Happy to have you back

(Pro Hockey Talk)

(Pro Hockey Talk)

I was awake at 2:30 a.m. Pacific time Sunday morning when my nightmare ended. I found out it had ended by checking Twitter, as one by one, all the hockey writers I follow sent out the news: The NHL lockout was about to end, that a “tentative deal” for a collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NHL Players’ Association had been agreed upon.

In retrospect, I think I couldn’t sleep because I was that excited about it. I had followed the news of the talks throughout Saturday, while I was out and about, and even more once I had returned home. A mediator had succeeded in convincing the two sides to meet again. The talks had gained traction. They were going deep into the night with no signs of slowing down. I tried to sleep at midnight, hoping I would wake up to good news the next morning, but I never fell asleep. Instead, I’d spend 20 minutes tossing and turning, then I’d pull out my iPad and check my Twitter timeline again to see if any progress had been made.

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Bigger things lie ahead

(Getty Images/cntraveler.com)

(Getty Images/cntraveler.com)

As we await the arrival of 2013, it again feels like a good time to look forward for The Itinerant Fan, which got its start three years ago today. I’m thankful for my cohorts, Mrs. Fan, J-Park and everyone else who has contributed to this blog whether by writing, reading, commenting or just sharing their sports travel stories, for making this blog an enjoyable experience to run (even if I don’t keep it populated nearly as much as I would like to).

That said, I’m confident in saying there’s lots more in store over the next year. I’m already plotting out which games and stadiums I’m hoping to see (hint: I’m feeling we’re lacking in the NFL and NBA departments, so we’re going to get to work on rectifying that), and if you’re reading this I hope you’re actively planning your own excursions for the next year as well. But more than that, I can tell you that you’ll see some big changes to this site very soon — hopefully changes for the better, as we’re working to make it more interactive and helpful toward our stated mission of inspiring you to plan your own sports travel itineraries. That’s about all I can say at this point, because we’re still hard at work, but I’m looking forward to revealing what the future holds for The Itinerant Fan.

In the meantime, here’s to a happy 2013!

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Itinerary: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

I’d imagine that even if you’re the most jetsetting of sports fans, you still have a home base. That is, a stadium you know inside and out — you know every little secret, such as the quickest route from your seat to the beer line, or the bathroom that consistently has the shortest lines. Chances are you’ve learned all of these things through experience that only comes with dozens, if not hundreds, of visits over many, many years. And it’s the stadium by which you judge every other venue you visit.

For me, that special place is the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, known these days solely as the home of University of Southern California football but at one time also home to UCLA (until the Bruins decided to play at the Rose Bowl instead) the Raiders (before Al Davis was lured back home to Oakland), Rams (before Georgia Frontiere was lured to Orange County, and then to St. Louis), Dodgers (while Walter O’Malley’s playground in the ravine was being built), Express (if you’ve never heard of them, ask Steve Young) and TWO Olympic opening and closing ceremonies (the only stadium able to make that distinction). My first visit to the grand old lady came in 1994, when I was in high school and still unaware that my college education would take place at USC — myself and a friend who would eventually attend USC as well ventured out to the USC-Notre Dame clash that year. A few things I remember about it: We spent more than an hour looking for cheap parking before finally giving in and paying 20 bucks (which back then was probably like shelling out $50 today) to stash our car adjacent to the rose garden just north of the stadium; our seats were really high up, giving me my first taste of of what really bad seats at a football game were like; it turned out to be the coldest day in Southern California in something like 50 years, and we were miserable pretty much as soon as the sun went down; and the game ended in a tie. (Two years later, college football began using the overtime system we all know and love today. I’m convinced the timing wasn’t a coincidence.)

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Now they’ve gone and done it

A pub near the home arena of the NHL Vancouver Canucks posts a sign in regarding the current league and players dispute in VancouverIt’s not much of a secret among those who know me that this NHL lockout upsets me. Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t blindsided by it. I knew this was a possibility for years. Still, though, it hurts to be without hockey, especially when last season was so kind to me and this season promised to be even better, at least from a sports travel standpoint.

Mrs. Fan and I had an epic sports itinerary planned for December that revolved a lot around seeing the NHL in Canada. We’re still taking the trip, but I have to admit it’s going to be a lot less fun without hockey to see.

