Follow Sebastian as he goes from one sporting event to the next... he'll let you know all about the atmosphere, facilities, fans and teams... here's the latest!
July 4, 2009 - Washington Nationals vs Atlanta Braves - Major League Baseball
The Washington Nationals hadn't provided much entertainment value through the first 3 months of the MLB season, but on a beautiful summer Saturday, the Nats gave a glimpse of how good baseball could be in DC... if the baseball in DC were any good. The best way to get into Nationals Park is to take the Metro... and don't worry, unlike NYC's subway system, the DC Metro is easy even for out-of-towners. Driving to a Nats game can be a nightmare, parking is either real far or real expensive. Considering Washington has had trouble filling half their park, the 23,708 in attendance was a pretty good crowd. We got in for 18 bucks a piece and because of the low attendance could pretty much move freely around the park. The Nats put on a decent show, coming back to win 5-3 behind Adam Dunn's 300th career Home Run. It is not often Nationals fans get to see positive history being made, so Dunn's big time bomb to right field (just a few rows from where we sat) was an unexpected surprise. The 4,532 square foot HD video scoreboard is a sight to behold, one of the best and biggest in all pro sports is perhaps the one place the Nationals can claim victory, but as nice as this park is on the inside, the skyline view can't touch PNC's (in Pittsburgh) and the atmosphere outside the stadium is essentially dead when compared to Camden Yards in Baltimore.
June 27, 2009 - Pittsburgh Pirates vs Kansas City Royals - Major League Baseball
While neither of these two teams have been a factor over the past 15 years, for at least one night they were capable of putting on a pretty good show. For those who don’t know, PNC Park is a top 5 stadium in the majors. If you don't believe me, check out the Pirates attendance (36,202 on this night), the only way that many people would pay to see a team this consistently bad is if the stadium experience is great… and it is. The food is the best offering I’ve ever seen in a ball park, with a pair of Pittsburgh staples leading the way. Start your meal with some Quaker Steak and Lube Wings (Louisiana Lickers are the best flavor) and finish things with a 7th inning Primanti Brothers sandwich. PNC has a perfect view of the Pittsburgh skyline, and for those bored by the Buccos, there’s a deck overlooking the city behind home plate, which is a great place for a beer and a chat. The famous Pierogie race provided some fun between innings, and the night ended with a fireworks display so good, it left me REALLY struggling to remember a better one. Despite the Pirates 6-2 win, Pittsburgh’s current record stands at 21-37, proving that if you have a great stadium, in a great city, with great food, and great fireworks you can field a crap team and at least HOPE that no one will notice.
May 22, 2009 - Reading Phillies vs Altoona Curve - Minor League Baseball (AA-Eastern League)
A rare trip through Central Pennsylvania lured me into Blair County Ballpark for a Friday night battle for Keystone state bragging rights. The Curve are a Pirates affiliate, while Reading is in Philadelphia's farm system. Lets start with the facilities, Blair County Ballpark is great, complete with a roller coaster over the right field wall. Kudos are due as well for the scoreboard, which while it may not quite be major league, is definitely better than you'd expect for a double-A park. The crowd of 3451 was about as into a mid season minor league baseball game as you could ask for, but the park (capacity 7210) still felt pretty quiet. The Curve mounted a great comeback to win 8-7 after trailing 5-0 after 5 innings. One more note, I was pretty impressed with the diversity of the crowd... a lot of families, teens, seniors, twenty somethings. That definitely made for a good atmosphere and is something the Curve marketing staff is probably pretty proud of.
May 9, 2009 - DC United vs Toronto FC - MLS Soccer
I know what you're thinking, all I do is go to MLS games. I'm a soccer guy, but I promise to mix it up over the next few weeks. Another tie this time out, this one though, turned into an offensive shoot-out. 3 goals in the final 6 minutes of the match certainly made for a great finish for the 15,652 in attendance. A perfect DC night (83 degrees, slightly overcast) should have drawn more, but the Caps were playing Game 5 vs the Penguins at the Verizon Center. I have to give some MAJOR props to Toronto FC's fans. A group of a couple hundred Toronto fans made the 500 mile trip and camped out in the otherwise empty upper level at RFK Stadium. Having a fan section for the other team really makes a difference in terms of atmosphere and intensity, especially in MLS.
April 17, 2009 - DC United vs New England Revolution - MLS Soccer
My second DC United trip of the 09' season ended just like my first RFK visit... a 1-1 tie. Unlike the home opener however, this 1-1 draw was exciting, with Ben Olsen's last minute goal saving the Black and Red from what would have been a bad home loss. DC dominated the game and created plenty of scoring chances keeping the fans pretty involved throughout. I was sitting in the Mezzanine section which gives a soccer fan a great view of the play build-up... but does cut off a section of the field making it hard to see corner kicks from the near side. The weather was perfect this time around, and for a Friday Night, I was disappointed with the announced attendance of 14,441. Those who were there were great though, especially the Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava... there is not a better, or more intense fan group in DC pro sports. Period.
April 13, 2009 - Toronto Raptors vs Washington Wizards - NBA Basketball
As you can tell from my front page piece, this game served as a heartbreaking final chapter in the sad book that the Wizards 08-09 season turned out to be. The game itself was entertaining however, and no matter what you say about Washington, you can't call Ed Tapscott's guys quitters or acuse them of tanking games. Aside from a slow start, the Wiz played hard all night.
