Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Joe DiMaggio: A 100th Birthday Appreciation


November 25, 1914, 100 years ago today: Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio Jr. is born in Martinez, California. With his name anglicized to Joseph Paul DiMaggio, he grew up in nearby San Francisco.

From 1936 to 1951 -- except from 1943 to 1945, when he was in the U.S. Army Air Force, serving in World War II -- he played center field for the New York Yankees. In his 13 seasons, he made the All-Star Game every year, won 10 Pennants and 9 World Championships. His older brother Vince and his younger brother Dom were also All-Star major league outfielders.

Since his death on March 8, 1999, Joe's reputation has taken a beating, for his rudeness, for his cheapness, for his treatment of his wives (actresses Dorothy Arnold and, later, Marilyn Monroe), for his apparent association with organized crime figures, and for his ego, insisting upon being introduced as what a 1969 poll chose him as: "Baseball's Greatest Living Player."

But for an entire generation of fans, the ones who grew up in the Great Depression of the 1930s (and thus did not see Babe Ruth, or see Lou Gehrig at his best), and went off to World War II in the 1940s, he was The Guy.

"Joe DiMaggio played his last game in 1951. I was born in 1952. And my father, and every guy I ever met in my father's generation, said the same thing: 'Willie Mays? Great. Mickey Mantle? Hit the ball out of sight. You never saw DiMaggio, kid. You never saw the real thing.'"
-- Bob Costas

In 1967, Paul Simon, also a native New Yorker (born in Newark but grew up in Forest Hills, Queens) and similarly short, tried to address the turbulence of the times by thinking of someone who represented reliability, someone who could be counted on. He made his choice in the song "Mrs. Robinson":

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Woo woo woo.
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away.
Hey hey hey.
Hey hey hey.


My generation, the generation of the children of the one that produced Costas and Simon, knew DiMaggio as an old Yankee coming out of the dugout on Old-Timers' Day in a navy blue suit (or, if you're a little older, maybe an updated version of his old Number 5 Yankee uniform), or as the commercial spokesman for Mr. Coffee coffeemakers and The Bowery Savings Bank of New York. (Subsequent buyouts have The Bowery's assets under the ownership of Capital One Bank. I'm not sure whether Joe would have liked those ads with the Vikings -- or are they Visigoths? or Huns? -- but my mother says she can definitely see Joe asking the Capital One tagline: "What's in YOUR wallet?")

And yet, in 1999, right after his death, The Sporting News ignored the fact that Joe played only 13 seasons (missing 3 due to The War and maybe 3 more due to an early retirement due to injury), and selected him at Number 11 on their list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players -- not first among the then-living, trailing Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Mays, who was Number 2 overall behind Babe Ruth.

And, in fan balloting done by MasterCard, baseball fans of all generations -- including those who, like me, had never seen him play, this nearly half a century after his last game -- voted him to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. He finished 5th among outfielders, behind Ruth, Aaron, Williams and Mays, and right ahead of Mantle, generally considered the most popular (if not necessarily the greatest) of the following era.

This is a repeat of a piece I did on the 75th Anniversary of his major league debut, on May 3, 1936, at the original Yankee Stadium. He started the season late due to injury. The Yankees beat the St. Louis Browns 14-5, and Joe went 3-for-6. Only 25,000 fans came out, despite Joe having already been about as hyped as a rookie could be in those radio and newsreel, pre-TV, pre-ESPN, pre-Internet days. If they only knew.

Top 10 Joe DiMaggio Moments

Honorable Mention. Date unknown, 1943, 1944 or 1945, and the story may be apocryphal, so I can't count it in the Top 10, but I do have to mention it. Joe served in the Army Air Force (forerunner of the U.S. Air Force) during World War II, although not in combat. He also played for a USAAF baseball team, and supposedly it played a Marine Corps team that featured Chicago White Sox pitcher Ted Lyons, a fellow future Hall-of-Famer. Seeing Joe, Lyons allegedly said, "I enlisted to get away from DiMaggio, and now here he is!" As I said, the story may be apocryphal, and, as a result, I have no record of what happened when they faced each other in this wartime game.

10. January 14, 1954. Joe marries Marilyn. It didn't last the year. But when the most popular living athlete married one of the biggest (and still very much rising) actresses in the world, it sent the popularity, and indeed the legacy, of each soaring. Even though Joe's entire career was done before they met, and Marilyn's best work probably came after they divorced, it is now hard to think of either without the subject of the other coming up.

And unlike a lot of people who knew Marilyn (or say they knew her well), Joe never cashed in on her reputation. His own, sure: He made more money in a year on the memorabilia circuit than in his entire career (though he was the 2nd ballplayer, after Hank Greenberg, to get paid $100,000 a season). But if someone gave him a picture of Marilyn to sign, even if he was also in the picture, he would refuse, maybe even get up and leave. Right after Joe died, comedian Bill Maher, who normally enjoys lasciviousness, said he wanted salute Joe, "for living to be 84 years old, and never writing a book about banging Marilyn Monroe."

9. October 8, 1939. Game 4 of the World Series. The Yankees were readying a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds. In the top of the 10th inning, Joe got a hit, and Reds outfielder Ival Goodman bobbled the ball. Charlie Keller came around to score, and he crashed into the Reds' future Hall of Fame catcher, Ernie Lombardi. Lombardi was stunned, and lost the ball for a few seconds. Seeing this, Bill Dickey, the on-deck hitter, yelled for Joe to try to come all the way around and score as well.

On the film -- which doesn't make the Keller-Lombardi collision look all that bad, but apparently Keller, not sliding, had kneed Lombardi in the groin -- Dickey can be seen gesturing for Joe to slide. Whatever he was yelling, it apparently "woke up" Lombardi, who finally grabbed the ball, and moved to tag Joe, who executed a perfect hook slide, throwing his entire body away from the plate, except his right foot, which just sort of brushed the plate. The run meant nothing, as Keller had already scored the go-ahead run. But it was still the best slide I've ever seen.

8. August 8, 1941. Following the streak, a song commemorating it, titled "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio" was written by Alan Courtney (words) and Ben Homer (music), and recorded on this date by Les Brown & His Band of Renown (one of the most popular of the "Big Bands"), with Betty Bonney singing lead. It's not a great song, but it's a great baseball song.

7. October 3, 1937. The Yankees beat the Red Sox, 6-1 at the old Yankee Stadium, and Joe completes perhaps the best season any righthanded hitter has ever had for the Yankees. He batted .346, had 215 hits, 35 doubles, 15 triples, 46 home runs (a record for Yankee righthanders until 2005), and 167 RBIs (a record for Yankee righthanders that still stands). His OPS+ was 166 -- and as amazing as that was, he didn't even lead the team: Lou Gehrig had a 176! And the Yanks went on to beat the Giants in the World Series.

 And, by the way, he was still a few weeks away from turning 23 years old.

6. September 30, 1939. Again, the Yankees close the season with a game with the Red Sox, only this time, they lose, 4-2. It doesn't matter: In the season that concluded with the aforementioned incident with Ernie Lombardi, the Yankees lost 1st baseman and Captain Gehrig to a fatal illness, yet still won 106 games, the most they (or any of the New York teams) would win between 1927 and 1961.

This was because the leadership slack was picked up by catcher Bill Dickey (Gehrig's best friend on the team served as a kind of unofficial captain thereafter), and the hitting slack was picked up by DiMaggio, whose .381 batting average that season remains the 2nd-highest in Yankee history, behind Babe Ruth's .393 in 1923; no player for any New York team (Yankees, Dodgers, Giants or Mets) has topped it since. This was also the 1st of Joe's 2 batting titles and the 1st of his 3 Most Valuable Player awards. And he wasn't yet 25.

5. October 5, 1950. Game 2 of the World Series. Robin Roberts, exhausted from so much pitching down the stretch, has gone 9 innings for the Philadelphia Phillies. But, having thrown Roberts out for the regular-season finale just 3 days earlier, and having desperately started his usual reliever, Jim Konstanty, in Game 1 (it almost worked, the Yanks won, 1-0), Phils manager Eddie Sawyer sends Roberts out for the 10th inning.

DiMaggio takes advantage of the valiant Roberts' fatigue and sends a home run into the long bleachers that extended from left to center field at Shibe Park (later known as Connie Mack Stadium), to give the Yanks a 2-1 win and a 2-0 lead in the Series. The Yanks completed the sweep 2 days later.

4. July 2, 1941. When Joe started his hitting streak on May 15, the Yankees were .500, 14-14, and in 4th place, 5 1/2 games behind the League-leading Cleveland Indians. Having surpassed the American League record of 41 straight games set by George Sisler in 1922, and having tied the overall major league mark of 44 set by Willie Keeler in 1897, Joe walked onto the field at a broiling hot Yankee Stadium (95 degrees), and the Yanks were 45-26, .634, 3 games ahead of the Indians.

The Yanks' opponents that day were the Boston Red Sox, in 3rd place, 8 games back, and it didn't matter that the Sox' Ted Williams was batting .401 and Joe "only" .348: Anybody who thinks that Ted was "robbed" of the MVP that year is an idiot. Even if the award were for "Most Outstanding" rather than "Most Valuable," Ted might not have deserved it.

Joe hit a 3-run homer off Sox starter Dick Newsome, to give him the record of 45 straight, eventually reaching 56 straight. Lefty Gomez, the Yanks' Hall of Fame pitcher and Joe's best friend on the team, who not only started this game but also the last one in which Joe didn't get a hit, told him, "You not only broke Keeler's record, but you did it by following his advice: You hit 'em where they ain't!" Oh yeah, the Yanks won the game, 8-4.

3. June 28, 29 & 30, 1949. Joe missed the 1st 2 months of the season with bone spurs in his heel. Then, one day, he got out of bed, put his weight on his foot, and felt no pain. He played in an exhibition game against the cross-river New York Giants, and felt no pain. He traveled with the team to Boston to play the Red Sox.

In the 1st game of the series, he went 2-for-3 with a home run. In the 2nd game, he went 2-for-4, both hits being home runs, and 4 RBIs. In the 3rd game, a plane flew overhead, trailing a banner that read, "THE GREAT DIMAGGIO." Now, Joe's younger brother Dom was the center fielder for the Red Sox, but he was just a really good DiMaggio. The Great DiMaggio helped the Yankees complete the sweep of the Sox by going 1-for-3 with a 3-run homer.

Three games, 5-for-10, 4 homers, 8 RBIs. Remember, he hadn't played at all until that series started. He ended up playing in just 76 games, but batted .346 with 67 RBIs -- in what amounted to half a season.

2. October 1 & 2, 1949. In spite of Joe's return, the Yanks blew a 12-game lead over the Sox, and it came down to the last 2 days of the season, and the schedulemaker nailed it: Sox vs. Yanks at the original Yankee Stadium. The Sox led by 1 game: If they won either, they would win the Pennant. The Yanks had to take both to do it.

The Yankees had scheduled the opener as Joe DiMaggio Day. Joe wanted to cancel it, and not play, as he was sick with pneumonia. But he maintained the attitude he had when he was quoted as saying, "There might be somebody out there who's never seen me play before. He deserves my best."

He came out, accepted the cheers and the gifts, and thanked the team, his teammates, and the fans, and closed with, "I'd like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee." He did play that day, and got 2 hits, and the Yanks came from 4-0 down to win, 5-4, on an 8th inning home run by Johnny Lindell.

The next day, the Yanks led 5-1 in the 9th, ready to clinch, but Joe, still sick, dropped an easy fly ball, to make it 5-3. He walked off the field, knowing he was now a liability. The Yankees got the last out and won the Pennant. (Funny, Red Sox fans never mention how Ted Williams got THAT year's MVP instead of a deserving Yankee.)

1. July 27, 1991. What's this, the Number 1 Yankee Clipper moment coming nearly 40 years after he played his last game? This will take some explaining.

It was Old-Timers' Day, and I was sitting at the back of Main Level Section 8 at the old (but post-renovation) Yankee Stadium. The subject of the day's ceremony was the 50th Anniversary of Joe's 56-game hitting streak.

Of his 1941 teammates, 7 were still alive, and 5 showed up: Phil Rizzuto, Tommy Henrich, pitcher Marius Russo, first baseman Johnny Sturm (who only played that one year in the majors, went off to war and never regained his batting eye), and Stanley "Frenchy" Bordagaray, who played for several teams and won Pennants with the '39 Reds and '41 Yankees. The 2 who did not return were the ailing Bill Dickey and Frank Crosetti, who had a policy of never returning for Old-Timers' Day. After Henrich's death in 2010, they're all gone now.

The ceremony closed with Joe doing something he rarely did: Public speaking. He may have spoken more in those 7 minutes than he did in the 13 years he played. He mentioned that, in Game 3 of the 1941 World Series, Russo pitched a complete game: "The reason I mention this is that, today, that's considered a great achievement." He mentioned that Henrich had loaned him a bat, after the bat Joe had used for the first 41 games of the streak had been stolen.

