Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Northeast Boating Book Review

There's a great review of Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands in the November 2008 edition of Northeast Boating Magazine. Check it out. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Witchcraft Sites in Danvers

Halloween's right around the corner, and while Salem gets all the headlines--and the tourists--because of it's association with the witch trials of 1692, the whole hysteria actually began in Salem Village (which today is Danvers). So if you want to escape the crowds, and find some authentic witchcraft-era historical sites, head to Danvers. Check out the article I wrote for yesterday's travel section of The Boston Globe for more information.

On another note related to the Globe, I'm going to be a regular contributor to the Globe's travel blog, Globe-trotting. Most of my posts are going to be on sports travel, and my first post is about the tours of Yankee Stadium that are still being offered even though the pinstripers' season has been done for quite some time. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Suffolk Downs

Given the state of the economy, one of the safest investment choices might be to put your hard-earned money into the ponies. If you want to take your chances at the racetrack and put a few sawbucks down on the horses, head to Suffolk Downs. And even if you're not a gambler, Boston sports fans will be hard-pressed to beat the $2 admission price for a day at the races.
Suffolk Downs first opened its doors in 1935, right in the midst of the Great Depression. Horse racing was hugely popular back then, but these days the track is more sparsely populated. (Although if attendance trends at the track are inversely related to the Dow Jones average, get ready for an equine renaissance.) Horse racing may still be the sport of kings, but the crowd at Suffolk Downs is decidedly proletariat. The dress code is certainly not on par with Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs; you'll find more windbreakers than fancy hats. 

If you do want to bet on the races, buy a track program to get all the information you need (split times, prior results, handicapper picks, etc.) to make an educated bet or, just go ahead and bet on that horse with the name you like and use the program as a prop to slap on your thigh as you urge on your steed as he lumbers down the stretch to a last-place finish. You can also tear out a list of entries and starting odds from the morning paper and bring it with you if you don't want to spring for the program. (Bring a pair of binoculars to so you can watch the horses on the back stretch.)

You can place your bets at any of the betting windows or you can use one of the self-service betting machines. Under state law, there are no ATMs inside Suffolk Downs, so it's kind of a change to be able to put your money into a machine but not be able to take any money out of one.  

Inside the grandstand of Suffolk Downs, banners with racing silks of famous horses hang like retired numbers from the rafters. It's a neat historical touch, and outside of the clubhouse entrance is a small monument to Seabiscuit, that famous racer from the 1930s who was discovered by trainer Tom Smith at Suffolk Downs in 1936. Next to the monument is a statue of Seabiscuit's jockey Red Pollard that looks like one of those old lawn jockeys. 
Suffolk Downs has an enclosed, indoor grandstand and plenty of benches and picnic tables outside as well. If you have kids, there is a small playground outside (which remarkably doesn't have any toy ponies to ride) that is well away from the standing area where many of the cigar- and cigarette-smoking patrons come out to watch the races. If you're hungry, there are concession stands on the first floor, and there is a sports bar on the second floor along with the Terrace restaurant, which has seats that sort of look like the Green Monster seats with their tiers of rows looking out on the track. The Terrace serves entrees, sandwiches, burgers. 

Suffolk Downs has simulcast racing so you can bet on the action on other tracks throughout the country. There is a teletheater on the second floor that has a bank of big-screen televisions and there are small televisions at each seat. Most seats are filled with an older men, their rumpled hats, crumpled newspapers, and worn racing forms spread on the tabletops around their elbows. 

The 2008 racing season is heading down the stretch and concludes November 8. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Head of the Charles Spectator Tips

This weekend is one of the best on the Boston sporting calendar. The 45th Head of the Charles Regatta is this Saturday and Sunday, and the weather is supposed to be sunny, if not a little crisp, but that will make it feel like the great fall tradition that it is. More than 8,000 rowers will be competing in the world's largest two-day regatta. So if you're putting on your fleece and heading on out, here are a few tips:

Parking is much easier on Sunday than Saturday. If you're driving in, free parking is much easier to find on Sunday since you'll be allowed to park on the side streets in Cambridge without a permit. The streets around Harvard Square are good areas to park. Be aware that the parking lots along Soldiers Field Road are closed to the public and that Harvard football is playing on Saturday so parking on the first day of the regatta will be at even more of a premium. If you can take the T, do so. You can walk to the river from the Central and Harvard stops on the Red Line and the BU Central stop on the Green Line's B Branch. 

Bring a draw and schedule with you. There are 57 different race events, some with as many as 69 competitors, so it's tough to keep track of who's who. Each boat has a number on its bow, so if you have the draw with you, you'll be able to identify competitors and teams. There is a draw on the Head of the Charles web site, but you'll have to print reams of paper. Better option is to get a copy of the Friday Boston Globe. It has the complete schedule and list of competitors, which you can easily tear out, fold up, and take with you. 

Watch the clock. Rowers start at 15-second intervals near the BU Boathouse, so they compete against the clock and not each other. You won't be able to follow a race from start to finish or even get a good sense of who is winning at any given point in time. One clue of how the boats are doing is, if you're watching down the course, if you see a bow with a higher number in front of one with a lower number. That means they are racing at least 15 seconds faster through that point on the course. You'll need to catch a glimpse of one of the race results board to see who has won a particular race. 

