Thursday, April 22, 2010

Boston Marathon

First off, I would like to congratulate all the finishers of the Boston Marathon this past Monday. Actually, I would like to congratulate every finisher of every marathon. No matter what marathon you run, running 26.2 miles is the ultimate test of mental and physical strength and perserverance. Special congrats to Eric Engdahl and Josh Staunton who ran for Sheila Engdahl, Eric's mom who passed away from Lou Gehrig's Disease last year. Great job guys.

There are a lot of great charities who benefit from dedicated runners and fundraisers like Eric and Josh. Charitable runs are one of the aspects that make the Boston Marathon and all marathons truly worthwhile events. The problem I have always had with the Boston Marathon is that the Boston Athletic Association, the organizer of the event, goes out of its way to exclude deserving people looking to enter what many regard as the most prestigious marathon. Running is an inclusive sport and an inclusive community, and many of the elitists who organize this event do not acknowledge this fact. Boston is the ONLY marathon in the world that requires a qualifying time. For my age group, I have to run another marathon in a time of 3 hours and 15 minutes or less in order to qualify for Boston. In other words, that is a 7 Minute and 26 second mile for the whole race. Not the easiest accomplishment for us mere mortals. The other option is to raise money for a charity and get a guaranteed number/entry that way. As noble as this idea is, runners are required to raise at least $3,000, and maybe even more depending the charity. If the money is not collected, it comes out of the runner's pocket/credit card. With a difficult economy, this can be an overwhelming task in addition to training for the race itself.

Most races like the New York and Chicago Marathons use a lottery system instead of a ridiculous qualifying time. This gives everybody a chance to tackle the 26.2 mile monster. New York even has guaranteed entry for those who run 9 races for the New York Road Runners Club in a calendar year. The BAA should wake up and scrap their eliteist, exclusive policies. The Boston Marathon can accomodate the numbers, they just choose not to. Allowing runners of all abilities would not affect the elite runners like many have claimed. Other marathons have the same elite runners, and their times are not affected by recreational runners. This is not the Olympics or the NFL combine; a qualifying time should not be necessary. Someday I hope to run Boston, and I will do the charity route. I just hope I have a lot of generous friends and family.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Better Baseball Bargains: Outside Boston

Once again the Red Sox have regained the top spot in the Fan Cost Index released by It now costs $335.00 for 2 adult average price tickets, 2 children average priced tickets, 4 small soft drinks, 2 small beers, 4 hot dogs, 2 programs, 2 adult sized caps, and parking. This amounts to $5.00 more than the Cubs, and $18.00 more than the Yankees who are fresh off a World Championship and a sparkling new stadium. The Red Sox are also the only Major League team that does not offer a single promotional giveaway item to fans during the seasons. The Cubs actually beat out the Red Sox by a quarter for the highest average ticket price at $52.56. For those of you are traveling this summer, and can't afford to take out a second mortgage on your home to see an MLB game live at Fenway, here are some options you might want to take in. The Red Sox also travel to many of these ballparks.

Yankee Stadium Bronx, NY

The Yankees appear to have heard their fans' requests, or at least observed the empty seats in the premium sections that were going for a mere $2500. Now the Yankees offer half-priced tickets to select games for students, children under 14, and miltitary personnel. Select areas of the grandstands, bleachers, and terrace offer tickets for $5 on certain games. Senior citizens can also buy select game tickets for $5. Try finding that at Fenway. Family games and and select Tuesday night games are also offered at a discount. There's no shortage of food options at Yankee Stadium either. Carl's cheesesteaks, sushi, Boars Head deli sandwiches, Nathan's hot dogs, pulled pork and briscuit sandwiches, garlic fries, and Otis Spunkmeyer cookies are just some of the items on the Yankee Stadium menu. There's also a Hard Rock Cafe, and New York Yankees Steakhouse. Don't expect friendly service however, Yankee employees don't offer it. The stadium offers plenty of promotions and giveaways however including shirts, caps, and even a fan championship ring. I would stay away from bat day however.