With gaping parts of each section blanketed in empty seats and playoff contention a distant memory, it might not have been the best night to measure atmosphere inside the Verizon Center. Those who were there acted like people do at pretty much every other NBA venue... that is mild interest until the 4th quarter when everybody on the floor seems to actually start trying. The first 5 minutes of the game felt like a PGA tour stop... you could hear individual people clapping in distant parts of the arena, sad for a place that holds over 20K. Official attendance was 18,455, but I'd be willing to make a healthy wager there were no more than 15 thousand people in that building. The loudest it got Monday was when the Wizards gave away free T-Shirts or Burritos... sending the promotions department into the off-season with something to brag about.
The Verizon Center itself is a great facility, not a bad seat in the house. It's located right off the Metro which makes it super easy to get to from the suburbs. Between Gallery Place and Chinatown there are plenty of things to do should one decide to leave the game early, after all who out there can stomach 4 full quarters of Wizards basketball???
April 9, 2009 - New York Yankees vs Baltimore Orioles - Major League Baseball
When you talk about teams that "travel well" the New York Yankees have to be at the top of the list. For the past decade New York-Baltimore games at Camden Yards have felt more like Yankee Stadium than the home of a heated division rival. To say that O's fans dominated the stands Thursday would be an exaggeration, but at least they outnumbered Yanks fans... if not by all that much. While the New York fans may have been the minority, they were definitely louder and had more to cheer about in an 11-2 win, their first of 09'.
As far as the stadium goes, Camden Yards is great. Depending on who you listen to, it is a top 3 ball park in the Majors. A perfectly sunny day and the optimism of spring definitely helped, but Camden is one of those places where, no matter the O's record, you'll always have a good experience. The bar scene and stuff to do just outside the stadium brings another atmosphere to the ball park... something the O's neighbors to the south just can't match. No wonder the Nats are having trouble converting people.
March 28, 2009 - DC United vs Chicago Fire - Major League Soccer
DC United had less than perfect conditions for their first home game of the 2009 MLS season. 24 hours of rain in the Washington area scared off a lot of people, resulting in lighter attendance than normal. 15,895 people braved the wet conditions, but I think in ideal conditions United would have been expecting at least 25 thousand. Those who were there brought the ruckus, especially during United's dominant first half. The Screaming Eagles and La Barra Brava (two of DC's largest fan sections) shook the lover level of RFK just like Redskin fans used to do back in the 80's.
Writing about soccer atmosphere is tricky. I honestly believe that DC's fans are the best in MLS. That being said, its tough to sell a newcomer to the game of soccer on its intensity when the upper bowl at RFK is completely empty. United is working on getting a new soccer-specific stadium in Maryland, a move that will certainly raise soccer's status in the nation's capital.
The game itself was less than great. DC was missing a couple injured starters, and two of Chicago's more exciting players (Chris Rolfe and Cuahtemoc Blanco) didn't enter the game until late in the second half. The 1-1 draw was probably a fair conclusion, I just hate to think that some fans getting their first exposure to Major League Soccer were left with this anti-climatic result. As they say, a tie is like kissing your sister!
March 21, 2009 - Buffalo Bandits vs Portland LumberJax - National Lacrosse League
While Indoor Lacrosse may be a minor-league sport in most of the country, let me assure you, the Bandits put on a major league show in Buffalo. The Bandits didn't quite draw the same as the Sabres did a week earlier, but it was darn close (17,822 to 18,690).
Saturday's venue may have been the same (the Sabres and Bandits share HSBC), but it might as well have been a different world. Bandits fans know how to rock! The place was bumping from the get-go with plenty of noise and trash talk. An in-game DJ not only kept the beats flowing, but also led cheers for everything from LumberJack trips to the penalty box, to monster hits from Bandits defensemen. The fans knew their stuff, took it seriously, and weren't afraid to get rowdy. With reasonable ticket prices, the NLL is a must-see for anybody even remotely into lacrosse.
Buffalo won the game 14-4, holding Portland to a historically low scoring out-put for indoor lacrosse. While the goals and saves definitely got people out of their seats, the nights best moment came not from a behind the back pass or thundering shot, but from a fight. Actually from 2 fights. In the third quarter, with the outcome still hanging in the balance, Buffalo brawler Brandon Francis went toe-to-toe with Portland's Brodie Merrill. The crowd exploded, getting twice as loud as any goal celebration while the two wrestled to the ground. The refs hadn't split up Merrill and Francis for 10 seconds when Bandit enforcer Billy Dee Williams dropped the gloves and went after David Morgan. With the crowd doubling their noise-making efforts, Williams came out on top... then hit the showers.
March 14, 2009 - Buffalo Sabres vs Atlanta Thrashers - National Hockey League
First off let me apologize for the terrible pics. Forgetting your camera at home is frustrating enough, paying 15 dollars for a disposable that turns out these 1978-looking pictures is trifling, but not enough to ruin a a great evening of playoff-push hockey... the Sabres did that on their own.
With all that was at stake, I have to say I was a bit underwhelmed by the atmosphere at HSBC. Outside of a wild stretch of the second period (when the Sabres scored all of their goals), the arena didn't get all that loud. With all the disappointments in recent Buffalo sports history, a sense of dread as opposed to excitement is at least somewhat understandable. True to form, the Sabres found a way to blow a 3-1 lead, the game tying Atlanta goal coming with 3.6 seconds left in the 3rd period.
HSBC Arena is a pretty nice facility. Decent choices in food and drink with prices that while expensive, aren't as bad as stadiums and arenas in other parts of the country. A pretty cool history of the Sabres is a must-see on the concourse.