Friday, September 30, 2011

USA & Canada September 2011

A ten day trip to the USA and Canada to see three football matches, one NFL game in Miami and five baseball games.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers 1 Atlanta Silverbacks 1.

The last home game for the Strikers in the regular season.

On a warm but breezy Florida evening a decent crowd, given as 4,688, assembled at the Lockhart stadium to see the Strikers confirm their place in the NASL (2nd level) play-offs.

The Silverbacks had long since given up any hope of making them being rock bottom for a while.

Although they did look in better shape than when I watched them back in June.
Particularly Nicholas Colaluca who scored their goal with a great run and shot in off the post.

That was in the last minute and it gave the Silverbacks the lead but straight afterwards sub. Garrado crossed for Shriver to slide in the equaliser.

Before all that the Strikers had passed the ball better and created chances - all missed.
In the second half it had been a more even contest culminating in the action in the last few minutes.

The attendance was boosted by a large number of kids who also spent time in the fan park across the road from the ground.

The stadium itself, also home to the old version of the Strikers, comprises lots of open seating of a semi-permanent style.
For this game only one side and one end was open for the fans.

Miami Dolphins 13 Houston Texans 23.

My first ever live NFL game, at the Sun Life stadium in Miami.

I sat next to Bill - I knew his name because the lady who I bought the ticket off (outside the stadium - $50 for a $87 ticket) had told me I would sitting next to him.
Bill helped with some of the nuances and I felt able to appreciate the importance of ‘defense’.

As it turned out the Texans were better at that, and also in attack.

But for a while the home team, under pressure having lost their first game, kept the score fairly close.
They were helped by over 100yds rushing by Daniel Thomas (you could see why these running backs only last about 5 years in the sport)

Then in the final quarter the Texans ran down the clock and easily held on for the win.

By then most of the crowd had left - to negotiate their way past the hundreds of tailgaters.

Overall the experience was certainly noisier than a typical baseball game, with a far larger crowd (51,000) and more razzmatazz.

However the sport itself doesn’t flow as well due to the frequent stoppages.
And sometimes its not easy to see the play partly due to the mass of forwards and also due to the large numbers of people along the sidelines.

Though I might plan to see a few more games it didn’t make me want to watch much live NFL.
Although the college games, also given plenty of prominence on TV, probably offer a better experience, atmosphere and larger crowds.

I’d managed to find somewhere to park outside of the expensive regulated places and fortunately my car hadn’t been towed away when I returned over 3 hours later.
I then found my way back up the I-95 to Fort Lauderdale for some fish & chips plus a frozen margarita in Champps.

In a parallel universe you could see yourself enjoying a Fort Lauderdale lifestyle... the yachts, the
surroundings and the sunshine.

The weather, despite the usual slight possibility of thunderstorms had stayed warm and dry.

Florida Marlins 6 Atlanta Braves 5.

Back to the Sun Life for some baseball and there was quite a transformation as the stadium was
orientated for another sport and there is far less people around.

The official attendance of over 20,000 meant there must been about 10,000 hiding somewhere nearby.

The good news for the fans is that the Marlins will have a new state-of-the-art baseball specific stadium ready for next season.
And it will have a retractable roof - which would have been handy on this evening when the rain started to fall later in the game.
However they played on, perhaps this being Florida they knew it wouldn’t last long (it didn’t)

Though there weren’t many fans to see the actual game it had a dramatic conclusion and
a good number of home runs including two by Stanton of the Marlins.

The Braves had overtaken the Marlins lead when scoring 4 runs in the seventh and it looked like they would prevail.

But with two men out in the bottom of the ninth the home side were about to lose when a Braves fielder failed to hold a drive allowing a runner to get to first base.

Then Omar Infante smashed a two run walk-off homer for the 6-5 win.

The result dented the Braves chances of making a Wild Card spot despite being very well positioned.

At least this time there was not much traffic to negotiate as I drove back to my hotel near to Miami airport.

From Miami via Charlotte to Toronto.

Toronto 1 Tauro (Panama) 0.

Just one goal - a brave header from Dutch striker Danny Koevermans - decided the outcome of this Concacaf Champions League group game.

Toronto had Torsten Frings as sweeper and they edged the first half although the smaller visitors showed better passing skills in the second period, without creating too much.

The BMO field is part of the Toronto exhibition complex and the stadium, open medium sized seating, offers excellent views of the city skyline.

