Monday, January 23, 2017

How to Go to a Providence Basketball Game

In my OCD haze, I want to make sure I end up doing these trip guides for all 50 States. The most-honored sports team in the State of Rhode Island is the basketball team at Providence College, and they just so happen to be hosting New York City's own St. John's University on Wednesday. Thus giving me the opportunity to get 1 step closer to all 50. (I currently have 28, plus the District of Columbia.)

Before You Go. Mark Twain, who spent the last few years of his life in Hartford, Connecticut, famously said, "If you don't like the weather in New England, wait a minute." Providence is a little further north than New York. However, the weather won't be appreciably different. It's to the east of us, and thus still in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to fiddle with your timepieces.

According to the website of the Providence Journal, by far the largest newspaper in the State, temperatures should be in the low 50s on Wednesday afternoon, and in the high 30s in the evening. Wear a winter jacket.

Tickets. The Dunkin' Donuts Center is not a large arena, seating only 12,410 for basketball. But this is a college game we're talking about, so it most likely won't be sold out.

The student sections are behind both baskets in the lower level, the 100 sections, so those seats are out, no matter how much you can spend. Center-court seats are $90, but they can be had in the corners for $37. In the upper level, the 200 sections, they're $37 between the baskets and $17 behind.

Getting There. It's 181 miles from Times Square in Midtown Manhattan to the Dunkin' Donuts Center in downtown Providence. If you're driving, you take Interstate 95 all the way there, getting off at Exit 21.

Providence is too close to fly into Theodore F. Green International Airport, named for a former Governor and U.S. Senator.

If you want to take Greyhound, the good news is that it's very cheap: $76 round-trip, but only $24 if you order advanced-purchase. The bad news is that it takes 6 hours, and you'd have to leave at 8:30 in the morning, arriving at 2:30 in the afternoon. The other option leaves at 12:01 PM and arrives at 6:20 -- just 10 minutes before tipoff, so that's no good. And the next bus after the game leaves the following morning. So that's no good. The station is at 1 Kennedy Square, bounded by Washington, Dorrance, Fulton and Exchange Streets.

If you want to take Amtrak, it's $132 round-trip. The station is at 100 Gaspee Street, in front of the State House. You can get a train back out between the game's end and midnight, at 10:22 PM, and arrive back at Penn Station at 2:30 AM.

Once In the City. Once of America's oldest cities, Providence was founded in 1636, by Roger Williams, a religious dissident chased out of Massachusetts, probably for pointing out how the Puritans had deflated the footballs before the game against the Indians on the first Thanksgiving. He named it Providence, after the concept of divinely ordained events and outcomes, and it became a haven for other religious dissidents.

The city is a State capital, home to about 180,000 people, and has a metropolitan area of about 1.6 million, although it can also be said to be part of the metro area of Boston, 50 miles to the northeast. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority runs commuter rail service between the cities, and also gameday trains from both Boston and Providence to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) handles bus service in the State. The cash fare is $2.00, and a daypass is $6.00.

ZIP Codes in Rhode Island begin with the digits 028 and 029. The Area Code is 401.

Providence doesn't really have a "centerpoint," although downtown is at the confluence of the Providence and Woonasquatucket Rivers. The sales tax in the State of Rhode Island is 7 percent.
The State House

Going In. Opened in 1972 as the Providence Civic Center, and renamed the Dunkin' Donuts Center (or "The Dunk") in 2001, Providence's arena is at 101 Sabin Street, forming La Salle Square with Broadway and Empire Street.
Parking is available in 2 garages, adjacent to the Rhode Island Convention Center (RICC) and next to the Dunkin' Donuts Center. Located on West Exchange Street, parking is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The North Garage Parking Lot is at 99 W. Exchange Street. It's pretty expensive, given that this is a college and minor-league sports arena: $17.

The court is aligned northwest to southeast. Providence College has played home basketball games there since it opened in 1972. The American Hockey League's Rhode Island Reds played there from 1972 to 1977, and the AHL's Providence Bruins (with their P logo a copy of the Bruins' B) since 1992. 
It has hosted NCAA Tournament games, arena football, indoor soccer and concerts. The NCAA has held its basketball Final Four, the Frozen Four, at The Dunk in 1978, 1980, 1982, 1986, 1995 and 2000. 

