Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Talented Tailgaters in Foxborough

“It’s Good To Be Back.” That was the NFL’s tagline after the recent work stoppage that lasted through the summer and nearly wiped out the season. Now that a week has passed since the Red Sox’ historic collapse, it’s time for football, and not a moment too soon. Teams are assembling, members are honing their skills, and stars are showcasing their talents, and that’s just in the parking lot. Nobody is happier than tailgaters that the NFL season is back. Tens of thousands of loyal fans stocked pickups, RVs and sedans to enjoy Opening Day at Gillette Stadium. They come from long distances and all New England states to enjoy this Sunday ritual. Here are a few of New England’s most talented tailgaters.

There are tens of thousands of tailgaters filling the parking lots of Gillette Stadium as early as noon for a four o’clock kickoff. The most elaborate tailgate setups occur in the lots outside the stadium. The area behind the Foxboro Terminals warehouse is a great place to start when looking for New England’s best tailgaters. Jerry Shanahan of Rockland and John Travers of Plymouth have been coming to games since Foxboro Stadium first opened in 1971. They met during the pre-game celebration for the infamous “Snow Bowl” playoff game against the Raiders in 2002. Now that they have joined forces, their group totals more than 30 friends, and they always park in the same spot for each game. This celebration started before 11 a.m. when Foxboro Terminals opened their expansive lot to these hearty souls. Their food spread changes each week, but featured this week were pork tenderloin, spicy Italian meatballs, and lamb chops. It was a delicious lineup of choices for sure, but their tailgating equipment is what’s most impressive. Winnebagos and service vans covered in Patriots logos and flags mark their territory of roughly a half dozen spaces. High definition televisions, generators, a Patriots beer pong table, two full sized grills, a slow cooker, a turkey deep fryer are the essential tools to making this tailgate work. The most important ingredients to creating the perfect tailgate are camaraderie and doing your job. It’s important to Bill Belichick on the field, and it’s important to tailgaters in the parking lot. “We meet in Plymouth at 7 a.m. for a one o’clock game,” Travers said. “If you’re late, you’re out. Each person has something to bring, and something to prepare. It’s a total team effort.” There are occasional bumps in the road. The group has run out of gas on the road, and forgot tickets in the past. But working together helps things run smoothly for this large group of South Shore tailgaters. Camaraderie among friends was a common theme at most tailgates, and one of the most talented members of this group created a cartoon caricature of the entire group and posted it onto two of the vehicles to show how tight this group is. “In a lot of ways, the tailgate is the event,” Travers said. “It’s a great way to meet people.”

Moving towards the stadium up Route One in a parking lot next to a liquor store and a Subway is one of the most talented and creative tailgaters you’ll find. New Hampshire resident Kenny Kehoe constructed a most sophisticated tailgating trailer out of a leaf carrier from his landscaping business. Complete with two gas grills, AstroTurf carpeting, two flag holders, and extensive storage for food, tables, chairs, utensils, first aid, and other gear, this trailer carries everything needed for a tailgate of 20 friends. Immaculately painted in Patriots Red with a large Pat Patriot logo, the trailer also displays tickets from various games that Kenny and his group have attended over the years. His group comes from five different New England states, and has been attending games for 17 years.  There is also a shrine on the trailer to a member of their group, Keith Angellini, who recently passed away. Building the trailer was a labor of love for Kehoe, so much that he even had it patented. The entertainment that followed however was even more impressive. Bagpipers are not easy to find anywhere, much less at a professional football game, but this was yet another skill Kehoe could add to his list of talents. He played full versions of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Oh Danny Boy.” Nearly half the parking lot came to their feet and chanted “encore, encore.” As impressive as the food display was it this tailgate with Swedish meatballs and foot long deli hot dogs as the main dishes, it was merely an afterthought to this unique experience. Kehoe mentioned that most important aspect of this experience is the lasting friendships he has found. “We are a close knit group,” he said. “We genuinely care about each other, and will remain friends for a long time.”

 Jim Pierce of Woburn was one of the first arrivals to the Gillette Stadium parking lot on Opening Day. His group consisted of 20 friends on this day, but he has organized a groups of 70 to see the Patriots play the Dolphins in Miami. This tailgate featured a list of cuisine that would make many restaurants green with envy. Buffalo wings, giant Italian subs, chicken parmesan, antipasto, Chinese spare ribs, and delectable desserts adorned three large picnic tables. The main attraction at this tailgate was a battle of the beanbag tailgate game cornhole. Yes, that is what the game is called and the competitive nature of this game was second to none with four teams of five players vying to win. This game is seen throughout stadium and outside parking lots in Foxboro, and is welcome recreational opportunity while sitting or standing in a parking lot for four hors or more.

