Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Amway Center, Orlando FL

Basic Information
Team: Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL)
Game: Solar Bears vs Ft. Wayne Komets-12/8/12
Team Website: www.orlandosolarbearshockey.com
Ticket Information: (407) 951-8200 or www.orlandosolarbearshockey.com
Tourism Information: (800) 972-3304 or www.visitorlando.com
Online Broadcasts: WYGM 740AM www.740thegame.com
Local Newspaper: Orlando Sentinel www.orlandosentinel.com

Team History: After a layoff of eleven seasons, hockey returned to central Florida with the second incarnation of the Orlando Solar Bears. The original Solar Bears, who were owned by the DeVos family (owners of the NBA's Orlando Magic), played in the International Hockey League from 1995 through 2001, when the league ceased operations. In early 2012, it was announced that the ECHL would expand to Orlando, and the new Solar Bears would play in the Amway Center, which replaced the home of the original Solar Bears, the Orlando Arena (nee Amway Arena) in 2010.

Seating Capacity: Full hockey capacity for the Amway Center is over 17,000, but for the Solar Bears, the upper level is curtained off, reducing capacity to 9,555.
How About That Name (And Some History): The beautiful Amway Center was opened on October 1, 2010, replacing the Orlando Arena, which had hosted the Orlando Magic and other franchises from 1989 through 2010. The new arena was part of a one billion dollar effort to renovate the downtown area through not only the Amway Center, but the Citrus Bowl stadium and the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center. The naming rights to the $480 million arena were purchased by the Amway company, which is also owned by the De Vos family.

Other Tenants: The Amway Center is also the home to the NBA's Orlando Magic and the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League.

Getting There: From I-4, exit at exit 82B towards Division Ave. Make a left onto Division Ave, and follow to Church St. make a right onto Church St, and the arena will be on your right.

On The Town: Known as "the City Beautiful", over the past 40 years, Orlando has spruyng from a sleepy citrus community to one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.
Located in central Florida, Orlando is approximately 80 miles from Tampa and 70 miles from Melbourne on the Atlantic coast. The Orlando metropolitan area has a population of over two million, making it the the third largest metropolitan area in the state, after Miami and Tampa. Orlando is serviced by by one major interstate, I-4, which runs through downtown, as well as several smaller high-speed roads, which include Florida routes 528 and 408.

Originally the home of several bands of Creek indians, Orlando was known as Jernigan. The name comes from Aaron Jernigan, who was the first permenent settler of the area. How the town got the name Orlando was never settled upon, but city officials say that the Orlando got it's permanent name from Orlando Reeves, who, as the story goes, was killed by natives while acting as a sentry for a company of soldiers who was camping on what is now known as Lake Eola. The stroy grew through the early twentieth century through folk writings and tales told by locals. However, several researchers have never been able to confirm that Orlando Reeves ever truly existed. The city officially became Orlando in 1857.

While Orlando began to grow during the 20th century, the opening of Disney World in 1971 quickly turned the city into a major attraction. In 1965, Walt Disney announced that he wanted to build a companion park to his highly successful Disneyland park in California. After investigating sites near Tampa and Miami, Disney, while on an aerial tour, saw a huge amount of land southwest of downtown Orlando. The combination of the good land, and the fact that it was less likely to hurricane damage than the coastal cities, helped Disney make his decision.

Of course, Disney World didn't corner the market on tourist attractions. Soon after Disney World's successful launch, Sea World built a park in the area, and later on, Universal Studios, and other attractions made their way to Orlando.
Famous Orlando natives include astronaut John Young, who walked on the moon during Apollo 16, actor Wesley Snipes, and Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Zach Greinke.

Nearby Airport: Orlando International Airport is approximately 12 miles from the Amway Center.

What To Do: Summing up what to do on a trip to Orlando in a hundred words or so is simply impossible. Literally, there is something for everyone in the greater Orlando/Kissimmee/St. Cloud area. I would contact the Orlando visitors bureau to make your "plan of attack".

Where To Eat Before The Game: Fortunately for visitors, the Amway Center is located on Church St, which is the home of the Church Street Station entertainment district. Church Street Station has a large list of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs to satisfy almost anyone. Before the game we attended, my friend Amber and I stopped into the Draft Global Beer Lounge, which was just across the street from the Amway Center box office. The Draft had a good sized beer selection and a large portfolio of top shelf liquors. While it was a little on the pricey side for my tastes, it wasn't too bad and is a good place to stop for a brew or grab a meal before the puck drops. For more information on Church Street Station, visit www.visitchurchstreet.com.
Where To Stay: If you're not able to find lodgings to your taste in Orlando, you're simply lazy or not looking hard enough. Every possible chain from economy to five star has a presence in the area. On this trip, my friend and I stayed at the Red Roof Inn on Orange Blossom Trail, a major throughfare in the area. This hotel, which was approximately ten minutes from the arena, had all the basic necessities, and was near more than a few restaurants and bars, and at $65.00 per night, was well within my financial parameters. For more information call (800) REDROOF or visit www.redroof.com.

Ticket Prices: Solar Bears tickets are priced as follows: $49.00 (gold seats), $39.00 (center ice), $29.00 (lower corner), and $15.00 (behind the net).
Parking: There are several lots within a short walk of the Amway Center. For our visit, we parked in a moderately sized lot under I-4 just across the street from the arena. I was prepared to get hammered on parking, but I was pleasantly suprised when I saw the rate was $10.00. I'm sure, however, for Magic games and other "higher profile" events, the rate would probably be significantly higher.

Getting In: The main entrance and box office is on the Church St side of the building. After you get your tickets, you queue up along the street until you're allowed in. Normally, this may not seem to pleasant, but this is Florida. It was a very pleasant 70 degrees or so that evening, so waiting wasn't a big deal. After you enter the building, there are several escalators which will take you up to the concourse level.

The Good Seats: Our seats for this game were three or four rows from the top of the lower level on the corner, which is where I prefer to watch a hockey game. The view from there was very good, and the seats were very comfortable and had their own cup holder.

Arena Food: As one might expect from a newly built arena, having enough concession stands with varied choices was a major design concern. Every few feet along the concourse there was a concession stand with names like "Slam Dunk" or "O-Town Grill". I would have thought that there would have been more choices on the menu, but what was available was fairly good.

I sampled the arena's hot dog, and I found it to be rather tasty, despite being pre-made. The french fries weren't half bad, but could have been a little warmer. Amber had the Papa John's personal pan pizza, which I guess is salvagable at best.
The Amway Center does have a nice touch when it comes to soft drinks. A large drink costs $6.50, but the cup is refillable unlimited times at that night's game.

There are several satellite stands serving Cold Stone ice cream, nachos, and beer. There was a carving station serving sandwiches in the concourse directly above our seats. There are also several restaurants and bars in the arena, but I'm not sure if they were open for our visit.

Here is a sampling of the concession prices at Amway:

Hot Dog: $4.25   Hamburger (With Fries): $12.00   Nachos: $5.00   Draft Beer: $7.75   Pretzel: $3.75   Large Soda: $6.50   Ice Cream: $6.00   French Fries: $5.00   Personal Pizza: $8.75

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are poured at the Amway Center.

ATMs: Fairwinds Credit Union ATM's are located in the main concourse.
Souvenirs: There are several souvenir tables set up along the main concourse selling a large line of very attractive team merchandise.

Restrooms: Numerous and quite clean, I found them to be a bit on the small side, however.

Mascot: Shades, a large white bear, was a part of the team's promotions, but as far as I was aware, did not circulate in the stands at all.

Dance Team: The Solar Bears' Ice Girls helped giving out promotional items, and did several routines during the game.