Camden Yards Baltimore, MD

Camden Yards is still one of my favorite places to go. The Orioles are second rate franchise now, but the park is second to none in terms of character, amenities, and convenience. The Orioles offer Upper Reserved seats every Tuesday night for $8. Thursday nights you can get a bleacher ticket and a Boog's Barbecue sandwich for $17. These sandwiches are a must at Camden Yards, and are a ritual for me at an Orioles game along with the crab cakes. The Baltimore Brewery offers 8 different beers on draft, but it is the taste of those sweet and salty barbecue sandwiches at Boogs that keep me on Eutaw Street for half the game. Tuesday appears to be the night to clean up at Camden Yards as you can also receive a free t-shirt for every Tuesday game.

Citizens Bank Park Philadelphia, PA

The Phillies have a better team and better bargains than the Red Sox do right now. The two-time defending National League champions still try and offer bargains such as dollar dog nights. They also offer giveaways every week, including t-shirts, bobbleheads, and even scally caps. The Phillies offer $20 tickets in the upper 300 level that includes a $10 concession credit. For $30 dollars, you can watch the game from the short porch in left field by Harry the K's Broadcast Bar and Grill. This is a great option that I would recommend, as it is a great view and honors the late Phillies broadcaster who died last year. Philly fans are tough, so don't look for trouble because you will find it. The ballpark opened in 2004 and is a huge upgrade over the old Veterans Stadium. For the best cheesesteaks, skip the ballpark and head to Pat's in South Philly, or Steve's in North Philly.

Tropicana Field St. Petersburg, FL

In my visit to the Trop 3 years ago, the biggest surprise I found was FREE PARKING, as opposed to $35 regular season to $75 for playoff games at Fenway. A 2008 appearance in the World Series for the Rays has eliminated a lot of freebies, but for those cars with 4 or more passengers, there is still free parking in selected lots. The Rays also offer Family Fun Days on Sundays where outfield seats sell for $22 and baseline box seats for $31. Tickets include a hot dog, snack, and a soda. Kids can also run the bases or play in a wiffle ball tournament in left field after the game. Giveaways include Evan Longoria bobbleheads and those annoying cowbells we always hear when the Sox play the Rays. The Trop had limited food choices when I was there, but a significant upgrade in choices includes tradtional ballpark food, cuban sandwiches(a local favorite), panini sandwiches, cajun po boy sanwiches, and mahi mahi fish tacos. The Trop has a centerfield brewpub and the Majors' only cigar bar for those who like a good stogie. There are even concerts after certain games featuring Nelly, Hall and Oates, and ZZ Top. Watching baseball indoors isn't the best, but considering Tampa's weather in the summer, it's not the worst situation either.

Coors Field Denver, CO

One of my favorite ballparks anywhere, and the Red Sox go there this year! You can still buy tickets in the bleachers, or the Rockpile as it's called, for $4. The Rockies have jacked up prices specifically for the Red Sox series, but you can still find a lot of good deals available, like parking for $5. Enjoy the game and the sunset in left field with a giant Coors Light, a Rockie Dog, garlic fries, or even the signature Rocky Mountain oysters. This is how baseball should be watched in open air with a cold beer, great food, great weather, at a good value: a real Rocky Mountain High.

I also had great experiences in Toronto and Atlanta as well. Atlanta is where I had the biggest hot dog I ever ate: 1lb. There are other options for those who don't want to gorge themselves however. Toronto offers tickets vs. the Red Sox for $14. For a Canadian cuisine experience, try a smoked meat sandwich with a Labatts beer.

I realize that as long as games at Fenway sell out, the Red Sox will continue to charge what they can, and that's fair I guess. But when you spend that money poorly like they did this year, and field second rate players like Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron, the Red Sox better think of new ways of attracting fans.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Food Vacations

Last month I took my wife to a hotel run by the Vermont Culinary Institute for the weekend. The Essex Vermont Culinary Resort is a four diamond resort in Essex, VT with a full service spa, indoor pool, outdoor hot tub, tennis courts, golf course, bike path, hot air balloon rides, and the Northern Lights Rock and Ice Adventure complex. The city of Burlington is also nearby with numerous indoor and outdoor activities for all seasons.