There are many aspects that go into the perfect tailgate. But as it turns out, the food, the games, the vehicles, the memorabilia, the libations, and other logistics that come in to play all take a back seat to the most important ingredient in a great tailgate; friendships. The Patriots create excitement, loyalty, and passion, but the friendships of the tailgaters are what mattered most, and this was the reason why fans endure early Sunday mornings, long rides, and considerable financial expense to create these elaborate celebrations.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Our National Pastime in the Nation's Capital

Baseball returned to our nation's capital in 2005 with the relocation of the Montreal Expos. After 3 years in old RFK stadium, the Nationals moved into a beautiful new, green facility. Here is the best and worst of the ballpark.

1) Friendly customer service
I talk about this a lot since it isn't the rule at my home ballpark, Fenway. How often do you see someone like this standing at the entrance of the ballpark. Caught me eye right away. The Red Sox might want to take some cues from this since the team fell flat on its face in September.

2) Accessibility
I was able to walk to every section, every level of this ballpark with the exception of club seats. I was able to find great views in and outside the ballpark, in addition to all non-club restaurants, concessions, and exhibits. I had great seats in left field for $26 too. Here are just a few of the views in and around the ballpark. 

3) Food
Very good and very creative. I liked the pretzel shaped like the Nats logo. Even better, however, was a new taste combination I found: sprinkling Old Bay seasoning on the pretzel. Old Bay is a Maryland staple and widely used on Maryland crabcakes and blue crabs. You won't find Old Bay at ballparks other than Nationals Park and Camden Yards. Delicious! Also great is the Shake Shack in the Center Field concourse. Shake Shack is popular at Citi Field. The Shack-cago Dog is the best. It's a hot dog on a potato bun with Shake Shack relish, onion, cucumber, tomato, pickle, celery salt, and mustard. Yum!
4) The Red Porch
A very cool bar above left center field with a great view of the game. Highly recommended.
5) History
Despite the fact there was no baseball in DC for 34 years after the second version of the Senators moved to Texas and became the Rangers, Washington baseball history dates back to 1891, and Nationals Park does a great job documenting it. Statues of Frank Howard(Senators franchise home run leader), Josh Gibson of the Washington Homestead Grays and arguably the greatest Negro League ballplayer, and Walter Johnson, winner of 417 games and 10 straight seasons of 20+ wins adorn the left field concourse. The ring of honor above homeplate honors players from both versions of the Washington Senators, Montreal Expos, and the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues.   And of course, you can't talk about history without mentioning the Presidents Race. See below.

6) The First Green Ballpark in America
Nationals Park uses low emitting materials in the carpets, paint, and adhesives around the ballpark. They also use recycled construction materials and sustainable design elements. Most of all, the Nats pay particular attention to storm water management and minimizing water pollution in the adjacent Anacostia River. This may not be something that's readily seen at the ballpark, but I think it's one of the best features of Nationals Park, and many other venues have followed its lead, including Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

Now the not so good:

1) Parking and traffic
Traffic is a nightmare in DC. Worse than Boston. Parking is more expensive than Fenway at $40 and $25. I think there might be a $15 lot around, but this is a bad economy, that has to change.

2) Surrounding the Park
It's a good location for a ballpark, but there's not much there at all in terms of restaurants, bars etc. Good thing the ballpark takes care of that.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pros and Cons of PNC Park in Pittsburgh

PNC Park in Pittsburgh is simply the best new ballpark out there. If I lived in Pittsburgh I would consider buying season tickets just to enjoy warm summer nights at this ballpark. The Red Sox made their second trip to PNC since it opened in 2001. My wife and I followed bandwagon of Red Sox fans to PIttsburgh. Here are the good and bad of PNC. I'll start with the good:

1) The Views

Unmatched by any park in baseball, even San Francisco's AT+T Park which has a spectacular view of San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge. PNC fits perfectly into a nook of the downtown skyline across from the Allegheny River. The sunset reflecting off the glass towers from the west offers a spectacular scenic overlook at dusk. At night, the Roberto Clemente Bridge lights up the view past Center Field and meshes perfectly into the downtown skyline. Judge for yourself.

2) The History:
The Pirates have more than 100 years of history and there are many ways to experience. First, the most important member of the Pirates history Roberto Clemente is honored with a statue, a bridge, and 21 foot high wall in Center Field in honor of #21. There are statues of Willie Stargell, Honus Wagner, and Bill Mazeroski after hitting his famous 1960 World Series home run. We also sat in the Pittsburgh Baseball Club Premium seats where legendary broadcaster Bob Prince is honored with his signature plaid jacket. Known as "The Gunner" the area has great concessions named after the broadcaster too.
Bill Mazeroski statue commemorating his walkoff home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series