And of the Scooter, not yet having received his rightful election to Cooperstown, he said, "Nobody had a better view than I did of him playing shortstop... And, Phil, I just want to tell you that you're my Hall-of-Famer. And I mean that."

Biggest ovation of the day, even bigger than those for Joe, Mickey Mantle, and, in what turned out to be his first Old-Timers' Day back with the Yankees, Reggie Jackson.

I had also seen Joe on Old-Timers' Day in 1987, and would see him again on Old-Timers Day 1994, and I saw him throw out the first ball on Opening Day 1995. But this Old-Timers' Day 1991 was special. We got to see and hear Joe DiMaggio, not as a flickering image on black-and-white film, and not as a man telling us how good his bank or his coffeemaker was, but being what he was: The defining baseball player of his era... and a real, live human being.


Joe is gone now, and while he was alive, he wasn't the easiest person to get to know, and if you got on his bad side, you were out, permanently. It seems the only person he ever tried to reconcile with was Marilyn.

But when the old Yankee Stadium was closing in 2008, they asked the current Yankee players what item they would like to keep. Derek Jeter made his choice, and it was kept secret for a while. Eventually, it got out that he wanted, and got, a sign in the tunnel that led from the Yankee clubhouse to the dugout, the sign with Joe's quote, "I'd like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee."

I hope Hank & Hal Steinbrenner had a new sign made up. Or, at least, one with another of Joe's quotes, either the one about the fan that's never seen you play before and he deserves your best effort, or the one where he said, "Just putting on the Yankee uniform was the highlight of my career."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cutting Down On the Trip Guides

I wanted to do the Trip Guides for all 30 NBA teams, all 30 NHL teams, and every road opponent for the Giants and the Jets this season.

But, through circumstances both within my control and not, too many of them got delayed.

As a result, for the rest of the NFL, NBA & NHL seasons, I'll only be doing them for the following teams:

* The Rangers, upon the Devils' next visit.

* The Islanders, upon the Devils' next visit, as this is the last season in which they'll play in the Nassau Coliseum.

* The Philadelphia 76ers...

* The Boston Celtics and...

* The Washington Wizards, as they're nearby opponents for the Knicks and Nets. The fact that I've already done Trip Guides for the hockey teams that play in the same arena will help.

* The Miami Dolphins, as they're the last remaining Divisional roadtrip for either the Giants or the Jets.

* The Montreal Canadiens, as they are still, despite not having won the Stanley Cup in 21 years, the Yankees of hockey.

* The Buffalo Sabres, as I still haven't done one of these for Buffalo.

The Jets were supposed to play away to the Buffalo Bills yesterday, but that freak snowstorm got the game moved to Detroit. I'll do one of these for Jets at Bills next year.

The other NFL, NBA & NHL teams that I haven't done yet? They'll have to wait until the 2015-16 season.

This has been a very difficult year, and something had to give. This was it.

I will, however, update the Guides for all 30 MLB teams starting in March.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How to Be a Devils Fan In Calgary -- 2014-15 Edition


The Devils continued their Western roadtrip last night in Calgary, against the Flames. They blew a 2-goal lead in the 3rd period and lost in a shootout. Typical Peter DeBoer-coached team. They had a chance to sweep the Alberta teams on the road, and blew it.

Once again, I did not have this piece done before puck-drop. Once again, I apologize, and hope I will get it done on time next year. I'm sorry, but it couldn't be helped. All information should be considered for next year.

Before You Go. Aside from Edmonton's Rexall Place, no arena in the NHL is further north than the Saddledome -- indeed, aside from each Alberta city's CFL stadium, no venue in North American sports is further north except Rexall Place. And this is late November. It will be cold. The Calgary Herald is predicting that temperatures will be in the low 20s by day and the mid-teens by night. Bundle up.

This is Canada, so you will need your passport. You will need to change your money. At this writing, C$1.00 = US$1.12, and US$1.00 = C 89 cents. And I advise you to call your bank and let them know that you will be in a foreign country, so they won't see credit or debit card purchases from a foreign country pop up and think your card has been stolen.

Also, remember that they use the metric system. A speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour means 62 miles an hour. And don't be fooled by the seemingly low gas prices: That's per liter, not per gallon, and, in spite of Canada being a major oil-producing nation, you'll actually be paying more for gas up there. So, in order to avoid both confusion and "sticker-shock," get your car filled up before you reach the border.

Calgary is in the Mountain Time Zone, so they are 2 hours behind New York and New Jersey. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. The Flames averaged 19,302 fans per home game last season, over a sellout. As you might expect from a Canadian city. Tickets will be hard to get.

Seats in the lower level, the 100 sections, are $202 throughout. In the upper level, the 200 sections, they're $140 between the goals and $76 behind them. The uppermost level, labeled PL (for "Press Level"), has seats for $52. And since that comes from ticketmaster.ca, that's probably in Canadian dollars, so they're probably even more expensive to us than that. But that's still a lot cheaper than the Edmonton Oilers.

Getting There. Once again, I apologize for being too late for this category for this season. So, let's suppose, just for the hell of it, that I was writing this with 6 days to spare, last Saturday, and not a day late, this Saturday...

It's 2,445 miles from the Prudential Center in Newark to the Saddledome in Calgary. Even if I weren't so late in posting this, your first thought would be to fly.

If you're driving, you'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key, through the rest of Ohio and Indiana.

Just outside Chicago, I-80 will split off from I-90, which you will keep, until it merges with Interstate 94. For the moment, though, you will ignore I-94. Stay on I-90 through Illinois, until reaching Madison, Wisconsin, where you will once again merge with I-94. Now, I-94 is what you want, taking it into Minnesota and the Twin Cities.

However, unless you want to make a rest stop actually in Minneapolis or St. Paul, you're going to bypass them entirely. Take Exit 249 to get on Interstate 694, the Twin Cities' beltway, until you merge with Interstate 494 to reform I-94. Crossing Minnesota and North Dakota, you'll take Exit 211 to Montana Route 200, and take that up to the town of Circle. There, you take Montana Route 13 until it splits and forms Montana Route 25. After just 6 miles, that takes a right turn in the town of Wolf Point, and then a quick left to U.S. Route 2 West. In Shelby, you'll leave US-2 for Interstate 15, and take that to the Canadian border.

Presuming you don't do anything stupid that makes Customs officials keep you out of Canada, I-15 will become Alberta Provincial Route 4. At Lethbridge, you'll turn onto Provincial Route 3 West. Take Provincial Route 23 to Provincial Route 519 to Provincial Route 2. From Route 2, take Exit 245 for Southland Drive, make a left on Southland, and then a quick right onto Blackfoot Trail. A left on 42nd Avenue and a right on MacLeod Trail, and you'll be at the edge of downtown Calgary, with the Saddledome on your right.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 and a half hours in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, 2 and a half hours in Wisconsin, 4 and a half hours in Minnesota, 6 hours in North Dakota, 7 and a half hours in Montana, and 6 hours and 45 minutes in Alberta. That's 42 hours. Throw in rest stops, and we're talking closer to 56 hours -- 2 and one-third days. You'd have to really love both driving and hockey, and not mind cold weather, to do that.

Taking Greyhound takes 70 hours, and you have to transfer in Toronto and Winnipeg. Round-trip fare is $622. The Greyhound station is at 850 16th Street NW at Bow Trail. Forget the train: You'll have to switch from Amtrak to VIA Rail Canada in Toronto, take a train to Edmonton, and then take a bus to Calgary. Round-trip, it would take 8 days. No, the train is no good.

So flying is easily the best way to get there. You can fly Air Canada from Newark to Calgary and back, changing planes in Toronto, for a little under $1,000.

Once In the City. At 1.1 million people, Calgary is the 3rd-largest city in Canada, behind Toronto and Montreal, and ahead of Vancouver and Edmonton. However, like most of Canada's larger cities, the huge area contained within its city limits means it has almost no suburbs, and its metropolitan area gives it only 1. 2 million, 5th behind Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa -- but still ahead of Provincial capital Edmonton.

Founded in 1882 at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, there is some dispute as to the origin of the name, although both accepted versions are Scottish in origin. Some say it's from the Gaelic meaning "beach of the meadow," or "pasture." Others say it comes from the words the Vikings brought to northern Scotland's Hebrides, meaning "cold garden."

The Bow River and, east of its bend, Memorial Drive separate Calgary addresses into North and South, while Centre Street separates them into East and West. The sales tax in the Province of Alberta is 5 percent, and it doesn't go up in the City of Calgary. The city has buses and light rail, and a single fare is $3.00 (which works out to about $2.67, so it's more expensive than New York's).

Going In. The Scotiabank Saddledome -- originally the Olympic Saddledome, and built in 1983 for the Flames and as the centerpiece of the 1988 Winter Olympics -- is at 555 Saddledome Rise SE, across Olympic Way from the Stampede Corral, site of the world's largest rodeo, the Calgary Stampede. It's about a mile and a quarter southeast of the downtown shopping district. If you're driving, parking is $10. If you're coming in by light rail, it's about a 12-minute ride to Victoria Park-Stampede station, and then you'll have to walk across a big parking lot to get to the arena, entering from the west.

Like the Capital Centre, the suburban Washington arena that was once home to the Bullets (now Wizards) and Capitals, it has a saddle-shaped roof; hence, the name "Saddledome." (Why a bank based in Nova Scotia, in Canada's eastern Maritime Provinces, bought the naming rights to a western arena, I have no idea.) The rink is laid out east-to-west, and the Flames attack twice to the west end. The arena is also home to the minor-league Calgary Hitmen, and their rivalry with the Edmonton Oil Kings is nearly as intense as the "Battle of Alberta" between the Flames and the Oilers.

Food. There's not much information available online about Saddledome concession stands, but the arena's website mentions several onsite restaurants, including Dutton's Lounge, the Alumni Lounge and the King Club. The Saddleroom Restaurant is on the arena's north side, and the Platinum Club on the south side, but these are open only to season-ticket holders, much like the Prudential Center's Fire Lounge and Ice Lounge.

Team History Displays. All in a row, the Flames hang banners for their various championships and their retired numbers. The title banners including: The 1989 Stanley Cup; the 1986, 1989 and 2004 Conference Championships; the 1986, 1989, 1994, 1995 and 2006 Division titles; and the 1988 and 1989 President's Trophy for best overall record in the NHL regular season.

Despite having played for 34 years, the Flames have only 2 retired numbers, both from the 1989 Cup winners: 9, for right wing Lanny McDonald; and 30, for goaltender Mike Vernon.

In 2012, the Flames organization introduced "Forever A Flame," to honor team legends while still allowing future Flames the opportunity to wear the numbers of some of the team's all-time greats -- essentially, a team hall of fame. Defenseman Al MacInnis was the first to earn this distinction, with a banner with his picture and the Number 2 raised to the rafters. Center Joe Nieuwendyk (who also won a Cup with the Devils) followed him this past March, with a banner with his Number 25 on it. So that's 4 honorees, all from the 1989 Cup win. I suspect that, when Jarome Iginla retires as a player, he will be honored as well.

There is no reference to the Flames' time in Atlanta (the name references the burning of Atlanta during the American Civil War), unless you count the "A" for Alternate Captain being the Flames' old A logo. (The "C" for Captain is the current C logo.) The Flames didn't win anything in Atlanta, although they did make the Playoffs there.

Stuff. There is a Flames Fan Attic team store at the Saddledome, although I can't find a reference as to where in the arena. There are also Flames Fan Attics at the North Hill Centre mall and Calgary International Airport. I suspect that, due to the city's Western heritage, you can buy cowboy hats with the Flames' logo on them.

In spite of having won a Stanley Cup, and nearly winning 2 others, there aren't many books about the Flames. The Calgary Herald staff put together a coffee-table book titled Calgary Flames: The Fire Inside, but that's a big book at a big price.

The NHL has released a DVD set, Calgary Flames: 10 Great Playoff Games. They include a Game 7 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in 1981, their 1st season in Calgary; the shocking Game 7 win over the arch-rival Oilers in 1986, won by Steve Smith's own goal; another Game 7 win in 1986, over the St. Louis Blues; a Game 7 win over the Vancouver Canucks in 1989; the Cup-clincher of 1989, the only time a team ever clinched over the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum; the 1991 Game 6 win over the Oilers won by Theoren Fleury's goal that produced a memorable celebration; the Game 7 win over Vancouver in 2004; the Game 5 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004; and the Game 3 win over the San Jose Sharks in 2008.

During the Game. You are not Edmonton Oilers fans. You will not be wearing Oilers gear. Therefore, you will almost certainly be safe.

