Monday, February 25, 2019

Bakersfield Condors 2 at Tucson Roadrunners 0 (AHL) - February 23, 2019


After a brief stop in Tempe, I drove 100 miles south to Tucson, where I would add the 29th active AHL venue to my list. The Tucson Roadrunners joined the league in 2016 when the Coyotes purchased their AHL affiliate in Springfield and moved them to the desert. One of the key items that allowed for the move was a commitment from the city of Tucson to invest $3.2 million to improve the Tucson Arena, which is part of the convention center.



The venue is located downtown, just a couple of blocks east of the I-10. Parking is free after 5 p.m., with the meters on Cushing Street the best option for making a quick return to the highway. Before entering, take a look around and note the salamander sculptures.



visited here in 2013 for Arizona hockey and the upgrades are obvious. The large lobby inside the main entrance clean and new signage denotes the arena.



Inside, the entire seating bowl has been replaced with new seats that are quite comfortable. As well, scoreboards have been added at both ends.



At the box office, tickets started at $15 for end zone seats, but there are deals for certain games such as a community night where you can get in for $7. Seats in the upper rows of the 200s are the best bet here.



Some fans prefer to stand behind the small walls just above the seats, as you can see below. There was a good crowd on hand for this game as there was a kid's jersey giveaway, but the team averages around 4,200, meaning you can sit where you want most nights.



The seating bowl is a horseshoe, but you cannot walk all the way around on the concourse as you could before. The far end is now reserved as a lounge for season ticket holders before the game, and then is used as the promo deck during the game. The in-game host stands between the two flags when running a promotion and nobody is allowed to pass through.



This is as far as I could go before being stopped. It is too bad as you are directly above the goal at this end, which provides unique views. At the last game I saw here, I spent two periods standing here, and was looking forward to doing the same. Oh well.



The view down low is quite good - note that in the picture below, I am in the 5th row of the 200s, which are quite a bit cheaper than the seats in the 100 level. You'll want to sit above here to avoid the glass getting in your way.



Despite their short history, the Roadrunners have seen both success and sadness. They were the Western Conference Champions during the regular season last year (losing in the second round of the playoffs to Texas, who lost the Calder Cup to Toronto). Craig Cunningham was the team captain in their first season when he suffered a ventricular fibrillation that caused his heart to stop. Thankfully, he survived but the loss of circulation damaged his left leg so much that part of it was amputated. His #14 has been retired and he is now a pro scout with the Coyotes.



Overall, Tucson Arena is an excellent place to watch AHL hockey. The downtown location, ease of access, affordable tickets, and excellent sightlines are all positives. For me, the only negative is not being able to watch the game from the end of the horseshoe, but I can overlook that. Tucson is not on many hockey itineraries, but it should be as the Roadrunners put on a good show in a great building. Try to see it if you can.



The Game

The Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton) were in town having won 15 in a row, while Tucson was slumping with just two wins in their last ten. Shane Starrett (below in net) got the start for Bakersfield while Adin Hill (3rd round in 2015, played 13 games with Arizona this season) was manning the pipes for Tucson. Early on, Michael Bunting (4th, 2014) took an interference penalty sending the Condors to the power play. A minute in to the man advantage, Kailer Yamamoto (22nd overall in 2017) completed a nifty three-way passing play to open the scoring. Later on, Tucson put one in the net but it was waved off for being kicked in.



In the second period, Bunting and Brandon Manning (making his Bakersfield debut after clearing waivers) had some sort of disagreement that led to Bunting faking a punch at Manning as he skated by. The period was chippy after that and ended with all the players on the ice yelling at each other, but the only penalty that resulted was a 10-minute misconduct to Bakersfield's Evan Polei. The score remained 1-0, and I expected some fights to break out in the third to add some excitement, but I guess the coaches kept everybody calm. It was a rather uneventful period as Bakersfield shut down Tucson's attack, limiting them to mostly shots from the outside. Starrett saved everything he saw, and although he gave up several juicy rebounds, the Roadrunners were not quick enough to capitalize. An empty net goal from Joe Gambardella with 6 seconds left sealed the game.



This was the second 2-0 result in a row for me in hockey in Arizona, and both times the team I was cheering for failed to score. An unhappy coincidence.