Program: This was the thing that irked me a little. The Solar Bears did not sell any kind of program, not even a roster card. In several arenas that I've been to that didn't sell programs, the majority of them had a roster sheet or game notes which fans could request. Not so at the Amway. I feel that having some kind of program helps educate the fans, making them more likely to "invest" more in the club.
Scoreboard/Arena Voice: One of the largest I've ever seen, the scoreboard at the Amway provides just about as much information as a fan could need. The two level board includes an eight sided display on top, providing the Orlando roster and other graphics. The lower level has four crystal clear high-def video boards, providing the scores, pertinent game information, and live video. The PA and music are crystal clear as well, and are at an appropriate volume.

Arena Staff: I didn't see a lot of "team" staff, but the building staff was quite helpful and accomodating. Amber and I had several "fans" who were obviously overserved and were becoming obnoxious. Between periods I spoke to a usher and his supervisor about this, and they were more than happy to re-seat us, and would keep an eye on the group.

Atmosphere: People know hockey in Orlando, and the six thousand or so who attended the game were into the action, and were not afraid to show their displeasure with what can only be called a "lackluster" performance by the Bears, who lost 3-0.

Overall Rating: The Amway Center, simply put, is a world-class arena in a world-class city. While I really liked the old "O-rena", the new building puts the old one to shame. While price-wise, it's a little higher overall than you might think for minor league hockey, a Solar Bears game is definitely worth the time if you're in the land of the Mouse.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pennsylvania State Farm Show Equine Arena, Harrisburg PA

Basic Information
Team: Harrisburg Heat (Professional Arena Soccer League)
Game: Heat vs Cincinnati Kings-11/17/12
Team Website: www.harrisburgheat.com
Ticket Information: http://harrisburg-heat.ticketleap.com/
Tourism Information: (717) 231-7788 or www.visithersheyharrisburg.org
Online Broadcasts: WMSS-FM 91.1 www.wmssfm.com
Local Newspaper: Harrisburg Patriot www.pennlive.com

Team History: After a nine year hiatus, indoor soccer returned to Central Pennsylvania with the return of the Harrisburg Heat. The new club, announced in May, picks up the legacy of the club which played twelve mostly successful years in the NPSL and the second incarnation of the MISL.

Seating Capacity: For indoor soccer, the Equine Arena has a capacity of 2,500.

How About That Name (And Some History): The Equine Arena is one of the newest additions to the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex. The complex features five main buildings, the Large Arena (the home of the original Heat), the Sale Arena, the Main Hall, and the Expo Hall. The complex is used for over 200 events annually.

Getting There: (From the Pennsylvania Turnpike). Exit the turnpike at I-81 north (Exit 226) towards Harrisburg. Take I-81 for 15 miles to the exit for US-22 east (exit 67A). Proceed to the exit for PA-230 east (Cameron St). Exit onto Cameron St, and the complex will be on the right.

Other Tenants: In addition to the Heat and the Farm Show, the Equine Arena is the home of the Harrisburg Stampede indoor football team.

On The Town: With a population of just over 49,000, Pennsylvania's capital city is the ninth largest city in the Commonwealth. Harrisburg is located in the south central part of the state, approximately three and a half hours from Pittsburgh and two and a half hours from Philadelphia.

The area has been known to have been settled for over three thousand years by native Americans who called the area "Paxtang". The first European to explore the area came in 1608, when Englishman John Smith traveled up the Susquehanna River from Virginia. Smith met with the local tribes and established good relations. In 1719, John Harris, an English trader, settled in the area, and 14 years later, secured a land grant of 800 acres. In 1785, Harris' son, John, Jr., laid out a town on his father's land, which he named Harrisburg. In 1791, the town was incorporated, and in 1812, was named the state capital.

With access to the Susquehanna River and good transportation between the major cities on either end of the state, Harrisburg became a major industrial center and trading post. It was this fact that made it a key target in Robert E. Lee's march northward during the Civil War.

Not only was it a trading center, it was also a major departure point for Union soldiers. Lee wanted to originally take the city as part of his Maryland campaign in 1862, but was stopped at the battle of Antietam. A year later, Lee made another thrust northward a year later, this time being turned away at Gettysburg, some forty miles away. Lee's forces never came any farther north during the final two years of the war.

On March 28, 1979, Harrisburg was thrust into the national spotlight when the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island suffered a partial meltdown. The incident at the reactor, which was just south of downtown Harrisburg, caused minimal damage and leakage of radiation, nearly caused a evacuation of the area.

Noted area natives include NFL stars Ricky Watters, LeSean McCoy, and Marques Colston, actress Nancy Culp, best known as Miss Hathaway on the sixties television classic "The Beverly Hillbillies", and Bobby Troup, known as Dr. Joe Early in the seventies television series "Emergency".
Nearby Airport: Harrisburg International Airport is located approximately nine miles southeast of the Farm Show Complex.

What To Do: If you're a Civil War buff like me, the National Civil War Museum is a great way to spend the day if you're in the Harrisburg area. Located just east of the State Capital building in Reservoir Park, the Museum tells the story of the war that nearly tour the country apart in 1861. From Fort Sumter to Appamattox, the National Civil War Museum touches on all facets of the War Between the States. There are large exhibits on Civil War era medicine, the life of the common soldier, the effects of slavery, and the legendary generals and battles during that period. For more information, call (866) BLU-GRAY or visit www.nationalcivilwarmuseum.org.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There really isn't a lot in the immediate vicinity of the Farm Show, so it might be a better idea to eat near your lodging of choice.

When I would travel to Harrisburg on a regular basis in the early and mid-nineties, one of my standard stops for lunch was Strawberry Square in downtown Harrisburg. Located in the Harrisburg Hilton, Strawberry Square had a good sized food court and a shopping area. I did stop there for lunch on this trip, where I found a fairly good pizza place (can't remember the name, though). Sadly, one of my favorite ice cream places, The Creamery, was out of business. I would always stop there for a truly amazing chocolate ice cream soda whenever I was in town .
Where To Stay: I used to spend a lot of time traveling to Heat games in Harrisburg during the nineties. It seemed like every other weekend, I rolling down the Pennsylvania Turnpike to catch my favorite team in action. On many of those trips, I made the Days Inn in New Cumberland my home base. A nice easy 15 minute drive to the Farm Show and just a strong nine iron from the turnpike and I-83, convenience was the main reason for staying at this Days Inn. I decided to make this a "retro" trip, and did just about everything like I would have when I made those legendary trips years ago, which included staying at the Days Inn. It's an older hotel, but still comfortable. The rooms were well maintained (except that they forgot to leave soap in my room), and for $72.00, it wasn't a bad deal. For more information, call (800) DAYSINN or visit www.daysinn.com.

Ticket Prices: Heat tickets are priced as follows: $20.00 (box seats), $15.00 (center), $12.00 (corners), $10.00 (goals), $8.00 (standing room).

Parking: I do have a major issue here, as parking on the Farm Show grounds costs a ludicrous $8.00. Unfortunately, there really isn't any other choices parking-wise in the area, so you're stuck.

Getting In: There are two entrances to the Equine Arena, one of which is on the Cameron Street side of the arena, and another in the rear of the building. Both entrances have ticket sales areas.

The Good Seats: The majority of the seating in the Equine Arena are on either sideline, which has a total of approximately 1700 blue plastic seats. There are also box seat sections which surround the field and two large metal bleachers behind each goal. The intimate size of the building gives a good view of the action in all sections.
Stadium Food: I hate to say it, but this is one area where the arena needs some work. The Equine Arena has two concession stands, one located under the stands under section A, and another in the seating area near the entrance near the Cameron Street atrium. The seating bowl concession stand had a very limited selection of concession items (hot dogs, pizza, soda, candy). In addition, there was no "menu board", so I couldn't get a read on the prices on the items sold upstairs.