Our predicament highlights one of the primary perils of sports travel, particularly for those of us with fixed budgets and limited amounts of time to spend. With vacation time already requested, flights already booked and friends in the area already expecting us, it simply is not practical to us to change around our travel plans simply because there won’t be hockey. It certainly won’t be a wasted trip — there’s still the NFL, and we’ve got plenty of other non-sports-related plans on the docket, but, well, we wanted to see hockey.

Plans can fall through in other ways — the baseball game you wanted to see could be rained out, and any number of other circumstances could get in the way. There’s something more hollow about missing the games you wanted to see because rich guys are fighting with other rich guys about money, that’s for sure.

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Itinerary: University of Phoenix Stadium

Confession: I live in a city that doesn’t have NFL football. That may change at some point in my lifetime, but for now, if I want to see an NFL game live, I have to go somewhere else. And that’s OK, because as nice as it would be to have games in my backyard, it’s also nice to pack up and get out of town for the sake of catching a game (not that I’ve ever expressed such a sentiment on this blog before).

The team I get behind also happens to be the closest one to where I live, their home stadium a two-hour drive away. Not too bad. But say your team plays all the way across the country — that means you have precious few chances to see them live, and if the schedule calls for them to come within shouting distance, you mobilize. Take the plight of good buddy J-Park, who’s so fervent a Philadelphia Eagles fan it’s scary sometimes, but has to get his fix from all the way out in SoCal. The 2012 schedule called for them to play a game in Arizona against the Cardinals, and when I suggested about a month prior that we head out to Phoenix for the game, his response was an enthusiastic (to say the least) “OK.”

A few weekends later, we were driving through the desert on a Saturday night, all in the name of watching football. Gotta love it when a trip comes together. I didn’t care about the two teams involved, but I had always wanted to step inside that big ol’ spaceship in the desert. As usual, Mrs. Fan came along for the ride, and once we were in Phoenix we were joined by J-Park’s friend and longtime partner in Eagles fandom, Draft Guru, who flew in from Northern California on Sunday morning for the game (and flew back on Sunday night — now that’s dedication).

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Itinerary: U.S. Open tennis, New York

One of the things I love most about traveling is the possibility of your travels coinciding with something you weren’t expecting. Yes, I structure most, if not all, of my trips around watching the “big four” North American sports, but sometimes you wind up with the opportunity to go see something that wasn’t part of the original plan — to go off the beaten path and discover something that you didn’t care for much before but, with the chance to experience it, you start to warm up to. That was how Mrs. Fan and I, having traveled to New York with the intention of watching football and more football, wound up spending a day with the tennisheads at the U.S. Open earlier this month.

(Before I go any further, I feel I need to get this confession out of the way: I’m not much of a tennis fan. Really, I’m not much of a fan of individual sports. I think the reason why is that it’s hard for me to get behind individuals because it means you have to like their personality and/or their background in order to support them, whereas when you support a team it typically doesn’t matter who’s playing for it and whether you like the players personally or not. At least that’s my experience. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the sport — I just don’t follow it as fervently as I do the major team sports. The reason I bring this up is that if you’re a tennis diehard, you’ll probably spot some naïveté in my observations, and I freely admit that there are things I saw during this visit that were weird to me but probably normal to others. But that’s why we go out and do new things, for the feeling of discovery, right?)

Because the U.S. Open is in New York and thus very accessible, it’s very easy to “stumble upon.” And now that I’ve done so, I sure wish I had done it sooner. I’ve been in New York multiple times while the U.S. Open was in progress, and not once did I decide to drop in on a whim. But this year, the logistics of our trip left us with a free Friday afternoon, so about a week beforehand we made the commitment to go (meaning, we bought tickets). And if I I get the chance again, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

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Itinerary: MetLife Stadium, E. Rutherford

As satisfying as it is to knock another stadium off my list, it’s even better when you get the opportunity to visit a stadium twice, and better still when those two opportunities come on consecutive days. If it’s a football stadium, it’s certainly a rare opportunity, but a busy place like MetLife Stadium can offer such chances. It hosted an unusual doubleheader in early September, with Syracuse “hosting” USC in a college game on a Saturday and the Jets opening the NFL season against the Bills the following afternoon. And I was there for both games, going with Mrs. Fan and MongerTron to see the alma mater, and sticking around to catch some NFL action while we were at it.

