Sunday, January 30, 2022

114th Millrose Games - January 29, 2022

The 4th annual Club 124 meetup was to be held on January 29th with the Seattle Kraken visiting the Islanders in an afternoon tilt at UBS Arena. A couple of days before, the weather forecast turned nasty, and a few people who had to fly in decided to cancel. That was the smart move because by Friday, it was clear that Long Island was going to get blasted by a quick moving storm, and that night, Saturday's game was postponed. I felt bad for those in our group who managed to get here under the wire, as there was no game for them to see. Unless, that is, they had an interest in track and field. For the Millrose Games, one of the premier indoor athletics events in the world, was being held at The Armory track in Washington Heights despite the snowstorm.

It was the 114th running of the games, with last year the first that they were not held since their debut in 1908, thanks to COVID. Until 2011, the venue was Madison Square Garden, but declining popularity led the organizers to move them to The Armory for the 2012 edition. Originally built as a military installation in 1911, this historic building was refurbished as a track and field center in 1992 and is now one of the premier indoor venues in the country. 

Although NYC was also under a state of emergency, this was really an overreaction as much of the city had received only about 6 inches of snow by early morning, and subways were still running. I took the 1 train up to 168th Street to add a new sport to my list. Yes, as hard as it to believe, I had never attended a professional track and field event before. After showing my vaccination credentials, I went up a colourful spiral staircase (above), which has records that have been set in the building along the walls. This would be a sign of things to come as the building houses the National Track and Field Hall of Fame and is bursting with history. Immediately upon reaching the third floor, I saw two display cases of memorabilia from the past century of track and field.

Just a sampling is shown below, with the singlet worn by Ralph Metcalfe when he finished second to Jesse Owens in the 100m at the 1936 Olympics, while the F.J.V. Skiff trophy was presented to Archie Hahn, winner of the same event at the 1904 Olympics. Truly an incredible collection and I was suddenly glad that pedestrian NHL game was postponed so I could see these games instead. 

Records are always being broken in athletics, with so many events and levels, and those that were set at The Armory can be found on a board here. This floor was extremely crowded as there are hundreds of athletes warming up while those that have finished meet with family members or official photographers for pictures. It is really a unique atmosphere, and I hadn't even stepped in the actual arena yet. 

The fourth floor is where you can find your seats, with the track itself on the third floor below. The good seats run along the sides of the track and are rather expensive, starting at $125. But there are end zone seats for $35 and that is where I sat, along with Bill and Matt, two Club 124 chasers who had joined me on this day.

The facility consists of a 200m banked track surrounding a 60m track for sprint races, with a high quality scoreboard above.

There is also a long jump, a pole vault pit, and a cage for throws such as the shot put, which is barely visible in front of the fans to the right in the below photo, which was taken from my seat. 

The venue is also used for university competitions, and several local schools use it as their indoor track; there are banners along both sides such as Albany's below. I was surprised that I had never even heard of this venue, but then again, NCAA Track and Field is not an event I really follow.

As for the games themselves, they were started in 1908 by employees of Wanamaker's department store, who formed a track club to hold an annual meet. The name Millrose comes from the country home of company president Rodman Wanamaker. Apparently these were a big event back when I was a kid, but in those pre-internet days, I had missed out. The men's Wanamaker Mile is the final event of the day and is considered a premier event, and the last two hours are broadcast by NBC.

Of course, there are dozens of other events for all levels, with high school, club, university, and professional athletes all on hand for the proceedings. After a few throwing competitions on Thursday night, things got under at 10:25 Saturday morning with the Women's Club Distance Medley Relay, the first of 56 events on the day.

I spent quite a bit of time wandering around as you get quite different vantage points of the various sites, and can generally stand along the very narrow walkway along both sides. There is a camera box right at the finish line and the last row of seats beside it is open because the box blocks the view, but you can stand here for a bit to see the end of a race or two.

Although only one track event can be held at a time, there was little waiting between them and you really needed the free program to keep up. Meanwhile, the non-track events would last several rounds. Above is Emily Grove clearing 4.45 metres in the pole vault, good for second place among six competitors. Winner Sandi Morris later cleared 4.75 meters, the world's best mark this season.

The women's 60 metre hurdles is above; Jamaica's Britany Anderson won in a time of 7.91 seconds. Amazing to watch. The results even have each runner's time at each hurdle; the technology on display is such a contrast to the old building. Each runner was wearing some sort of GPS device that they had to hand back to an official after the race; these were used to measure the distance between each runner as they ran the race. This information is displayed on a small scoreboard above one end of the track. It is not so meaningful on a sprint, but in a mile race, it really adds an interesting element for those watching.