Elvis Presley sang at this arena, under its old name of the Providence Civic Center, on June 22, 1974; June 26, 1976; and May 23, 1977. The Beatles gave no concerts in Rhode Island.

Food. According to the arena's website, "Concession stands are located throughout Level 2 (Concourse Level) in the venue, offering a variety of foods from pizza to grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, assorted beers/liquors, soda and Dunkin' Donuts coffee." But, being a college/minor-league arena, don't expect the kind of food courts you would see at a major league facility.

Team History Displays. A Catholic school, Providence's teams are called the Friars. They've never won a conference's regular season title, but they won the Big East Tournament in 1994 and 2014. They reached the Final of the NIT in 1960, and won it in 1961 and 1963, at a time when that tourney was still a big deal.

They reached the NCAA Final Four in 1973, led by head coach Dave Gavitt, later the founder of the Big East Conference, and the All-American point guard from North Providence, Ernie DiGregorio. They reached the Final Four again in 1987, coached by Rick Pitino, and featuring Rockville Centre, Long Island native Billy Donovan, who would coach Florida to back-to-back National Championships and now coaches the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Dunk has banners for the Friars' titles and Final Four berths, and for "Friars Legends":

* From the 1960s: Coach Joe Mullaney; Number 14, Brooklyn native Lenny Wilkens, Class of '60; 34, Johnny Egan '61; 10, Vin Ernst '63; 14, Raymond Flynn '63, later Mayor of Boston; and 24, Jimmy Walker '67.

* From the 1970s: Coach Dave Gavitt; 15, Ernie "Ernie D" DiGregorio '73; 24, Marvin "Bad News" Barnes '74; 27, Kevin Stacom '74; and 10, Joe Hassett '77.

They have not honored any players from the last 40 years, but those would include Otis Thorpe '84, Billy Donovan '87, Eric Murdoch '91, Dickey Simpkins '94, Austin Croshere '97, God Shammgod (that's his actual birth name) '97, and current NBA players Ryan Gomes 2005, Marshon Brooks '11, Ricardo Ledo '13, and Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil from the Class of 2016.
The Dunk also features the Providence Bruins' banners, including the 1999 Calder Cup and Division titles from 1993, 1999, 2003, 2008 and 2013. The P-Bruins do not, however, have any retired numbers, not even for Boston stars Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask or Tim Thomas. They do have a banner honoring their predecessors, the Providence Reds: The Fontaine Cup in 1930, 1932 and 1934; and the Calder Cup in 1938, 1940, 1949 and 1956.
Stuff. Not being a major league arena, The Dunk doesn't have a big team store. It has smaller souvenir stands.

There are no videos I can find about Providence College basketball. The best available book appears to be Richard Coren's 2002 opus Providence College Basketball: The Friar Legacy.

During the Game. Aside from that brief stretch in the mid-1980s when St. John's vs. Georgetown was epic and nasty, college basketball rivalries in the Northeast are tame. This won't be North Carolina vs. Duke, Kentucky vs. Louisville, Indiana vs. Purdue, or Cincinnati vs. Xavier. The New York-New England animus isn't going to put you in danger for St. John's vs. Providence.

PC's teams are called the Friars because the school was founded by the Dominican Order. They have a mascot, but, rather than a student in a friar's robe and showing his face, they have a student wearing a costume with a big foam head. The character's name is Friar Dom, after the Order. And they have cheerleaders.
Friar Dom, having the cheerleaders check to see if his T-shirt gun is loaded.
And also struggling to remember that priests are supposed to be celibate.

After the Game. Again, your safety won't be an issue. Presuming you used a parking deck, this should also be the case for your car.

The Dunk is downtown, and there should be postgame food & drink places aplenty. Since it's a 6:30 tipoff, and it should be over by 8:30, you could walk up Sabin and Francis Streets to the Providence Place Mall, which has a food court, plus a Panera, a Pizzeria Uno, a P.F. Chang's and a Melting Pot.

If you were visiting Providence on a day of European soccer action, the place to be would be the English Cellar Alehouse, across the Providence River, at 165 Angell Street, just off the Brown campus.

Sidelights. Providence isn't a big city, but with a metro area of 1.6 million, it would rank ahead of Jacksonville and New Orleans in the NFL, and not that far behind Buffalo; New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Memphis in the NBA; and Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg (and not far behind Buffalo) in the NHL. But it would easily be dead last in baseball. Plus, the Boston teams would have to waive their territorial rights. Barring that (good luck), and a bigger and more modern arena than the Dunkin' Donuts Center (ditto), it's not going to have a major league team.