The home ultras amongst the 10,000 mainly congregated at the right hand end whilst there was a handful of away fans including a bull mascot.

I took the streetcar back to my hotel in the Spadina area.

Toronto Blue Jays 2 LA Angels 7.

Back to baseball and a visit to the Toronto Skydome (or Rogers Centre)

The roof was closed to keep out the rain from the 15,000 fans inside.
By chance I sat in the non-drinking section (preferable to the all-you-can-eat area) up on the cheaper 5th level.

The Angels went ahead and added runs at regular intervals with only a single HR and a late run as replies.
The visiting pitcher, Haren, threw for 8 innings before getting hit by a drive.
He had done enough to secure the win.

Subway back to my hotel via 7-Eleven for some beer and nuts.

I would definitely look back on Toronto as a place to re-visit with its vibrant city centre, vast range of restaurants and impressive Royal Ontario Museum, in which I spent about 3 hours prior to the ballgame.

Cleveland Indians 11 Chicago White Sox 2.

Not too far away across the Great Lakes is Cleveland.

Where in the afternoon I visited the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Like many people I was dismayed that some of my musical favourites (e.g Capt Beefheart and Arthur Lee of Love) hadn’t made it onto the list of inductees.
But you can’t deny the experience provoked spine tingling memories of music from the last 50 years for this visitor.

Meanwhile in the evening I watched the ‘Tribe’ hit two quick home runs only to be pegged back by the White Sox in the fifth.
But after that they dominated with Cabrera scoring a three-run homer and Travis Hafner making his 1,000 hit.

The Indians inner-city stadium is in the newer style with dark green seats and great views of downtown Cleveland. Nearby is the Browns NFL stadium.

Pittsburgh Pirates 4 Cincinnati Reds 3.

I took the Greyhound to Pittsburgh passing through some fairly depressed areas (e.g Youngstown) during the three and a half hour journey.

This time it proved difficult to get a reasonably priced downtown hotel so I ended up at the airport and commuted to the ballgame from there.
At least they have an impressive dedicated bus lane for most of the route.

Despite a morning of persistent rain the weather relented for an enjoyable evening of baseball in the PNC Park, another centrally located stadium.

Prior to the game I indulged in scallops wrapped in bacon washed down with a couple of pints in a bar near the ground.

In the game the Pirates went ahead but the Reds (who had a decent number of fans) fought back and it stayed close.

The drama came in the ninth when, with the bases loaded the Pirates pitcher hit the batter and the Reds got the tieing run.

But with the tension being cranked up by the playing of Keira Knightley’s speech from one of the ‘Pirates’ films the fans waved their (free) t-shirts and raised the black Pirate flags.

And as it should be in American sport pinch hitter Ryan Ludwick hit the walk-off single and we had the textbook rousing finish.

Via Charlotte to Tampa.

Tampa Bay 2 Fort Lauderdale Strikers 0.

The last match in the regular NASL season for these two teams.

It was mostly a case of positioning for the play-offs (6 of the 8 teams made it so getting through was hardly too onerous) and some Florida pride.

Tampa Bay FC play at the Al Lang stadium (or Progress Energy Park), a small baseball stadium in St Petersburg.
Don’t expect a great view as the only stand is wrapped around one end and part of a side.

The crowd was typically well filled with kids and a small group of ‘ultras’ from either side.

They saw the home side take charge following the sending off Puerto Rican Arrieta after an over-the-top tackle.
Two second half goals sealed the victory.

Fort Lauderdale at times showed good passing but they were generally second best.

Tampa Bay Rays 5 Toronto Blue Jays 2.

Also in St Petersburg Tropicana Field (another enclosed dome) hosted the Rays in their quest to qualify for a Wild Card place in the American League.

The Rays had at one time been nine games behind Boston in that race but now they were closing in on an unlikely qualification.

And it was a great start for the home side with two quick home runs including one inside the ballpark after a Jays fielder collided with the backboards.

Although the visitors got two runs back Tampa went further in front with another homer and as Boston were losing the home fans had plenty to celebrate.

And it subsequently transpired that Tampa would make it to the Wild Card place with a late win against the Yankees (after being 7-0 down), as the Rod Sox went down to the Orioles on the night of the 162nd games.

Afterwards I headed back to my hotel, had a couple of beers and some food in a Hooters-like restaurant whilst watching some NFL, before having a welcome early night.

more pictures at

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