There was one world record set on the afternoon, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Reigning Olympic champ Ryan Crouser (above) recorded a shot put of 23.38 metres, a centimetre longer than his existing record. This information was displayed on the scoreboard, but Crouser showed a surprising lack of emotion. I was pretty excited to have seen history, but the next day, while researching this post, I learned that the laser measuring system had malfunctioned and all shot put results were scrapped. 

That was about the only disappointment for me as I found the entire afternoon to be completely fascinating. As this is an annual event, I will plan to visit again next year and would highly recommend any sports fans in the area who have yet to attend to consider spending a few hours at the Millrose Games in 2023.

Best,

Sean


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Boston Celtics 116 at Washington Wizards 87 - January 23, 2022

I was in Washington to see college hoops and wanted to take my daughter to watch the Georgetown women play. I did not check their website in advance and when we arrived, we found out the game was closed to spectators. Like women's basketball gets enough fans to matter; the last game they held with fans in attendance drew 289. Two years on and people are still scared stupid. Still, all was not lost as we toured a completely empty McDonough Gymnasium, which has all of Georgetown's trophies, including the 1984 national championship. 

In addition, the Washington Wizards had a game scheduled later that afternoon, so we headed back downtown. I found street parking a few blocks from the arena and we walked over. After having my vaccination credentials checked, we somehow got in without a ticket and walked upstairs, where there were plenty of empty seats.

It was Kids Day and there were youngsters acting as in-arena hosts, while teenage twin sisters were DJ'ing. The music was so loud that it should have been called Deafen Your Kids Day, but my daughter didn't seem to mind. We sat away from everyone and I spent most of the game buying food for my daughter, who showed a remarkable ability to eat three meals worth of food in two hours. There was an interesting concession where you put the items on a scale and the amount you have to pay magically appears. No interaction with another human is necessary, though of course, someone has to stand there to make sure nobody is just walking away with the food. 

Andrew, another Club 124 chaser, was in the building as well, getting venue number 68 for him. I visited with him at halftime and we discussed our recent and upcoming trips. There are more and more of us that are trying for this sports travel quest and it is great meeting them at various places around the country.

The game was not particularly good, but Boston's Jayson Tatum was on fire, reaching 31 points at halftime. I was hoping that he would get to 60, but he went a bit cold in the second half and was taken out after notching 51 points and the Celtics up big.

It is certainly a different experience watching the NBA with a youngster. I can pay attention at baseball with the slow pace and all the breaks, but basketball is a lot tougher. It will be a while before I bring her to a hockey game.

Best,

Sean


Sunday, January 23, 2022

Dayton Flyers 49 at George Mason Patriots 50 (NCAA Basketball, Atlantic 10) - January 22, 2022

After seeing a game in Maryland on Friday, I traveled in the opposite direction on Saturday, heading west to Fairfax, Virginia, home of George Mason University. I drove from Washington, arriving a couple of hours before game time so I could enjoy a meal and some playoff football at Oh! George, a taphouse just across the street from EagleBank Arena. Parking is free in the lots surrounding the stadium, which also allowed me to take some photos of the exterior of the venue in the setting sun.

The box office is shown below, but on this day it was too cold to have those outer windows open, so I went inside and picked up a GA ticket for $10. Stupidly, I gave out my phone number and they texted me the ticket, so there was no hard stub for this event.

This venue was opened in 1985 and looks pretty good for its age. The single concourse is spacious, though it was rather empty on this day, with just 3,222 tickets sold, or just less than a third of its capacity of 10,000.

There is some history along the tops of the walls in parts of the concourse, but little else to see.

Inside, the school colours of green and gold dominate the scene. I like how the sections alternate between the two.

The band sets up in one end zone, with the general admission seats the green sections on the far side. Though with so few fans showing up, you could pretty much sit anywhere.

The band sits in temporary seats that have a different slope than those above. In face, all of the upper seats are quite a bit steeper than those closer to the court. Note the Final Four 2006 banner between the two flags.

This effect is more noticeable when you see the entire side of the seating bowl. The 14 banners of the Atlantic 10 teams can be seen across the way.

George Mason is most famous for the aforementioned run to the Final Four, when they were members of the CAA. Seeded 11th, they beat Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and UConn before losing to eventual champion Florida. You will notice that they did not win the CAA title that year; they lost to Hofstra in the CAA tournament semis and were granted an at-large bid. The team moved to the A-10 in 2013 after losing the CBI final to Santa Clara. They have seen the postseason only once since, a first-round CBI loss to Loyola Maryland in 2017. Sometimes better to be a big fish in a small pond than the other way around.

