Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Kane County Cougars 4 at Winnipeg Goldeyes 5 (American Association) - June 13, 2022

The final stop on the prairie portion of my trip was again Winnipeg, where we would watch the Goldeyes in some American Association action. They play out of Shaw Park, with naming rights owned by a Canadian communications conglomerate.

The stadium is located on the east edge of downtown, next to the Red River and just steps away from the Crossroads of Canada, namely Portage and Main. It is an easy walk from there that takes you under the train tracks and leaves you right in front of the ballpark.

The box office is inside and includes a historic display of trophies and newspaper articles that should not be missed. The team has been around since 1994 and has enjoyed some success, with a Northern League title in their first year and three championships in their 11 seasons on their current circuit. Tickets start at $16 on game day, plus a $2 fee, and you don't need to pay any more as you can move around and stand on the concourse if you want to be close to home plate.

The first thing you will notice once you are inside is the beautiful building beyond the right field corner. This is the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, which details all the ways that humans have been shitty to each other over the centuries. Looking forward to the installation on how the Canadian government took way its citizens' rights over a vaccine. 

The open concourse is clean and smooth, and more than enough for the relatively small crowd that made it out for this rare Monday affair.

If you are wondering what a Goldeye is, the section signs provide a clue. The team name was used twice before, first from 1954-64 when a Northern League club played as an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, and again for a season in 1969 in the short-season Northern League as an affiliate of the expansion Kansas City Royals. Do not call them the Goldeneyes, that's a James Bond movie.

The stadium opened in 1999 with a capacity of 7,418 and 30 suites. The seating bowl is typical for that time, with 17 rows of green seats from corner to corner.

There have been additions in the meantime, such as the Craft Beer Corner above the left field; it looks like a great place to watch the game while enjoying a beer or two.

Along the concourse, there are some interesting bits of tile art that have a baseball theme.

League standings and starting line-ups are posted along the concourse as well.

The press box has those four pennants on it, as well as five retired numbers, including the #21 of Hal Lanier who managed here for several seasons. Lanier also managed in Ottawa between 2014-18.

Looking back from the right field corner, you can see the end of the railway bridge that spans the Red River and continues right next to the ballpark. Trains can be seen and heard throughout the game.

The mascot is Goldie, in honour of Paul Goldschmidt of the Cardinals. Or maybe not. Goldie was rocking out on his broom and keeping fans entertained throughout the game.

That brings me to the most impressive aspect of Shaw Park: the concessions. Look at the picture below: four different "mini-stands" serving four different types of food. This is just a snapshot of what is available; there are about 20 different stands, each offering something unique. Most surprising was Clay Oven, an East Indian restaurant where you can get a curry, rice and naan for just $11. I have never seen that available at a minor league park before. I think a season-ticket holder could attend all 50 games and enjoy a different food item each time.

Overall, Shaw Park was a delightful surprise. First, the weather forecast had been predicting rain but only a few drops fell in the middle innings. I doubt I would have flown back just for a game here, so I was very happy that the rain held off. Beyond that, however, was the overall ambience of the ballpark, with the surrounding area, the layout, and the concessions all contributing to a very enjoyable evening. And an entertaining game topped it off.

The Game

The Kane County Cougars were the visitors, having been swept by Winnipeg at home the three prior days. Ben Allison started for the visitors, while Josh Lucas, who appeared in 22 MLB games with St. Louis, Oakland, and Baltimore from 2017-19, took the mound for the Goldeyes. 

Winnipeg opened the scoring when Logan Hill smacked a two-run homer in the second, and they added a run when Deon Stafford Jr. singled home Reggie Pruitt Jr., a former Jays farmhand. The Cougars scored their only run off Lucas on a wild pitch in the 6th, but his bullpen mates could not hold the lead. Jaylen Smith walked two of the three batters he faced, and Jhon Vargas allowed both to score to tie the game.

Hill led off the 8th with his second homer of the evening, and Pruitt singled, advanced to third on a Stafford single, and scored on a sacrifice fly from Raul Navarro. Erasmo Pinales came on for the save but gave up a single and a walk after getting just one out, necessitating yet another move as Tasker Strobel was called upon to put out the fire. Ernie De La Trinidad immediately singled to get Kane County within one, but Strobel got Sherman Johnson and Cornelius Randolph to strike out and Winnipeg won 5-4. The game took 3:13, mostly due to a lot of pitching changes during innings. Both teams were 17-16 after this one, though Kane County took the final two games of the series.

