Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Part of the Boston experience is so uniquely intertwined with the Boston Red Sox experience. You need to try and take it all in, in one of the cities that truly is a baseball-first place. In a massive market like Boston, there are plenty of sporting options. The Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, Revolution, all take their draws from the citizens of the city.

But no draw compares to the popularity of the Red Sox.

Based on this, the Fenway area of Boston is one that must be visited when in town. A big part of this, are the sports bars that surround the legendary Fenway Park, the largest being the Cask n’ Flagon.

caskThe Cask n’ Flagon does what sports bars are supposed to do. It offers a wide selection of bar food, and a really strong list of beers to keep you entertained while the game is on the multitude of TVs placed around the bar.

First, a couple of negatives from my trip there.

  • The lines are really long on game days. Be aware of that if you plan to go when the Sox are playing at home. I was there when they were on the road, so it wasn’t an issue.
  • The TVs aren’t as big as they should have, or could have been. For a bar that thrives on sports, there should be some monster screens in there, in my opinion.
  • The staff couldn’t seem to figure out how to get the Red Sox game on. Seriously? The place was packed with people, there specifically to watch the game. And it took them nearly an inning to figure out which channel it was on, and how to get their TVs to the right place.
  • We ordered some wings. They forgot to place that order. After watching tables around us get the food they ordered, and an hour having passed, we finally asked about them. Our waiter was very apologetic, and we did get our wings. On the house. With some extra wings on there. This is excellent service, and they more than corrected their mistake.

Some of the good.

  • They fixed their mistake, and not having to pay for the wings was an added bonus.
  • The wings were actually incredibly delicious and filling.
  • Very good beer selection, especially for a sports bar. And quite reasonably priced.
  • Huge establishment, with tons of seating to help deal with their game day crowds.
  • A fairly attentive staff, definitely friendly.

The Cask n’ Flagon does not merit a special trip or anything, but if you are in the area, it is a good, sports-centric place to pop in for a beer and a snack, maybe before or after a game, or when the Sox are on the road and you want to watch the game surrounded by their fans.

At the Ballpark: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

At the Ballpark: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

For baseball diamonds, Fenway Park was always the ultimate destination. It was the one place I had to see games, no matter what. It was a bucket list item. Fenway is home to the Boston Red Sox, my favorite baseball team, the team I have cheered with for years, being fortunate enough to watch them through three glorious World Series runs.

And it did not disappoint.

On the streets of Boston, Fenway is nestled in there, almost unnoticeable until you are standing right in front of it. It is not a gargantuan behemoth of engineering placed far away from the city, surrounded by parking lots and a couple of bars. It is right in the heart of it all, lined by the famous Yawkey Way and Lansdowne Street, which is chock full of bars and restaurants, all geared towards the Red Sox crowd. From the outside, you see the green that has been made so famous by the ancient stadium (going on year 102 now).

And you simply can’t wait to get inside.

I took the ballpark tour, because, come on, this is Fenway. The tour was good, and the guide was an excellent source of knowledge, telling stories about the park and about the teams that had played there.

monsterFirst walking into the stands behind home plate, you have arrived. You stare out at the field, you look at the Green Monster in left field. You see Pesky’s Pole out in right, the famous scoreboard on the Monster, the current AL East standings, the signs for W.B. Mason. It is all so iconic, and it takes a moment to stand there, take it all in, take your pictures.

The tour was good, taking us to some of the most memorable and historic parts of the park. The ancient stands, the bleachers and the lonely red seat (which denotes the longest home run hit inside Fenway, by none other than Ted Williams), the press box, the outdoor patio high above left field, the Red Sox museum, and of course, the seats on top of the Green Monster, which have become the most coveted tickets in all of baseball.

The only disappointing thing about the tour was that we didn’t go to the locker rooms, or onto the field. This is understandable, as it was the day before Opening Day, but still…to stand on the shale of Fenway would have been something incredible. For $17, the tour was a good way to spend a little over an our, in the baseball cathedral that is this park.

