Monday, September 30, 2019

Buffalo Sabres 3 at Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (SO, Preseason) - September 28, 2019


The second game of my Pittsburgh tripleheader was a preseason tilt between the Penguins and the Sabres. This was my third visit to PPG Paints Arena, although before it was known as Consol Energy Center. I took the T-Line from Heinz Field to Steel Plaza and raced over to the rink, picking up my media credential and bounding up the stairs to the main concourse. I arrived with 25 seconds gone in the first period, having missed nothing from what I could tell.



The reason I had a credential for this event is because it was a Kids Free Game. Since the Penguins moved here from the Igloo in 2010, the final preseason game has been reserved for kids. All tickets are distributed to local children and none are made available for sale to the general public. I had never heard of this initiative and wanted to write about it for Stadium Journey so a credential was necessary. I'll include more details in that article and link to it here. I was a bit surprised to see a scalper out front, as I figured few fans would want to spend the afternoon with 18,000 kids, but who knows.



Inside, the seating bowl was packed with kids, many wearing their hockey jerseys, which led to some colourful sections. Of course, everyone was making noise, especially when the scoreboard urged them on. It was quite the different atmosphere from a typical exhibition contest.



With the credential, I was able to move around and sat in the loge seats for the scoreless first period. Iceburgh, the mascot, was seen "chatting" with kids all around the rink. Again, this is a free event for these kids and one that they will not soon forget.



I went up to the press box for the second period, which saw Pittsburgh score twice within a minute with Patrick Hornqvist and Bryan Rust doing the honours, only for Buffalo to get one back 90 seconds later on a great slapshot from Marco Scandella.



I returned to the main concourse for the third period, standing near the exit as I had to leave by 6:30 to get to my next game that started at 7. This is close to the world's largest goalie mask, which has been here since 2011.



Unfortunately for me, the Sabres tied it midway through the period on a beauty from Zemgus Girgensons, who took a pass at the blue line, turned, broke in alone on Matt Murray, and deked him perfectly. With the game tied at 2 late, I decided to leave to get to the soccer match on time.



In the end, the Sabres won 3-2 in a shootout, so I didn't miss any goals (no, shootout goals are not goals). Not that it matters, as it was a preseason game, and my true tripleheader was ruined when I left the football game with 1:18 left.

Notes

PPG Paints Arena is the first venue where I have seen a preseason game, a regular season game, and a playoff game.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Delaware Blue Hens 14 at Pittsburgh Panthers 17 (NCAA Football) - September 28, 2019


The main reason for this weekend trip to Pittsburgh was to see a three-sport, three-venue tripleheader on Saturday, with the Pittsburgh Panthers playing football, the Penguins preseason hockey, and the Riverhounds soccer (the Pirates were also at home in the evening). When I first saw the schedule, the football start time was still TBD and I needed it to be set for 12 noon for a true tripleheader to be possible (that is where you see every play of every game). For some reason, the powers that be scheduled the game at 12:30, which was certainly better than the evening but would prove to be undoing of my great plan.



The Panthers play at Heinz Field, which was my favourite venue on my 2013 NFL Road Trip, so I was quite looking forward to the return visit, especially to compare the experiences between college and pro. I took the T-Line over to Allegheny Station, the last stop on the line and right next to the stadium. As I was doing a review for Stadium Journey, I had to pick up my media credential, so I wandered around the entire stadium before entering, giving me a chance to soak up a bit of atmosphere.



There is an area filled with food trucks and inflatables along the east side, all in Pitt blue and yellow.



The Panthers are considered equal tenants here, and have their name etched on the entrances as well. Less knowledgeable fans might expect Carolina to be the visitors.



Inside the Great Hall, there is a single display dedicated to the Panthers, who actually have nine national titles, three more than the six Super Bowls won by the Steelers. However, eight of those occurred before World War II, with the only once since then in 1976 when Tony Dorsett led the team and won the Heisman Trophy.



Inside the stadium, the two ramps have temporary banners honouring past Pitt stars. Did you know Mike Ditka played here? I did not.



I entered the stadium well before most fans, and was able to capture several shots of the seating bowl and its signature mustard yellow seats. I mean, it is Heinz Field, so mustard yellow is correct, right?



Behind the north end zone is the Ford Fan Zone, which seems to be only used for Steelers games, as there was nothing happening here on this day.



For the afternoon games, the west side is shaded and the place to sit. I'd guess 3/4 of the fans were on this side, which made the stadium look empty when it really wasn't. As well, this is the side closer to the T-Line, which can get very crowded after the game. If you are not in a rush after the game, I would suggest walking to a local bar to wait out the crowd.



The other reason to sit on the west side is the spectacular view of downtown.