But the city does have some sports sites worth visiting:

* Messer Street Grounds site. In the late 19th Century, before Southern and Western expansion due to the invention of air-conditioning and the growth of the automobile, Providence was one of the largest cities in America. And from 1878 to 1885, it had a team in the National League, the Providence Grays.

They won the Pennant in 1879, led by manager and shortstop George Wright, who starred for the 1st openly professional team, the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings, and would be succeeded as Providence manager by his brother and Cincy teammate Harry Wright).
The 1879 Providence Grays, at the Messer Street Grounds

That 1879 team also had multi-positional superstar John Montgomery Ward; Lipman "Lip" Pike, pro baseball's 1st Jewish player; Joe Start, baseball's 1st great 1st baseman; and William Edward White, who played 1 game in place of Start on June 21, 1879, and may have been black but passing as white. (Evidence has him listed under each race, so it's not clear.) If he was black, or mixed, then he would have been not only the 1st black player in Major League Baseball, but also the only former slave to play in MLB.

The Grays won the Pennant again in 1884, on the resilient arm of pitcher Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn and his 59 (some sources say 60) wins. They then faced the Champions of the American Association, the New York Metropolitans (and, yes, they were called the New York Mets for short), and swept them in 3 straight games, in what is now regarded as the 1st postseason baseball championship.

But the success of the nearby Boston Beaneaters (forerunners of the Atlanta Braves), drawing fans up the railroad to Boston, and the cost of running a team in what was already a too-small market did the club in after the 1885 season.

The Grays played at the Messer Street Grounds, which was demolished in 1887, and houses went up on the site, bounded by Willow Street on the north, Messer Street on the east, Wood Street on the south, and Ellery Street on the west. About 2 miles west of downtown. There is no historical marker at the site. Bus 19 to Westminster and Barton, then walk 3 blocks south on Messer.

* McCoy Stadium. Built in 1942, this 10,031-seat ballpark has been home to the Pawtucket Red Sox since 1970. The PawSox have been a Triple-A team, and the Boston club's top farm team, since 1973.
The PawSox have won the International League Pennant in 1973, 1984, 2012 and 2014. In the cases of each of the 1st 3, it was soon followed by a Red Sox Pennant: 1975, 1986 and 2013. Hopefully, that will not be the case for 2014 and 2017.

1 Columbus Avenue, in adjoining Pawtucket, about 6 miles northeast of downtown Providence. Bus 78 to Prospect and Linwood, then a 10-minute walk up Rhode Island Avenue.

* Kinsley Park site. Since 1971, the New England Patriots have played in Foxborough, Massachusetts, which is actually closer to downtown Providence (25 miles) than it is to downtown Boston (27 miles). That makes them the closest team in major league sports to Providence. But they weren't the 1st New England-based NFL Champions.

That would be the Providence Steam Roller -- "Steam Roller" as 2 words, and no S on the end. They began playing pro football in 1916, at Kinsley Park. They left after the 1924 season, but returned on November 6, 1929, for the 1st night game in NFL history, after a storm left the Cycledrome's field too waterlogged to play. The Steam Roller lost 16-0 to the Chicago Cardinals, but the gate receipts from 6,000 fans justified the move.

The site is bounded by Kinsley Avenue on the north, Dean Street on the east, Harris Avenue on the south, and Acorn Street on the west. About a mile west of downtown. The historic Nicholson File Company Mill is across Acorn Street. Bus 92 to Atwells and Harris, then a 10-minute walk up Harris.

* Cycledrome site. In 1925, the Cycledrome was built, as a bicycle racing track. That was a big sport in the 1920s. Needing a bigger stadium as they were entering the NFL, the Steam Roller moved in. However, a full field could not fit inside the track. As a result, the corners of the end zones were cut off.
The stadium only seated 10,000 people, and had no locker rooms. But n 1928, the Steam Roller won the NFL Championship. Head coach Jimmy Conzelman and early black star Fritz Pollard played on that team, and are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But, like the Grays 40 years earlier, they struggled at the gate, and fell victim to the Great Depression, folding in 1931. The Cycledrome, no longer having a reason to exist, was torn down in 1938.