My initial impression, walking up that ramp to see the field for the first time, was that this park is small! Fenway is intimate, and this only adds to the lustre of the place. It is not a mega-stadium that sits fifty-some-thousand. It is a small place, where fans gather to cheer for their beloved Sox. The beautiful thing about the smallness of the park, is that there is not a bad seat in the house. Wherever you are, even though it may seem like miles away from home plate, you still get a really strong view of the game. That is, of course, unless you are stuck with one of the obstructed view seats, but you would know that going into it.

 

The view from the back of the stadium.
The view from the back of the stadium. (not my photo)

The seats: I was lucky enough to be in Boston for Opening Day 2014, where the champs raised their banners and got their rings, celebrating an amazing season that culminated in an almost improbable World Series win last October. I will write a separate post on Opening Day itself, so for this one I will stick to the stadium. For Opening Day, we sat in the bleachers, section 62 (same section as the red seat), row 50 (actually the last row in the place). Tickets cost us $30 (we were lucky enough to buy them at face value before going to Boston, on StubHub before the game, those seats were going for close to $200- Opening Day!). Despite being as far from home plate as possible in right field, the seats were still great, and this speaks to how intimate the stadium is. There was a good view of the action on the field, and although you can’t call balls and strikes from that far away, it is still pretty awesome. You can soak in all the views from the bleachers, watch as balls ring off the Monster, and see the plays made in the infield with amazing clarity.

The seats, for being the bleachers, were pretty comfortable, and you are never too far from a beer stand, concession, or washroom. There is definitely a passionate fan base that sits in the bleachers, which gives the game more personality than it already has. I have never been to a sporting event where the fans are as knowledgeable as they were in Boston. They love baseball, and they LOVE baseball. It was amazing. No fair weather, just checking out a game because it sounds fun crowd here. The people of Boston live and breathe the Red Sox. I loved this.

Fenway_Park05The Monster: For the second home game of the season, of course we needed to sit on the Monster. This was a life goal, and both of us were pretty giddy to actually be able to get seats. Since we hadn’t initially planned on a second game, this one was more last minute. We paid $90 for standing room tickets on the Monster, for a night game on Saturday night. Even before getting there, we knew it would be worth it. And we were not disappointed.

There is no better place to watch a game than from the Monster seats. Standing room, while it sounds like a massive inconvenience, was actually kind of perfect. It gives you the chance to move around (which was great, considering it was bone chillingly cold that night). There are under 300 seats and standing spots on the Monster, so it is like a little community up there. There are two concessions just for the Monster people, with beers and Monster dogs (definitely better than the Fenway Franks!), and very close access to a bathroom. For those going for standing room, get there earlier than you normally might, claim your spot, and enjoy. Plus, if you are on the Monster, you really need to get there for batting practice, as the odds of snagging a home run ball are pretty good. All standing room seats are lined up against a bar, where you can lean, and rest your food and drinks. It makes the whole standing thing much more comfortable, as you don’t have to stand awkwardly in one position for hours at a time.

On the Monster, there were some of the nicest, and well-educated, fans I had been around. We made friends with all of the people in our standing section, and looked out for one another by saving spots when they would have to go to the washroom, top up a beer, or need to walk to warm up. Out little piece of the Monster was a nice one, and the great people made this one of the most fun ball games I have ever been to.

The views from on top of the most famous wall in baseball are incredible. In the crisp, cool night of April baseball, under the lights of Fenway, you see it all. You are on top of the action, and even closer to it than I would have thought. You look down at the left fielder, you see the pitches clearly (which makes yelling at the umps easier), and you are literally on top of the action.

If you are planning on going to Fenway as a vacation, see a game from the Monster. Despite the steeper prices, you will not regret it. Apparently standing room tickets are normally about $60, which is well worth it. Plus, as it was freezing cold, and the game ended up going in to extra innings, we ended up with Monster seats for about half the game, as some who were not as prepared for the temperatures ended up leaving early. Since it was so frosty, we still ended up standing, but we had moved closer to the famed edge of the Monster, and it was glorious. Plus, it gave us the chance to sit if our legs were feeling tired.