Don't be fooled by the "C of Red." The Flames' home jerseys are red, like the Devils'. I don't know if it would be better to wear a red Devils jersey to fit in, or a white one to stand out. But the C of Red is as pervasive as the one in the St. Louis Cardinals' Busch Stadium.

There isn't much in the way of fan chants or songs, just "Go, Flames, Go!" Their goal song is "Righteous Smoke" by Monster Truck. Although they sometimes wear a 3rd jersey with a fire-breathing dragon on it, their mascot is Harvey the Hound, a big white silly-looking dog with its tongue hanging way out -- which has driven some frustrated fans, and even one opposing coach (Craig MacTavish of the arch-rival Oilers), to grab it and try to rip it out. He was introduced in 1983, and was the 1st mascot in NHL history.

After the Game. Canada does not have much of a problem with crime, and while hockey fans like to drink, Flames fans will probably leave you alone. Just don't praise the Oilers, and you should be safe.

Mavericks Dining Room & Lounge is on 2nd Street, at the southwest edge of the parking lot. Effectively, it marks the beginning (or the end) of the Red Mile, a strip of bars and restaurants along 17th Avenue that gained fame for its party atmosphere during the 2004 Playoffs.

Sidelights. As with the other major cities of Canada, Calgary isn't just about hockey.

* Stampede Corral. Home to the Calgary Stampede, the world's largest rodeo, since 1950, the Flames played here from their 1980 move from Atlanta until the Saddledome opened across the street in 1983. At just 6,475 seats, it was too small to be their long-term home, but with the Saddledome already planned, they could afford to wait. Several minor-league hockey teams had used it before the Flames arrived. 10 Corral Trail SE at Olympic Way. (There are no plans to build a new arena to replace the Saddledome.)

* McMahon Stadium. Home to the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, and the University of Calgary football team, since 1960, it was named for a pair of brothers who funded its construction. Its current capacity is 37,317. Temporary seating raised it to 60,000 so that it could host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympics.

The Stampeders, a.k.a. the Stamps, won the Grey Cup, Canada's Super Bowl, while playing here in 1971, 1992, 1998, 2001 and 2008. (Previously, they played at Mewata Stadium, and won the 1946 Grey Cup while playing there. That facility was built in 1906 and demolished in 1999.) The stadium hosted the Grey Cup in 1975, 1993, 2000 and 2009. It hosted an NHL Heritage Classic between the Flames and the Canadiens in 2011, which the Flames won, 4-0. 1817 Crowchild Trail NW at 23rd Avenue.

* Foothills Stadium. Adjacent to McMahon Stadium, this 6,000-seat ballpark went up in 1966, and is the home of the University of Calgary baseball team. It was home to several minor league teams, including the Calgary Expos, who won Pioneer League Pennants there in 1979 and 1981. The Pacific Coast League's Calgary Cannons won Division titles in 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1991, but never won a Pennant. 2255 Crowchild Trail NW. Banff station on light rail.

* Museums. Calgary's best-known museum is the Glenbow, which is both their Museum of Natural History and their Metropolitan Museum of Art. 130 9th Avenue SE at 1st Street downtown, across from the iconic Calgary Tower.

Gasoline Alley Museum at Heritage Park Historical Village sounds like a copy of the Henry Ford Museum outside Detroit, as it documents the dawn of the automobile age, with first- and second-generation automobiles and a recreated turn-of-the-20th-Century street scene -- significant because Alberta didn't turn from Territory to full Province until 1905. visitcalgary.com says of it, "It's probably the only time you'll ever find yourself in the thick of a traffic jam without a hint of road rage." 1900 Heritage Drive SW at 14th Street, on Glenmore Reservoir. Light rail to Heritage station, then switch to 502 bus.

Calgary has produced 2 Prime Ministers. The current PM, Stephen Harper, represents a Calgary district (or "riding" as they'd say in Canada). The other is Richard B. Bennett, who served from 1930 and 1935, rising to power after the 1929 stock market crash but was seen as doing nothing to ease the Depression, and became the most hated man in the country's history, so much so that he left Canada for the mother country, Britain. He's the only head of government in either America or Canada who died on foreign soil, or is buried in it. As you might guess, there's no historic site in his memory, either in Calgary or in his hometown in the Province of New Brunswick.

The tallest building in Calgary, and in Canada between Toronto and Vancouver, is The Bow, a weird-looking X-framed downtown building, 774 feet high. 500 Centre Street SE

TV Shows set in Calgary are generally not shown in America. Probably the best-known movie to use Calgary and/or its environs as a filming location was Brokeback Mountain.

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Calgary is Canada's Dallas and its Denver rolled into one, its great Western city of toughness and excess. And it's a great hockey town. Hopefully, next season, I can get this done on time, so you can actually enjoy it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How to Be a Devils Fan In Edmonton


The Devils continued their Western roadtrip last night in Edmonton, beating the Oilers. Although they've reached the Stanley Cup Finals just once since 1990, they will forever be remembered as the team that Wayne Gretzky took into the Meadowlands early in the 1983-84 season, the Devils' 2nd season, and pounded us 13-4, and Gretzky then called us "a Mickey Mouse operation." (This, from a guy who hadn't won a Stanley Cup yet. True, he then won 4 in 5 years, but since 1988, as player, coach and owner, the total is Devils 3, Gretzky 0.)

This time, I didn't even get the Trip Guide finished before the game in question ended. For shame. Once again, I apologize, and hope I will get it done on time next year.

Before You Go. At 53 degrees, 34 minutes North latitude, Edmonton has the northernmost major league sports venue in North America's 4 major sports leagues. And this is late November. It will be cold. The Edmonton Sun is predicting that temperatures will be in the low 20s by day and the mid-teens by night. Bundle up.

This is Canada, so you will need your passport. You will need to change your money. At this writing, C$1.00 = US$1.12, and US$1.00 = C 89 cents. And I advise you to call your bank and let them know that you will be in a foreign country, so they won't see credit or debit card purchases from a foreign country pop up and think your card has been stolen.

Also, remember that they use the metric system. A speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour means 62 miles an hour. And don't be fooled by the seemingly low gas prices: That's per liter, not per gallon, and, in spite of Canada being a major oil-producing nation, you'll actually be paying more for gas up there. So, in order to avoid both confusion and "sticker-shock," get your car filled up before you reach the border.

Edmonton is in the Mountain Time Zone, so they are 2 hours behind New York and New Jersey. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. The Oilers averaged 16,828 fans per home game last season, just short of a sellout. As you might expect from not just a Canadian city, but perhaps the most hockey-mad city west of Toronto (and, yes, I'm including Detroit, America's "Hockeytown"). This is the hometown of Mark Messier and Ken Daneyko.

Oilers tickets are expensive. Seats in the lower level, the 100 sections, are $301 between the goals and $192 behind them. In the upper level, the 200 sections, they're $99. One side of the rink has another level above that, the 300 sections, where tickets are $67. And since that comes from ticketmaster.ca, that's probably in Canadian dollars so they're probably even more expensive to us than that.

Getting There. Once again, I apologize for being too late for this category for this season.

It's 2,409 miles from the Prudential Center in Newark to Rexall Place in Edmonton. Even if I weren't so late in posting this, your first thought would be to fly.

You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key, through the rest of Ohio and Indiana.

Just outside Chicago, I-80 will split off from I-90, which you will keep, until it merges with Interstate 94. For the moment, though, you will ignore I-94. Stay on I-90 through Illinois, until reaching Madison, Wisconsin, where you will once again merge with I-94. Now, I-94 is what you want, taking it into Minnesota and the Twin Cities.

However, unless you want to make a rest stop actually in Minneapolis or St. Paul, you're going to bypass them entirely. Take Exit 249 to get on Interstate 694, the Twin Cities' beltway, until you merge with Interstate 494 to reform I-94. Crossing Minnesota into North Dakota, you'll take Exit 256 to U.S. Route 52 West, and take that up to the Canadian border.

Presuming you don't do anything stupid that makes Customs officials keep you out of Canada, U.S. 52 will continue as Saskatchewan Provincial Route 39. At Weyburn, you'll turn right on Provincial Route 35. At Francis, you'll turn left on Provincial Route 33. At the Provincial Capital of Regina, you'll take the Trans-Canada Highway, which you'll take to Provincial Route 11. Stay on that after it becomes Provincial Route 16. At Saskatoon, follow the signs to stay on Route 16, and take that into Alberta, where it will remain Provincial Route 16. Take Exit 392 onto Wayne Gretzky Drive. From there, it's a mile to the arena.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 and a half hours in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, 2 and a half hours in Wisconsin, 4 and a half hours in Minnesota, 6 hours in North Dakota, 13 and a half hours in Saskatchewan (believe it, it's over 800 miles), and 4 hours in Alberta. That's 45 hours and 15 minutes. Throw in rest stops, and we're talking closer to 62 hours -- 2 and a half days. You'd have to really love both driving and hockey, and not mind cold weather, to do that.

So, let's suppose, just for the hell of it, that I was writing this with 6 days to spare, last Saturday, and not a day late, this Saturday...

Taking Greyhound takes 64 hours, and you have to transfer in Toronto and Winnipeg. Round-trip fare is $673. The Greyhound station is at 10324 103rd Street NW at 104th Avenue. The Edmonton station for VIA Rail Canada is at 12360 121st Street NW, and this would be your schedule:

Leave New York 7:15 AM Tuesday
Arrive Toronto 7:42 PM Tuesday (2 hour, 18 minute layover)
Leave Toronto 10:00 PM Tuesday
Arrive Edmonton 6:22 AM Friday
Game in Edmonton 7:30 PM Friday
Game ends around 10:00 PM Friday (2 hours to make train)
Leave Edmonton 11:59 PM Friday
Arrive Toronto 9:30 AM Monday (22 hour, 50 minute layover)
Leave Toronto 8:20 AM Tuesday
Arrive New York 9:45 PM Tuesday

NY-TOR US$252
TOR-WIN C$782, or US$696

So the total fare would be $948. For a trip lasting 7 1/2 days. No, the train is no good.

So flying is easily the best way to get there. You can fly Air Canada from Newark to Edmonton and back, changing lanes in Toronto, for $1,130.

Once In the City. Located on the Saskatchewan River, Fort Edmonton, a fur-trading post, was founded in 1795, but not incorporated until 1892, making it the youngest city in all of North American major league sports. (The youngest of the U.S. cities with at least 2 teams is Phoenix, 1881.) Named for a village in England's historic county of Middlesex (now a part of North London), the name meaning Eadhelm's Town, Alberta's capital and 2nd-largest city has over 810,000 people, but adding the suburbs only makes it 1.1 million -- a familiar pattern in Canada, except for its big 3 cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Edmonton has East-West numbered Avenues and North-South numbered Streets -- the exact opposite of Manhattan. Anthony Henday Drive (named for an English explorer of Western Canada, effectively Canada's "Lewis & Clark") divides the city into North and South. But while there are streets with NW and SW suffixes, there's no NE and SE. And the Alberta Legislature Building, roughly the focal point of the city, is at 97th Avenue NW and 107th Street NW. Go figure. That's like if New York City had the same street grid, but City Hall were at the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne.

The sales tax in the Province of Alberta is 5 percent, and it doesn't go up in the City of Edmonton. The city has buses and light rail, and a single fare is $3.20 (which works out to about $2.94, so it's more expensive than New York's).

Going In. Built in 1975 as the Northlands Coliseum, Rexall Place is, like Commonwealth Stadium, northeast of downtown. The 501 light rail goes from Grandin Station to Coliseum Station, and takes 17 minutes. The address is 7424 118th Avenue at 73rd Street NW. Edmonton EXPO Center at Northlands is across 118th Avenue. If you drove in, parking is C$15.

The Blue Mile or the Copper Kilometre is the name given by the local media to the Old Strathcona District's Whyte Avenue during the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoff run, since it closely resembled the events which took place on the Red Mile of arch-rival Calgary 2 years earlier. Following the Oilers' upset victory over the Detroit Red Wings in the 1st round, several thousand Oiler fans flocked to Whyte Avenue and turned the district into a hockey party strip, walking the streets cheering, chanting, high-fiving, horn-honking, and flag-waving for their team. Others surfed the crowd in a grocery-shopping cart, and still others climbed trees and traffic lights.

The rink is laid out east-to-west. The Oilers attack twice toward the east end.

Food. In 2010, Rexall Place -- kind of ironic for a place named after a drugstore -- was cited for multiple health code violations, making it the unhealthiest sports venue in Canada, and possibly in all of North America. (I guess the inspectors have never had the hot dogs at RFK Stadium.)

So, if you dare, the arena website makes these suggestions:

Rexall Place food finders are located at our guest services and food services locations. Concession items include:
  • Chili dog/classic dog
  • Steak burger/ Bacon cheese burger
  • Chicken tenders
  • BBQ Pork sandwich
  • Boston Pizza
  • Perogies
  • Popcorn/pretzels/nachos
  • Fries/onion rings
Additional outlets include: Starbucks- located between NE and NW doors on the main concourse Chef’s corner- located on level 4 North behind section 214 Availability of concessions and outlets varies per event. Cash or credit cards are accepted at all concession stands.