Our experience revolved around the food, however. Cinnamon scones, maple creme brulet, peanut butter chocolate mousse, homemade muffins, antipasto, fennel orange salad, mahi mahi with pineapple salsa, Italian benedict with pancetta chiron sauce, caramel swirl cheesecake, banana bread pudding, fresh-made omelets with Cabot cheddar cheese, and homemade belgian waffels with local Vermont maple syrup were just a sampling of choices, on the Sunday brunch menu! Maple bacon has to be one of the greatest food creations ever with a crispy texture, and a sweet and salty flavor. I also tasted the Orecchiette vegetable salad not knowing the pasta looked like a small ear until it arrived. Butler's Tavern and Restaurant is the resort's onsite establishment that features farm to table cuisine, with an emphasis on local ingredients. Dinner selections include a collection of Vermont artisan cheeses or a Vermont goat cheese souffle for the first course. I tried Porcini Dusted Beef Tenderloin with a marsala sage glace de viande (or demiglaze), chive and sour cream mash potatoes, and grilled asparagus. My wife had the sea bass with red onion jam. It was not the best meal we have ever had, as the tenderloin was slightly overcooked and the sea bass a little bland, but the service was excellent, and the beer and wine selection is as good as any fine restaurant. I would recommend the crispy Arctic Char a la plancha with wilted greens, wild rice cake. Char is like salmon with a lighter flavor that melts in your mouth. The Flat Iron steak in chimichurri butter is another entree that is definitely worth trying.

At lunch time, Butler's Tavern has buffalo wings that are among the best I've ever tasted. A perfectly crispy, tender, and spicy sweet coating made us order two plates. Next time I'm trying the Braised Duck Nachos. Try finding those in taverns around here. I had the Misty Knoll Turkey Sandwich with Vermont smoke and cure bacon. Their bacon makes everything taste good. Sugar Mountain pulled pork sliders are also excellent, and the chicken and wild rice soup is a perfect start to your meal. There is even a cashew crusted tofu steak for vegetarians. For those who love fish and chips, the tavern has the fried favorite beer battered with Long Trail ale.

To start the day I had the Essex French Toast with homemade sourdough bread, lavender butter, and powdered sugar. The best thing about breakfast in Vermont? Green Mountain Coffee. I love it. It's stronger and better tasting than Dunkin Donuts, and not as acidic as Starbucks or Seattle's Best. Make cure to cover the your french toast with the local maple syrup too.

As you can see there wasn't much more to do than eat, although we managed to get massages at the resort, and made a quick trip to Church Street in Burlington. The Magic Hat Brewery was a good find too. Basically by Sunday, we were engaged in a food coma that is only rivaled by Thanksgiving Dinner. If you're aspring chef, you can take classes at the Cook Academy. Cutting Edge Knife Skills, Party in Spain, and April in Paris are just a few of the classes offered. I do recommend the experience at the Essex, but I also recommend bringing a pair of stretchy pants.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Great Tour of Boston

There are a lot of aspects of Boston that frustrate me. I explained one of them in my last post. Today however, I'm doing a complete 180 and I will talk about things I love about Bay State's signature city: The skyline view from across the Mass Ave Bridge, the distinct neighborhoods, the history, the food in the North End, running along the Charles, a sunny day game in the bleachers at Fenway. Recently I found a tour of Boston that I also loved. It not only depicts the historical significance and sites of Boston, but shows how to capture Boston's best attractions and qualities on film.
PhotoWalks is a company created by professional photographer Saba Alhadi. PhotoWalks is the only tour of its kind in Boston that presents the city's historic landmarks, architecture, and sites through the creative eye of a camera lens. Alhadi offers tips and techniques on how to take better photos, through proper framing, lighting, and composition. She showed me how to use features on my point and shoot camera that I didn't even know about. The tour was small so Saba was able to provide an extensive history of Boston's Freedom Trail landmarks, in addition to instruction on how capture a subject from a more thoughtful and creative angle. She stressed the fact that Boston is a city of firsts and a city of oldests. Boston has the nation's first hotel, the Omni Parker House, the first public school in Boston Latin, the oldest school system in America, the oldest institution of higher learning in Harvard, the first statue of a historical figure in Ben Franklin, and the oldest subway sytem in the country. She talked about Paul Revere's famous ride and that his famous quote "The British are coming" is not accurate. He actually said "The regulars are coming" because nearly everyone in Boston at the time was British. She talked about how the jackass statue at Old City Hall was created in honor of Andrew Jackson who said, "The people should rule the country." The tour runs from the current state house, to the Park Street Church, to the Granary Burial Ground, to Fanueil Hall Marketplace, to the OldSouth Meeting House, to Paul Revere's House and the North End. What better place to end a tour at a section of Boston that has more than 80 restaurants within a single square mile. Saba also suggested some great photo opportunites at the Haymarket Farmers Market. She said many of the vendors are not thrilled with having their photograph taken, but I didn't care, it was an opportunity I couldn't miss. The best part of the tour is the fact that you don't need an expensive camera or extensive photographic knowledge, jus a desire to learn. I highly recommend it, and the photos I took during the tour are attached.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Opening Day