Their mascot is The Patriot, whose two-tone face resembles the seating bowl. He didn't do a whole lot during the game.

And that's about all there is to say. It was certainly quite a bit different than Xfinity Center that I saw the night before, but that is the contrast between a power conference venue and a mid-major one. They both have their unique aspects and I appreciated the much cheaper ticket options here. Fairfax is close to Washington and you can get here on transit, so if the Patriots are in town, see if you can visit them and stop by Oh! George too.

The Game

The Dayton Flyers were in town with a four-game win streak, while GMU was playing only their third game of the month thanks to some COVID postponements. The first half was slow, with teams holding the ball for much of the shot clock and then missing more often than not. There were eight lead changes and three ties in the first half, but the biggest lead was just four points as the Patriots took a 25-24 advantage into the intermission.

The second stanza was the same, with four more lead changes and three ties. With Dayton up 44-41, a trey by GMU's Devon Cooper (#0 below) knotted the game with just over 8 minutes left. Dayton then proceeded to miss their next seven shots, while Mason potted a couple of jumpers around seven misses of their own. This was not a pretty game to watch. With 84 seconds to go, Ontario native Kobe Elvis (shooting below) drained a jumper to get Dayton within a pair. After each team committed a turnover, Dayton was forced to foul. Josh Oduro (#13 below) sank both, and when Koby Brea missed a three for Dayton, it seemed like game over. But GMU was still in the 1-and-1 and Cooper was fouled, forcing him to the line, where he missed the first. Brea then connected on a fastbreak three and after a couple of timeouts, Dayton fouled Xavier Johnson (#2 below).

Johnson missed the first, and Dayton's Mustapha Amzil grabbed the board and raced down the court with a chance to win it. But his three-point attempt bounced off the rim at the buzzer and George Mason escaped with a gritty 50-49 win.

In a game this close, anything could have been the difference. In the end, GMU shot 10-25 from long range, while Dayton was 5-23. The Flyers had more second-chance points, fewer turnovers, and shot better from the line, but these days, if you can't sink threes, you are going to struggle. 

Notes

This was my first college basketball game in Virginia, which has 14 schools in Division I. So I will be back.

Best,

Sean 


Saturday, January 22, 2022

Illinois Fighting Illini 65 at Maryland Terrapins 81 (NCAA Basketball, Big Ten) - January 21, 2022

I spent the weekend in Washington with my family as rental cars and hotels were cheap and we wanted to get away for a few days. Of course, there were also games to be seen. On Friday, I had a choice between the Raptors at Wizards, or Illinois at Maryland in NCAA hoops. As my primary objective with these trips is visiting new venues, especially those in college basketball, I chose the latter, and was glad I did. Taking the Metro from Gallery Place/Chinatown (right below Capital One Arena) out to College Park, I grabbed the free UMD Shuttle from the station right to campus. From the last stop at Regents Dive Garage, it is a short walk to Xfinity Center, where the Terrapins play.

I arrived about 45 minutes before tip and went to the box office at the top of the stairs. I was shocked at ticket prices, which started at $43 and went up to $73. I'm used to mid-major prices, but even bigger schools usually have some cheap seats. Fortunately, there were plenty on the secondary market, and I snagged a lower level seat in row 4 at midcourt for just $23. Of course, I had to wait for the ticket to get transferred by the owner, which took 15 precious minutes while I waited at the gate. I should have just picked up a cheap ticket and sat down low because there were plenty of empty seats, but hindsight and all that.

Xfinity Center opened in 2002 as Comcast Center, just after Maryland had won the national championship. That trophy is immediately inside the gates along with highlights of the season and the roster, which included four future NBA players, though none of them were stars (Lonny Baxter, Steve Blake, Juan Dixon, Chris Wilcox). The team's schedule from that season is also listed and I was surprised to see that their first tournament victory was over Siena, who I had visited just two weeks prior.

The women also won the national title in 2006 and that trophy is also on display here. Note that these are not the official NCAA trophies, but much fancier ones that are presented by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).

These trophies are the beginning of an immense display of history that is not limited to basketball. There is so much to be seen just in the foyer that you really should get here early to take a look around.

There is a photo wall with many athletes, coaches, and others. A legend is along the rail so you know who is represented by each picture.

Nearby is the Hall of Fame, which is neatly organized on a wall. The photo above illustrates just a small number of the enshrinees. Between these two wall displays is a triangular alcove that houses several display cases with trophies and other memorabilia.

Historic football helmets can be seen, and plenty of trophies from the other sports that don't get enough press.