I had two hot dogs and a bottle of Pepsi, which cost a fairly agreeable $9.25. The hot dogs were made by a local outfit, Hatfield's. They were relatively tasty, served relatively warm, but I could tell they were pre-made, since they were served from a steamer on a somewhat mangled bun.

On field level, there was a beer stand, serving local favorite Yuengling, as well as several other brands.

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at the Farm Show Complex.

ATM: I did not see an ATM at the Equine Arena.

Souvenirs: A small souvenir booth is located in the concourse above the seating area. The team had a small line of merchandise available, but I was told more items would be coming.

Restrooms: There are rest rooms located under the seating area near the concession stands and in the concourse in the atrium. Both were of a decent size, well stocked, and in good working order.

Mascot: A large red and yellow beast of an unknown origin named "Boomer" paraded around the stands during the game.

Dance Team: None

Program: At $1.00, the Heat's program, "Game Night" is a good value. The full-color program gives updated information on the Heat and the visitors.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Equine Arena has a basic, center-hanging scoreboard which was recently purchased from the former home arena of the San Diego Sockers. The board gives the basic game information in an easy to read format. The acoustics of the arena are fairly good, and the music selection is good as well. The PA announcer needs a little work, as he was hard to understand at times.

Arena Staff: Everyone I encountered was laid back, but fairly helpful.

Atmosphere: The eighteen hundred or so in attendance were happy to have indoor soccer back in town, and after warming up to the new team, became fairly responsive.

Arena Features: A classy touch by the Heat management was naming each of the box seat sections after one of the "icons" of the history of the original team, which included Bob Lilley, Mark Pulisic, Richard Chinapoo, Danny Kelly, Todd Smith, and former team owner Rex Herbert.

Overall Rating: While I'm sure playing permanently at the Equine Arena isn't the "end game" for the Heat management, it's a good place to start. With just 2500 or so seats to fill, it's a good place to start rebuilding the tradition of indoor soccer in Harrisburg.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cambria County War Memorial Arena, Johnstown PA

Basic Information
Team: Johnstown Tomahawks (North American Hockey League)
Game: Tomahawks vs Soo Eagles-10/20/12
Team Website: www.johnstowntomahawks.com
Ticket Information: (814) 536-GOAL
Tourism Information: (800) 237-8590 or www.visitjohnstownpa.com
Online Broadcasts:
Local Newspaper: Johnstown Tribune-Democrat www.tribdem.com

Team Information: Two seasons after losing the ECHL's Chiefs, who moved to Creenville, SC, hockey returned to Johnstown in the NAHL's Johnstown Tomahawks. The NAHL is a "junior A" league which serves as a "showcase" league for players 16-19 years of age who are looking to go to the next level and play in college or the pros.
Seating Capacity: The War Memorial has a seating capacity for hockey of 4,001.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened in October 1950, the War Memorial has been the center of hockey in the area since the building opened it's doors. The building's first tenant was the Johnstown Jets, who played in the Eastern Hockey League and the North American Hockey League from 1950 through 1977. During the 1975 season, writer Nancy Dowd, who's brother Ned played for the Jets, wrote a screenplay based on the rough and tumble adventures of the team. In the screenplay, the Johnstown Jets became the Charlestown Chiefs, and Dowd's work eventually became the legendary movie "Slap Shot". Much of the movie was filmed at the War Memorial and in and around downtown Johnstown.

The arena has also hosted many high school and college sports, and has hosted indoor football on two separate occasions.
Getting There: (From the Pennsylvania Turnpike/I-76 eastbound):  Take the turnpike to exit 58 (I-376/US22 Monroeville). Follow signs for US Route 22 East. Proceed east for approximately 50 miles into Johnstown. Exit onto PA-56 east into Johnstown for approximately ten miles.Turn left at the fourth traffic light after Point Stadium. The Conference Center is on the right hand side and the War Memorial is on the left hand side.

Other Tenants: The War Memorial is the home of several local and regional high school and college sporting events.

On The Town: The largest city in Cambria County, Johnstown has a population of just under twenty one thousand. The city is located in west central Pennsylvania, seventy miles east of Pittsburgh and forty miles west of Altoona.
Johnstown, which was originally settled in 1700, is probably best known for the eight major floods that have devastated the town. The "Great Flood" of 1899 occurred when the South Fork Dam collapsed after a hard rainstorm, sending water from the Conemaugh River crashing into the town. The flooding and subsequent fires cost over two thousand people their lives. Despite being declared "Flood Free" after work by the ArmyCorps of Engineers in the 1950's, another major flood in 1977 caused more extensive damage to the city, which was beginning to show signs of decline due to the reduction of steel production.

Noted natives of the area include former congressman John Murtha, Cy Young Award winning pitcher Pete Vuckovich, Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, and Ohio University football coach Frank Solich.
Nearby Airport: While John Murtha-Cambria County Airport is the closest to Johnstown, the largest major airport is Pittsburgh International, approximately eighty miles from Johnstown.

What To Do: While this trip did not avail me much time for sightseeing, there is a nice sized museum complex which features the Johnstown Flood Museum and the Pasquerilla Heritage Discovery Center. the complex, which is on the outskirts of downtown Johnstown, tells not only the story of the floods that have helped shape Johnstown, also tells the tales of the immigrants which came to the area seeking a better life. For more information, call (888) 222-1889 or visit www.jaha.org.

Where To Eat Before The Game: To be honest, other than a Subway, there is nothing in terms of dining that I could see in the vicinity of the arena other than the Harrigan's Cafe in the Holiday Inn that I stayed at.

Where To Stay: The offical team hotel of the Tomahawaks is the Holiday Inn-Johnstown. Located a five minute walk from the War Memorial, the hotel has all of the standard amenities that one could want. The team does have a special rate of $79.00 per night, which was a little higher than I wanted to pay, but the simple convenience factor of being able to walk two blocks to and from the arena made the price a little more tolerable. While the rooms were quite nice and well supplied, the staff of the hotel left a little to be desired. For more information, call (814) 535-7777 or visit www.holidayinn.com.

Ticket Prices: Tomahawks tickets are priced as follows: $12.00 (club and center ice), $10.00 (sideline), $8.00 (end zone), and $6.00 (all youth).

Parking: I can't give this a grade, since I parked at the hotel for my stay. However, there is a public garage behind the Holiday Inn where I stayed, and a large surface lot just down Market St between the hotel and the arena. I'm not sure if those lots charge for games.

Getting In: The main entrance and box office are located on the northeast corner of the building, at the intersection of Market and Napoleon streets.

The Good Seats: Since there are only four thousand seats in the building, you pretty much get a good view no matter where you are. A recent renovation of the arena replaced the old wooden slat seats with new plastic chairs.

Stadium Food: In an "old school" building like the War Memorial, concessions are "old school" as well. There are several concession stands in the main concourse, but the selection at all of them is your standard arena fare. As far as I was able to ascertain, there really wasn't a "signature" item sold at any of the stands. I was able to purchase two hot dogs, an order of french fries, and a large Pepsi for a very agreeable $9.75, but the food service staff was, sad to say, pretty clueless. I had to wait almost ten minutes for my hot dogs to be cooked, since there was no food ready when the gates opened. The guy who took my order handed me my boat of fries when I placed the order, but (with a rather glassy-eyed stare) told me it would "be a few minutes" for the hot dogs. Ten minutes later, he handed me the dogs, but the fries were ice cold. Fortunately, he replaced the fries, and without even a "sorry for the wait", walked off.