Team History Displays. The Oilers have won 5 Stanley Cups, and reached the Stanley Cup Finals 7 times, winning in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990, and losing in 1983 and 2006. They've won the President's Trophy for best overall record in the regular season in 1984, 1986 and 1987, and 9 Division Championships: 1979 (the last season of the WHA), 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991 and 1992.

The Cup win banners are white with black lettering, the Conference and Division title banners are orange with blue lettering, and the President's Trophy banners are blue with white lettering. The banners are arranged in chronological order, not by type and then by chronology. This makes for a weird color pattern, but it's 24 banners, which is a lot, considering they didn't win their 1st until 1979.

The Oilers have 8 retired number banners at the opposite end. They are arranged as follows: 3, WHA-era defenseman Al Hamilton; 99, center Wayne Gretzky; 17, right wing Jari Kurri; 31, goaltender Grant Fuhr; 7, defenseman Paul Coffey; 11, left wing Mark Messier; 9, right wing Glenn Anderson; and 3,542, for the number of games broadcast by Rod Phillips from 1973 until his retirement in 2011. Hamilton, an original 1972-73 Alberta Oilers (the name was changed to reflect the city instead of the Province after the 1st season), is the only one of these that did not play on a Cup winner.

A statue of Wayne Gretzky holding up the Stanley Cup is outside the arena. The highway to the east of the arena, Fort Road outside of the arena's vicinity, is Wayne Gretzky Drive.

Stuff. Again, from the arena website:

Rexall Place has many points of sale at which you may purchase merchandise at an event. For Edmonton Oilers games you may visit any of the Oilers Store locations- NW concourse level 3, SW concourse level 3, Level 4 south, Level 4 north and in the River Cree Club (west). For concerts or other events, please see guest services locations for the listing of merchandise locations for that event.

You would think that, having had "the greatest player in hockey history" (he wasn't: Both Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr were greater than Gretzky), there'd be a lot of books about the Oilers, especially in their glory years. Not really. No wonder Number 99 left for Hollywood: It was all about him, not the great team around him that, lest we forget, won a Cup without him in 1990 (although not since). K. Michael Gaschnitz published the not-particularly-imaginatively-titled The Edmonton Oilers in 2003.

There is a 10 Greatest Games DVD collection for the Oilers. It contains the 1984, 1985 and 1987 Stanley Cup clinchers, the 1981 game in which Gretzky reached 50 goals in only 39 games, the 1984 Finals Game 1 win that signaled the end of the Islander Dynasty, Gretzky's shorthanded overtime goal in overtime in Game 2 of the 1988 Finals, the overtime win in Game 1 of the 1990 Finals, the 1991 Game 7 Playoff win over the hated Flames, a 1997 Playoff Game 7 overtime winner over Dallas, and the franchise's last Stanley Cup Finals in, the overtime Game 5 over Carolina in 2006.

During the Game. If you were wearing a Calgary Flames jersey, you might have a problem. Maybe a Vancouver Canucks or Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. Other than that, I don't think Edmonton fans will bother you. You should be safe.

Mark Lewis has been the public-address announcer since 1981. I don't know if that makes him the longest-serving in the NHL, although with the death of Budd Lynch in Detroit, it might. He is certainly one of the most admired in the game. He, his wife, and 2 business partners own an Edmonton restaurant, Café de Ville. Also starting in 1981 was Paul Lorieau, an optician by trade, who sang the National Anthems at Oilers games. However, he retired in 2011 due to a battle with cancer, and died 2 years later.

The Oilers' goal song is "Don't Stop the Party" by Pitbull. You can't get much more of a shift in climate, at least not in North America, from Pitbull's Miami to the Oilers' Edmonton. Oilers fans don't have much in the way of chants, sticking with the easy "Let's go, Oilers!" No, they do not add, "Flames suck, Canucks swallow!" Don't give them any ideas.

Until 2010, none of the NHL's Canadian-based teams had cheerleaders/dancers/Ice Girls. That changed when the Edmonton franchise added a group called Oilers Octane. There are 19 of them, and the reaction to them has been mixed: Some fans like them, some hate the very concept and take it out on them.

After the Game. As long as you don't go out of your way to praise the Flames, you'll be safe on your way out. Edmontonians are good hockey fans, and not goons.

Just to the east of the arena, on Wayne Gretzky Drive, are the Coliseum Inn and the Flow Lounge & Grill. Other than that, unless the Edmonton EXPO Center across 118th Avenue is still open, there's not much around the arena, so your best bet may be to head back downtown.

Sidelights. If Americans know one thing about Edmonton, it's Gretzky. If they know another, it's the world's largest mall. Except it isn't the world's largest anymore. Here are some things you should know about Edmonton, especially if you're a sports fan:

* Site of Edmonton Coliseum. Edmonton's 1st arena was across 118th Avenue from the Northlands Coliseum/Rexall Place, in what's now a parking lot for the Edmonton EXPO Center. It opened in 1913 and was demolished in 1982. It was home to a succession of minor league teams, including the Edmonton Oil Kings, who became and remain a farm club of the Oilers, who played their 1st 2 seasons there, 1972-74.

Despite years of complaints that it was outdated and "a disaster waiting to happen," two attempts to demolish the Coliseum by dynamite failed, and they had to use a wrecking ball. They knew how to build buildings in those days, especially sports venues.

* Rogers Place. The Oilers hope to move into a new arena, currently under construction, for the 2016-17 season. Unfazed by the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays already play in the Rogers Centre (formerly the SkyDome), and the fact that one of their big rivals, the Vancouver Canucks, already play in the Rogers Arena (formerly General Motors Place), the Oilers are calling it Rogers Place.

It will be downtown, along 104th Avenue at 103rd Street, across from the Greyhound station. A light rail station is being built to service it. So it will be much more convenient than the current arena, beyond simply being newer and more comfortable.

* Commonwealth Stadium. Not to be confused with the football stadium of the same name at the University of Kentucky, this stadium was built to host the 1978 Commonwealth Games, the British Commonwealth's sub-Olympic Games. (Previously known as the Empire Games, and Vancouver's old Empire Stadium was built for them.) Having once had a capacity of over 60,000, it's now at 56,302.

The Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos have played here since it opened, and have won 9 Grey Cups, the CFL's Super Bowl, since moving in: 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1987, 1993, 2003 and 2005. Yes, they won 5 straight, led by quarterback Warren Moon. Yes, that Warren Moon. It's "the Pro Football Hall of Fame," not "the National Football League Hall of Fame."

The Grey Cup has been played there 4 times: In 1984, 1997, 2002 and 2010. Like the Super Bowl, its site is chosen in advance, in the hope of getting a neutral site; but, having only 9 teams, the chance of a host team playing in it is a lot higher than in the Super Bowl. The Eskimos have hosted it, in 2002, but lost to Montreal. Edmonton also hosted Montreal in a hockey doubleheader at Commonwealth Stadium, the NHL's 1st outdoor game, preceded by an old-timers' game between the 1980s Oilers and the 1970s Canadiens -- 11 Stanley Cups between them. The Oilers won the old-timers' game, but the Canadiens won the regular game, best remembered for Montreal goalie Jose Theodore wearing a "toque," or a ski cap, with a Canadiens over his regulation helmet. (Apparently, he checked with the NHL office, and was allowed to wear it during a game.)

The Edmonton Drillers of the old North American Soccer League played there, and FC Edmonton now uses it for games that exceed the capacity of Clarke Stadium. It will be one of those venues for Canada's hosting of the 2015 Women's World Cup. 11000 Stadium Road, at 112th Avenue. Stadium station on the light rail.

* Clarke Stadium. Built in 1938, this was the first home of the Eskimos, from 1946 to 1977. They won 4 Grey Cups here: 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1975. So they won the 1st 3 Grey Cups after the CFL was founded, and the 1st 5 after they moved next-door into Commonwealth Stadium.

The original stadium was demolished, and a much smaller stadium, with 6,000 seats, was built on the site. FC Edmonton of the new North American Soccer League uses it for most home games, but would likely have to use Commonwealth if they want to think about moving up to Major League Soccer.

* Telus Field. This 10,000-seat ballpark, named for Canada's largest phone company, opened in 1995, for the Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League. However, it has been without a permanent tenant since the close of the 2011 season. 10233 96th Avenue at Rossdale Road, at the southern edge of downtown, east of the Legislature. Number 9 bus.

* Old Strathcona. Once the commercial core of the separate city of Strathcona, the area is now Edmonton's main arts and entertainment district, as well as a local shopping hub for local residents and students at the nearby University of Alberta. Many of the area's businesses are owner-operated, but chains have also made inroads in the neighborhood. A good proportion of Edmonton's theaters and live-performance venues are also located in the area. The district centres on Whyte Avenue, formerly 82nd Avenue.

* West Edmonton Mall. From 1981 until 2004, this was the largest shopping mall in the world. It's still the largest in North America, ahead of even the Mall of America outside Minneapolis. It includes theme parks Galaxyland, World Waterpark, Sea Lions Park and an NHL-sized rink called the Ice Palace. The Oilers previously used it as a practice facility. 8882 170th Street NW.

Edmonton is not big on skyscrapers: The 15 tallest buildings in Alberta are all in Calgary. The tallest building in Edmonton is the EPCOR Tower, at 10423 101st Street NW ad 103rd Avenue, and it isn't even 500 feet tall (490). Nor is the city big on museums: The most notable is the Royal Alberta Museum, the city's version of New York's American Museum of Natural History, at 12845 102nd Avenue at 129th Street.

Edmonton has never produced a Prime Minister. The Province of Alberta has, 3 of them. But 2, R.B. Bennett in the 1930s and Stephen Harper currently, represented ridings in Calgary, and Joe Clark was from Yellowhead, in the western part of the Province. So there's no historic site relating to any of them anywhere near Edmonton.

There have been a few movies with scenes shot in Edmonton, including the Ginger Snaps films and Good Luck Chuck. I didn't say good movies... (Even Jessica Alba couldn't save the latter.) And any TV shows set there would be shown on Canadian TV only, and would be unfamiliar to U.S. audiences.

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Edmonton has hockey, a big mall, and the Royal Alberta Museum. That's about it. Maybe next year, I can get this essay updated in time for you to take a look.



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Friday, November 21, 2014

How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In Oklahoma City


Again, I left doing one of these too late. Again, I'm sorry.

Tomorrow night, the Nets visit the Sooner State to play the Oklahoma City Thunder -- a team formerly of Newark, "Brick City," playing one from "Bricktown," not to be confused with Brick Township on the Jersey Shore, which also (incorrectly) gets called "Bricktown" or "Brick Town." The Knicks will visit later in the season.

Judging by how the fans of OKC have embraced their 1st real major league sports team -- the USFL's Oklahoma Outlaws played in Tulsa, as do the WNBA's Tulsa Shock, and, besides, those are hardly major leagues -- it can safely be said that the people of Oklahoma City deserved their own team. But not the Seattle SuperSonics: They should have gotten either an expansion team or a team whose fans weren't supporting it.

But this is not the time to hold Oklahoma accountable for that. Besides, it's not like they went out of their way to steal a team: It was the owner who bought the Sonics and moved them because he didn't like the arena. No, don't hold Oklahomans responsible for stealing the Sonics -- they didn't. If you want to knock them for something, knock them for electing Tea Party dimwits to public office.

Before You Go. Again, due to my tardiness, the only way you'll be able to see the Nets play away to the Thunder this season is if you fly there. The train, bus and driving notes can still apply to the Knicks' visit, however.

Oklahoma is part of the Great Plains region. There aren't a lot of trees to shade you or to block the wind. As a result, it gets beastly hot in the summer, and brutally cold in the winter. This will be late November, so cold could have been expected.

However, the website for The Daily Oklahoman is predicting low 60s for Friday and Saturday afternoon, and low 50s for Friday night. So it won't be cold. It will, however, be wet: Rain is predicted for both days. And since you're liable to be outdoors for some of the time, you should bring a light jacket and an umbrella. But a winter coat probably won't be necessary once you're at the airport.

Oklahoma is in the Central Time Zone, 1 hour behind New York. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. The Thunder averaged 18,203 fans per home game last season -- a sellout. They're the only game in town -- the Sooners are a 45-minute drive away -- and have been fully embraced by a populace used to following just the one sport, college football. Getting tickets will be tough.

For a reason I cannot determine, ticket are not currently available through the team website. StubHub has seats available, but none in the lower level, the 100 sections, between the baskets. Behind the baskets, lower level seats go for $66. The 200 level is club seating, and not available except to season ticketholders. The Balcony and Loft level, the 300 sections, has seats going for $48 between the baskets and $33 behind them.