For the first time in 12 years, I went to Opening Day at Fenway. Opening Day is important not only to baseball fans, but to those looking for an end to the long winter. Opening Day is different. All 30 teams are in first place and every team has hope. Every ballpark is filled to capacity with fans playing hooky from work or school. For me, the Opening Day game means just that; the season's first game played during the day. Twelve years ago my friend Eddie and I went to Opening Day on a cold April afternoon and watched the Red Sox and Pedro Martinez take on Randy Johnson and the Mariners. I remember many things from that day. The two things I remember most were Mo Vaughn hitting a game winning grand slam in the 9th inning, and the ban on beer because Opening Day was on Good Friday. Pretty amazing that a city which enjoys its spirits as much as Boston would ban the sale of booze on such a high holiday like Opening Day(Uh I mean Good Friday).

This year Opening Day felt different in many ways, some good some not so good. I didn't love the fact that the game was being played on Easter Sunday at 8PM. There are a number of reasons I wasn't thrilled about this, but the main problem that exists with any night game at Fenway is the ineptness of an organization know in these parts as the T. Now that I live Marlboro, I was presented with the decision to battle Easter traffic for 30 miles into the city, or take the commuter rail from Southboro into Yawkey station. The problem is of course that the last train from Yawkey back to Southboro runs at 11:10PM, or in terms of primetime Red Sox-Yankee ballgames, the 7th inning. I chose the latter and my wife and I took a pleasant ride on the train into the ballpark. After the Red Sox had tied up the game in the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees retook the lead in the top of the 7th. From here we had to leave to catch the last train. As we walked up Yawkey Way out of Fenway, I heard the crowd roar for what turned out to be Dustin Pedroia's game-tying two run homer. We arrived at Yawkey Station next door and proceeded to wait one hour for the last train. In the ultimate wisdom of the MBTA, they decided to run the train 40 minutes late to accomodate fans at the game. The problem was fans who left the game early to avoid being stranded in this wonderfully-run city, missed the last 3 innings of action and a 9-7 comeback win for the Sox. The fans who stayed got stranded because the last train arrived in the bottom of the eighth inning with no more trains leaving for the western suburbs after the game. So even when we win, we miss out. Thank you MBTA. Some other things I didn't care for: Neil Diamond's half-hearted rendition of Sweet Caroline, or even Sweet Caroline for that matter, obnoxious Yankee fans,the guy in front of me complaining about the walk up the stairs, and Yankees Suck chants(Do we have any originality left?)

What did I like you ask? Well, going to Opening Day for one. The temperature was reminiscent of a night in August, not April. The buzz around the ballpark is unbelievable, and Fenway always seems to open up new areas for fans to congregate, indulge in new food or alcohol choices, and stretch their legs from being cramped in seats that are smaller than those found on airplanes. Do you think Kevin Smith has to buy two game tickets? The game was also against the Yankees, and the energy and excitement is always higher than when other opponents come here. The games are always competitive, exude a playoff atmosphere, and the rivalry is still unmatched in sports today. Yankee fans were louder than ever coming off their World Series title. There was even a fan next to us wearing a WWE championship belt. He must have invested a lot of time coming up with that idea.I loved seeing my favorite pitcher Pedro Martinez throw out the first pitch. His arrival started the Red Sox on their successful run of winning seasons that is still intact. Nobody put on a better show on the mound either. There were traditional figures honored such as Johnny Pesky, and untraditional guests such as Dr. Dre. One of the most original ideas was bringing 5 year old Joshua Sacco performing his rendition of Herb Brooks 1980 Miracle On Ice speech. "I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great team the Yankees are," he yelled. "Screw em. Tonight is your night." Couldn't have said it better myself.