In terms of taste, the dogs weren't half bad, as they were fresh, hot, and served on a fresh bun. However, the fries left a lot to be desired.
 
Here is a sampling of the concession prices at the War Memorial:

Hot Dog: $2.00   Hamburger: $4.50  Personal Pizza (Domino's): $6.00   Nachos: $3.75  Ice Cream: $2.50   French Fries: $3.00   Draft Beer: $5.00   Pretzel: $3.00 

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at the home of the Tomahawks.

ATM: An AmeriServ ATM is available in the main concourse near the main entrance/box office.

Souvenirs: A small souvenir counter is located in the main concourse near the entrance. This stand sells an average sized line of souvenir items.

Restrooms: Restrooms are located liberally throughout the main concourse. While the facilities are a little on the archaic side, they are clean and well stocked. I did get a laugh out of the sign on the inside of the mens' room door which said "Stop! Did you wash your hands?".
Mascot: A large red bird named Chopper prowls the seating area during the game and in the concourse before and after.

Dance Team: None.  

Program: A complimentary full-color program is handed out to all fans as they enter the building. The program is very informative, with info on the players, game articles, and features, and is apparently updated after every few games.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The War Memorial has a small "old-school" scoreboard hanging over center ice, which only gives the basic game information. However, at the War Memorial, it works nicely, as a larger, more modern board with all the HD bells and whistles simply wouldn't fit. I do have to say that the building has great acoustics, and the public address announcer and the game music selections were clear as a bell.

Arena Staff: Didn't see a lot of them, but they seemed to be pretty much "on the ball".

Atmosphere: It seemed pretty quiet in the War Memorial the game that I attended, but I have to chalk at least some of that up to the fact that night's game will be confused with the final game of the '73 Canada Cup or the US/USSR game in the 1980 Winter Olympics. The building started to get a bit more fired up as the game went on and got significantly chippier.

Arena Features: In the arena, there is a small, yet well done Veterans Museum, which salutes the men and women from the area who served their country in the Armed Forces. While not particularly big in size, it definitely is worth a visit in between periods or before the game.

Overall Rating: The War Memorial in Johnstown is a definite throwback to that old fashioned "hockey barn" which is now being slowly phased out in favor of more modern multi-purpose arenas with the most up to date facilities. With the current state of the economy in Johnstown, I don't see that happening in the forseeable future, so you still have time to see what it was like to see a hockey game when it was the place to be in the fifties on a Saturday night. While Johnstown might not be a "travel destination", a visit to the War Memorial will definitely "get you into the spirit of the thing".

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Clipper Magazine Stadium, Lancaster PA

Basic Information
Team: Lancaster Barnstormers (Atlantic League)
Game: Barnstormers vs Southern Maryland Blue Crabs-9/2/12
Team Website: www.lancasterbarnstormers.com
Ticket Information: (717) 509-HITS or www.lancasterbarnstormers.com
Tourism Information: (800) 723-8824 or www.padutchcountry.com
Online Broadcasts: WLAN-AM 1390 www.1390wlan.com
Local Newspaper: Lancaster Intellegencer Journal www.lancasteronline.com

Team Information: Members of the eight-team Atlantic League, the Lancaster Barnstormers have entertained the baseball fans of the area since joining the league in 2005. The arrival of the Barnstormers ended a 44 year baseball-less drought which started when the Lancaster Red Roses left the Eastern League after the 1961 season. The Barnstormers have won one league title, that being in 2006.

Seating Capacity: Clipper Magazine Stadium has a seating capacity of just over six thousand.

How About That Name (And Some History): On May 11, 2005, the culmination of a sixteen year battle ended with the opening of Clipper Magazine Stadium. In 1987, the city, led by Mayor Dick Scott, began to support the idea of bringing professional baseball and a new ball park to Lancaster. The push slogged on until 2003, when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, along with prospective team owners Opening Day Partners, agreed to split the cost of the $20 million dollar park. After several sites were proposed and rejected, all parties agreed on a site on the city’s northeast side in an old industrial park.
The park is named for Clipper Magazine, a local publication that produces shopping circulars and advertisement mailings for clients in 26 states.

Getting There: (from the Pennsylvania Turnpike/I-76 eastbound) Exit the turnpike at exit 247 (I-283 north). Take I-283 north to exit 1A (PA 283). Take PA 283 east for approximately 28 miles., exiting on Fruitville Pike. Take Chester Rd for a quarter mile, then make a slight right onto Fruitville Pike. Stay on Fruitville Pike, which turns into North Prince St. Follow to ballpark, which will be on your left.

Other Tenants: Clipper Magazine Stadium has hosted concerts, professional soccer, and political rallies in it’s past, and in the winter, a small public skating rink is set up on the park’s infield.

On The Town: Generally considered the “heart” of the Pennsylvania Dutch country, Lancaster is located in south central Pennsylvania, approximately thirty five miles southeast of Harrisburg, and approximately seventy miles west of Philadelphia. It is the seat of Lancaster County and has a population of 59,322, making it the eight largest city in Pennsylvania.
What is now known as Lancaster was originally called Hickory Town, it was renamed Lancaster, after the town in England, by one John Wright. The town’s symbol, a red rose, is also that of the English House of Lancaster. It was part of the charter that was given to William Penn by the King of England, and was incorporated as a borough in 1742.

Lancaster was, for one day anyway, the nation’s capital. In late September 1777, the British Army was on the verge of capturing Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress was in session. The members of Congress, fearing capture, escaped and on September 27th, met in session in Lancaster. The next day, the Congress moved again, this time farther inland, to the city of York, PA.

In 1795, the first paved road in the United States opened as the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, which is now part of US Route 30, which linked the two cities.

The opening of the West also came through Lancaster, when in the early nineteenth century, Lancaster became famous for the Conestoga covered wagon and the Pennsylvania long rifle. Both were made in Lancaster, and were vital to the country’s “Manifest Destiny”.

Famous natives of Lancaster include James Buchanan, the fifteenth president of the United States, nineteenth century congressman and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, and Robert Fulton, who built the world’s first fully functional steamboat.

Nearby Airport: The closest major airport to Lancaster is Harrisburg International, a forty minute drive away.

What To Do: As I had mentioned before, Lancaster is considered the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country, one of the top tourist destinations in the state. There are myriad things to do and places to see in the area, so I would check ahead with the local convention and visitors bureau for suggestions which fit your interest.
Linda and I spent a few hours before our visit to the Barnstormers a couple minutes north of town at the Strasburg Rail Road. Here you can take a short 45 minute ride up and down through the beautiful rolling farmland of the area in a lovingly restored steam engine. You can get a taste of what it was like riding in nineteenth century in the different cars. We decided to get the “Hobo Lunch” package which was served in the dining car. The lunch, which was served wrapped in a bandana like a hobo would carry his things in, included a sandwich, chips, beans, a home made chocolate chip cookie, and unlimited lemonade or iced tea. We selected the pulled pork barbecue sandwich, and it was simply outstanding. We both highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area. For more information, call (717) 687-7522 or visit www.strasburgrailroad.com.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Along Route 30, which runs in and out of Lancaster, there are myriad places to eat or all types, ranging from fast food to the traditional Amish-style “all you can eat” buffet meals.

Where To Stay: We stayed in Harrisburg on this trip, so I really don’t have a recommendation here. Again, along Route 30 there are more than a few hotels and motels representing all the major chains. However, I have found that, being a major tourist area, hotels during the “season” are a little on the high side.

Ticket Prices: Barnstormers ticket prices are as follows: $13.00 (dugout box), $11.00 (field box), $7.00 (adult lawn seating), and $6.00 (youth lawn seating).