Getting There. It's 1,451 miles from Madison Square Garden to the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to want to fly. (And, since I'm late again, it will be your only reasonable option.)

You won't get a nonstop flight. There are any number of cities in which you would have to change planes, depending on the airline: Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, for example. But if you play your cards right, you could get a round-trip flight for under $700.

Amtrak isn't all that convenient to OKC. You'd have to board the Cardinal at Penn Station at 6:45 AM Eastern Time, then arrive at Union Station in Chicago at 10:05 AM Central Time the next morning, then there's a 3-hour, 40-minute layover until the Texas Eagle leaves at 1:45 PM, and it arrives in Fort Worth the next day at 1:25 PM, and then you'd have to change trains again, with a 4-hour layover -- in Fort Worth, not the despised but much more modern city of Dallas -- before taking the Heartland Flyer at 5:25, finally arriving in Oklahoma City at 9:23 PM. That's 62 hours and 38 minutes. And it's $914 round-trip. Not worth the hassles. At any rate, the station is on Gaylord Blvd., between Reno and Sheridan Avenues, just 2 blocks from the arena -- sure, now, at the end, it's convenient.

On Greyhound, the trip is much shorter, about 39 hours, and you only have to transfer once, and, believe me, 4 hours in Chicago is good. (More hours in Chicago is better, but that's a story for another time.) The round-trip fare is $502, but can drop to as little as $358 with advanced purchase. The station is at 1948 E. Reno Avenue at Martin Luther King Avenue, on the same street as the arena, but 2 miles to the east, so what it makes up for in convenience during the trip, it blows up at the end -- the opposite of Amtrak.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. You’ll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike, and take Interstate 78 West across New Jersey, and at Harrisburg get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which at this point will be both I-70 and I-76. When the two Interstates split outside Pittsburgh, stay on I-70 west. You’ll cross the northern tip of West Virginia, and go all the way across Ohio (through Columbus), Indiana (through Indianapolis) and Illinois. When you cross into Missouri, you'll be in St. Louis. Switch to Interstate 44 West, the Will Rogers Turnpike, and take that across southern Missouri and northeastern Oklahoma. Outside Edmond, you'll turn onto Interstate 35 South, then onto Interstate 40 West, taking Exit 150B for downtown Oklahoma City and the Arena.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, 3 hours and 45 minutes in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Illinois, 5 hours in Missouri, and 3 hours and 30 minutes in Oklahoma before arriving. That’s going to be nearly 24 hours. Counting rest stops, preferably 6 of them, and accounting for traffic at both ends, it should be about 30 hours.

Once In the City. Oklahoma City, the capital of the State of Oklahoma, was founded in 1889 as a result of the Oklahoma land rush, after the former Indian Territory was legally (if not morally) opened up to white settlers. (As a result, their minor-league baseball team was long called the 89ers.) It's a decent-sized city, with about 580,000 people, but the metropolitan area is small, just 1.3 million. The name comes from the Choctaw tribe, meaning "red people."

The sales tax in the State of Oklahoma is 4.5 percent, but in Oklahoma City it nearly doubles to 8.375 percent. Gaylord Blvd. divides street addresses into east and west, while Sheridan Avenue divides them into north and south. Oklahoma City doesn't have a subway or a light rail system (not surprising, they're more Southern than Midwestern), but EMBARK buses charge just $1.75.

Going In. The Thunder's building opened in 2002 as the Ford Center, but became the Chesapeake Energy Arena in 2011. When the Thunder reached the NBA Finals in 2012, the exposure of the arena's name caused the namesake company's stock to surge. The address is 100 W. Reno Avenue, and the arena is bounded by Reno, Gaylord Blvd., 3rd Street and Robinson Avenue, which is known as Thunder Drive as it passes the arena. There are several parking lots around it, and some can be had for just $5.

The building is in the usual post-Camden Yards style, with concourses for each level. The court is laid out northwest to southeast.

Food. Levy Restaurants runs the concessions at Chesapeake Energy Arena. In addition to the usual array of stands selling typical sports-stadium food, they have, according to the arena's website:

* The Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Club is located on the 100 level concourse at section 114-115. Old No. 7 provides a trendy and unique atmosphere with full bar offerings and several beers on tap. A selection of appetizers are available in this local hot spot.

* The Center Court Carvery is located on the 100 level concourse at section 114-115 across from the Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Club. Center Court Carvery provides a unique, upscale dining experience with a full buffet at each game featuring carved meat options, an assortment of salads, potatoes, vegetables and breads. A carved sandwich option with one side is also available for those looking for something quick, yet filling. Center Court Carvery’s buffets change nightly, so check back often to see what’s on the cutting board at Center Court!

* Center Court Grill is the new urban hot spot for guests inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Center Court Grill will be open 2 1/2 hours prior to every Thunder home game for ticket holders. The restaurant will also be open for ticketed concerts and other select ticketed events throughout the year. Center Court Grill features a menu that has a balance between grilled entrees, sandwiches and house-made BBQ.

Team History Displays. As the newest team in the NBA, dating back to 2008 (though one of its older franchises, dating back to 1967), the Thunder's history is nearly all that of the Seattle SuperSonics. While it should be noted that they have made the Playoffs every full season since moving in -- 6 so far -- being stuck in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs has put a limit on their development. (Indeed, since 1998, the count of Western Conference titles is as follows: L.A. 7, San Antone 6, Dallas 2, OKC 1.

The Thunder have won their Division in each of the last 4 seasons, and hang 4 white banners with blue lettering to denote this. They also hang a blue banner with white lettering to denote their 2012 Western Conference title. As the Sonics, they previously won the 1979 NBA title; the West in 1978, 1979 and 1996; and the Pacific Division in 1979, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2005, but they make no mention of this at the Arena.

The Sonics retired 6 uniform numbers, and, with them in the rafters at the Key Arena, hung a banner for broadcaster Bob Blackburn. Except for 10, for guard Nate McMillan from their 1996 Western Conference Champions, all of those numbers (as well as Blackburn) were from their 1978 Western Conference Champions and their 1979 NBA Champions: 1, guard Gus Williams; 19, guard Lenny Wilkens (who, by that point, was a non-playing coach, but did play 4 years for the Sonics); 24, forward Spencer Haywood; 32, guard Fred "Downtown" Brown; and 43, center Jack Sikma. The 20 of Gary Payton and the 40 of Shawn Kemp from the 1996 team might have been retired had the Sonics still been in Seattle when they retired.

For the moment, none of those 8 numbers are worn by any Thunder players, nor have they been. But neither do they hang in the arena's rafters, so their status is open to question. My guess is that the Thunder's management is waiting until Seattle gets a new (expansion or moved) team, at which point the Sonics' records and achievements will be officially given back to them, and those banners returned to the rafters of Key Arena (until a new arena can be built), and the Thunder can then give those numbers out with a clear conscience. (Or a mostly-clear one: It's still an unfairly moved franchise, although, as I said, you can't blame the people of Oklahoma for that.)

Stuff. Concession stands selling team merchandise are scattered throughout the arena. I can find no reference to where in the arena a team store is located, but I find it hard to believe that an organization as professional as the Thunder have been the last 6 seasons would not have at least one large one. Since Oklahoma likes to think of itself as a Western State, you may be able to buy cowboy hats with team logos on them.

As they are not yet a historic franchise, there aren't many books about the Thunder. Nate LeBoutillier has written The Story of the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the NBA's A History of Hoops book series. (I wonder if it goes over the history of the SuperSonics, or if it just mentions them as the Thunder's predecessors.) Bill Redban has written The Inspirational Story of Basketball Superstar... books about Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. These are, admittedly, unauthorized biographies.

There aren't yet team DVDs of the Thunder, but there is a movie about them: Thunderstruck, a cross between Freaky Friday and Space Jam, in which a kid unwittingly and magically exchanges basketball abilities with Kevin Durant, as in the kid becomes a high school basketball star, while Durant can't buy a basket. Amazon.com has Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team, but that's more for the Seattle fan.

During the Game. You do not need to worry about wearing Knicks or Nets gear as an opposing fan against the Thunder. Their main rivals are the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs, and their fans don't get rough with them, so they won't get rough with you.

Nevertheless, having just the 1 team in the 4 major league sports -- not even in MLS, and the WNBA's Tulsa Shock are a ways off -- the same effect applies to the Thunder as applies to NBA-only cities like San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Sacramento and Portland, where the team means everything. (To be fair, San Antonio also has a WNBA team, while Salt Lake and Portland have the WNBA and MLS.) As Bill Simmons, in a rare thoughtful moment for him, wrote for ESPN:

With the possible exception of  Portland, no NBA team means more to its city. This goes beyond having the loudest fans. There's genuine devotion here. These people arrived a good 45 minutes early for last night's Game 1 — and by "these people" I mean "everyone with a ticket" — then clapped their way through pregame warm-ups with such infectious enthusiasm that I remember saying to a friend, "No way these yahoos keep this up for three hours, they're going to burn out." Wrong. You know what burned out? My eardrums. My head is still ringing.

Simmons speculated that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing played a major part in the team's culture, noting that Thunder general manager Sam Presti has every new Thunder player visit the memorial to the event, and encourages players to look into the stands and consider that many of the team's fans were personally affected by the event.

On February 17, 2009, Rumble the Bison was introduced as the new Oklahoma City Thunder mascot during the halftime of a game against, appropriately enough, the team that used the arena (then still named the Ford Center) as their temporary home after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Hornets. Rumble was a big hit in that 1st season, and was awarded the 2008–09 NBA Mascot of the Year. They also have the Thunder Girls cheerleaders.

The OKC-based band The Flaming Lips rewrote their song "Race for the Prize," giving it the title "Thunder Up," to use as a team fight song. The words "Thunder Up" have also become a team slogan.

Like fans of the Winnipeg Jets hockey team, Thunder fans tend to wear white T-shirts in the stands, providing a "Whiteout" effect that supposedly distracts opposing players. (How much it does so is debatable.)

If you are a Yankee Fan, you will hear a certain familiar name: The Thunder have a player, and a very good one at that, named Reggie Jackson. No, he doesn't wear Number 44, he wears 15. I don't know if he'll make his sport's Hall of Fame like Mr. October did, and, with teammate Durant being one of the NBA's marquee players, even if the Thunder win a title, this Reggie Jackson might not even get a chance to get noticed enough to become Mr. June. And I don't know if these 2 Reggie Jacksons have ever met.

After the Game. In Oklahoma City, the violent crime rate is one of the highest in the nation. However, if you stick to the downtown area, you should be safe.

Most of the notable places to eat are to the northeast of the arena, across the railroad tracks and closer to the ballpark. Mickey Mantle's Steakhouse -- unlike the now-closed restaurant named for him on New York's Central Park South, not opened until after he died -- is across the street from the ballpark, at 7 S. Mickey Mantle Drive. Bricktown Brewery, Spaghetti Warehouse, TapWerks Ale House, Pearl's Crabtown and the Wormy Dog Saloon (I swear, I am not making that name up) are along E. Sheridan Avenue. Jazmo'z Bourbon Street Café and Whiskey Chicks are along Reno Avenue.

Sidelights. Oklahoma's sports history includes Jim Thorpe, Johnny Bench, and Yankee Legends Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer and Allie Reynolds. And then there's all those college football legends, although not every OU and OSU legend was originally from Oklahoma.

* Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. Opened in 1998, this is the home of the Oklahoma City RedHawks, now the top farm team of the Los Angeles Dodgers. They haven't yet won a Pennant since moving into the Class AAA Pacific Coast League (and Oklahoma isn't exactly on any coast), but they have won Division titles in 1999, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013.

Every street bordering the ballpark is named for a local legend. The official address is 2 S. Mickey Mantle Drive, but outside the ballpark it's Walnut Avenue. It runs along the 3rd base side. Reno Avenue runs along the 1st base side, where it is named Johnny Bench Drive. The right field side is Russell M. Perry Avenue, except next to the ballpark where it is Joe Carter Avenue, after the Toronto Blue Jays legend. And a street that only exists for a few blocks along the left field side is named for the aforementioned local band, Flaming Lips Alley. A statue of Mantle is outside the park.

Prior to the new ballpark opening, the team was known as the Oklahoma City 89ers, and competed in the Class AA Texas League. They played at All Sports Stadium, and won Pennants in 1963, 1965, 1992 and 1996. It was located in State Fair Park at 333 Gordon Cooper Blvd. at Eighty-Nine Drive, about 5 miles west of downtown. Number 38 bus from downtown.