The upper level of the north end zone is benches and devoid of fans, so if you like space and want to grab a bit of a tan, this is the place to go.



Below is the view from the north end zone. Note the ramps on either side; many fans watch the game from these spots. The end zone does not change when the Steelers play, a smart design.



Looking back at the north end zone, you can see a large triangular section beneath the smaller scoreboard.



This is where the band sits during the game, and you can stand behind them near the end of the game, as the exit behind here is the closest to the T-Line.



One additional feature I liked was the small murals for each high school in the area. For example, the Ringgold Rams can be found on the upper level near midfield. This is where Joe Montana played his high school football.



There is also a display of all the high school champions from the past year.



Overall, Heinz Field remains one of the best football stadiums in the country. It obviously will not attract as many fans for a Panthers game as when the Steelers are home, so if you want to see it on the cheap, college football is the way to go.

The Game

The Delaware Blue Hens of the FCS were in town and Pitt was favoured by 30 after upsetting #15 UCF the week before. These are known as "trap games" in the parlance, as the better team overlooks its inferior opponent and perhaps doesn't prepare as thoroughly. To make matters worse, Pitt was suffering from three key injuries, namely QB Kenny Pickett and top RBs A.J. Davis and Vincent Davis.



The first quarter was scoreless, but backup Nick Patti began the second stanza with a 30-yard TD pass to V'Lique Carter that gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead. After Delaware missed a field goal, Patti was intercepted by Tim Poindexter on the next possession, giving the Blue Hens the ball at the Pitt 41. On a 3rd and 12, Nolan Henderson hit Gene Coleman II with a 16-yard pass, and after Henderson ran for 10, he and Coleman connected again, this time for a 7-yard score that tied things up. Pitt took possession with 6:28 left in the half and ran a beautiful 17-play 73-yard drive that stalled at the Delaware 2, leading to a field goal that gave them a 10-7 advantage at the break.

The second half saw Pitt start with the ball, but on the second play of the drive, Maurice Ffrench fumbled after a catch and Delaware recovered on the Pitt 21. It took just five plays for Delaware to score as Henderson found Jourdan Townsend for a 5-yard TD to put everyone on Upset Alert! The remainder of the third quarter saw Pitt miss a 57-yard field goal and punt twice, but Delaware struggled to move the ball themselves and it was still 14-10 as the fourth quarter started, with fans getting very nervous. Pitt began from their 10 on their first possession of the final frame, but a couple of long rushes got them out to the 44. A holding penalty brought up 3rd and 17, but Patti found a wide-open Taysir Mack for 48 yards to the Delaware 15. You could hear the sigh of relief from the crowd, but the Panthers were forced into another 3rd down situation, only for Patti to find Mack again, this time in the end zone. The convert made it 17-14 and the upset was in jeopardy. Delaware had two possessions after that but went 3-and-out both times as Pitt did a great job in controlling the clock, holding on to win by 3. A win is a win, but this one certainly caused a few bitten nails among the Panther faithful.



This was not a pretty game, but I enjoyed it as it was much closer than expected. Pitt went 7/18 on 3rd down tries and that was the key stat that allowed them to avoid the upset.

Notes

Unfortunately, the game went until 3:47, so I had to leave with 1:18 to go as Pitt was kneeling. This allowed me to beat the rush and catch the first train out of the station. I missed the final two kneeldowns, thus ruining the true tripleheader, but it didn't matter in the end, as you will see in the next post.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Cincinnati Reds 5 at Pittsburgh Pirates 6 - September 27, 2019


With so little left to chase, I am now looking for trips where I can add just one new venue as long as there are other games in the vicinity. Such was the case this past weekend in Pittsburgh, where there were four teams playing in four venues in four sports within 26 hours. The first game was on Friday evening, where the Pittsburgh Pirates were hosting the Cincinnati Reds in a meaningless weekend set to end the season. I flew out of LaGuardia on Friday morning and landed in Pittsburgh just an hour later. I was able to snap a shot of downtown, in which you can see 3 of those 4 venues.



The Pirates call PNC Park home and I was surprised to see that I have never discussed this ballpark on the blog. It was my favourite venue during my 2001 season-long baseball road trip, and I visited again in 2008 for the Jays, but had not been back since. So I took the time to tour it again and snap a few pictures.



Pittsburgh has a transit system known as the T-Line that is free to use downtown and on the North Shore, where the ballpark lies. The nearest stop is suitably named North Side, but I advise getting off two stops before at Wood Street and walking over the Clemente Bridge (above). There are great views of the ballpark from the other side of the Allegheny.



Upon arriving at the center field gate, you will see the statue of Roberto Clemente, which was first dedicated in 1994, seven years before PNC Park opened.



