As a rabid sports fan my entire life, I’ve seen so many events on television from all sorts of sporting venues. Of course, I’ve only actually been to a handful of professional games. Naturally, I thought it would be fun if I gave my top 10 list of places that I want to visit if I ever have the chance.
Here are some disclaimers before everybody goes wild at these selections…
-I’ve been to 3 places that I consider of high priority to any real sports fan. 2 still exist (Madison Square Garden and Saratoga Race Course) and one sadly does not (Yankee Stadium).
-Baseball gets star treatment here because the stadiums themselves just mean so much more to fans. They last longer, more games are played there every year and they all have different dimensions and nuances. I can think of other sports where there are differing dimensions from venue to venue. However, the two that pop to mind right away are golf and auto racing and I can’t stand either of those.
-NBA arenas are pretty stale and generally don’t hold much sentimental value to fans outside of MSG. In current times, owners of teams and cities would rather have a jewel of an arena instead of an aging relic. Same for the NHL. The Pittsburgh penguins just opened a new arena last year because the awesome and historic Mellon Arena was ‘too old’. On the flip side, if an arena in those leagues hangs on too long (think Nassau Coliseum), everybody hates it and the team runs the risk of having to move.
-I’m not that enamored of pro football stadiums. I’ve only been to one, but seeing as football is a sport where I really have a team I’m obsessed with, it doesn’t much interest me to go to a random game just for the hell of it. If I were at a Bengals-Steelers game I guarantee you I’d spend most of my time checking on the Jets score.
-Too many historical places have been destroyed. Here are some places that I wish I could take a time machine back to. We’ll call this the ‘Would-Have-Beens” (in no particular order)
- Polo Grounds – Boston Garden
- Maple Leaf Gardens – Buffalo Memorial Auditorium (The Aud)
- Chicago Stadium – Portland Memorial Coliseum
- Great Western Forum – Tiger Stadium
- Astrodome – Shibe Park
- West Side Tennis Club – Hialeah Park
-Basketball is my favorite sport. Here are some college basketball arenas that just missed making the list…
- Allen Fieldhouse – Cameron Indoor Stadium
- Indiana Assembly Hall – Pauley Pavilion
Remember, this list is highly subjective and is up for interpretation…
#10: The Palestra
-It tells you how highly I value these other places for me to put the Palestra at #10. The Palestra is so famous and respected that it is the home court to the ‘Big 5’. That’s right, the Philadelphia schools are so steeped in tradition that they designate the Palestra as the place where a majority of their inner-city rivalry games are held. Philly hoops are a big deal and even as we work into the 2010’s for the city to still honor the tradition of that mini conference is impressive. The building has the distinction of hosting the most college basketball games ever and the most NCAA Tournament games.
The building itself is pretty non-descript. Here’s the thing; that’s what makes it so unique. Not making changes to an 84-year-old building is what makes the mystique. Whenever I do make it there for a Penn game, I won’t help but think back and imagine how it was when the likes of Tom Gola and Wilt Chamberlain played there.
#9: Churchill Downs
-A horse racing fan’s dream. I’m spoiled because I’ve lived near Saratoga my entire life but Churchill hosts the Kentucky Derby. Champions are made at the track and even the casual person knows about it. Kentucky in general is the heart of the sport and that is where so many trainers and breeders are based out of. The twin spires are an iconic symbol and a must-visit destination for me.
-If I were to choose to go an NFL game, I would go here. The dome combined with the great fans makes the Superdome a no-brainer on this list. I included this because of the résumé as well. In addition to the Saints, this place holds the NCAA Basketball Tournament (including this year), the Sugar Bowl every year and on a rotating basis, the BCS title game (also this year). The most Super Bowls have also been contested there (six). Part of the reason this makes the list is because I feel that watching a high level college football game in this setting would be worth the trip.
#7: Rogers Arena
-Hockey is a sport I always hear needs to be witnessed live and I can think of no other place I would rather be than with a crowd this dedicated to all aspects of the game. Canadians are a proud people of both their country and hockey.
#6: PNC Park
-Close enough for me to get to when I have the chance. You can’t beat this view. The tickets are so reasonably priced that I can have a great seat behind the plate for only $35. Sure, everybody wants to rip on the Pirates for having a bad ball club for decades but they sure play in an awesome ballpark.
#5: LA Memorial Coliseum
-Growing up when I did, this place is actually pretty much past its prime. The NFL can’t even be convinced to use it as a place for a franchise to move to. In the past decade, USC has utilized the facility on their road to many successes and I always enjoyed watching those teams tear it up. It just looks like a place that athletic competitions were intended to be played in. I absolutely love the entrance gate to the facility as well, with the Olympic logo very visible.