According to an April 24, 2014 article in The New York Times, the most popular MLB team in Oklahoma City, according to Facebook Likes, is the Texas Rangers, which is not surprising, since they are the closest team, about 200 miles away. However, they get only about 20 percent of the fans, and the Yankees and Red Sox are not far behind. By the time we got into Tulsa town, them bears was a-gettin' smart... Sorry, drifted into C.W. McCall's "Convoy" there. But before you get all the way from OKC to Tulsa, it becomes mainly St. Louis Cardinals territory. The Kansas City Royals? You need to get into northernmost Oklahoma, near the Kansas State Line, to find their fans, although that may have changed in the 7 months since the article, due to the Royals having won the Pennant last month.

According to a September 5, 2014 article in The Atlantic Monthly, when it comes to the NFL, the most popular team in the entire State of Oklahoma -- and all of Texas except the part around Houston, and all but the northwesternmost part of New Mexico, and all but the southeasternmost part of Arkansas -- is Dallas Cowboys territory. Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs and the St. Louis Rams, and even the Denver Broncos, not that far from the western tip of the Oklahoma Panhandle, need not apply.

* Site of Oklahoma City Bombing. In 1977, the federal government opened the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, named for a federal judge whom U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren had called "one of the foremost figures in the American judiciary." He was not widely known outside Oklahoma, but nearly 20 years after his death, his name became ingrained into the American memory. Since 1963, Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the bombing, is the only prisoner ever executed by the federal government.

This wasn't the first plot to bomb the building: A man named Richard Snell, a member of a "Christian" extremist group, had threatened to blow the buildup up with a van bomb, perhaps inspiring McVeigh to use the same method. He was convicted of an unrelated murder, and his execution was set for April 19, 1995 -- the very day that the building was destroyed by a bomb anyway. The execution happened as scheduled.

A memorial to the 168 victims of the worst domestic terrorist attack in American history is now on the site. 200 NW 5th Street & N. Harvey Avenue, about 7 blocks north of the arena. A new federal building was built on a 2-city-block site, 1 block north and west of the former site. It carries out the same functions as the former building, hosting regional offices for the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, recruiting offices for the Army and the Marine Corps, and, most significant in McVeigh's mind, as he was seeking revenge for the Ruby Ridge incident of 1992 and the Waco incident exactly 2 years earlier on April 19, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

* Other Historic Sites. The State Capitol (or State House, if you prefer) is at 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. at NE 23rd Street, about 3 miles northeast of the arena. Number 2 bus. The Oklahoma History Center is to the immediate northeast of the State House, at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive at Lincoln Blvd. According to its website, "The goal is to span the entire breadth of Oklahoma's diverse history from Native Americans to oil."

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is a short walk from the Arena, at 415 Couch Drive at Walker Avenue. Contrary to an easy guess, it does not specialize in Western-themed and Native American art. If those interest you, you can visit the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, at 1700 N. 63rd Street, off Grand Blvd., northeast of downtown. Number 22 bus.

The Beatles never performed in Oklahoma, but Elvis Presley did, including a few times before he was nationally known. He did 2 shows at the Oklahoma City Municipal Auditorium on October 16, 1955, and 2 more on April 19, 1956. (There's that date again.) It's now named the Civic Center Music Hall. 201 N. Walker Avenue at Lee Avenue, about a mile northwest of the arena. He also performed at the Fair Ground Arena, next-door to the All Sports Stadium (and also since demolished) on November 16, 1970. He also performed at the Myriad Convention Center on July 2, 1973; July 8, 1975; and May 29, 1976. Seating 13,846 this arena, now named the Cox Convention Center, is across Reno Avenue from the Chesapeake Energy Center, which augmented it, rather than replacing it, as it still hosts lots of conventions.

The University of Oklahoma is in Norman, 23 miles south of Oklahoma City, and plays its football games at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Originally built in 1923 as Owen Field, it now seats 82,112 people. Led by running back Tommy McDonald and center-linebacker Jerry Tubbs, from 1953 to 1957 the Sooners won 47 straight games, a college football record. (Both the last team and the next team to beat them was Notre Dame.)

The stadium was the site of the 1971 "Game of the Century," when Oklahoma and Nebraska, a great rivalry which has fallen by the wayside as they've gone into separate leagues, played each other on Thanksgiving Day, with the Sooners ranked Number 1 and the Cornhuskers ranked Number 2. Nebraska won, and went on to win the National Championship. But the Sooners have won 7 National Championships: 1950, 1955 and 1956 under Bud Wilkinson; 1974 and 1975 under Chuck Fairbanks; 1985 under Barry Switzer, and 2000 under current coach Bob Stoops.

Oklahoma has had 5 winners of the Heisman Trophy: 1952 running back Billy Vessels, 1969 running back Steve Owens, 1978 running back Billy Sims, 2003 quarterback Jason White and 2008 quarterback Sam Bradford. Their litany of football legends also includes Pro Football Hall-of-Famers Tommy McDonald and Lee Roy Selmon, and All-Pros Greg Pruitt, Joe Washington, Dewey Selmon, Tony Casillas and Keith Jackson (not the sportscaster, who did have to call some of his games). It also includes Bob Kalsu, a Buffalo Bills tackle who was killed in action in Vietnam; Brian Bosworth, the linebacker known more for his attitude and "style" than his playing; and, ironically, the 1949 quarterback who became the greatest coach ever at their biggest rivals -- not Oklahoma State, but the University of Texas: Darrell Royal.

The stadium is located at 180 W. Brooks Street & S. Jenkins Avenue. The OU (never "UO," even though that's more correct) campus can be reached from Oklahoma City via the Number 24 bus. The ride takes about an hour.

Oklahoma State University is in Stillwater, 67 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. They play at Boone Pickens Stadium, formerly named Lewis Field. Built in 1920, it was the oldest stadium in the former Big 8 Conference, and is now the oldest in the league currently (but erroneously) known as the Big 12. It seats 60,218. Oil baron T. Boone Pickens, an OSU alum, had donated $165 million to his alma mater to boost their athletic facilities.

Their stars have included 1940s halfback Bob Fenimore, Super Bowl-winning Dallas Cowboy and chewing tobacco spokesman Walt Garrison, 4-time Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steeler tackle Jon Kolb, Cleveland Browns All-Pro tackle Jerry Sherk, 1988 Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders and current Dallas Cowboys All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant. In the 1940s, they had a 2-way end named Neill Armstrong. Note the extra L: This man did not walk on the Moon. Aside from his name, he's best known as the head coach the Chicago Bears fired in 1981 to make way for Mike Ditka.

The Cowboys have never won a National Championship, although they have won their conference 10 times, most recently taking the Big 12 title in 2011. Pickens Stadium is at 700 W. Hall of Fame Avenue & Hester Street. You're going to need a car to get there.

The OU-OSU rivalry, known as "Bedlam," includes one of the most lopsided college football matchups, maybe the most lopsided among major rivalries: The Sooners have won 84 times, the Cowboys only 17, with 7 ties. Oklahoma also has decent programs in baseball, track, wrestling, and basketball, having made the NCAA Final in 1947 and 1988 (though losing both times). Oklahoma State, known until 1958 as Oklahoma A&M, won the National Championship in 1944 and 1945, coached by Hank Iba, and led by one of the first 7-footers, Bob "Foothills" Kurland, who, despite his size and talent, never played in the NBA. They also reached the Final Four in 1949, 1951, 1995 and 2004. They also have the nation's most successful wrestling program (even more National Championships than the University of Iowa), built by coach Ed Gallagher.

OSU's Gallagher-Iba Arena opened in 1938, still uses its original basketball court, and is known as "The Rowdiest Arena in the Country," "The Madison Square Garden of The Plains" and "Mr. Iba's House of Horrors." OU plays basketball at the Lloyd Noble Center.

Tulsa, Oklahoma's other major city, home to 400,000 people, is 106 miles northeast of Oklahoma City -- roughly as far apart as New York and Philadelphia, without the advantage of high-speed rail in between. And yet, Tulsa, the smaller city and not the State Capital, had a "major league" team before OKC did. The WNBA's Tulsa Shock, formerly the Detroit Shock, play at the BOK Center. (BOK, at least officially, stands for Bank of Oklahoma.) Opening in 2008, it seats 17,839, a big arena for a city that size.

The University of Tulsa, whose teams are called the Golden Hurricane, play football at Skelly Field at Chapman Stadium, a 30,000-seat facility built in 1930 but heavily renovated since, so that it looks nothing like a stadium from that period. It was home to the Tulsa Roughnecks of the old North American Soccer League, winning the 1983 title. (Another team of that name will begin play next spring in U.S. soccer's 3rd division, but in a smaller stadium.) The USFL's Oklahoma Outlaws played their one and only season there, in 1984. Steve Largent starred there for the Hurricane, Doug Williams for the Outlaws. S. Florence & E. 8th Streets.

Outside of sports, the most famous native of Oklahoma is probably Will Rogers. The ranch where he was born is on a lake northeast of Tulsa, at 9501 East 380th Road in Oologah. And the Will Rogers Memorial Museum is near it, at 1720 W. Will Rogers Blvd. in Claremore.

Yankee Legend Mickey Mantle was born in Spavinaw, 174 northeast of Oklahoma City; grew up in a shotgun shack at 319 S. Quincy Street in Commerce, 198 miles northeast; and played semipro ball, since Commerce High School didn't have a baseball team (though it did have a football team on which he excelled), in towns where 4 States come together: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. Joplin, Missouri, just 28 miles northeast of his home, was the site of his 1st pro team, a Class C (equivalent to Class A ball today) team called the Joplin Miners. The house still stands, but while there's been discussions of turning it into a Mantle museum, it remains vacant. Mickey lived his adult life (the off-season part of it, anyway) in Dallas, 205 south of Oklahoma City, and is interred there.

Mickey's successor as Yankee center fielder (if you don't count the 2 years he switched positions with 1st baseman Joe Pepitone to ease the strain on his legs in those pre-DH days), Bobby Murcer, lived his whole off-season life in Oklahoma City, graduating from Southeast High School. Like Mantle, he attracted some attention from OU football, but chose baseball instead. Cincinnati Reds superstar Johnny Bench, although born in Oklahoma City, grew up 60 miles to the west, in Binger.

The greatest athlete ever to come from Oklahoma wasn't Mantle, or Murcer, or Bench, or the many great running backs at OU and OSU. It was Jim Thorpe, both the greatest football player and the greatest track and field performer of the 1st quarter of the 20th Century, and a man who once hit .317 in Major League Baseball. The only Oklahoma home of his known to still stand is one he owned from 1917 to 1923, and it's now a museum. 706 E. Boston Avenue in Yale, about 83 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, closer to Tulsa.

There has never been a President who was born or spent significant time in Oklahoma, and so there's no Presidential Library there. Dwight D. Eisenhower was born close to the State Line in Denison, Texas -- but grew up in Abeline, Kansas, and always considered himself to be from there. Herbert Hoover's Vice President was an Oklahoman, Charles Curtis, believed to be the 1st person of Native American descent to serve in the U.S. Congress (and he served in both houses). Typical for Vice Presidents, he tends to get forgotten; then again, Hoover should have been so lucky.

The Devon Energy Center, opening in 2012 at 844 feet, is tallest building in Oklahoma -- indeed, it's the tallest building between Chicago and Dallas. 280 W. Sheridan Avenue at Robinson Street.

Aside from Thunderstruck, the most notable movies set in Oklahoma are the 1940 version of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, The Outsiders, Far and Away, Twister (as you might guess for a State known as "Tornado Alley"), Elizabethtown and The Killer Inside Me. The TNT crime drama Saving Grace was set in Oklahoma City, hometown of its creator Nancy Miller. While it used some location shots, it was largely filmed in Los Angeles and Vancouver. The HBO series Carnivàle was also set in Oklahoma, but filmed in Southern California.

*

Oklahoma is a long way from New York, but Oklahoma City is no one-horse town in the middle of nowhere. It's an interesting place, and a good place to watch a basketball game. Good luck to anyone going to see the Knicks or the Nets play the Thunder there this season.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In Minnesota -- 2014-15 Edition


Yet again, I'm nearly too late with this. Tomorrow night, the Knicks play the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center in Minneapolis. (That's the octagonal building in the middle of the picture, with the Twins' Target Field in front of it, and the now-demolished Metrodome in the upper left-hand corner. The Target store company is headquartered in Minneapolis.)

The Nets will head out there later in the season.

Before You Go. It's Minnesota. It's mid-November. It's going to be cold. True, the game will be indoors, but you'll have to be outside at some point. You should consult the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press websites for their forecasts. They're predicting 21 degrees... for tomorrow afternoon. For gametime, 5 above zero. For Thursday daylight, at which point you might still be in Minnesota, 17. Brrrr. Bundle up.

Minnesota is in the Central Time Zone, 1 hour behind New York. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. The Timberwolves averaged only 14,564 fans per home game last season, 27th in the NBA, ahead of only Atlanta, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. They averaged 75 percent of capacity, 26th, ahead of only those teams and Detroit. Already, there are rumors that the team will end up having to move. Getting tickets should not be an issue. (Indeed, they almost moved to New Orleans in 1994, but, due to the prospective new owners having financing issues, the NBA's franchise relocation committee unanimously turned them down, and Glen Taylor stepped in, and still owns the team today.)

