Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tips for Going to 2011 New England Patriots Training Camp

Call it a Punxsutawney Phil moment. A sure sign that a barren season is finally behind us and better days have arrived. As I was driving around my neighborhood yesterday, I saw a 70-year-old woman shuffling away from her mailbox. She was wearing a gray T-shirt with some lettering on the front and back. As I drove closer I saw that the front said "I Hate Peyton Manning." The back: "Eli Sucks Too".

The new football season is here! The new football season is here!

At times, it looked like the NFL lockout could jeopardize part or all of the season, but with the new deal now signed and sealed, the players are back on the gridiron. The New England Patriots will open their public training camp on Thursday, and fans will notice some changes this year due to the new agreement between the players and the owners:

Don't expect to see much hitting during the first few days of camp. Players have hopefully kept in shape during the off-season, but they will still take a little longer than normal to get back into the swing of things. The Patriots have announced that "initial practices will likely be scaled back a bit while the players continue to work toward playing shape." So if you're going to make one trip down to Foxborough, plan to do it towards the end of training camp.

Expect to see more walk-throughs and drills this year. One of the changes under the new agreement is that there are no more two-a-day sessions in full pads. The Patriots have usually held training camp sessions in both the morning and afternoon. Full-pad practices are usually more interesting to watch. Particularly on hot days, it might be a better bet to see padded practices in the morning sessions. (The Patriots have already announced that the first two days of camp will be unpadded.)

Training camp rosters are bigger. Under the new agreement, training camp rosters expand from 80 players to 90, so there's even more reason to get a roster sheet.

Here are some more tips for fans going to New England Patriots Training Camp:

Where: Patriots training camp is held on the practice fields next to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

Schedule: The tentative schedule calls for two-a-day practices for the opening days of training camp with practices from 9:30 to 11:30 AM and 3:30 to 5:30 PM on July 28 and July 29. The schedule is always tentative based on the desires of the coaching staff and oftentimes the weather. Practice times will be announced on the Patriots web site and you can double-check it by calling the team's hot line at 508-549-0001.

Parking: The practice is free to attend, and the parking is free as well. (Yes, I said it, "Free.") Parking is along the west side of the stadium, and it's a short walk over to the fields. From US 1, enter the parking lots at P8 from the south and P6 from the north. Lots open an hour before each practice.

Seating: There are bleachers along the side of one practice field on which to sit. Another popular spot is on the hillside that lies behind the end zones of the practice fields and in front of the stadium. Wherever you sit, you're pretty close to the action. If you have a camera with a good zoom lens, you should get some good shots.

Food and Drink: There are concession stands that sell food, drinks, and beer. (Note: The Patriots no longer serve beer at training camp. Apparently it wasn't worth the cost of hiring police to have it.) Be prepared to pay normal stadium prices for food and beverages, however, if you buy it there. Adjoining Patriot Place has plenty of restaurants and bars where you can get a meal, too. (For a good, cheap meal, I highly recommend Five Guys Burgers at Patriot Place.)

For the Kids: Along the west side of the stadium during Training Camp is the Patriots Experience, filled with interactive games that allow young fans to test their kicking, passing, and tackling skills on a variety of obstacle courses, football tosses, and other similar challenges. It's a popular draw for families. (All fans participating in Patriots Experience must sign a waiver form, available at training camp. It's usually online as well at the Patriots web site.) Note that the hours for the Patriots Experience are not the same as the practice schedule; so check the web site. (In general, the hours are usually 11-4.) Kids will also enjoy all the interactive exhibits at the Hall at Patriot Place. Even if you don't have kids, a visit to this museum dedicated to the Patriots franchise is an absolute must for Pats fans.

Scoring Autographs: The players enter and leave the field near the hillside, so it's a good spot to get autographs, and a designated group of players, which rotates from practice to practice, will often sign along the front row of the bleachers when practice is over.

With as many as 90 players on the field, plenty of new faces (particularly this year as the feeding frenzy on free agents begins), and uniforms without names on the back, it may be tough knowing who you are watching, so print out a roster from the Patriots web site before you go or pick up a complimentary roster from the Patriots Football Weekly tent.