After the game, which ended at 9:48 at you can see above, we left and were greeted by the Winnipeg skyline behind the train tracks. The sun had yet to set and the view was quite pleasing and a good way to end the road trip.


This was actually the second of three baseball games on the trip. The day before, we saw part of a Western Canadian Baseball League game in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where the attendance was about 200. This game drew 2,125 spectators. The day after, I saw the Blue Jays lose at home to Baltimore with another 23,105 fans. I liked how each step up the ladder saw a ten-fold increase in attendance.

Next Up

I have a short trip in mid-July to St. Louis to see the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League as well as the Cardinals. Then a longer trip to the Dakotas to add four more American Association teams to the list. As always, recaps will be posted here when I get around to it.



Sunday, June 12, 2022

Hamilton Tiger-Cats 13 at Saskatchewan Roughriders 30 - June 11, 2022

The final venue to complete my CFL quest was Mosaic Stadium, home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. It is located in the provincial capital of Regina, which is a six-hour drive from Winnipeg, during which you lose an hour due to the time zone change. With the game set for 5 pm on Saturday, Sean, Sharpy, and I had to get an early start on the road. Fortunately, it is an easy drive along the Trans-Canada Highway and we arrived at our downtown hotel just after 2. We then headed over to Pile O' Bones Brewing Company, which seems to be the only bar between downtown and the stadium. Little known fact outside of Saskatchewan: Regina was once known as Pile O' Bones after an anglicization of its original Cree name.

We enjoyed a couple of beers and then continued the walk to the stadium, which is surrounded by very little. In fact, it was a little disconcerting walking up Saskatchewan Drive, with relatively few fans making the trek along with us. It was only when we got to the stadium grounds that the number of green-clad Roughrider supporters grew large enough to be called a crowd. The reason for this is that most fans drive and park on the north side of the venue, or take shuttle buses from various locations around town.

The stadium officially opened on Canada Day in 2017 and has a capacity of 33,350, which can expand to 40,000 for the Grey Cup, which will be held here this year. There are three fan walls and a large sculpture near the ticket office on the north side: above is one of the walls that depicts a buffalo hunt (hence Pile O' Bones), while below is a white bronze sculpture that "celebrates football and athletic achievement".

Tickets here were somewhat cheaper than in Winnipeg, though they tack on $5 if you want them printed. Frankly, I would always pay an extra $5 for a hard stub (which used to be free if you remember), but many teams only offer mobile tickets, which discriminate against those without a smart phone. I expect a class-action lawsuit soon. One good thing about the ticket office is that they had flags from the 2020 season that were free, so Sharpy and I each picked on up so we would have something green to wear. Sean, the only sensible one of the group, eschewed the need to fit in for the second night in a row.

We entered and were immediately struck by all the green. Obviously, the team's main colour is green, so the seats are also green, and of course, the field is as well. It works and the stadium is all the better for it. There is a local soccer club that uses the venue, and the yellow lines that mark the soccer field stood out.

The stadium design is similar to other CFL venues with a full lower bowl and upper decks along the sidelines, but there is one major difference in that one end zone also has an upper level of seats that you can see below. This additional level helps protect fans from winds that usually come from the north and west. 

Behind the other end zone is a standing social area known as Pil Country, where tickets start at $27 and are only available to those old enough to drink (a sensible 19 here, as in most of Canada except Quebec, where it is 18). 

Concourses are wider here than in Winnipeg and allow for free flow of fans, though there are spots where concession lineups might get in your way.

Mosaic Stadium is another cash-free facility, which means they get to gouge you even more. Before, when customers paid cash, the sales tax was included in the displayed price so that cashiers wouldn't have to dig for nickels and dimes to make change (there are no more pennies in Canada). Now, sales tax is added to the displayed price, but most won't notice when they tap their card. As well, you are asked to add a tip for every purchase, even a hot dog. Let me see, you turned around, grabbed a package that has been sitting there for two hours, and handed it to me. Yeah, no tip sounds about right. 

The team has only won four Grey Cups in their history, a surprisingly low figure for a team that has been around since 1910 and has made the final 19 times. Their most recent win came at home at Taylor Field, Mosaic Stadium's predecessor that was torn down in 2017.

Along the concourse, these same four titles are also commemorated, and there is a Plaza of Honour that lists all inductees. Chris Getzlaf, brother of recently retired Ryan, is a member.