In the lower level, seats run from $111 to $334 between the baskets and $65 to $111 behind them. In the upper level, they are $31 or $41 between the baskets and $19 behind them.

Getting There. It’s 1,199 road miles from Times Square in New York to Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis (the spot where Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat in the air in the opening sequence of her 1970-77 CBS sitcom). Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there. And, since I took to long to do this, that's now your only option. Again, I'm sorry.

But it’s kind of an expensive flight. Even if you order early, chances are you’ll have to pay at least $950 round-trip. And you'll have to change planes in Chicago – or even Dallas (which would piss off not just the New York Giants football fan that you might be, but also the Minnesota Vikings fans you may be flying to Minneapolis with). But when you do get there, the Number 55 light rail takes you from the airport to downtown in under an hour, so at least that is convenient.

Bus? Not a good idea. Greyhound runs 3 buses a day between Port Authority and Minneapolis, all with at least one transfer, in Chicago and possibly elsewhere as well. The total time, depending on the number of stops, is between 26 and 31 hours, and costs $507 round-trip, although it can be dropped to $449 with advanced purchase. The Greyhound terminal is at 950 Hawthorne Avenue, at 9th Street North, just 3 blocks from Nicollet Mall, 2 from the Target Center arena, and from there just across the 7th Street overpass over Interstate 394 from Target Field.

Train? An even worse idea. Amtrak will make you leave Penn Station on the Lake Shore Limited at 3:40 PM Eastern Time, arrive at Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 AM Central Time, and then the Empire Builder, their Chicago-to-Seattle run, will leave at 2:15 PM and arrive in St. Paul (not Minneapolis) at 10:31 PM. From there, 730 Transfer Road, you’d have to take the Number 16 or 50 bus to downtown Minneapolis. And it’s $692 round-trip.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key, through the rest of Ohio and Indiana.

Just outside Chicago, I-80 will split off from I-90, which you will keep, until it merges with Interstate 94. For the moment, though, you will ignore I-94. Stay on I-90 through Illinois, until reaching Madison, Wisconsin, where you will once again merge with I-94. Now, I-94 is what you want, taking it into Minnesota and the Twin Cities, with Exit 233A being your exit for downtown Minneapolis.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 and a half hours in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, 2 and a half hours in Wisconsin, and half an hour in Minnesota. That’s 17 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter both Ohio and Indiana, outside Chicago and halfway across Wisconsin, and accounting for traffic in New York, the Chicago suburbs and the Twin Cities, it should be no more than 23 hours, which would save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not on flying.

Once In the City. When the original NBA team, there, the Minneapolis Lakers, moved in 1960, it was decided that any new teams coming in would instead be named after the State: From 1961 onward, we have seen the Minnesota Twins in MLB, the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL, the Minnesota North Stars and the Minnesota Wild in the NHL, the Minnesota Muskies in the ABA, the Minnesota Fighting Saints in the WHA, the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA, the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA, and Minnesota United FC in the NASL (which they would like to promote into MLS, but, as yet, this hasn't happened).

The teams are called "Minnesota," because they didn't want to slight either Minneapolis or St. Paul. The baseball team is called the "Twins" because Minneapolis and St. Paul are the "Twin Cities."

Well, these "twins" are not identical: They have different mindsets, and, manifesting in several ways that included both having Triple-A baseball teams until the MLB team arrived, have been known to feud as much as San Francisco and Oakland, Dallas and Fort Worth, Baltimore and Washington, if not as much as Manhattan and Brooklyn. Minneapolis has about 400,000 people, St. Paul just under 300,000, and the combined metropolitan area about 3.6 million, ranking 16th in the U.S. -- roughly the combined population of Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island -- or that of Manhattan and Queens. Denver is the only metropolitan area with teams in all 4 sports that's smaller.

"Minneapolis" is a combination of the Dakota tribal word for water, and the Greek word for city. It was founded in 1867 with the name St. Anthony Falls, and, of course, St. Paul, founded in 1854, is also named for an early Christian saint. In Minneapolis, Hennepin Avenue separates the numbered Streets from North and South, and the Mississippi River is the "zero point" for the Avenues, many (but not all) of which also have numbers.

Each city once had 2 daily papers, now each is down to 1: Minneapolis had the Star and the Tribune, merged in 1982; St. Paul the Pioneer and the Dispatch, merged into the Pioneer Press and Dispatch in 1985, with the Dispatch name dropped in 1990. Today, they are nicknamed the Strib and the Pi Press.

The sales tax in the State of Minnesota is 6.875 percent. It's 7.775 percent in Minneapolis' Hennepin County, and 7.625 percent in St. Paul's Ramsey County. Bus and Light Rail service is $2.25 per ride during rush hours, $1.75 otherwise.

Going In. The Target Center is at the northwest edge of downtown Minneapolis, in a neighborhood called the Warehouse District. It can be reached via the Warehouse-Hennepin Avenue station on the Metro Transit Hiawatha Line, Minneapolis’ light rail system.

It is bounded by 6th Street, 1st Avenue, 7th Street and 2nd Avenue, with that stretch of 2nd renamed Rod Carew Drive, even though Carew played for the Twins, not the Timberwolves. Speaking of the Twins, Interstate 394 separates their Target Field from the Target Center. Parking lots are all over downtown, and parking is between $10 and $15, depending on the event. However, if you’ve driven all this way, most likely you’ll be staying at a hotel and walking or taking public transit from there. The official address is 600 First Avenue North. The court is laid on northeast-to-southwest.

Food. Considering that Minnesota is Big Ten Country, you would expect their arena to have lots of good food, in particular that Midwest staple, the sausage, including German, Italian, Polish and Kosher varieties. Fortunately, you would be right, as the influence of regional rivals Chicago and Milwaukee has taken hold.

The Target Center has Deli Stands, Grill Stands, Pizza Stands, Ice Cream Stands, the Loco Lobos Stand featuring Mexican food at Section 133, and, at Section 113, the State Fair Stand. The State Fair is a very big deal in Minnesota (whereas most New Yorkers don't go up to Syracuse for theirs, and most New Jerseyans couldn't be bothered to schlep up to the Meadowlands for theirs), and the Stand features Fresh Cut Fries, Baked Potatoes and Fried Cheese Curds.

Team History Displays. Unlike the Twins and the Vikings, the Timberwolves don't have much history -- not particularly successful, and not even particularly interesting. They've only won 1 Division Title, and the banner for that 2004 title does hang in the rafters. That 2003-04 season also marks the only time in their 1st 25 seasons that the T-Wolves have reached the Conference Finals.

The T-Wolves have only 1 retired number, and it's as a memorial, not for long and glorious service: Malik Sealy, the Bronx native who starred at St. John's and with the Indiana Pacers, played 1 season, 1999-2000, in Minnesota before being killed. He was driving home from a birthday celebration for teammate and best friend Kevin Garnett in downtown Minneapolis, when he was hit by a truck driven by a man who already had 1 drunk driving conviction. He served 3 years in prison, and is back in prison due to a 3rd DUI charge. Sealy was named after Malcolm X, who called himself Malik Shabazz in the closing days of his life, and was buried in the same cemetery, Ferncliff in Greenburgh, in Westchester County.

In spite of the way Garnett left -- essentially doing what LeBron James did in Cleveland, desperately hoping the team could get built up, not having it happen, playing out his contract and leaving for a "superteam," in his case the Boston Celtics -- I suspect that, once he retires as a player, the T-Wolves will retire his Number 21. If that is, they're still playing in Minneapolis by then. (They have no plans to move, but considering their attendance and the current state of the team, it's not hard to imagine them moving within the next 5 years.) But I find it difficult to imagine them retiring any other numbers anytime soon.

Indeed, of the 6 banners hanging at Target Center, only 2 are for the T-Wolves. The Lynx hang 3, for their 2011 WNBA Championship and their 2011 and 2012 Western Conference titles. The other honors the 7 members of the Minneapolis Lakers in the Basketball Hall of Fame: George Mikan, Jim Polland, Vern Mikkelsen, Slater Martin, Clyde Lovellette, Elgin Baylor and head coach John Kundla. But no mention is made of the Lakers' 5 NBA titles in Minneapolis: 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954. Nor is their 1948 National Basketball League title mentioned. (Vikings coach Bud Grant had also played on those Laker championship teams.)

Stuff. The Timberwolves and Lynx Pro Shop is open on the Skyway Level of the Target Center. Paraphernalia of both teams is available.

Without much history -- there's certainly no DVD package of the NBA Finals they won, because they haven't won one -- there's not much media about the T-Wolves. Sara Gilbert (not the Roseanne actress now a panelist on The Talk) wrote The Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the NBA's A History of Hoops series. Nate LeBoutillier's update will appear in January.

During the Game. Because of their Midwest/Heartland image, Timberwolves fans like a “family atmosphere.” Therefore, while they don’t especially like the Knicks or the Nets, they will not directly antagonize you. You’ll probably be all right if you don’t say anything complimentary about the Green Bay Packers, the University of Wisconsin, the Dallas Stars (the hockey team that used to be the Minnesota North Stars) or Norm Green (the owner who moved them).

The T-Wolves' mascot is Crunch the Wolf. They do not appear to have any traditional chants, fan quirks such as funny hats or masks, or a postgame victory song. Honestly, they're kind of boring.

After the Game. Minneapolis is one of the safest cities in the country, and Timberwolves fans aren't known for their antagonism. You should be completely safe leaving the Target Center.

If you want to be around other New Yorkers, I’m sorry to say that listings for where they tend to gather are slim. But I have one listing for a place that seems to cater to football Giants fans: O'Donovan's Irish Pub, at 700 1st Avenue North at 7th St.

Another restaurant that may be of interest to New Yorkers is Charley's Grill, at 225 3rd Avenue South at 2nd Street.  It was popular among visiting players from other American Association cities when they came to play the Millers and the Saints. Legend has it that, when the Yankees gathered for spring training in 1961, they were trying to figure out which restaurants in the new American League cities were good, and someone who'd recently played for the Denver Bears mentioned Charley's. But Yogi Berra, who'd gone there when the Yanks' top farm team was the Kansas City Blues, said, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." Well, someone must still be going there, because it's still open.  (That Yogi said the line is almost certainly true, but the restaurant in question was almost certainly Ruggiero's, a place in his native St. Louis at which he and his neighbor Joe Garagiola waited tables.)

Sidelights. Minnesota’s sports history is long, but very uneven. Teams have been born, moved in, moved around, and even moved out. But there are some local sites worth checking out.

* Target Field. The Twins moved into their first real ballpark -- the Met and the Metrodome both being multipurpose facilities -- in 2010. They made the Playoffs that 1st season, but have struggled since. Still, it's not an ice tray way out in the suburbs, or a ridiculous dome. 353 N. 5th Street at 3rd Avenue, separated from the Target Center by I-394. It does, however, have its own station on the Hiawatha Line.

* Site of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and the new Vikings stadium. Home of the Twins from 1982 to 2009, the University of Minnesota football team from 1982 to 2008, and the NFL’s Vikings from 1982 to 2013, that infamous blizzard and roof collapse in 2010 brought the desire to get out and build a new stadium for the Vikes to the front burner, and finally led to action.

The Twins won the 1987 and 1991 World Series here – going 8-0 in World Series games in the Dome, and 0-6 in Series games outside of it. The Vikings, on the other hand, were just 6-4 in home Playoff games there – including an overtime defeat in the 1998 NFC Championship Game after going 14-2 in the regular season.

From October 1991 to April 1992, the Metrodome hosted 3 major events: The World Series (Twins over Atlanta Braves), Super Bowl XXVI (Washington Redskins over Buffalo Bills), and the NCAA Final Four (Duke beating Michigan in the Final). It also hosted the Final Four in 2001 (Duke won that one, too, over Arizona).

In May 2012, faced with the serious possibility of the Vikings moving without getting a suitable stadium (Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Antonio had been rumored as locations, in descending order of likelihood), the Minnesota State legislature approved funding for a new stadium for the Vikings, to be built on the site of the Metrodome and on adjoining land.

The damn thing has now been fully demolished -- in a piece of poetic justice, just as it was built and completed ahead of schedule and under budget, so did the demolition take place. The people of Minnesota seemed to be proud of its having been built on the cheap and on time, but it served its purpose, to keep the Twins and Vikings from moving for a generation, and now replacement stadiums are achieving the same purpose. Billy Martin, who hated the place, had the best word on it, though the awkward wording of it may have been inspired in part by his pal Yogi Berra: "It's a shame a great guy like HHH had to be named after it." (Billy's first managing job was with the Twins, at the Met in 1969.)