Parking: Parking is free at Clipper Magazine Stadium. The ballpark has three lots, one behind the main entrance, one behind the left field fence, and a third in right field. I wouldn’t recommend parking on the streets, since the neighborhood might not be one you’d want to walk around in after dark, but with free parking, why would you want to park anywhere else?

Getting In: Clipper Magazine Stadium has four entrance points: one behind home plate, one each behind the first and third bases, and a fourth in center field. The home plate entrance also features the box office, the team office, and the Inside Corner souvenir store.
The Good Seats: The main seating bowl is of the traditional design, with seats starting behind first base, curving around home plate, and ending behind third. There is plenty of room to move around, with lawn seating along the third base line and in left and center fields. A covered picnic area occupies the area behind the right field fence.

Two things that I really liked about the home of the ‘Stormers was that 1) the concourse allowed you to walk completely around the park without any detours, and 2) there was a single row of seats against the fence in front of the berm in left field. Those seats seemed like they would give a great view of the game, and if you’re into catching home run balls and/or berating the opposing outfielders, this would be the place for you.

Stadium Food: Whoa! The Amish that live in the area are known for their tradition of setting a fine table, and Clipper Magazine Stadium is no exception.

Along the main concourse there are two main stands, two of which serve the traditional ballpark food. Adjacent to those are two other stands which serve Lancaster-area favorites. Along the first base side is the Auntie Anne’s pretzel stand. Now anyone who has ever been at a shopping mall knows how good Auntie Anne’s are, so the ability to have that at the ballpark makes me smile. Along third base is the Pizza stand, which, ironically enough, was called Parma Pizza (for the uninitiated, Parma , OH is the world headquarters of The Sports Traveler). Also at this stand was the Carvery, which served assorted freshly trimmed meat platters.

In left field there is a large barbecue stand operated a local company called Hess’s. I would have stopped there, but, sad to say, I was still stuffed from the lunch on the train!

Linda sampled the ballpark hot dog (made by Kunzler’s), and this is what she said:

“Although it wasn’t exactly a quarter pound dog, it was a good size. It had a good all-beef flavor, solid and spicy, grilled, and served hot. The bun was fresh and better than average tasting. It was much tastier than the $6.00 “jumbo” hot dog I had in Frederick the night before!”

I decided to sample the ballpark pizza (after the Auntie Anne’s pretzel dog). As a native New Yorker, I had to say that I’m a pizza “snob”. I like my thin crust, and the Parma pizza didn’t disappoint! My pizza was freshly made, had a thin, well cooked crust, and was a decent size for $3.50. It could have had a bit thicker layer of toppings, but that wasn’t a deal breaker.

Here is a selection of the concession prices at Clipper Magazine Stadium:

Hot Dog: $3.75   Hamburger: $5.25   Pizza Slice: $3.50   Nachos: $4.75   Large Soda: $4.75   Ice Cream: Various    French Fries: $3.50   Draft Beer: $4.00   Pretzel (Auntie Anne’s): $3.50

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at Clipper Magazine Stadium.

ATM: A Fulton Bank ATM is located behind home plate near the souvenir store.

Souvenirs: Inside Corner, the ‘Stormers souvenir shop, is well designed and well stocked with team goodies. It is located just in the main concourse just to the left of home plate.

Restrooms: Big, well supplied, and clean. I mean REALLY clean. I mean Disney World when it opens clean.

Mascot: “Cylo”, a large red cow, is the Barnstormers’ mascot.

Dance Team: None.

Program: “First Pitch”, a nice sized full color program is presented free to all fans entering the stadium.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Clipper Magazine Stadium has two scoreboards. The larger one is above left center field, and is a good sized video board, which shows replays, player data, and advertisements. The game score is kept on a smaller screen mounted in the fence in right center field. This has all the pertinent game data, but in between innings, the score is changed to advertisements, which was kind of annoying. The PA and game music were both excellent. The gentleman behind the “stadium voice” had a great and enthusiastic delivery, and the music selection was first rate.

Stadium Staff: Simply a bunch of nice people who always had a smile on their faces. A special thanks to team president Lisa Riggs for her warm hospitality and the lady in the customer service center (I didn’t get her name, unfortunately) who was more than happy to give me directions back to the highway and found out what station I could catch the end of the game on (she felt horrible that she didn’t know right away, but her friendliness more than made up for that).
Atmosphere: It seemed kind of flat since there was only fifteen hundred or so in attendance, but that I chalk up to a 6PM Sunday start and threatening skies (Lisa told me that they had a crowd of over six thousand the night before).

Ballpark Features: In 2008, the club installed a pool with bumper boats and other items in right center field next to the picnic area.

Overall Rating: Clipper Magazine Stadium is one of the nicest ballparks you can visit, and Linda and I couldn’t recommend it higher.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Harry Grove Stadium, Frederick MD

Basic Information
Team: Frederick Keys (Carolina League)
Game: Keys vs Carolina Mudcats-9/1/2012
Team Website: www.frederickkeys.com
Ticket Information: (301) 815-9939 or www.frederickkeys.com
Tourism Information: (301) 600-2888 or www.fredericktourism.org
Online Broadcasts: 1450AM "The Source" www.thesourceradionetwork.org
Local Newspaper: Frederick Call-Post www.fredericknewspost.com

Team Information: Named after Francis Scott Key, the author of the Star Spangled Banner, the Keys have called Frederick home since 1989, when the Baltimore Orioles moved their “high-A” affiliate from Hagerstown. The team played one season at a small recreation park in 1989 until Harry Grove Stadium was opened in April 1990. The Keys have won the Carolina League championship four times: 1990, 2005, 2007, and 2011.

Affiliation: The Keys are the Carolina League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

Seating Capacity: Harry Grove Stadium has a seating capacity of approximately 5,400.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened on April 19, 1990, the home of the Keys was named after Harry Grove, one of the founders of the Frederick Hustlers, a baseball team that played in the early to mid twentieth century. The Grove family also donated a quarter of a million dollars to help in the building of the project. From 2007 through 2009, Harry Grove Stadium underwent some major upgrades, which included a new playing field, new seating and field lighting, and a state-of-the-art scoreboard. The renovations also included bringing the park up to the most recent standards from the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Getting There: (From I-70). Exit I-70 at US 40 (exit 54). Go north on US 40 for approximately a quarter mile and make a left onto Market St. Follow Market St for less than a quarter mile, then make a left onto New Design Rd. Take New Design Rd to Stadium Dr and make a right. There is parking on Stadium Dr and on New Design Rd.

Other Tenants: None.

On The Town: The city of Frederick is located in north central Maryland, fifty miles west of Baltimore and fifty miles northwest of Washington, DC. With a population of 66,000, Frederick is the second largest incorporated city in Maryland, after Baltimore. The city is located on I-70 which runs east to Baltimore and west into West Virginia, and I-270, which leads into the nation’s capital. 
No one is exactly sure how Frederick got its name. According to sources, the most likely answers were that it was named after Frederick Calvert (one of the proprietors of Maryland), Frederick, the Prince of Wales, or Prussian king Frederick “the Great”. Despite that, the town was originally designed by a land speculator in 1745. The first settlers in what is now Frederick were German immigrants, who set up a church and school, and this small town became a starting point for successive immigrant groups who moved onto the Shenandoah Valley and into North Carolina.
Frederick was a focal point in battles during the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the Civil War. During the revolution, British forces set up a fort, and garrisoned it with Prussian (Hessian) troops. After the revolution ended, the Hessians had no way to return to Germany, so they made their permanent homes in the area. During the Civil War, Frederick served as a major crossroads, and troops led by some of the war’s most noted generals, “Stonewall” Jackson, Jubal Early, and Lew Wallace passed through town on their way to battles in nearby Antietam, Monocacy, and Gettysburg.