Walk another minute to the left field gate, where Willie Stargell is honoured (below). There are two more statues (Honus Wagner and Bill Mazeroski) outside, so you need to walk all the way around to see all four.



There are banners for the current Pirates, none of whom will ever receive a statue, along the exterior of the stadium. Melky Cabrera is the only familiar name I found, mostly because I never watch the Pirates on TV.



Inside, there are more sculptures, including one of Ralph Kiner's hands holding a bat (below) that sits behind the center field fence.



Nearby is a replica of the spacesuit that Neil Armstrong wore to the moon back in 1969. This is part of Apollo at the Park, where 15 ballparks housed these interactive suits for the latter half of the season. This particular suit will be moved to the Heinz History Center now that the season is over.



The view of the seating bowl from center field. The park doesn't look any different from this vantage point.



It is only as you move around that you begin to see the unique features, such as the outside ramp and its decorative roof in the left field corner.



Behind the right field seats is the Riverwalk, which provides views of the river directly below. There have been four splash homers in the history of the ballpark, including one by Josh Bell this season.



You can begin to see the skyline as you walk along the open concourse towards first base.



Looking to the left for a bit, you can see how the seats curve toward the diamond in left field.



And finally, the best view in sports. The scoreboard is perfectly positioned in left field to allow for the skyline to be seen in all its grandeur.



I ended up with a seat between home and first, which is not ideal to see the view. If you are there for multiple games, the upper deck along third base is a good place to sit for one game at least, just to enjoy the full skyline.



Back in 2001, PNC Park and Pac Bell Park (now Oracle Park) in San Francisco were my top two ballparks and that has not changed despite several new stadiums arriving in the meantime. Location, ease of access via public transit, a good neighbourhood with plenty of bars, and incredible views are common to both these venues; PNC remains number one due to its affordability. Visit if you haven't already.

The Game

The Reds scored a couple in the first and added two more in the 5th before Kevin Newman hit a 3-run homer in the bottom of the 5th to bring the Pirates within one. The Bucs tied it an inning later when Erik Gonzalez lined out to Jose Peraza, who threw to first to try to double off Jacob Stallings. The ball hit Stallings' foot and bounced away, allowing Kevin Kramer to score from third. The Reds made it 5-4 when Michael Lorenzen (who started at CF, pitched two scoreless innings, and returned to CF) singled home Jose Iglesias in the top of the 8th. Still leading by one, the Reds brought in Raul Iglesias for the save. He promptly gave up a single to Jake Elmore followed by a wild pitch. Gonzalez grounded back to Iglesias, and then Cabrera grounded to first to move Elmore to third. Newman came to the plate needing a single to tie it, but he didn't want extras, instead mashing his second dinger of the evening over the left field fence to win the game for the Pirates. Raise the Jolly Roger!



It was Iglesias' 12th loss with just 67 IP - no other pitcher in MLB history has lost that many games while tossing so few innings. This is a record that you will not see hyped on the MLB.com homepage; in fact I think I am the only person to notice it. So I saw baseball history!



You can see Iglesias' 3-12 record in the game summary above. Newman was the only Pirate with RBIs as the other run, scored by Kramer, was on an error. Yes, Newman and Kramer are on the same team, so Seinfeld has some other options when he does his reboot with Pete Alonso.

Notes

There were fireworks after the game that were launched from a barge on the river. Quite impressive as they reflected off the downtown buildings while the explosions reverberated and well worth staying around for.



Best,

Sean

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Planning a Pittsburgh Weekend


It has been a while since I have posted a road trip plan, since I have taken few journeys with more than a couple of games in the last couple of years. But this coming weekend in Pittsburgh features a rarity - four different sports in just over 24 hours, including a tripleheader on Saturday, so it is worth describing in advance.

Here is a quick look at what's on tap:
Fri, Sep 27 Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates 19:05
Sat, Sep 28 Delaware Blue Hens at Pittsburgh Panthers (NCAA Football) 12:30
Sat, Sep 28 Buffalo Sabres at Pittsburgh Penguins (Preseason) 16:00
Sat, Sep 28 Indy Eleven at Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL Championship) 19:00
I don't think a true tripleheader (where you see each game from start to finish) is possible as the football game will probably last longer than 3 hours, forcing me to leave a bit early. The Steelers are also home on Monday night, but I can't justify two more hotel nights to see that game. If they were playing Sunday night after the Pirates concluded their season, it would really make the weekend perfect.