The site is now occupied by a Peter Pan Bus Terminal. Smithfield Avenue, just east of I-95, about 3 miles north of downtown. Bus R to Main and 3rd Streets, then a 10-minute walk up Frost and Cemetery Streets.

* Brown Stadium. Currently the largest stadium in the State of Rhode Island, the Bears of Brown University have played at this 20,000-seat facility since 1925. Their 1926 team went undefeated, and was known as the Iron Men, as the same 11 men played every minute of every game, except for the last 2 minutes of the season, when 2 seniors were sent in so they could earn their varsity letters.
Brown has won the Ivy League football title in 1976, 1999, 2005 and 2008. 400 Elmgrove Avenue, about 2 miles northeast of downtown. Bus 40 to Elmgrove and Sessions.

* Rhode Island Auditorium. The American Hockey League's Providence Reds played at this 5,300-seat location from 1926 to 1972. In the 1st 3 seasons of the Basketball Association of America, 1946 to 1949, a team called the Providence Steamrollers (1 word, S on the end) played there. When the BAA merged with the National Basketball League to form the NBA, the Steamrollers did not go into it, and folded. They remain the last major league sports team to have played regular season home games in Rhode Island. (While the Celtics played a few "home games" in Hartford from 1975 to 1995, they never did so in Providence.)
From 1968 to 1971, it hosted some of the legendary rock acts of the time: The Who, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone, Led Zeppelin on their 1st U.S. tour, the Grateful Dead, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. But the construction of the Civic Center (now The Dunk) in 1972 made it obsolete. It was demolished in 1989.

A parking lot is on the site now. 1111 N. Main Street (U.S. Route 1), about 2 miles north of downtown. Bus R.

* Schneider Arena. Providence College opened this 3,030-seat arena for its hockey team in 1973, after playing at the Auditorium. In 2015, it won the National Championship. 331 Huxley Avenue, 3 blocks from the PC Bookstore, about 2 miles northwest of downtown. Bus 55.

* George V. Meehan Auditorium. Of similar size to Schneider Arena, 3,059 seats, but a bit older, Meehan Auditorium has been the home of Brown University hockey since 1961. It hosted what's now called the Frozen Four in 1965. 225 Hope Street, a mile east of downtown. Bus 1.

* Museums & Historical Sites. No President has ever come from Rhode Island, nor any Vice President. There are memorials in Providence to historic figures Roger Williams, the colony's founder, at Park Row and Canal Street; and John Brown, leader of the failed 1859 slave revolt at Harper's Ferry, at 52 Power Street. Both are just across the Providence River from downtown.

Many other historic sites, particularly relating to the U.S. Navy and great early American wealth, are in Newport, 33 miles to the south. Bus 60 from downtown Providence.

The tallest building in Rhode Island was erected in 1927 as the Industrial Trust Tower. Oddly, it is now vacant, and known officially by its address, 111 Westminster Street. It is 428 feet high, and right across Kennedy Plaza from the Greyhound station.

From 1999 to 2002, the drama series Providence aired on NBC, starring Melina Kanakaredes as a city native who became a high profile plastic surgeon, but returned to the Rhode Island capital after her mother died to help her family and operate a general medical practice there. There were many sweeping shots that made the city look nice (and it wasn't much of a stretch), but all filming was done in Los Angeles.

Other TV shows set in Providence include Brotherhood, Doctor Doctor and Canterbury's Law. Ghost Hunters is set in neighboring Warwick. Another Period is set in Newport at the turn of the 20th Century. On The X-Files, Fox Mulder's family is said to come from the fictional Rhode Island town of Chepachet, and the animated piece of garbage Family Guy is set in the fictional Rhode Island town of Quahog. The ABC show Body of Proof was set in Philadelphia, but filmed in Providence.

Brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly grew up outside Providence, in Cumberland, and made a film titled Outside Providence. They also set the Dumb and Dumber films, There's Something About Mary, Me, Myself and Irene, and Hall Pass in and around Providence. Other films set and/or filmed in Providence include 27 Dresses and the 2007 live-action version of Underdog. Newport was used for filming the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby, Reversal of Fortune, Amistad and Mr. North.

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Providence is not a big city, but it's a nice city. And, if you go there to see St. John's vs. Providence, you'll get all the New England sports passion without the dark side. Check it out.

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