Francis Scott Key was born and raised in Frederick county, and is buried in Mount Olivet cemetery, which, ironically enough, is across the street from the ball park where his namesake baseball team plays.

Other notable natives of Frederick include Barbara Fritchie, who as legend goes, waved a United States flag in defiance of Confederate general “Stonewall” Jackson during his march through Frederick, longtime NFL running back Chuck Foreman, and NBA basketball stars Fred Carter and Michael Beasley.

Nearby Airport: The closest major airport is Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is 51 miles southeast of Frederick.

What To Do: Linda and I didn’t have a lot of time to sightsee on this trip, but if you’re a history buff like me, there are many Civil War and Revolutionary War sites in the immediate area of Frederick. I would contact the local convention and visitors bureau for more information.
Where To Eat: I didn’t see a lot in the immediate area of the ballpark, so I would contact the convention and visitors bureau for suggestions.

Where To Stay: On this trip, Linda and I stayed at the Comfort Inn just south of Frederick, and it was a good decision. The hotel, which is located less than ten minutes south of the ballpark, is easily accessible from I-270 and I-70. I found the hotel to be extremely neat and clean, with large, well furnished guest rooms, and for $89.00 per night for a double, was a good deal. The hotel features a fitness center, complimentary hot breakfast, and free wi-fi. For more information, call (800) 4-CHOICE or go to www.comfortinn.com.

Ticket Prices: Keys tickets are priced as follows: $12.00 (field seating-level 100), $10.00 (reserved seating-level 200), $7.00 (youth reserved seating), $9.00 (general admission) and $6.00 (youth general admission). Note that there is a $2.00 increase in prices for tickets purchased on game day.

Parking: As I had mentioned earlier, Harry Grove Stadium has two large lots, one behind the main grandstand and the other beyond left field. Parking is free in both lots.

Getting In: The main entrance to Harry Grove Stadium is on the third base side of the park, just to the left of home plate. The box office is located next to the main entrance.

The Good Seats: Harry Grove Stadium is designed in the traditional “V” or “wishbone” shape wish seating stretching from first base to third base. The main grandstand is a two level affair, with a good sized walkway dividing the upper and lower levels. The main concourse of the park is situated above the upper level of seating, which means you have a good view of the action even if you are waiting to get a hot dog or a beer. Seating is mostly of the plastic, flip-up kind with the exception of the “general admission” sections, which are metal bleachers.
Stadium Food: Harry Grove Stadium has a very good selection of concession choices for a stadium of it's size. I sampled the park's signature hot dog, made by Philadelphia's Dietz and Watson. It was fairly tasty, but it could have been a bit warmer. However, the presentation of the hot dog was excellent, as it was served on a fresh, pristine bun and in it's own paper "sleeve". Linda sampled the crap dip and pretzel combo, which she said was quite good and filling.

During the game, Linda and I sampled the "Double Play" Slushie, which was a combination of orange slush and vanilla ice cream. While it was quite refreshing on a steamy night, it was a bit too tart for my tastes, however, it was still pretty good.

Concession stands are located all along the main concourse. Stands which serve the ballpark standards are located on the first and third base sides. Down past the main seating area on the first base side is an outdoor grill which serves Angus Beef hamburgers, sausages, and pulled pork sandwiches. Along the third base line is a stand which serves crab-themed concession items, and immediately adjacent is the Keys Creamery.

Here is a sampling of some of the concession prices at Harry Grove Stadium:

Hot Dog: $4.00   Hamburger: $6.50    Draft Beer: $7.00   Pretzel: $3.50   Large Soda: $3.50   Ice Cream: Various Prices   French Fries: $3.00   Pizza Slice: $4.00  

Soft Drinks: Pepsi and Pepsi products are the beverages of choice at Harry Grove Stadium.

ATM: A Woodsford Bank ATM is located on the main concourse near home plate.

Souvenirs: There is a small souvenir stand located on the first base side of the concourse, and just next to that is another small “hole in the wall” stand. This is an area I think needs some improvement, as the line of merchandise could have been larger, and it could have been organized a little better.
Restrooms: Located on the first and third base side of the concourse, they are all clean, well stocked, and are of an appropriate size.

Mascots: The main mascot is “Keyote”, which you may or may not assume, is a large, yet lovable wolf-like figure. He circles the stands throughout the game interacting with the fans. I was also told that the team has another mascot “Frank” Key, who only appears when the team needs a rally. Apparently Frank is affiliated with the local convention and visitors bureau, as one of the pages in the team’s program is dedicated to facts and places to visit in Frederick and features Frank.

Dance Team: None.

Program: "Game Day Magazine" is free and given to fans upon their arrival at the park.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: This is one of the areas where Harry Grove Stadium shines. The park features two large scoreboards; a game data board in right center, and a large video screen in left center. The right field board has a large line score display (including pitch speed), and a message area that shows the pitch count (a plus to the true baseball wonk, like me). The video screen is impressive in itself, featuring a crystal clear display. The team utilizes it to its fullest, which includes having a “movie night” when the team is out of town. The upcoming movie (the last of the season), is “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, whose trailer was played before the game. The PA was good and clean, and the music was good as well.
Stadium Staff: Everyone was pleasant and helpful.

Atmosphere: The game we attended drew a crowd of almost seven thousand, despite weather that was threatening at best. The good crowd was probably due to the post-game fireworks show, a rehab start by Orioles pitcher Jason Hammel, and an appearance by Rudy Ruetteger, the undersized “no-hope” walk-on who made the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, and was the subject of the movie “Rudy”. I had the chance to chat with Rudy during the game, and he is definitely one of the nicest, humblest guys you will ever meet. I told him that after finding out that he was appearing at the game, I called to tell my mom and dad, who were big fans of the movie. He smiled and said “tell your mom and dad I said ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’”. A class act all the way.

Overall Rating: Although Harry Grove Stadium is now in its third decade, it is still serves the people of Frederick well. It is clean, very easy to get to, well maintained, and is very fan-friendly. A visit to see the Keys is absolutely worth your time if you’re in the area.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, State College PA

Basic Information
Team: State College Spikes (New York-Penn League)
Game: Spikes vs Williamsport Crosscutters-7/21/2012
Team Website: www.statecollegespikes.com
Ticket Information: (814) 272-1711 or (877) 99-SPIKES
Tourism Information: (800) 358-5466 or www.visitpennstate.org
Online Broadcasts: WZWW-FM 95.3 www.3wz.com
Local Newspaper: Centre Daily Times www.centredaily.com

Team Information: One of the New York-Penn League's most successful teams at the gate, the State College Spikes have had an history that has taken them from one geographic end of the league to the other. The team got it's start in 1981, when they joined the NYPL as the Erie Cardinals, where they played until 1987, where they were sold and moved to Hamilton, ON. Their stop in Ontario was a short one, as they lasted just four years in Canada's steel capital. After a one-year stop in Glens Falls, NY, the Cardinals finally landed in Augusta, NJ where they played for eleven seasons as the New Jersey Cardinals. After the 2005 season, the Cardinals were sold to the ownership of the Altoona Curve, who moved them to State College, where they became the Spikes. During their five previous seasons in State College, the Spikes have never finished higher than third place.
Seating Capacity: Medlar Field at Lubrano Park has a listed seating capacity of 5,570.
How About That Name (And Some History): Located in the shadow of legendary Beaver Stadium, the home of the Spikes opened for the 2006 Spikes season. The idea for the ballpark was that of Penn State alumnus Anthony Lubrano, who originally suggested upgrading the baseball facilities of the Nittany Lions in 1995. After recieving a $2.5 million donation from Lubrano, the owners of the Altoona Curve approached the college about bringing in a professional minor league team to share the new park with the Penn State baseball team.