For more tips on enhancing your experience at Patriots Training Camp--and for all the information you'd ever want to know about spectator sports around Boston--check out The Die-Hard Sports Fan's Guide to Boston.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Boston's 1976 World's Fair That Wasn't

Swimming in Boston Harbor in wintertime. Hiking tree-lined trails under a translucent dome. Renting electric cars for a spin around Thompson Island.

It definitely seems like something out of a sci-fi book, perhaps a vision of life in Boston in 2020. But rather than some futuristic view of the Boston Harbor Islands, this was a proposed plan for developing the islands in the 1970s. Believe it or not.

Plans were drawn up in the early 1970s to stage a huge international exposition in Boston in 1976 to celebrate the American bicentennial. The planners of Expo '76 projected that up to 60 million people would visit the 690-ace fairground, which, in addition to Thompson Island, would have been located on Columbia Point in Dorchester and a new harbor island created from a combination of landfill and floating platforms.

The plans called for construction of a 500-boat marina and a hotel on the southern end of Thompson Island as well as the conversion of the school facilities into a youth camp and demonstration farm. Visitors would have been able to rent bikes or electric cars to traverse the island.

The piece de resistance, however, was the proposal to build a huge, transparent dome, more than two football fields in diameter, that would have covered part of the islands' natural landscape of grassy knolls, woods, and winding trails. The dome would have been climate-controlled, allowing for boating, swimming, and picknicking year-round, even in the throes of a New England winter. For more, click here for a 1968 Boston Redevelopment Authority planning report on the fair. 

Luckily, these plans never came to fruition, and the landscape of Thompson Island has been preserved. As is often the case, it's everyday city residents who are partly to thank for the plan's demise.

This Thursday (July 28), the Friends of the Boston Harbor Islands are putting on a program at the Thayer Public Library in Braintree exploring the World's Fair that wasn't. The program will include a screening of a public service film made by Save Our Shores, a grassroots organization, as well as a panel discussion with some of the film's creators. There will be exhibits on display as well. Click here for more on the program.

The plans for the 1976 World's Fair were some of the most compelling items I came across in researching Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands. Always interesting to see an alternate history for how Boston could look today. Electric cars and swimming under a giant dome sounds pretty cool, but I'll take the walking trails and open skies of Thompson Island just how they are.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Get Your Civil War Trading Cards!

“I’ll trade ‘ya three Justin Dimick cards for your Robert E. Lee.”

You just might be hearing kids proposing this barter following the National Park Service’s release of its collection of Civil War Trading Cards. The 189 cards in the series feature prominent soldiers and politicians from the Civil War along with major historical events and landmarks. Just like on the backs of baseball cards, the Civil War versions include vital stats (e.g., birth dates) and fun facts. The cards are intended for youngsters to get them excited about Civil War history, and I love the idea. Of course, I’m a history buff and baseball card collector, so this is the best thing since Reese’s combined peanut butter and chocolate.

I first came across the trading cards last week on Georges Island at the Boston Harbor Islands national park area. Since it’s home to Fort Warren, which was used to house Confederate POWs and New England’s most historic Civil War landmark, the location was a natural. The cards at Fort Warren included Justin Dimick, the commander of the fort; Sgt. John Brown, the true namesake of the song “John Brown’s Body”; Alexander Stephens, the Confederate vice president imprisoned at the fort; and the Trent Affair. In the Boston area you can also find the cards at the Boston African-American National Historic Site, Boston National Historical Park, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, and Lowell National Historical Park. The cards are free, and kids who are collecting them can get a free backpack to hold their cards.

In total, the cards are available at 22 different locations across the country. If you can’t get to every site, well, do what trading card collectors always seem to do, head to eBay. (Yes, the Civil War cards have already started to pop up on eBay. Let the bidding commence!) OK, so I’m sure the 2011 Benjamin Butler card won’t rival the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card or the T206 Honus Wagner, but kids, make sure you don’t stick the cards in your bicycle spokes and watch out that your mom doesn’t throw away your shoebox of Civil War trading cards. You never know what they might be worth someday.