Take a shuttle. If you want to watch the action along the winding three-mile course from the starting line to the finish line, and don't want to walk, there is a shuttle bus that runs between 7 am and 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Print out this course map, which has the shuttle stops marked on it. 

Stake out a bridge. There are seven bridges that span the Charles River along the race course. They are great places from which to catch the action. If you get there early enough, you should be able to stake out a spot from on top of the bridge and see the competitors as they row underneath. I actually like seeing the action from the banks right next to the bridge. On occasion teams have trouble negotiating underneath the bridges, particularly if more than one team at once is going through. You will see the occasional crash, and there are times where some boats have taken on water and gone underneath. If you're up on the bridge, you won't have a view of the commotion. The Eliot Bridge is my favorite spot from which to watch. You'll see the competitors having to negotiate the hairpin turn and straighten out to get through the bridge. Plus, you can listen to the commentary being broadcast from the deck of the Cambridge Boat Club, which is the race headquarters. 

Need some food? There are concession stands located at the Cambridge Boat Club, the Rowing and Fitness Expo (which also sells workout and rowing gear) near the finish line, the north bank of the Charles right outside of Harvard Square near the Weld Boathouse, and at Magazine Beach near the launch. Think fair food: lots of kettle corn, hot chocolate, chowder, hot cider, burgers, hot dogs, fried dough. There's also food and drink at the Reunion Village (see below). Sometimes the exhibitors near the Weld Boathouse will be giving out free samples of food and drink products; you might be able to get all the Kashi and Monster Energy drinks you'll ever want to have. Check the map for concession locations. 

Reunited and it feels so good. Many colleges and prep schools, mostly ones with teams racing in the regatta, have alumni reunion events at the Regatta. Most of these schools have tents set up inside the Reunion Village, which is on the south bank of the Charles near Harvard Square, between the Weeks and Anderson bridges. Even if you're not an alumni member, the Reunion Village is open to everyone for a $1 admission. Breakfast and lunch are served in the dining tent, and the Reunion Village is the only place along the route where you can legally get a beer or other alcohol. Click here for a list of schools participating in the village. 

Bring your camera. If you're a shutterbug, you'll get some great action shots, particularly around Harvard where you can get the rowers in front of the campus' traditional brick buildings. There should be a splash of color among the trees, as well. 

Bring a blanket or chair. There are plenty of spots along the banks of the Charles to watch the action, but bring a blanket or lawn chair and you'll be a lot more comfortable. 

Have fun!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Hall at Patriot Place Article in The Boston Globe

Yesterday's travel section of The Boston Globe included an article I wrote about the Patriot Place retail and entertainment complex that has sprung up around Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. The article focuses on The Hall at Patriot Place, the new museum dedicated to the New England Patriots and the development of football in New England. Even if you're a fan of another NFL team, the museum and exhibits are fantastic. Click here to read the article

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Braves Field

If you wander around Nickerson Field on the campus of Boston University, you'll come upon a plaque in the middle of a courtyard. The plaque will tell you that the spot on which you were standing was once part of Braves Field, the home field for the Boston Braves, who would later move to Milwaukee before settling in Atlanta.  

The home of the Braves was the largest baseball stadium in the country when it opened, and the Red Sox actually played their home games in the 1915 and 1916 World Series at Braves Field because the stadium had a larger crowd capacity than Fenway Park. (The Red Sox also played Sunday games at Braves Field between 1929 and 1932 as the blue laws prevented them from using Fenway Park because of its proximity to a church.) Babe Ruth spun a 14-inning gem at Braves Field during the 1916 World Series in a Game 2 victory for the Red Sox, and Ruth would return to the stadium in 1935 for a handful of games as a member of the Braves before retiring.

Unfortunately for the Braves and their fans, they would play in one fewer World Series in their home ballpark than the Red Sox did before they suddenly slinked out of town and moved to Milwaukee on March 13, 1953, right before the start of a new season. The high point for the Braves during their tenure in Allston was in 1948 when they captured the National League pennant before falling to Cleveland in the World Series.

Today, the site of Braves Field has been converted into Boston University’s Nickerson Field, but some vestiges remain. The right-field bleachers were incorporated into the grandstand of Nickerson Field. The stucco ticket office down the right-field line is now a child-care center and campus security office located on Harry Agganis Way off of Commonwealth Avenue. A portion of the exterior right-field wall still stands along Harry Agganis Way.

The Boston Braves Historical Association, a band of die-hard fans, keeps the memories of the defunct franchise alive today. They conduct periodic tours of Braves Field and have an annual dinner and reunion, which often includes a former Boston Braves player. Their 2008 dinner/reunion is taking place at 1 PM this Sunday, October 12, at the Holiday Inn in Brookline (1200 Beacon Street). There is a tour of Braves Field beforehand. Click here for more information. If you can't make it, check out this new book: Spahn, Sain and Teddy Ballgame: Boston's (almost) Perfect Baseball Summer of 1948. It's filled with essays about both the Braves and the Red Sox, which were both in the pennant race throughout 1948.