And the official NCAA trophy from that 2002 championship can be found here. I much prefer this one because it is the same as for every other sport.

Back in the foyer, you will find the now common photo op of the team's nickname. Terrapins is a bit too long, so Terps is the more common appellation.

For those of you unversed in the world of reptiles, a terrapin is a type of turtle, with the diamondback variety found in the area leading to the name. There is a statue here that provides another photo opportunity.

Nearby is a bronze relief representing legendary coach Lefty Driesell, who helmed here from 1969-1986. He led the team to the NIT title in 1972, but never got beyond the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. One reason for this is that in his early years at Maryland, only one team per conference was invited to March Madness. In fact, it was Driesell's Terps losing in the ACC tournament to eventual national champion NC State in 1974 that led to the expansion of the tournament from 23 to 32 teams the following year.

The venue that was used before Xfinity Center was Cole Field House and its well-used floor is on display, with some more information about the program during those years. This is really an incredible collection of school memorabilia that makes this venue one of the best I have visited in terms of history. 

Inside, a sea of red greets you. The ten rows closest to the floor that are separated from the main bowl ostensibly for students; one of the biggest such sections in college hoops. Those rows are A to J, so my fourth row seat was actually in the 14th row. Something to keep in mind if you are buying on the secondary market. 

At the far end, where the visiting team shoots for the second half, the seats are quite a bit steeper than the other side. This is known as The Wall and is so designed as to reduce construction costs as there is a hill behind here. 

This area is also for students and is supposed to be intimidating, but it wasn't particularly full on this night. Early in the second half, the Maryland flag was displayed here, a cool touch.

The women's banners are above this end, while those for the men are above the other end, along with the flag in its more normal form.

The scoreboard was installed in 2014 and is one of the largest in college basketball. In many ways, Xfinity Center is more like a professional arena than one on a college campus.

The lower concourse above my section was carpeted and seemed to be a club area, with a couple of portable concession stands serving very basic fare. Interestingly, there was a staircase from my seat that went all the way to the upper concourse, which seemed to lack any concessions at all, but was quite colourful.

Below is the picture from the upper deck.

After the game, I stayed around a bit to get a shot of the mostly empty arena. With a capacity of 17,950, it is the 9th-largest on-campus venue in college basketball.

Overall, Xfinity Center was a delight to visit, although I should have arrived earlier to spend more time reading all of the displays. It is just over an hour from Washington on transit, and even quicker if you are driving outside of rush hour; if you are in the nation's capital and looking for a sporting event, consider a visit to College Park to cheer on the Terps.

The Game

The 17th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini were visiting in this Big Ten clash. Unfortunately, they were missing their star Kofi Cockburn, a national Player of the Year candidate, who was out with a concussion. 

On the other hand, without Cockburn, the game promised to be competitive, and that it was. There were eight lead changes and the game was tied six times in the first half alone, with Maryland taking a 37-35 lead into the break.

The Illini started quickly in the second half, sinking three treys as they took a 48-42 lead into the first media timeout. The Terps fought back and tied the game at 51 with a Fatts Russell (#4 in white above, I saw him with Rhode Island back in 2019) layup. The teams again traded leads and the Illini were up 58-57 with 8 minutes to go. After an Eric Ayala lay-in gave the Terps another lead, Illinois turned it over and Donta Scott (#24 above) capitalized. When the Illini missed on their next possession, Scott sank a jumper and was fouled, completing the three-point play to give Maryland a six-point cushion. Jacob Grandison got Illinois back within three, but the visitors went ice-cold after that, with three turnovers and four misses over the next 3 minutes. Down 72-65, they started to foul and Maryland made 7 of 8 from the stripe to clinch it, ending the game on a 15-2 run to claim an 81-65 victory.

Scott was the star with 25 points in 34 minutes off the bench. Of the 59 shots that Illinois took, 35 were from long range, with only 11 of those dropping. Without Cockburn in the lineup, they had to try a different tactic, and it didn't work. Maryland took 53 shots but only 11 were from downtown, as they dominated the paint. With all the lead changes and the home team winning over a ranked squad, this was a very exciting game to watch and well worth the trip.

Notes

This was my second time seeing a Maryland home game after attending a battle against Princeton at Royal Farms Arena in 2015.

The Raptors beat the Wizards 109-105. On the way back to the hotel, I saw plenty of unhappy Wizards fans leaving the game.

Maryland left the ACC for the Big Ten in 2014 and the move has its share of detractors. Just three days after I visited, The Athletic had a very detailed article on the situation at Maryland and it is well worth reading if you are a subscriber.

Best,

Sean