Notes

Carter Sandlak, son of Jim and a former player in the AHL and ECHL, was one of the referees. Apparently many players who can't make the NHL turn to officiating to continue their dream. It will be interesting to see if Sandlak can do so.



The Tucson Sugar Skulls are a new team in the Indoor Football League and have one of the better logos I have seen.

Bakersfield won the next game between the two 3-1 to make it 17 in a row, tied for the second-longest winning streak in league history. The Norfolk Admirals won 28 in a row in 2011-12.

Next Up

The next ridiculous trip is to Colorado this coming weekend to see the Eagles hosting Tucson. I'm also hoping to get up to Wyoming for college hoops to add that state to my list. Check back next week to see if I made it.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, February 24, 2019

San Francisco Giants 3 at Los Angeles Angels 10 (Cactus League) - February 23, 2019


As my AHL quest nears completion, I am taking three ridiculous trips to see the final three rinks, one of which is in Tucson. I had hoped that the Roadrunners would have a home game around February 16, when the Leafs played in Arizona, but the schedule maker was not helpful. The closest date was a week later, so rather than spend that time in Arizona (which suffered through a cold spell), I flew back to NYC for the week and then returned to Phoenix late Friday. With the Roadrunners playing on Saturday night, I had an open afternoon to find a game, and as it was the first day with a full slate of spring training tilts, I decided to visit the oldest stadium in the Cactus League before driving south.



There are now 15 teams that play in Arizona during the spring, but only 10 ballparks, with half of them being shared by two teams. This is not the case for Tempe Diablo Stadium, where the Angels have held their spring games since 1993. This allows for the stadium to be adorned with the Angels logo pretty much everywhere.



The stadium is located just west of I-10 off Alameda Drive. It was opened in 1969 for the Seattle Pilots, who lasted but a year before moving to Milwaukee. The Brewers spent three springs here before heading over to Sun City, and the stadium was dark until another Seattle team entered the scene in 1977. The Mariners spent 16 seasons here before the Angels took over the facilities, and since then there have been several renovations.

Parking here is $5, with proceeds going to the Tempe Diablos, a charitable organization for which the stadium is named. The Diablos were created when the Pilots asked that a special events committee be formed to manage Cactus League activities at the stadium, and over the years, the organization has transformed into a charity that sponsors educational and youth programs. They also helped to establish the Fiesta Bowl and the Insight Bowl. The Diablos work in the parking lot and will guide you to a spot; I was sent to the worst spot in the lot, in a corner right underneath the sign above. Given that there is just a single entrance to the lot, it could take a long time to exit depending on where you end up, so keep that in mind if you are in a rush. I am sure it would have taken at least 30 minutes for me to get out had I stayed until the end.



The ticket office is right next to the main entrance, with the cheapest option $15 for the berm. Good seats are going for $45, a ridiculous amount for an exhibition game, but the norm now that spring training is big business. The ushers generally don't check tickets, so just get the cheapest and move around. You can even stand on the concourse and watch, but you have to remain behind a green line that is a few feet away from the last row of seats, so fans are constantly walking in front of you. The picture below is taken from a standing spot.



The single seating bowl lies below the concourse, with chairbacks between the bases and benches further down the lines. The sun shines into third base as you can see below, but there are spots in the sun along first base too.



With temperatures in the low 50s, most people preferred the sun, where it was about 15 degrees warmer. In fact, there are only a few rows that are shaded, mostly due to the stadium structure that houses the suites and press box. These seats would be popular on hot days, but were quite empty today.



The berm is down the left field line and stretches behind the fence. Many fans with seats in the shade preferred to hang out in the berm, as it was sunny from start to finish.



The view from the berm is below. It is certainly a nice way to while away a winter's afternoon.



In the left field corner is a number of concessions that offer much better choices than the typical stands found along the concourse. I liked the two cookies for $3 at the Baked Bear on the left below. They also sell a monster ice cream sandwich for $8 that looked perfect for a hot day.



The stadium has an interesting history, and it is shown in detail on several displays that adorn the poles behind home plate. A couple of the panels talk about the birth of spring training in Arizona and have several cool photos from the 1950s, so take the time to have a look.



The Angels have had some success, including that 2002 World Series, and there are pennants on the facade above the press box commemorating these accomplishments.