Roberto Clemente statue and bridge

 3) Food and Concessions
As good as anywhere in baseball. Contrary to most opinions, I like Iron City Beer and the fact that it's similar to Bud and Coors Light. It's available all over the park. Yeungling is also a good local choice. There are Primanti Brothers Cheesesteak Sandwiches with cole slaw and fries on the sandwich if you can stomach it. They also have capicola and roast beef sandwiches done the same way. Just a warning, the steak is more like meatloaf than steak. Very good though. Gunners foot long hot dogs are huge, beefy, tasty and can be topped with whatever you want. There's also Manny Sanguillen's barbecue in the outfield concourse and a concession area dedicated to Willie Stargell's favorites Called Pop's Plaza. Try as much as you can, PNC goes all out to showcase local specialties. Don't forget Quaker Steal and Lube, another local specialty at the park. It was voted Best Wings in America.

4) Customer Service
We paid $94 for 2 club seats. Try doing that at Fenway. We also got a tour of the club, all the concessions, and some historic Pirate memorabilia. Our sales rep Don couldn't have been nicer, and did everything he could to make sure we had a great day at the ballpark. Not bad for being a fan of the visiting team.

5) Post Game Entertainment and Transit

Fireworks after the game and plenty of options around the park and across the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Doesn't get any better than that. We went to Jerome Bettis Grille. Great pre and post game food and drink. We took a boat up the Allegheny River back to our car. What a great way to go to a ballgame. No traffic, and they have cocktails for the 15 minute ride there.

The Bad??

Nothing about the experience other than the Red Sox whining about National League rules in addition to their poor play. Unfortunately for Pirate fans, the Bucs have had 18 consecutive losing seasons with number 19 on the way. It's a shame because this looked a breakout year for the Bucs as they were in first place on July 19. Hopefully there are better things in store for this franchise that plays in such a beautiful ballpark.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Best and Worst of Citi Field (NY Mets)

The Mets and Yankees both opened new ballparks in 2009. I've already talked about Yankee Stadium in a previous post. Now I'll talk about New York's better ballpark. It's not without its flaws, but it accommodates fans and masses better than the big stadium in the Bronx. Here's a list of the best and worst of Citi Field:

1) Taking the 7 train to the ballpark. It may not be a favorite of former Braves pitcher John Rocker(see quotes to Sports Illustrated made in 1999), but I love riding the subway. I saw a full mariachi band perform on our way to the ballgame. They were wearing big black Mexican hats, donning guitars, an accordian, and performing crazy dance moves. Notice the guy in the 2nd picture in the back with the smaller black hat giving one of the band members the digit. I LOVE NEW YORK!

2) The Jackie Robinson Rotunda
Citi Field is a beautiful structure and this is the signature feature. It's a shrine to the entrance of Ebbets Field and Jackie Robinson. Famous photographs of Jackie's life and the words "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives," surround the inside of the rotunda. Words to live by. More on the rotunda and the connection to the Dodgers later.

3) Citi Field Food
It's among the best in baseball. I had pulled pork sandwich from the Blue Smoke Grille. The delicious, sweet, smoky, savory sauce smothering the perfectly spiced pork is phenomenal. There is also my favorite Nathan's Hot Dogs with crinkle cut fries, but I spent the previous day eating those in Brooklyn. There's Keith's Grill in honor of Keith Hernandez, former Met first basemen. Juicy Brooklyn burgers are served here and the Gold Glove Burger is Keith's creation with cheddar cheese, raw onions, mayo, extra ketchup, mustard on the bottom, lettuce, tomato on a toasted sesame bun.  There's also Cascarino's brick oven pizza, grilled shrimp po boys, and Carvel ice cream. Draught beer selection not the best. They should have had Brooklyn '55 Pennant Ale.

4) NY Fans
Loud and boisterous, but very funny. I saw a fan yelling through his mouth muffling what he was trying to say. But he kept yelling. Finally in unison three people yelled "What the fuck are you saying" in their thick New York accents. We then learned he said "Don't trade Jose" in reference to Jose Reyes. Love it. No sellout though which is surprising considering the Phillies were there.

Now the Bad:

1) It's more of a tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers than the Mets. Don't get me wrong, I respect the history of the Dodgers in Brooklyn, I'm not Met fan, and my most painful sports memory occurred across the street at the old Shea Stadium. But it is a Met stadium. There should be more signature features honoring the existing franchise. Maybe the rotunda should be the Robinson-Hodges rotunda. Gill Hodges brought the Mets their first title as a manager, and brought Brooklyn their only title as a player. His memory should honored as much as anybody's. Just a suggestion.

2) The area around the ballpark. Chop shops, car parts, and old industrial buildings fill the surrounding area known as the "Iron Triangle" to locals. No bars, restaurants, or establishments run by former players. Just auto parts and an airport. McFadden's Tavern is  outside the center field wall, but Citi Field needs more. Enough said.

Some more images from Citi Field: