chestnut Ave, and although I can't guarantee it, I would assume that there are food choices at the Washington Crown Center mall.

Where To Stay: There is a conveniently located Red Roof Inn less than a mile from CONSOL Energy Park. As with all other Red Roofs, they are clean, convenient, and fairly inexpensive. For more information, call (800) THE-ROOF or visit http://www.redroof.com/.
Ticket Prices: Wild Things tickets are priced as follows: $12.00 (premier box), $10.00 (field box), $8.00 (reserved), and $5.00 (general admission). The team also has a "Wild Elephant" ticket, where for $12.00, each ticket holder gets a guaranteed giveaway item (even on non-giveaway days).

Parking: There is a large on-site lot adjacent to the ballpark which is more than large enough for the Wild Things. Parking in this lot costs $3.
00.

The Good Seats: The main grandstand at CONSOL Energy Park hugs the base lines from midway down the left field line around home plate to the right field line. The first five rows of seating are chair back seats, with the remainder of the seating is bleacher seating with backs. There is a small grass berm at the extreme end of the left field line where fans cans stretch out upon.

Getting In: There are two separate entrances to the ballpark. The first entrance is in the outfield at the right field foul pole. This entrance also is where the ticket office is located. There is also an entrance behind home plate.
Stadium Food: The concessions at CONSOL Energy Park is well above average for a park of it's size. The main concession stands are located on the first and third base directly adjacent to home plate. These stands, newly expanded for 2011, carry the standard ball park fare. In addition, there are stands down each line, which specialize in some sinful sweets. The Dessert Stand, located on the right field side, features funnel cakes, ice cream, and deep fried Oreo's. Eskimo Eddie's, located along the left field side, features ice cream sundaes, candy apples, frozen bananas, and make your own slushies. A little farther down the left field line is The Bar Over There, which serves beer and wine coolers.

I sampled the quarter pound "Wild Dog", which I thought was OK at best. It was pre-made, but fairly warm when presented.

I was surprised at the size of the "medium" soft drink. I found that usually, the medium drink was somewhere in the 16-20 ounce range. At this park, the medium was a shocking 32 ounces, with the "large" being a whopping 48 ounces. At $3.75, I found it to be a bargain!

In the middle of the fifth inning. the Wild Things do something special for the young fans. They sell chocolate chip cookies. At $1.00 for two cookies and small carton of milk, they did a brisk business.
Here is a sampling of the concession prices at CONSOL Energy Park:

"Wild Dog": $3.00   Hamburger: $4.25   Nachos: $4.00   Draft Beer: $6.00   Pretzel: $3.00   Medium Soda: $3.75   Ice Cream Sundae: $4.00   French Fries: $3.00   Pizza Slice: $4.25
Soft Drinks: Coca-Cola products are served at CONSOL Energy Park.

ATM: There is an ATM located adjacent to the home plate entrance.

Souvenirs: The all new souvenir store, "The Cage", is located under the first base grandstand and sells a moderate sized line of merchandise.

Restrooms: There are restrooms located on the first and third base sides of the ballpark. They are of an appropriate size and are clean and well stocked.

Mascot: "Wild Thing" is a large, friendly beast of an uncertain species that prowls the stands during the game.

Dance Team: None

Program: The Wild Things informative, full color program costs just a dollar.
Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: CONSOL Energy Park has two scoreboards in use. The left field board displays the line score and basic game information. The right field board is a full color video screen. The right field board is used basically for advertisements and promotions, and had very little use in terms of in-game replays.  The PA voice was good, and the music played was of the typical stadium style.

Stadium Staff: The folks that work at the home of the Wild Things were friendly and extremely helpful. A special thanks to Christine Blaine, Jim Gibson, and Kate Billings of the Wild Things staff for their extra special hospitality.

Atmosphere: Well, with the game being rather one-sided in favor of the visiting Florence Freedom, you would correctly assume that things were a little...low key. I'm sure that if the game were closer or if the Wild Things were in the lead, it would have been a lot more lively.

Overall Rating: CONSOL Energy Park is simply an excellent facility for minor league baseball, one that I'm sure that the locals are quite proud of. The team's proactive ownership invested a million dollars over the past off season to make their park in line with many of the other top stadiums of it's type in the Frontier League. I have no doubt that it will serve the community well for years to come.