The benches down the first base line were ideal in the early innings as they were in the sun, but I did not have to squint. As well, few fans bothered to sit here, so I could stretch out.



The other reason to sit on the first base side is that you can enjoy the Buttes, two small hills that surround a Marriott hotel. It sure beats the view beyond right field, which is I-10.



All of these photos were taken well before the game started, so the fans are lined up along the right field line to get autographs from the Angels. I did not see Trout, Pujols, or Ohtani however.



The scoreboard is quite basic, with a linescore and dot matrix board below, and no video replay available. No doubt Tempe Diablo Stadium is a bit of a throwback among spring training venues, and for that reason alone, worth a visit. Generally though, I'm not a fan of spring training these days as it has become a big money attraction. Charging $45 when most of the players are minor leaguers seems crazy, but people are willing to spend that, so who am I to complain. At least there are cheaper options, of which you should avail yourself should you decide to visit.



As is the case in the early days of spring training, the game was secondary to enjoying a bit of sunshine, but they did play, with the Giants providing the opposition. The starters were Dillon Peters (battling for the 5th spot in the rotation) for LA and Chris Stratton for SF. Stratton gave up a 2-run single to Matt Thaiss (16th overall in 2016) in the first and Taylor Ward (25th overall in 2015) added a grand slam off one of the slew of relievers the Giants paraded out there. It was 7-0 after 5 and by then, all the major leaguers had been taken out, so I decided to make a break for Tucson. The Angels held on for the 10-3 win.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 5 at Arizona State Sun Devils 16 (NCAA Baseball) - February 17, 2019


With a late flight back to NYC on Sunday, I had the afternoon to find one more game in the relative warmth of Arizona. I say relative because Arizonans consider temps in the high 50s to be chilly. But they sure beat the low 20s of the Northeast. Anyway, with the college baseball season getting underway on Friday, there were a few choices in the Phoenix area, including the new MLB4 tournament in Scottsdale. But I prefer to see home venues instead of neutral site games, so I chose to visit Phoenix Municipal Stadium as Arizona State was hosting Notre Dame.



Phoenix Municipal Stadium (which doesn't appreciate the acronym PMS) was opened in 1964 as the spring training home of the San Francisco Giants, replacing an older stadium with the same name. The light poles from the Polo Grounds, which was demolished that same year, were installed and remain to this day.



Arizona State played here from 1964-73 before moving to Packard Stadium on campus, where they remained until 2014. There is a display detailing their former home, one of many historical touches that show that the venue is now home of the Sun Devils.



The stadium is located on Van Buren Street, with the $5 parking lot off 56th Street that can be found by following the non-descript "Event Parking" signs. There is a pedestrian bridge over Galvin Parkway that leads to the main entrance, where you will find some numbers that commemorate the success that the program, such as 22 appearances in the College World Series. One thing to note is that ASU implements a clear bag policy, even for baseball, so don't bring a large bag or else you will be sent back to your car.



Tickets are $10 for GA, which is all you need here. This gives you seats on the benches down the lines, though if you want you could probably move a bit closer. I had the baby in a stroller, so didn't even sit, spending most of my time standing on the concourse chatting with Ty, a fellow sports traveler.



I did do my usual tour however. There are two names that are synonymous with ASU baseball, and both are honoured with detailed displays just inside the main entrance. Bobby Winkles managed the team from 1959-1971, leading them to three national championships; he was replaced by Dr. Jim Brock who helmed the club to two more titles in his 23 seasons.



If you want to go back further in time, there is even an Early Years display that is worth checking out.



While the Sun Devils were playing in Tempe, the stadium was used by the Oakland A's during spring training. After the 1989 earthquake in the Bay Area, the A's practiced here and played an exhibition game against their minor leaguers, a face noted in a stone inlaid along the concourse (below). This is one of many such stones that note various facts about the stadium and baseball in Phoenix. It was also an Arizona Fall League venue from 1992-2012, and I even saw a game here in 2001 the day before the Diamondbacks won the World Series.



Along the third base line is one section of yellow benches; this is the student section, though I suspect anyone can sit here. The two sections farther down the line are family sections and hence no alcohol is to be consumed there. Yes, beer is served here, with a $5 value beer a popular option.