The naming rights to the park are shared with Lubrano and "Coach" Chuck Medlar, one of the athletic trainers at Penn State for 35 years, and served as the Lions' baseball coach from 1963 to 1981.

Getting There (From I-80): Take I-80 to I-99 South via Exit 161 toward US 322.Take US 322 toward Innovation Park / Penn State University. Merge onto Park Avenue and turn left onto Porter Road.

Other Tenants: Lubrano Park is also the home of the Penn State Nittany Lions baseball team.

On The Town: Located in central Pennsylvania, approximately three hours from Pittsburgh and four hours from Philadelphia, State College is best known as the home of Pennsylvania State University since 1853. State College is also known as "Happy Valley", a name that has been given to the area by sports commentators.

State College has a current population of just over 42,000, and is the largest township in Centre County. The town is served by two major highways, Interstate 99 and US Route 322.

Mount Nittany is one of the area's most famous landmarks. With an elevation of over two thousand feet, it is one of the highest mountains in the state of Pennsylvania.

Nearby Airport: University Park Airport, located about five miles from State College, services the area with commuter flights on US Airways, United Express, and Delta.

What To Do: Unfortunately, I didn't get a lot of time to explore the area around State College, so I would contact your hotel or the local visitors bureau for information.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are several fast food restaurants on South Atherton Street, where my hotel was located, and on the approach to the Penn State athletic facilities.
Where To Stay: On this trip, I stayed at the team's official hotel, the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center in State College. This hotel, which is located about ten minutes from the home of the Spikes, is an older, yet clean and comfortable facility, which I was able to get for the very attractive team rate of $64.00 per night. The hotel features all of the necessary creature comforts that a traveler would need. My only complaint was that the WI-FI connection wasn't the best. The hotel also features PJ Harrigans Bar and Grille on site, which has a fairly good menu of pub-style food. For more information, call (814) 238-3001 or visit their website at www.ramadasc.com.

Ticket Prices: Spikes tickets are priced as follows: $12.00 (Diamond Club), $10.00 (field box), $8.00 (bullpen box), and $6.00 (outfield reserved).

Parking: There is plentiful parking in the area around Lubrano Park. I parked in a lot just adjacent to the main parking area for the ballpark. It was a three minute walk from my car to the main entrance, and for $3.00, it wasn't a bad deal at all.

Getting In: There are two entrances to Lubrano Park, one on each side of home plate. The entrance on the first base side was the larger one, and seemed to be the "main" one. The first base entrance brought you into a large "courtyard" which housed the customer service area, the ticket booth, anf the "Off the Rack" merchandise store.

The Good Seats: The main grandstand at Lubrano Park extends from halfway down the left field line around home plate to approximately the same position along the right field line. There are two good sized party decks which extend from the end of the seating bowl to each foul pole. There is also a small bleacher section above the right field fence which gives an excellent view of the entire field.
Stadium Food: The Spikes have a very good concession set up with a fairly diverse line up of ballpark munchies at fairly agreeable prices. Along the main concourse, there are the two largest concession stands, each called Flashpoint Grilles. Both of these stands sell your standard ballpark fare. The stand on the first base side also sells Jersey Mike's sub sandwiches (I wish I had seen THAT sooner!). Directly behind home plate there are smaller stands, one selling popcorn, another called Nachoville sells Mexican Specialties, and the third, Smokie's Sausage Shack, sells foot long hot dogs and Italian and Polish Sausages. And, if that wasn't enogh, down the third base line, the team has a Steakadelphia stand, which as you might expect, sells cheesesteaks, and at the extreme end of the stand is Franx, the hot dog stand which I raved about in my May review from Cooley Law School Stadium in Lansing, MI. Down the first base side, the park boasts Sweet, which sells candy and ice cream, and Burgertopia and Good Hops, which sells gourmet hamburgets and microbrewed beers.
I sampled the ballpark hot dog, which is made by Philadelphia's Dietz and Watson. It was served fairly warm and on a fresh bun. For $3.25, I don't think it was too out of the way price-wise. I also sampled the ice cream at the Sweet stand along the right field line. The ice cream was made at the Berkey Creamery, which is a well known establishment on the Penn State campus. Berkey has been featured on several shows broadcast on the Travel Channel.
Here is a sampling of the concession prices at Lubrano Park:

Hot Dog: $3.25   Cheeseburger: $4.00   Nachos: $4.75   Draft Beer: $6.75   Pretzel: $3.50   Large Soda: $4.00   Ice Cream: $3.75   French Fries: $3.50   Pizza Slice: $3.50

Soft Drinks: The home of the Spikes serves Pepsi products.
ATM: A Nittany Bank ATM is located inside the Off the Rack souvenir store.
Souvenirs: “Off the Rack” is a fairly large and well stocked souvenir store located on the main concourse near the main entrance. The team also has a smaller stand located on the third base side of the concourse.
Restrooms: Located liberally throughout Lubrano Park, they are all clean and in good working order.
Mascots: The Spikes have three mascots who make their way around the park. The first two are Ike the Spike (a large friendly deer) and the Nookie Monster (a furry blue beast who appears from a hole in the outfield fence called “the Nook” after each Spikes’ run).

The third and probably the most popular is Bob the Baseball Dog. A four year old yellow Labrador, Bob spends much of his time in the Spikes’ office, except on game days, where he and his handler walk around the fans getting pets, treats, and hugs from the fans.

Dance Team: None
Program: “Spikes Illustrated”, a small format, full color program which is updated for each home stand, is free to all fans entering the park.
Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The Spikes have a large scoreboard/video screen located in left field. The scoreboard has a large area which shows the linescore and pertinent game information, a small message center, and a large high definition video board. The video board gets a good amount of use, showing film clips, player data, and advertisements as well as upcoming game information. The public address system is good, with a solid announcer and good choices for game music.

Stadium Staff: It must be something about folks who work at the ballparks in central Pennsylvania…everyone I’ve encountered at those parks have been just plain pleasant and very helpful, and State College is no exception. Even when I was taking a break and sitting in the exclusive “Rail King” seats, the usher who asked to see my ticket was very genial and almost apologetic when he told me that I would have to move.
Atmosphere: Quite good. The Spikes game I attended, which had the home team facing their Keystone State rivals the Williamsport Crosscutters, drew a season–high crowd of 5,106. It was a very lively and enthusiastic gathering, which no-doubt helped the Spikes to a win.
Ballpark Features: The dimensions and fences at Lubrano Park are virtually identical to those at PNC Park, the home of the Spikes’ “big club”, the Pittsburgh Pirates. The only exception is the height of the right field fence. In Pittsburgh, the fence is 21 feet high, which honors the legendary Roberto Clemente, who wore number 21. In State College, the right field fence is exactly 18.55 feet high, which honors the opening of what is now Penn State, who opened their doors in 1855.