The LA Coliseum also was home to the weird situation of hosting the Dodgers when they first moved west. This included the ridiculous feature of a 251-foot left field fence accompanied by an enormous net. It has been the host to 2 Olympic Games, including in 1984. The First Super Bowl was also held there and I can understand why it was chosen. Unfortunately, the NFL would never allow a non-modern venue to host the spectacle ever again. If they did, the Rose Bowl would most likely get it in the LA area, anyway. It doesn’t matter; seeing a USC game is right near the top of my Sports Bucket List.
#4: Wrigley Field
Wrigley makes the cut because of its history. There are so many cool things about this park. Obviously, it’s almost 100 years old. Ivy grows on the outfield fence and is in play. There is an enormous manual scoreboard towering over the outfield bleachers. Fans throw home run balls back. Nothing beats the singing of the seventh-inning stretch there. The buildings around the park built bleachers on their roof that are inhabited by arguably the craziest of the fans. Actually, the whole atmosphere in that neighborhood is renowned for being so baseball-centric.
Cubs fans are a tough breed and they have to be if they continually cheer for their team despite all of the failure and unmatched expectations for the last century. I’m sure I would hear plenty of great stories from fans when I am there for a visit. I also give Wrigley a high grade simply because it keeps alive the look of where the game was played with the traditional bleachers and the no-frills second deck around the main part of the seating.
#3: Hinkle Fieldhouse
-Simply the best college basketball venue in existence. It looks like an enormous factory. Located in the heart of basketball country in Indiana, this is the one place I would choose to go to if I could play out my dream basketball scenario.
Hinkle was also the site of the historic Milan team’s championship win that inspired the movie Hoosiers. In fact, the movie actually filmed there. Add in that the Butler program just made back-to-back NCAA Tournament Championship games and the place oozes history.
If I ever get to set foot inside Hinkle, I imagine it will be as close as I can come to have a religious basketball experience. I am truly jealous of Butler basketball season ticket holders.
#2: Centre Court
-Breathtaking. Grass court tennis is such a dying breed, but the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club is both a glimpse into an elitist sport’s past and a gateway into the future.
Centre Court is home to two of tennis’ “best of’s”: The 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is regarded by most as the greatest match of all time (I agree), and “The Tiebreak” from the 1980 final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.
What makes this venue so special is that it has juggled getting caught up in new designs with retaining rare history. The main structure still exists just as it always has. But the AELTC has been wise to upgrade it along the way. Where standing room only crowds used to spill out from both ends of the court there are now permanent seats. Rain for most of the fortnight of Wimbledon? No problem, a new retractable roof was built a couple of years ago. Amidst the reluctant changes, there is still an aura that Wimbledon has. The all-white dress code and the certain high-class society that beckons back to the days of yesteryear are still blatantly present.
The Olympics will also be taking place in the facility in 2012 and the crowning of medalists on Centre Court adds yet another prestigious event to the venerable facility. This is a place so special to me that it is the only non-North American entry on this list. I will go there before I die
#1: Fenway Park
-There is nothing quite like going out to a baseball game on a warm summer evening. Fenway is my ultimate destination. I’ve had the privilege of walking down the street next to the stadium and perhaps that is what makes it such a tease. For such a unique building to be crammed within a city block is inspiring and allows one’s mind to drift back to the days when tickets were a dollar and games were always held during the day. The fact that this majestic structure has been allowed to survive for 100 years is a testament to just how much New Englanders love their team and its history.
Fenway means many things to many people, and what struck me the most about the Red Sox finally breaking their curse in 2004 was the fact that I heard so many accounts of people happy not for themselves but more so for dead relatives who had not been able to see a title. Baseball is a religion for them and it really is special.
As for the design, I can’t come up with a better and more interesting layout of any active ballpark. The right field foul pole is a scant 302 feet from the plate. The outfield has the deep triangle that allows so many triples. But nothing trumps the Green monster. It is so unique that players want to go to Boston just to aim for it. Outfielders dread playing the weird caroms it produces since, you know, it can’t be easily repaired and rid of the dents it has. Putting seats on top is just like putting the finishing touches on a masterpiece.
As I imagine myself journeying around the grandstand, I picture just being in awe of quirks such as the now obsolete obstructed view seats, and for that matter, the really old and rustic seats that are still around. Nothing will beat going to a game at Fenway. For that I am sure.