Note the rock formation beyond; the stadium is next to Papago Park, which is worth visiting if you have time.



Zooming in closer, we see that the Sun Devils have boasted many all-time greats and their numbers are shown on the Wall of Honor. Names include Reggie Jackson, Barry Bonds, and Dustin Pedroia.



Above right field is the scoreboard, as well as the program's national titles and CWS appearances.



Overall, Phoenix Municipal Stadium is a good college venue with a lot of history. The location is a bit far from campus, so you will have to drive if you enjoy postgame libations, but Tempe has its share of quality bars and restaurants within a couple of miles. Arizona has so much baseball that the college game sometimes gets overlooked, but that would be a mistake as this ballpark is definitely worth a visit.

The Game

ASU had beaten the Irish in the first two games of the series 10-1 and 20-7, so I didn't have high expectations for this one. The Sun Devils scored two on a Hunter Bishop dinger in the bottom of the first, and then tacked on 3 in the second, 2 in the third, 1 in the fourth, 2 more in the 5th, another singleton in the sixth before salting the game away with 5 in the seventh. They were kind enough to not score in the 8th as they romped 16-5, outscoring Notre Dame 46-13 on the weekend. Bishop, drafted by San Diego in the 24th round in 2016, finished 4-for-5 with 3 runs and 3 RBI to earn my first Player To Watch award of 2019.



Notes

After the game, I took my wife and baby to a restaurant downtown that was packed inside, but had an empty patio, despite being sunny and relatively warm (57F). We asked if we could sit there, and received a few strange looks from the locals, who felt it was too frigid to dine al fresco. But it was actually quite pleasant for us northerners, and showed that there are some advantages to living in chilly climates when visiting warmer spots that are not as warm as usual.

Next Up

I have three short trips coming up to complete the active AHL rinks, including a return to Arizona this weekend for the Tucson Roadrunners. As always, updates will be posted here, so check back often.

Best,

Sean

Monday, February 18, 2019

Toronto Maple Leafs 0 at Arizona Coyotes 2 - February 16, 2019


After watching a college baseball game in the morning, Sharpy and I met up with fellow sports traveler Steve, a Phoenix resident, who drove us over to Glendale, home of the Gila River Arena and the Arizona Coyotes. I've reviewed the arena after my previous visit in 2016, and so wasn't planning on discussing much in this post. There are some changes though. Most notable is that parking is no longer free at Westgate Entertainment Center; it is now $10. The upside is that you get that $10 off your bill at any of the participating vendors in the complex; Sharpy and I enjoyed a couple of beers at State 48 Brewery's Funk House which came to $2. So as long as you drink, parking is still free.



I had picked up a couple of electronic tickets via TicketMaster, but as I was about to enter the arena, my phone died despite having plenty of battery life. Side note: Motorola phones suck. There was a small benefit in that I was able to get a hard stub from the box office, but I was unable to take any pictures during the game. That was unfortunate, as this game marked a milestone for me; with it I have now seen the Leafs in every single NHL city, plus Atlanta. I only wish I had begun my sports road tripping back when Hartford and Quebec were still in the league.



Steve took a commemorative picture in front of a map featuring every NHL city. Note the Coyote biting the guy in Leafs jersey in the ass; that would be the theme of the night, figuratively speaking.



After picking up our designated driver sodas (regular price is now $8, and they wonder why fans don't show), we headed to our seats three rows behind the net the Leafs would attack (I use that word lightly) twice. Above is John Tavares getting ready for a faceoff, below is Frederik Andersen during the second period.



Toronto had 3 shots in the first 5 minutes and then 2 shots in the next 30 or so as the Coyotes were dominant defensively. Arizona potted two quick ones early in the second period (so we had great views of the defensive miscues), and then shut down the Leafs the rest of the way. Toronto had chances on a four-minute power play late in the second, but Darcy Kuemper was equal to the task. William Nylander scored in the third, but it was ruled no goal as he touched it with a high stick, and despite 3 minutes of pressure with Andersen on the bench, the Leafs could not best Kuemper as Arizona ruined my celebration with a 2-0 win. A very impressive display by the Coyotes, who showed how a fast, small team can compete in the NHL these days.



Thanks to Sharpy for the last 3 pictures, and once again, Motorola phones suck.