I was particularly appreciative of the Rider Price Worldwide display, which shows members of Rider Nation in various locales around the world. 

Our seats were in the upper deck near the goal line, though we could have moved around as attendance was announced at 28,216, rather disappointing for the team's home opener. In fact, they did not publish the attendance after the game, which is not a good sign. The CFL doesn't have the resources of the Big 4 sports leagues and based on what I saw here and in Winnipeg, will take time to recover after the past two years.

Overall, Mosaic Stadium is another excellent CFL venue. Saskatchewan doesn't make many sports traveler's lists, but I always enjoy my visits here and this was no different. The CFL season is just getting underway and now that Canada has mostly eliminated the COVID travel rules, a trip to Rider Nation is something to think about.

The Game

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were the visitors and let's just say that the CFL might need more than two preseason games to get teams ready. Midway through the fourth quarter, the score was 15-6 Riders with nary a touchdown to cheer.

Fortunately, the final few minutes made up for it. First, Hamilton got back in the game when Dane Evans hit Steven Dunbar with a 26-yard pass over the middle and Dunbar ran 45 yards down the sideline to get within 2. On their next possession, Saskatchewan got that back on a 20-yard pass from Cody Fajardo to Kian Schaffer-Baker. Hamilton took over and Evans was immediately intercepted by Derrick Moncrief, who returned it to the Ti-Cat 1. Fajardo ran a QB sneak for the touchdown and the Riders added a two-point conversion to make it 30-13, and that is the way it ended up.

Another punt-filled affair, with 16 of them here. Obviously with only 3 downs, punts are going to be far more common than in the NFL, particularly early in the season as teams are still trying to get their offenses in sync. For me, this was quite possibly the last CFL game I will attend, as there are no firm plans to build new stadiums and I don't think there will be a team in Halifax anytime soon. 


Once again, fans were allowed on the field after the game and once again I went to midfield to snap a picture. Unlike Winnipeg's 55, the midfield stripe is denoted by a C. 

Here are the three of us; you will note that Sharpy and myself look like idiots wearing the Roughrider flags as capes, while Sean sports a RedBlacks hat. 



Saturday, June 11, 2022

Ottawa Redblacks 17 at Winnipeg Blue Bombers 19 - June 10, 2022

Back in 2015, I travelled to Winnipeg to watch the Grey Cup at Investors Group Field. Since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were not playing in that game, it did not count as a home venue visit and as I want to see all nine CFL home teams, I had to return to Winnipeg at some point during the regular season. The other team I have yet to visit is Saskatchewan, so both had to be home on the same weekend in order for me to go. There were a couple of such occasions in 2020 and I booked a trip, but COVID put the kibosh on those plans, while the Canadian travel rules made a visit last year impossible. So it was with great anticipation that I waited for the 2022 CFL schedule to come out. Surprisingly, there is only one weekend where both teams are home, and it happened to be the first week of the season. So I booked flights and hotels, and invited my buddies Sharpy and Sean, who agreed to join me for an old-fashioned road trip. A players' strike threatened to derail our plans, but that was settled in time and we met up in Winnipeg on Friday afternoon.

The stadium is located on the campus of the University of Manitoba in the southern part of the city. As such, there is not much around the stadium in terms of bars and restaurants. We stayed nearby and walked over to IG Field (the name changed due to a corporate rebranding in 2018), passing a very lively tailgate area, where parking cost $20 (though postgame saw a lot of traffic getting out). We were greeted at Gate 1 by a sign that brags about the team's 12 titles. They are the back-to-back champs as well, after having endured a 28-year drought. Interestingly, eight of those Grey Cup wins came at the expense of Hamilton, including the famous Fog Bowl in 1962; two others came when the team was in the Eastern Conference while Ottawa had no entrant in the league.

A Hall of Fame can also be found here, consisting of several plaques that highlight all of the inductees.

The ticket office is located at Gate 3, which means a long walk around the exterior of the stadium, past a busy party area. Once there, you will find a statue of Cal Murphy, who was the GM here from 1983-96 and coached the team for eight of those seasons.

Tickets were about $60 each to sit in the upper deck, a figure I found much higher than expected. I guess two-time defending champs can demand such prices, but they didn't sell out. As you can see below (if you can read upside down), the Blue Bombers share the venue with the University of Manitoba football team. The Winnipeg Rifles of the Canadian Junior Football League and Valour FC of the Canadian Professional Soccer League also use the stadium.