Prices: It is not cheap to go to Fenway. But I’m sure there isn’t anybody out there who are hoping for a cheap night out by going there. Beers cost nearly $9 for a can, a Fenway Frank is $5 (they are not large), and a Monster Dog is $9 (but good!). The service is fast and friendly.

champsAtmosphere: Simply put, there is no better place to watch baseball than at Fenway Park. Period.

The combination of the team, the city, the fans, the knowledge, the history, and the ballpark all make Fenway THE place to see a game.

The surrounding area: Is there more famous streets that surround a ballpark? Yawkey Way is the place to be on game day. The bars are lined up around the block, and the street is jammed full of people, elbow-to-elbow. There is a buzz there that is unprecedented in my experience. I can’t even imagine it during the playoffs. There are plenty of options for food and drink before and after the game. Either get there early (most places were open at 8:30 AM for Opening Day), or be prepared to wait in line for a decent amount of time. It is cool, because everybody is there for the same reason: because they love baseball, and they love the Red Sox.

Final Comments: Having the opportunity to fly across the country to watch baseball is one that I am grateful for. Seeing a game at Fenway really was a dream come true, and getting to see two was just adding to the perfection. Leaving the park after the end of the 11th inning on Saturday night, I simply thought to myself that I can’t wait to go back.

2014 MLB Predictions

2014 MLB Predictions

Even though I will surely regret trying to pick the standings for the upcoming season, I might as well give it a shot. Last year, I was way off in my bold prediction of a Washington Nationals vs. Kansas City Royals World Series. I guess there is no harm in trying again! Except for my inevitable hurt pride in being so wrong about things.

AL East

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. New York Yankees
  • raysAlways the most difficult division to pick, because there are three very good teams in here, and two others that have great teams on paper but have yet to deliver it on the field. It’s hard to argue with the Rays’ success over the past years.
  • So much went right for the Red Sox last year, it will be difficult to duplicate that. But, they made some smart, low-cost moves over the summer, and should very much be in contention again. I like these guys, because they are tough and scrappy.
  • Yes, I’m picking the Yankees for last place. That rotation is just a huge question mark for me, and that starting infield is brutal. One injury to their old men roaming the shale, and they’re done. Their outfield is definitely improved, but that is only three of nine positions. Brian McCann is an upgrade at catcher, however.
  • I thought about going with the Orioles to win this division, but they are always such a tease. Third is where they belong.
  • Those poor Jays. Even if they put together a year that is injury-free, they will have too tough a time getting past the other monsters in the division. Too many questions in the rotation, as well.

AL Central

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins
  • tigersHard to pick against the pitching of the Tigers. They can basically roll out three aces in a row, and the rest of the rotation is pretty solid, as well. I think their bullpen is improved.
  • This year, the Royals start to put it together. After a few seasons of expectations, they started to get it together in the second half of last year. They keep it going. Definitely a team trending upwards.
  • The Indians put together something special last year, making it to the one-game playoff. I don’t think they can do it again, but they are another fun, scrappy team. Love what Francona has done there.

 

AL West

  1. Oakland A’s
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. LA Angels
  5. Houston Astros
  • a'sNot much changing at the top. The Rangers have still more firepower, but there is something about this team that is lacking over the past couple of years, and doesn’t seem to be fixed. It’s finish. They lack finish. Prince Fielder could have a huge year there, if he doesn’t wilt in the Texas sun.
  • The A’s are just consistent. They are a good team, even if they seem to lack good players.
  • Finally, an off-season where the Angles don’t overpay someone. Trout is incredible, but the aging lineup around him won’t do much to help him out.