Overall Rating: My rating is simple. Medlar Field at Lubrano Park is a gorgeous ballpark in a gorgeous setting. You can’t beat it. It’s a great place to spend a summer evening.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pullman Park, Butler PA

Basic Information
Team: Butler Blue Sox (Prospect League)
Game: Blue Sox vs Lorain County Ironmen-7/7/2012
Team Website: www.butlerbluesox.net
Ticket Information: (724) 256-9994 or www.butlerbluesox.net
Tourism Information: (866) 856-8444 or www.visitbutlercounty.com
Online Broadcasts: WBUT-AM 1050 www.wbut.com
Local Newspaper: Butler Eagle www.butlereagle.com

Team Information: The Blue Sox were founded in 2006 as the Washington (PA) Blue Sox, where they played in the Tri-State Collegiate Baseball League. The club, which was founded by Pennsylvania state representative Leo Trich, Jr, played their home games at CONSOL Energy Park, which they shared with the Frontier League's Washington Wild Things. After the 2008 campaign, Trich moved the team an hour to the north to Butler, and joined the new Prospect League, a league which was developed for college players who wanted to play in the summer, yet keep their eligibility. In 2011, Trich sold his stake in the team to local businessmen, which included former Marlin, Cub, and Red Sox pitcher Matt Clement, who is a native of Butler.

Seating Capacity: Pullman Park has a seating capacity of 1,400.

How About That Name (And Some History): Pullman Park originally opened in 1934, and was built by the Standard Steel Car Company. The park was named Pullman Park, in honor of the well known railroad car that Standard Steel Car produced in Butler. The park was used by several different minor league clubs representing the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Detroit Tigers during the thirties through the fifties. Names like Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Lou Gehrig, and George Selkirk all having played in Butler during Pullman Park's heydey.

The majors left Butler after the 1950's, but the park was still used by local high school and amateur teams. However, by the 21st century came about, the park fell into disrepair, and closed in 2004. Happily, just before the park closed, a local committee came together in order to find a way to save Pullman Park. In 2007, the funding was obtained, and a completely new stadium was built on the site of the old park, and on July 2nd, 2008, a national television audience hepled reopen Pullman Park with a boxing card that was broadcast on ESPN2.

Getting There: (from the Pennsylvania Turnpike): Exit at I-79/US-19 north-Cranberry (Exit 29). Make a left onto US-19, and go approximately a mile to US-62 north. Take for approximately 40 miles, then turn onto PA-8 north. Take PA-8 north into Butler, then turn left onto Hansen Ave. Take Hansen to Pillow St, where you make a right. Follow through two stop signs and the park will be on your right side.  

Other Tenants: Pullman Park is also the home of the Butler High School Golden Tornado baseball team.
On The Town: Located 35 miles north of Pittsburgh, Butler is the seat of county seat of Butler County. The town has a population of just under fourteen thousand.

The town was originally settled by two brothers, John and Samuel Cunningham, who came to the area in 1803. The small settlement grew, and in 1817 was incorporated into the town of Butler. It was named for Major General Richard Butler, who was killed at the Battle of the Wabash in western Ohio in 1791. He died of a tomahawk blow to the head from a warrior of the Miami tribe during an uprising.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Butler became known as a manufacturing center. In 1902, the Standard Steel Car Company, led by financier "Diamond" Jim Brady started building railroad cars in Butler. In 1935, Standard merged with Pullman Palace Car Company, and the famous Pullman railroad car was born.

Well known Butler natives include former Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Terry Hanratty, Poison lead singer Bret Michaels, and the late John Minton, who was known to aficionados of professional wrestling as Big John Studd.

Nearby Airport: Pittsburgh International Airport is located approximately 50 miles south of Butler.

What To Do: This was another "in and outer" for me, so I would contact the local visitors bureau for more information.
Where To Eat Before The Game: There wasn't a whole lot in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark, so I would check with your lodging choice or the visitors bureau for suggestions.

Where To Stay: Linda and I stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Cranberry, approximately half an hour from Butler. There were several chain hotels along US-19 in Cranberry at all different prices. However, if you want to stay closer to Butler, I would recommend contacting the Blue Sox or the visitors bureau for their suggestions. The Blue Sox's program has an advertisement for a local Days Inn, so that might be a choice if you want to stay close to the park.

Ticket Prices: Blue Sox ticket prices are as follows: $7.00 (reserved), $6.00 (field level), and $5.00 (general admission).

Parking: Parking was free at the stadium lot, a medium sized lot on the park property. This might be your olny "close by" alternative, as I'm not sure if street parking is allowed near Pullman Park.

Getting In: The only entrance to the park is behind home plate. To the immediate right of the main entrance is the ticket window and the team's souvenir store.
The Good Seats: With a capacity of just 1,400, every seat at Pullman Park has you right on top of the action. The five sections immediately behind home plate feature chairback seating, while the remainder of the seating is of the bleacher variety. The upper bleacher sections are under cover, and some shade is provided by the press box (this was important as the temperature at the 6:30 first pitch was somewhere between 95 and 100 degrees!).

Stadium Food: There is one appropriately sized concession stand under the main concourse. While there wasn't a huge menu, what was served was surprisingly good and at a very good price. For our pregame meal, Linda and I (between the two of us, naturally), ordered three hot dogs (with fries and a bottle of soda), a cheeseburger meal (also with fries and a bottle of soda) for a grand total of $17.00. which to me was a definite bargain. I will let Linda describe our food experience:

"The hot dog was of an excellent quality, and when I bit into it, my glasses actually steamed up! The dog was grilled, very tasty, and served on a fresh bun. It might have been one of the best $2.50 hot dogs I've had. The cheeseburger was of an equal quality-freshly made, decent sized, and it was served hot and on a fresh bun."

The team promoted their meal deals, which came with a large serving of french fries and a bottle of soda: Hot Dog-$6.50, Hamburger-$7.50, and Cheeseburger-$8.50.

Here is a selection of concession prices at Pullman Park:

Hot Dog: $2.50   Hamburger: $3.50   Draft Beer: $4.00   Bottled Soda: $3.00   Ice Cream: Various Prices   French Fries: $3.00

Soft Drinks: Coke products are served at Pullman Park.

ATM: I did not see an ATM at the ballpark.

Souvenirs: The Blue Sox have a small souvenir store located on the first base side of the ballpark between the main entrance and the concession stand. This enclosed (and AIR CONDITIONED) store had a nice sized line of Blue Sox and Pullman Park merchandise.
Restrooms: Located on the third base side of the main entrance, they are fairly clean and well stocked.

Mascot: Babe the Blue Sox Ox spent much of the evening strolling around the park making friends and participating in contests. I'm sure that he would have been a lot more active if it wasn't so hot and humid!

Dance Team: None

Program: The Sox sell a small format program, which has the updated rosters inside for $1.00

Scoreboard: Pullman Park has a small, unpretentious scoreboard located in deep right center, which tells just the basic information. The public address announcer was very good, and they played a good mix of music.
Stadium Staff: Extremely pleasant. Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, everyone had a smile on their face and a welcoming and friendly attitude. Before the game, I noticed one gentleman was walking about the stands with what looked like a weed sprayer, giving anyone who wanted it a quick schpritz. Hoping that it wasn't Black Flag weed-be-gone, I requested a shot, which turned out to be a refreshing spray of cool water. It turned out that the gentleman was one of the team's owners!

Atmosphere: Again, the heat kind of kept a damper on things early on. However, the thousand or so in attendance started stirring in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Blue Sox were trailing 10-2 going into the frame, but then engineered one of the most ridiculous comebacks I've ever seen at a baseball game, hanging a combined 19 runs on the visitors from Lorain County in their halves of the sixth and seventh innings. The fans who I spoke to were very friendly and outgoing, and always willing to talk a little baseball.

Overall Rating: Simply put, Pullman Park is small-town baseball at it's finest, and one that any baseball fan should visit. Once you visit Butler, I'm sure you will embrace it as Linda and I did. While the park is new, it still has the vestages of a time when every small town with a traffic light and a bus station had a ball team. While the year is 2012, it was easy to see what it would have been like in the halcyon days of the lower minors in the 1940's.