The Vikings will remain at TCF Bank Stadium through the 2015 season, before the new stadium opens in 2016. The new stadium might also allow Minnesota United to get promoted to Major League Soccer. 900 South 5th Street at Centennial (Kirby Puckett) Place. Metrodome station on Light Rail.

* Mall of America and sites of Metropolitan Stadium and the Metropolitan Sports Center. In contrast to their performance at the Metrodome, the Vikings were far more successful at their first home, while the Twins were not (in each case, playing there from 1961 to 1981). The Vikings reached 4 Super Bowls while playing at The Met, while the Twins won Games 1, 2 and 6 of the 1965 World Series there, but lost Game 7 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a shutout by Sandy Koufax. (So the Twins are 11-1 all-time in World Series home games, but 0-9 on the road.) The Vikings were far more formidable in their ice tray of a stadium, which had no protection from the sun and nothing to block an Arctic blast of wind.

In fact, the Met had one deck along the 3rd base stands and in the right field bleachers, two decks from 1st base to right field and in the left field bleachers, and three decks behind home plate. Somebody once said the stadium looked like an Erector set that a kid was putting together, before his mother called him away to dinner and he never finished it. At 45,919 seats, it had a capacity that was just fine for baseball; but at 48,446, it was too small for the NFL.

Prior to the 1961 arrivals of the Twins and Vikings, the Met hosted the Minneapolis Millers from 1956 to 1960, and 5 NFL games over the same stretch, including 4 “home games” for the Packers. (Viking fans may be sickened over that, but at least University of Minnesota fans can take heart in the University of Wisconsin never having played there.) The experiments worked: The Met, built equidistant from the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, in the southern suburb of Bloomington, was awarded the MLB and NFL teams, and Midway Stadium, built in 1957 as the new home of the St. Paul Saints (at 1000 N. Snelling Avenue in the city of St. Paul, also roughly equidistant from the two downtowns), struck out, and was used as a practice field by the Vikings before being demolished in 1981.

The NHL’s Minnesota North Stars played at the adjoining Metropolitan Sports Center (or Met Center) from 1967 to 1993, before they were moved to become the Dallas Stars by owner Norm Green, earning him the nickname Norm Greed. The Stars reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1981 and 1991, but never won the Cup until 1999 when they were in Dallas.

The Beatles played at Metropolitan Stadium on August 21, 1965 -- making one of only 3 facilities to host an All-Star Game, a Finals and a Beatles concert in the same year. (The others were the Boston Garden and Maple Leaf Gardens in 1964.) Elvis Presley sang at the Met Center on November 5, 1971 and October 17, 1976.

8000 Cedar Avenue South, at 80th Street -- near the airport, although legends of planes being an issue, as with Shea Stadium and Citi Field, seem to be absent. A street named Killebrew Drive, and the original location of home plate, have been preserved. A 45-minute ride on the Number 55 light rail (MOA station).

* Site of Nicollet Park. Home of the Millers from 1912 to 1955, it was one of the most historic minor-league parks, home to Ted Williams and Willie Mays before they reached the majors. With the Met nearing completion, its last game was Game 7 of the 1955 Junior World Series, in which the Millers beat the International League Champion Rochester Red Wings. A few early NFL games were played there in the 1920s. A bank is now on the site. Nicollet and Blaisdell Avenues, 30th and 31st Streets. Number 465 bus.

* Site of Lexington Park. Home of the Saints from 1897 to 1956, it wasn’t nearly as well regarded, although it did close with a Saints win over the arch-rival Millers. The site is now occupied by retail outlets. Lexington Parkway, University Avenue, Fuller & Dunlap Streets.

* Xcel Energy Center and site of the St. Paul Civic Center. Home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild since their debut in 2000, and site of the 2008 Republican Convention that nominated John McCain for President and Sarah Palin for Vice President. The place is a veritable home and hall of fame for hockey in Minnesota, the most hockey-mad State in the Union, including the State high school championships that were previously held at the Civic Center.

That building was the home of the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association from 1973 to 1977. The Fighting Saints had played their first few home games, in late 1972, at the St. Paul Auditorium. Elvis sang at the Civic Center on October 2 and 3, 1974, and April 30, 1977. The Civic Center is also where Bruce Springsteen and Courteney Cox filmed the video for Bruce’s song “Dancing In the Dark.” 199 Kellogg Blvd. West. at 7th Street.

* Site of the Minneapolis Auditorium. Built in 1927, from 1947 to 1960 this was the home of the Minneapolis Lakers – and, as Minnesota is “the Land of 10,000 Lakes” (11,842, to be exact), now you know why a team in Los Angeles is named the Lakers. (The old Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden said his team and the Lakers should switch names, due to L.A.'s "West Coast jazz" scene and the Great Salt Lake: "Los Angeles Jazz" and "Utah Lakers" would both make more sense.)

The Lakers won the National Basketball League Championship in 1948, then moved into the NBA and won the Championship in 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954. In fact, until the Celtics overtook them in 1963, the Minneapolis Lakers were the most successful team in NBA history, and have still won more World Championships than all the other Minnesota major league teams combined: Lakers 5, Twins 2, the rest a total of 0.

They were led by their enormous (for the time, 6-foot-10, 270-pound) center, the bespectacled (that’s right, he wore glasses, not goggles, on the court) Number 99, George Mikan. The arrival of the 24-second shot clock for the 1954-55 season pretty much ended their run, although rookie Elgin Baylor did help them reach the Finals again in 1959. Ironically, the owner of the Lakers who moved them to Los Angeles was Bob Short – who later moved the “new” Washington Senators, the team established to replace the team that moved to become the Twins.

The Auditorium hosted the NCAA Final Four (although it wasn't yet called that) in 1951, won by Kentucky. Elvis sang there early in his career, on May 13, 1956. The Auditorium was demolished in 1989, and the Minneapolis Convention Center was built on the site. 1301 2nd Ave. South, at 12th Street. Within walking distance of Target Field, Target Center and the Metrodome.

* University of Minnesota. TCF Bank Stadium, the new home of the University of Minnesota football team, opened in 2009. It was designed to resemble a classic 1920s college football stadium, with a reddish-brown brick exterior and a horseshoe shape, much like the 56,000-seat Memorial Stadium, where the Golden Gophers played from 1924 to 1981, before the Metrodome was built.

Its capacity of 50,805 makes it the 2nd-smallest stadium in the Big Ten, ahead of only Northwestern’s Ryan Field/Dyche Stadium, but the Gophers’ lack of success over the last 40 years or so has been overcome: They have regularly filled it. The Vikings played a home game here in 2010 after the Metrodome roof collapse, but the capacity (much like that of the even smaller Metropolitan Stadium) makes it insufficient as a permanent new home for the Vikings. The Vikings played a home game at “Old Memorial” in 1969 due to the Twins making the Playoffs that season.

The new stadium is at 2009 University Avenue SE, at 420 SE 23rd Avenue. Stadium Village stop on the light rail Green Line.

"Old Memorial" was a block away from where the new stadium now stands, on Walnut Street between University Avenue and Beacon Street. The Vikings played a home game there in 1969 due to the Twins making the Playoffs that season and having dibs on Metropolitan Stadium. The McNamara Alumni Center now stands on the site, and the arched entrance to Memorial has been preserved and stands inside.

The Gophers play their basketball games at Williams Arena, a classic old barn built in 1928, across Oak Street from the open west end of TCF Bank Stadium. Across 4th Street from Williams is Mariucci Arena, home of the hockey team that has won National Championships in 1974, '76, '79, 2002 and '03. Named for John Mariucci, a member of the Chicago Blackhawks' 1938 Stanley Cup winners who coached the Gophers, the arena was built in 1993, after the team previously played hockey at Williams.

Legend has it that 4th Street is the "Positively 4th Street" used as the title of a song by former UM student Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, although, as is often the case with Dylan songs, there is no mention of the title in the songs. Whether the "friend" who's "got a lot of nerve" was a fellow UM student, I don't know. It's also been suggested that the 4th Street in question is the one in New York's Greenwich Village.

* Museums. The Twin Cities are very artsy, and have their share of museums, including one of the five most-visited modern art museums in the country, the Walker Art Center, at 1750 Hennepin Avenue. Number 4, 6, 12 or 25 bus. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is at 2400 3rd Avenue South. Number 17 bus, then walk 2 blocks east on 24th Street. The Science Museum of Minnesota is at 120 W. Kellogg Blvd. in St. Paul, across from the Xcel Center.

Minnesota is famous for Presidential candidates that don’t win. Governor Harold Stassen failed to get the Republican nomination in 1948, and then ran several more times, becoming, pardon the choice of words, a running joke. Senator Eugene McCarthy opposed Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic Primaries in 1968, but lost his momentum when Robert Kennedy got into the race and LBJ got out, then ran in 1976 as a 3rd-party candidate and got 1 percent of the popular vote. Vice President Walter Mondale was the Democratic nominee in 1984, losing every State but Minnesota in his loss to Ronald Reagan. In the 2012 election cycle, the moderate former Governor Tim Pawlenty and the completely batty Congresswoman Michele Bachmann ran, and neither got anywhere.

Most notable is Hubert Horatio Humphrey. Elected Mayor of Minneapolis in 1945 and 1947, he became known for fighting organized crime, which put a price on his head, a price it was unable to pay off.  In 1948, while running for the U.S. Senate, he gave a speech at the Democratic Convention, supporting a civil rights plank in the party platform, a movement which culminated in his guiding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the Senate as Majority Whip. He ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1960, but lost to John F. Kennedy, then was elected LBJ’s Vice President in 1964. He won the nomination in 1968, but lost to Richard Nixon by a hair. He returned to the Senate in 1970, and ran for President again in 1972, but lost the nomination to George McGovern. He might have run again in 1976 had his health not failed, as cancer killed him in 1978 at age 66. His wife Muriel briefly held his Senate seat.

Not having been President (he's come closer than any other Minnesotan ever has), he has no Presidential Library, but there is the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, 301 19th Avenue South, only a short walk from the Dome that would be named for him. Hubert and Muriel are laid to rest in Lakewood Cemetery, 3600 Hennepin Avenue. Number 6 bus.

The tallest building in Minnesota is the IDS Center, at 80 South 8th Street at Marquette Avenue, rising 792 feet high. The tallest in the State outside Minneapolis is Wells Fargo Place, at 30 East 7th Street at Cedar Street in St. Paul, 472 feet.

Nicollet Mall is a pedestrians-only shopping center that stretches from 2nd to 13th Streets downtown. At 7th Street, in front of Macy's, in roughly the same location that Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards threw her hat in the air in the opening to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, is a statue of "Mare" doing that. It was the first in a series of statues commissioned by TV Land that now includes Jackie Gleason outside Port Authority, Henry Winkler in Milwaukee, Bob Newhart in Chicago, Andy Griffith and Ron Howard in Raleigh, Elizabeth Montgomery in Salem, Massachusetts and Elvis in Honolulu. However, the show had no location shots in Minneapolis.

The sitcom Coach, which aired on ABC from 1989 to 1996, was set at Minnesota State University. At the time, there was not a real college with that name. But in 1999, Mankato State University was renamed Minnesota State University, Mankato; and in 2000, Moorhead State University became Minnesota State University, Moorhead. The University of Minnesota was originally a model for the school on the show, but withdrew its support: Although some game action clearly shows the maroon and gold of the Golden Gophers, the uniforms shown in most scenes were light purple and gold. In one Season 1 episode, the Gophers are specifically mentioned as one of the Screaming Eagles' opponents, suggesting that Minnesota State might have been in the Big Ten. Show creator Barry Kemp is a graduate of the University of Iowa -- like Wisconsin, a major rival of the Gophers -- and most of the exterior shots you see of the campus were filmed there. In addition, the main character, Hayden Fox, was named after then-Iowa coach Hayden Fry. No scenes were actually shot in Minnesota, not even Hayden's oft-snowy lake house.

St. Paul is the capital of the State of Minnesota. The Capitol Building is at University Avenue and Capital Blvd. It's a half-hour ride from downtown on the Number 94 bus (named because most of its route is on I-94).

*

Bob Wood, a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a graduate of Michigan State University, wrote a pair of sports travel guides: Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks, about his 1985 trip to all 26 stadiums then in MLB; and Big Ten Country, about his 1988 trip to all the Big Ten campuses and stadiums. (Penn State, Nebraska, and soon-to-be members Rutgers and Maryland were not yet in the league).

The Metrodome was the only stadium that featured in both books, although if either were updated to reflect current reality, it would feature in neither. In Big Ten Country, Wood said, “Now, don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't like Minneapolis. How can you not like Minneapolis?... No, Minneapolis is lovely. It’s the Metrodome that sucks!”

Thankfully, it's gone, and the Target Center is a good arena. Whether the Timberwolves will give you a good show, or you'd prefer to see the Knicks or Nets roll over them, is up to you.