 

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. NY Mets
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Miami Marlins
  • natsThe Mets will actually probably be the bottom of this division, because there is a lot to like about the young Marlins.
  • I feel that last year was a season-long mistake by the Nats. They are better than what they showed last year, after their success the year before. They pull it back together this year.
  • Is it just me, or does the Phillies just seem like a collection of dinosaurs at this point?

 

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Cincinnati Reds
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Chicago Cubs
  • cardsShould be the most interesting division race again this year.
  • Impossible to bet against the always-consistent Cardinals. That rotation is excellent, arguably the best in the NL.
  • I think the Pirates contend again. They had players last year, on their miracle run, that had off-years. If they get it going as well, they can be good. Exciting team to watch, as well.
  • The Reds just kind of stay the same. Pretty good. Not excellent.

 

NL West

  1. LA Dodgers
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies
  • dodgersThat LA payroll is crazy. As is their roster. Even with the inevitable injuries, they have bought the depth to stay competitive. Another very good stable of pitchers. Seems like they have a dozen starters to choose from.
  • Arizona is building, and this division always seems to have tons of movement in it.
  • The Giants are usually good every second year, and this would be their year again. Don’t count them out, but I feel there are a few too many gaps to oust the Dodgers here.

 

AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Royals

NL Wild Cards: Braves, Pirates

AL Champion: A’s

NL Champion: Nationals

World Series Champion: Nationals

 

Dream Come True: Opening Day at Fenway

Dream Come True: Opening Day at Fenway

I love the Boston Red Sox.

Ever since I became a fan of baseball, they arbitrarily became my favorite team. I love the idea of the long-suffering fan base, I loved that they were rivals of the New York Yankees, and I loved the idea of the Curse of the Bambino, which had been going on for about 80 years when I started following them.

The reason they became my team was simple, as my sister was on a trip to Boston, and I asked her to buy me a Sox hat. It started there, and has lasted ever since.

This will be my view from the bleacher seats.
This will be my view from the bleacher seats.

After being lucky enough to watch them win three World Series titles during the tenure of my fandom, I feel grateful that I chose them as my team, even if it was a random selection.

After completely falling in love with the game, I will finally be able to fulfill one of my bucket list wishes: I will get to go to a game at Fenway Park. And not just any game, but I will be able to go to Opening Day, to start a season after they won the championship. I have long dreamed of going to Fenway, and have been to Boston before during the season, but that was during the 2005 playoffs, when they were facing the White Sox, the year after they won their first, curse-breaking Series in 2004. There was no way I would have been able to afford tickets to that game. So I watched, along with the rest of the city, in bars. The Red Sox lost that series, but the city was still abuzz with the team, still basking in the afterglow of their series win the year before. I had decided that when I returned to Boston, I would see a game, if not several games.

I may not have the chance to see more than one, but I will be there for the most important, and celebrated, games of the year, outside of the playoffs.

A friend won tickets to opening day, and when she was not able to go due to her small children, I bought them from her. Quickly, I booked a flight to Boston, as they were more reasonably prices than I would have expected, and so it goes. I will get to sit in Fenway, watch the team I love, and party with the other faithful of one of the most popular teams in baseball.

To say the least, I am truly excited. April 4th can’t come quickly enough!

Red Sox Back to Road Red

Red Sox Back to Road Red

I don’t really post enough about uniforms on my blog. I love uniforms, and I follow several websites that keep me up to date on all the tweaks and changes that go on through a season. For true uni-nerds, you really need to check out uni-watch.com for literally everything from the four major North American sports to Japanese soccer league changes. It covers everything.

While the uni sites out there do amazing jobs of reporting changes, I want to comment on one change, that albeit slight, is significant in my mind.

red sox redThe Boston Red Sox have gone back to a red script on their road uniforms. They won the World Series in 2004 and 2007 with these roadies, then they changed to the blue font that has been seen for the past couple of seasons. While I didn’t mind the change, it made the road greys seem more bland, and for a team with Red in their nickname, it was lacking something for sure.