I'll be posting recaps here, so check back regularly over the next week to see if the true tripleheader transpired.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Lowell Spinners 3 at Brooklyn Cyclones 4 (NY-Penn League Championship) - September 10, 2019


Despite having seen a game in all 160 active minor league ballparks (and 26 that are inactive), I have never seen a league title clinched. That is not entirely surprising as minor league playoffs are unpredictable and you can't really schedule extended road trips around them (this season, the Florida State League cancelled their playoffs due to Hurricane Dorian). In 2017, I did attend the AAA Championship, but that was for supremacy at an entire level, and featured two teams that had already won their circuits. So when the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League made it to their championship series, I decided to head down to Coney Island for Game 2 against Lowell. With all tickets just $5, this was a bargain that could not be ignored. The Cyclones had won the first game up in Massachusetts, and I was hoping for a sweep and a celebration, but it was not to be, as Lowell evened the series with a 3-1 win.



That meant a deciding Game 3, which would be held in Brooklyn the following night. I initially thought I would skip it, but as game time approached, I realized that this was a chance to see a trophy raised, and once again I made the 80-minute journey from home to the ballpark. And I'm glad I did, as I enjoyed one of the most entertaining games I have seen in some time.



Lowell (Boston) started Jay Groome (12th overall in 2016, Red Sox #6 prospect) who is on his way back from Tommy John surgery, while Brooklyn (Mets) countered with Nate Jones (5th, 2019). Groome lasted 2.2 innings, giving up a couple of runs on a walk to Brett Baty (Mets #2 prospect, 12th overall this year), a double from Ranfy Adon, a Jake Mangum (4th round, 2019, Mets #24 prospect) single, and an RBI groundout from Antoine Duplantis (12th, 2019). Lowell got those back on singles from Cameron Cannon (2nd, 2019, Boston's #14 prospect) and Joe Davis (19th, 2019) and an error from Adon as Jones departed after three innings. The bullpens were fantastic, with Matthew Allan (3rd, 2019, Mets #4 prospect) tossing 3 perfect innings, while Yusniel Padron-Artilles (22nd, 2018), a Cuban who had struck out 14 in the semifinals against Batavia, was nearly as good, with a Davis error responsible for his only baserunner through the 6th.



In the 7th, Mitch Ragan (15th, 2019) came in for Brooklyn and promptly gave up a homer to Marino Campana that gave Lowell the 3-2 lead. Oh-oh. With Padron-Artilles remaining on the hill for the Spinners, things looked bleak. But he was victimized by a Mangum single and then the hit of the game, a line-drive triple from Duplantis that was just fair down the right field line. That tied it, and then Yoel Romero singled home Duplantis to give the Cyclones the lead. Andrew Edwards (31st, 2019, above) came in and got out of the 8th unscathed after hitting Nick Decker (2nd, 2018, Red Sox #11 prospect). In the 9th, a single and a walk had fans biting their nails, but Edwards struck out Stephen Scott (10th, 2019 out of national champion Vanderbilt) and pinch hitter Alex Erro (17th, 2019) to clinch the title.



The Cyclones ran onto the field to mob Edwards while the Spinners retreated to their dugout, their franchise still without a championship.



This was Brooklyn's second title, but their first to be won outright as their other pennant was in 2001, when the playoffs were cancelled after 9/11 and they were declared co-winners with Williamsport. The P.A. announcer even stated that it was Brooklyn's first outright title since 1955, when the Dodgers won the World Series, a fact that I recalled from my recent stadium tour in Los Angeles.



I hung around to hear the speech from manager Edgardo Alfonzo and then the trophy was presented without ceremony and raised to the cheers of the 2,050 in attendance. Yes, only 2,050 were announced for this title tilt, possibly due to poor advertising, or maybe because New York has a few other activities. Whatever the case, those that didn't go missed out on a great ending to the NYPL season. Baseball is slowly dying thanks to the overthinking created from the rise of analytics, but it is still a wonderful game when pitchers pitch and hitters hit.

Notes

I realized that this article is a bit unreadable with all of the draft positions and prospect rankings, but those are included to make a point. Five of Lowell's starting nine are in MLB.com's list of Boston's top prospects, which leads me to wonder just how strong their farm system is. Similarly, Baty is immediately the Mets #2 prospect after being drafted out of high school? There is not a strong correlation between farm system success and major league pennants, due to free agency and trades, but I still think there could be some lean times ahead at Citi Field.

There are 14 minor leagues, and I'd love to try to see a championship game in all of them, but that is tough to plan. With all the series taking place around the same time, and the cities where the final game will be held not determined until a few days before, you'd have to do a lot of driving to get to more than a couple. For example, this year in AAA you have Durham and Round Rock, in AA there's Bowie, Jackson (TN), and Tulsa, while A-Advanced sees Fayetteville and Visalia. Durham and Fayetteville are close enough, but they play on the same days, so you'd have to hope that one series ends in 3 games and the other goes to 4 or 5. Still, it is something I'll start to consider next year as the minors remain my favourite sports road trip destination.

Best,

Sean