The venue opened in 2013 and has a football capacity of 33,500, though this can be increased for the Grey Cup. The lower seating bowl encircles the field, while there are stands on each sideline that are covered by a wavy, cantilevered roof. It is quite an attractive facility and I had a much easier time navigating it with fewer fans than at the Grey Cup. Standing areas are along the sidelines and in the end zones as well, and they were quite popular.

There are plenty of concessions with a wide variety of food and drink options, though I did not partake as we had eaten beforehand. 

Concourses can get a little narrow at places, but crowds still flowed well. Most fans use stairs to get to the second deck; there are elevators and ramps for those who need them but no escalators.

There is only one level of suites, so the upper deck is not far away at all; the picture below is taken from our seats midway up the second deck near midfield. 

Of course, midfield in Canada is marked by the 55-yard line, and I got a close up look at it after the game, when fans were allowed to cavort on the playing surface.

One unique feature is a miniature bi-plane that toodles around the field after the Bombers score. 

It is driven by Captain Blue (below), who is a normal guy dressed up in Blue Bombers flying outfit.

There are two, more typical anthropomorphic mascots, Boomer (below) and Buzz, who can be found at various places around the field before and during the game.

A Ring of Honour is on the facing above the suites and includes 13 members. It was opened in 2016 with nine inductees, and a new member has been added each year, with the exception of 2020 of course.

Before the game, the Bombers unveiled their 2021 Grey Cup banner, which includes all of their titles in smaller print below. The fans are considered "The Loudest in the CFL", and they cheered heartily for their team's successes over the past three years.

Overall, IG Field is another enjoyable spot to watch some CFL football. The team is finally seeing a run of success but the league itself seems to be struggling to regain popularity after two tough years. Only 26,002 attended on this night (thankfully Sean, Sharpy, and I showed up to get them over the 26,000 mark). If you are a sports traveler looking for some summer football, consider the CFL and its nine teams as possible road trip destinations.

The Game

The Ottawa Redblacks were the visitors, with new QB Jeremiah Masoli (#8 below) making his team debut after spending eight seasons with Hamilton. Meanwhile, Zach Collaros started for Winnipeg. Interestingly, the two were born just three days apart in late August 1988. 

The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter and field goals early in the second. A long punt by Ottawa was downed for a single and the 11-10 lead lasted late into the half. An obnoxious Ottawa fan nearby cheered loudly, earning some derisive looks from the locals. The RedBlacks took over on their own 19 with 2:37 left and drove the ball well, taking time off the clock. They were in field goal range with about 30 seconds to go, but needlessly ran an extra play that resulted in the half ending. I predicted that Winnipeg would win by two after Ottawa left those three points on the field.

The third quarter was pretty dull with four punts, two turnovers, and an Ottawa field goal that gave them a 14-10 lead going into the final frame. Winnipeg finally managed a sustained drive midway through, culminating in a QB sneak from backup Dakota Prukop. The convert was missed and boom, there was your two-point advantage. But Ottawa managed a field goal on their next possession and when Winnipeg was forced to punt, with 2:47 to go, Ottawa had a chance to end things. But two plays later, they had to punt, and the Blue Bombers took over on their own 33 with 1:46 remaining. On the second play of the drive, Collaros ran and was hit hard after gaining 10 yards. He looked woozy and the injury spotter said he had to leave the game. Dru Brown, the third-string QB, came in and after a penalty moved them back five yards, completed three consecutive passed for 16, 14, and 21 yards. Two running plays around an Ottawa timeout led to a 25-yard field goal attempt from Marc Liegghio and he drilled it through the uprights. Ottawa had one final play after the kickoff, but a bunch of laterals went nowhere and the game ended with Winnipeg prevailing by two, as predicted.

Not a great game with 14 total punts and just three touchdowns, but Ottawa rued their clock mismanagement before halftime.


As mentioned, fans were allowed on the field after the game, something that we were glad to do. I guess this might be a regular thing because only a few hundred fans participated. It happened the next day in Saskatchewan too, so I'm not sure if this is a regular occurrence, but it sure makes staying until the end worthwhile. 

In an scheduling oddity, the two teams met the following Friday in Ottawa, with Winnipeg winning another barnburner 19-12. I do feel for those that attended both games.