It is a welcome change back to the way it was before. The red offers more pop to the name of the city, and it just makes for a better colour palette, in my opinion. The Red Sox should have Red.

red sox blueWhile the blue tended to have a pretty classic, old-school look, in a sport where all road teams are wearing grey as their primary colour, I feel like it is important to have certain aspects stand out on the field. Even the Yankees, with their timeless uniforms, have a dull look on the road, with their combo of grey and blue. The red adds some much needed spark, and will appear more vividly on TV, and in person.

I love the change. Plus, I already own a red font road uniform, so now I can take it back out of retirement!

Review: MLB.tv Premium

Review: MLB.tv Premium

I love baseball. During the season, it seems I can’t get enough of it. I’ll have days where I want to watch an inning or two, days when I want to see a whole game, and days where I will watch three straight games. I crave it. This time of year, I will watch a bunch of rookies and far-less talented guys play spring training games. I need to see baseball.

mlb-choosing-a-gameThis was one of my biggest things when I decided to no longer pay for cable. I would be losing baseball. Rogers Sportsnet broadcasts every Blue Jays game (our de facto home team, since they are in Canada, even if Toronto is thousands of kilometers from Edmonton), WGN Chicago gave me some Cubs games, there was the occasional national broadcast on Fox, and of course, Sunday night baseball, which was shown on TSN in Canada. All of this would be gone.

For the past three seasons, I have subscribed to MLB.tv, and last year was the first one I made a massive use out of it.

And I absolutely loved it.

Some of the benefits I found from the subscription, which cost $129.99 per year:

  • You get every game. Like, every single one. You want to watch all the Marlins games? You can.
  • For each game, you have the choice between the home or away feed. This was more important than I thought, because there are some truly awesome broadcast teams out there, and some that are far less engaging. You can be truly into an Orioles game, and snooze through the same game watching the Twins broadcast.
  • Highlights. I didn’t use this as much, since I was watching so many games, but you can get condensed games and highlights of every one.
  • The playoffs. I actually didn’t know that I would get to see the playoffs on MLB.tv. But I didn’t miss a single pitch of the Red Sox run to the World Series last year (they are my team).
  • Seeing teams you won’t usually see. I became a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates over the past few years, and even more so since I had the chance to visit their stadium and see a game at the incredible PNC Park. It’s not like many others were paying attention to the Pirates to start the year, so it was nice to watch about 30 of their games, and really get to know the team.
  • Increase in knowledge. If there is a team you cheer for, this is the way to know them inside and out. Seeing all of their games, you can see that new rookie, that old veteran, or the highly-touted injury replacement. You become far more knowledgeable about the team that you love.
  • HD. All of the games are shown in HD, which is great. There is the occasional lapse into standard definition, but I noticed last year that the whole thing lagged a lot less than in previous years.
  • Viewing on devices. I think a lot of people don’t get MLB.tv because they think they will be stuck watching games on their phone. But by buying the package, I have watched games on my phone, iPad, laptop, and most frequently, on my TV, by running it through my PlayStation 3. This was my favorite option, because I am not tethered to a device. It is on TV, the way it should be. On the PS3, it is easy to use, as the menus and schedules are very user-friendly.
  • Even though the cost seems high, I watched about 100 ball games last season. For me, that was well worth it. I would watch tons of Red Sox and Pirates, but now and then, I would scroll around and take a look at some teams that I wasn’t too familiar with, or other teams that I have a soft spot for.
  • Radio broadcasts. This was something I would use more on my phone. Sometimes on a hot summer day, there is not much better than listening to a ball game on the radio.
  • Viewing modes. You can watch a single game, or multiple games at the same time. You can call up in-game stats if you like, or have a scoreboard from around the league. There are tons and tons of options.

There is little to complain about this service. I would call it a must-have for any big baseball fan. Get it, it will be worth it in the end. Once you figure out how much baseball you can devour, you will understand how useful this can be.