And if time spent together is any indicator, well, me and MetLife Stadium are pretty cool buds now. Over the course of two games, many dollars spent and one semi-harrowing hourlong thunder delay, I feel like I got to know the new place pretty well. And there’s a lot of MetLife to know, from its many, many concession stands to its many, many urinals. It’s big enough that two games and probably about nine hours spent within over two days wasn’t enough to get a glimpse at everything I wanted (I’m upset I didn’t get a picture of the statue of Lucy from “Peanuts” pulling the football away, which is stationed just inside one of the main gates), but it was still plenty of time to feel like I’m well acquainted.

For purposes of making this a usable guide, I’m basing most of the following on the Sunday Jets game, since I figure that’s what most people who are reading this will want to know about. But since Syracuse apparently plans to host games at MetLife for some time, I think adding a few relevant details about the Saturday experience won’t harm anything.

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Let’s make a weekend out of it

Here at The Itinerant Fan, we love going to sporting events (well, duh!). But what we love more than that is going somewhere and getting to see multiple sporting events over the course of a few days, otherwise known as the classic sports weekend. Part of it is about maximizing the enjoyment level of a particular trip, and part of it — for me, admittedly — is about getting to events and venues so that I can add them to “the list.”

For the first time in two years, I’ve got a legitimate sports weekend ahead of me. This weekend I’ll be in New York/New Jersey, and you can find me at the Meadowlands on Saturday and Sunday; first up is the USC-Syracuse game at MetLife Stadium, and then I’ll be opening up the NFL season with the New York Jets when they take on Buffalo. (Mrs. Fan and MongerTron will be my partners in event attendance for both games.) No, I didn’t take a couple extra days off to make it a Meadowlands trifecta and see the Giants-Cowboys season opener today — though, yeah, I briefly thought about how cool that would be. But I will be in town on Friday, and though I’m not much of a tennis fan, I saw that the U.S. Open would still be going on, and added that to the weekend agenda. (The Mets are at home Friday night, but I’m taking a pass on that. Besides, I took in a game at Citi Field last year. It’s the new Yankee Stadium that I need to get into sometime.)

Still, three sporting events in three days? Yeah, I can’t wait. See you soon, New York.

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What it’s like when you’re new to the club

The view from my season ticket section at Staples Center.

The computer-generated view from my season ticket section at Staples Center.

When I was a pre-teen growing up about half an hour outside Los Angeles, I dreamt that one day I would have L.A. Kings season tickets. Now, you might think that’s not really an ambitious goal to have for adulthood, and you’d be right, but I would explain it this way: Most kids dream of getting to a point in life where they have enough money to buy something luxurious and unnecessary and indicative of the fact they have enough money to buy something luxurious and unnecessary. For most kids that’s a Porsche or a yacht or a mansion; for me it was L.A. Kings season tickets.

Well, this March, I decided once and for all to check that off my list, largely on the insistence of Mrs. Fan. I was somewhat reluctant, knowing my job and other things would limit the number of games we’d be able to go to, but she countered by saying we go to enough games, so we might as well have the same seats for each one. Not that she needed to present much of an argument to convince me. Before a game in late March, we walked up to the team’s season-ticket reps at Staples Center and chatted him up; three days later, we called and committed to a half-season plan for 2012-13. (If you follow hockey at all, you know as well as I do how lucky we were to have made the decision before this year’s playoffs began.)

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Itinerary: Petco Park, San Diego

Petco Park exterior

By any measure you can think of, San Diego is a big city. But sometimes when you’re a visitor, it’s hard to think of it as one because the weather is always so perfect and the scenery is always so beautiful, so you start thinking that all the residents do all day is frolic along the beach, sit at outdoor cafes and eat fine food or something else that can only be described as leisurely. (Well, that’s not entirely true, but it’s probably true that San Diego residents get called “lucky” by outsiders as much as residents of any other city in America. They don’t call it “America’s Finest City” for nothing.)

Go to a ballgame in San Diego, and this vibe is most certainly present. Petco Park sits on the edge of downtown, and if you’re looking past the outfield you can see planes go by periodically (it’s amazing, when you think about it, how close the airport is to downtown in San Diego, and as a result how close planes on final approach get to downtown. And if it looks close on the ground, try looking out the left side of the plane if you ever fly into San Diego. It’s a little disconcerting). But the closest things to Petco Park are several hotels (one is actually attached to the park via pedestrian bridge), the massive San Diego Convention Center, home of freaks like this, and the very cool Gaslamp Quarter. So everything about attending a Padres game screams “leisure,” which worked just fine for Mrs. Fan and me one July Sunday afternoon when we chose to see the Padres and Rockies clash under the San Diego sun.

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