Notes

The only active rink in which I have yet to see the Leafs play is Rogers Arena in Vancouver. I won't be adding that one to the list until Seattle joins the league in 2021-22.

Along with the 29 active road rinks, there are 6 inactive ones in which I saw the Leafs (Vancouver, Edmonton, Buffalo, Detroit, Islanders, Atlanta). Their overall record in first visits to these 35 road rinks is 16-14-5.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Ball State Cardinals 2 at Grand Canyon Antelopes 12 (NCAA Baseball) - February 16, 2019


The second week of February heralds the start of the baseball season, with pitchers and catchers reporting to MLB spring training sites in Florida and Arizona. Great stuff if you like to see guys tossing the ball back and forth. But if you want to see actual competition that counts, you don't have to wait until March for regular season games to start, because the second weekend is also the start of the college baseball campaign. Of course, only schools in warmer regions are able to host games, but as I was in Arizona for the Leafs, I had a few options from which to choose. With the hockey game starting at 5, however, I needed an early game on Saturday and the Grand Canyon Antelopes obliged, scheduling an 11 a.m. start against Ball State.



Grand Canyon University is a Christian educational institution that has an interesting history, both as an academic institution and with its athletic programs. It was a for-profit university from 2004-18, becoming the only such school to participate in Division I athletics. It began the transition from Division II in 2013, only completing it last year. As part of this transition, all athletic facilities were upgraded, including GCU Ballpark.



Fully known as Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark after Dr. Dave Brazell, the architect of the baseball program here, the stadium first opened at its current site in 1962. But with the transition to Division I, significant transformations were needed, the last of which was completed this past winter. The venue now boasts purple chairback seating around the entire diamond, a roof, a berm, and a children's play area.



What is particularly impressive is that after all of these upgrades, admission is still free. This means there is no stub to be found, so pick up a program as your souvenir. Parking in the garage beyond right field (visible below) is also free and can be accessed from the entrance to the university off 35th Avenue. You can also see the berm down the right field line, along with a small area with tabletop seating. Unusually for college ball, a portion of the seating area is not protected by netting, so you will need to keep your eyes open if you are sitting with an unobstructed view.



There is a walkway above the seating bowl that allows you to get from one area of the ballpark to the other without missing the action.



For opening weekend, the team even put up bunting along the walkway, always a nice touch, especially as bunting is such a lost art these days.



Underneath the seats is the outer concourse, which includes a concession stand behind home plate serving a limited menu at typical prices. The big purple churros are the unique item here.



Note the ceiling fans in the shot below, indicating that it does get very hot here in the summer.



There is also a large lawn in front of the ballpark structure where kids can play. With only 789 in attendance, there weren't many kids taking advantage of the warmth and open space.



Next to this is the clubhouse, named for Tim Salmon, who played here back in the late 1980s. All of the buildings on campus are numbered, and the clubhouse is #34 after Salmon. The ballpark is #14.



There was even a game on this day, but with the baby in tow, I didn't pay much attention. It certainly started comically though. Down 1-0 after half an inning, GCU scored four runs in their half on the following sequence: walk, walk, sac bunt, HBP, wild pitch, walk, walk, error. Yep, the usual four runs on no hits routine. Ball State got one back in the second, but Pikai Winchester (drafted in the 40th round by Tampa Bay in 2015) homered for the Lopes in the third to regain the three-run advantage. The game moved relatively quickly until the 7th, when GCU plated three more, and another threespot in the 8th made the final 12-2. I had to leave early to get out to Glendale in time, but here is a shot of the scoreboard when I arrived.



Still, it was wonderful to be outside in the sunshine for a few hours with the family. GCU Ballpark is an excellent venue for all types of fan, from the diehard with the scorebook to the casual observer. With so much baseball in Arizona, you might overlook this venue, but it is definitely worth a visit if the Antelopes are in town.

Notes

The game was part of the GCU Classic tournament, and GCU actually played a few miles away at Tempe Diablo Stadium at 4:00, just a couple of hours after this one ended. They lost to Wichita State 8-7, and then lost to #9 Stanford on Monday to open the season 2-2. Expectations are high after they won the WAC regular season title last season at 19-5, only to lose both tournament games, so I'll be following them from afar this season to see how they do.

Best,

Sean