I've lived in Clifton Park, NY a suburb about twenty minutes outside of Albany, NY for five years,but never ventured to an Albany Devils game. This past Wednesday I went to my first Albany Devils game and was surprised by the quality of the experience I received. I was so impressed I decided to bring my kids a few days later.

As an avid sports fan I find it important to email teams prior to going to any event. Many teams may offer discount ticketing or special perks you may not be aware of.  Also, many teams have special accommodations for fans with special needs and disabilities.  This is extremely important for my family because my daughter has Autism.

When I decided to go to the game on Saturday night I emailed Lauren with the Albany Devils ticket office about special ticket pricing, and she emailed me back literally 5 minutes later with special ticket pricing for my family since my daughter has Autism. This was great to hear because sometimes we only last the first period and are unsure how my daughter (and also my son) will behave, and don't want to spend full price on tickets when we might only stay for one period. Lauren provided us with tickets on the aisle so that my kids could get in and out of our seats if we needed to. The customer service Lauren provided was outstanding.

Normal ticket pricing ranges between $16.50 to $25.00 for adults, and $13.50 to $20.00 for kids/seniors depending on where you want to sit. The Devils also offer promotional nights for $10.  See their website for details.

Getting There:
I was always intimidated about going to the TU (Times Union) Center. It's tucked in Albany, near Empire State Plaza with one way streets around it. However, it's not as difficult to find or navigate around as you would think.  The easiest way to get there is to take I-787 to the Madison Ave exit, stay straight off the exit and follow this road until you see a McDonald's. Take a right at the McDonald's, and you'll see the TU Center in front of you. Take the first left in front of the TU Center and immediately past it on the right is a parking garage. The parking garage is clearly marked and is only $6, which is a fair price for parking. I parked on the same level as the entrance to the garage only had a couple hundred yards to walk before I entered the arena. There is a ticket booth at this entrance, but if you need to pick tickets up at the Box Office you'll need to walk around to the front of the arena where it is located.

The Arena:
You can't tell you are at a minor league hockey game when you enter the TU Center. It feels like an NHL game. There are various events going on around prior to the game which you can do including the 50/50 raffle, Chuck-a-Puck, and a kids area (which I will get to later in this post.). The TU Center is extremely clean and well taken care of. 

As a parent it's extremely important that I get my food and beverage before I go to my seat, this was even more important during this game because my wife was not with me and I wouldn't be able to get up during the game and get food.

The first thing I needed to get was ice cream for my daughter. I walked up to the Edy's Ice Cream booth and asked the cashier if they had soft serve ice cream, and took credit cards. The answer to both was "Yes." The fact they had soft serve and took credit cards was extremely important to me because in 2011, I went to a Adirondack Phantoms game with my daughter and they only had Dip N' Dots and didn't take credit cards. Because of that, my daughter got upset and we had to leave. This was a huge plus for us that the TU Center provided this. The ice cream was $4.50.

After we got our ice cream we went to another concessions line (where there was no line). I immediately asked if they had milk for my children. I was told "no" and wasn't offered an alternative.  My children are ages three and six, and while they'll drink water they do not drink soda. This was extremely disappointing, so I got a fountain soda, pretzel, and bottled water (for my kids). Our total cost was $12.00. Pretty affordable, but understand that you can spend a lot of money if you aren't careful.

After we got our food we headed to our seats which were level 117, Row R, Seats 1-4. The TU Center has each level clearly marked. Signs with each level stick out from the wall so as you are walking around the arena you can see the different levels from a distance Some venues have signs flush against the wall so you actually have walk right up to each level and look at the sign.

It was extremely easy to find our seats, but I didn't notice any ushers to help other people find their seats, and there were none there during the game. I would have like to seen someone in case there was an emergency.

Also, if you find your seats are too close to the ice for your kids, and their is a possibility they could get hit with a puck, you can go to Guest Relations and they will find you different seats.

Game Experience: 
One thing you'll notice about the TU Center is that there isn't a bad seat in the house. Aside from the play on the ice the Devils offer different various promotions during the game including as mentioned about the 50/50 raffle, and Chuck-a-Puck. During this game they had a "Teddy Bear Toss," where fans could bring a new or lightly used teddy bear to throw on the ice and which would be donated to local charity. Events like this happen on a pretty regular basis, and you can find out about them by looking at the Devil's promotional schedule.  

Midway through the second period my 3 year old son became restless and didn't want to sit down. I didn't have many options on where to take him, and while walking around the arena I remembered the children fan center where kids can shoot a hockey puck into a net, and spin a wheel to receive prizes. I took my kids over there and they had a blast playing with the hockey sticks and pucks, while both getting FREE prizes which include stickers, bracelets, and team posters. The girl who was working there was great too. She personalized my kids experience by using their names when she talked and played with them.

After the second period I decided to leave because it was getting a little late and the kids needed to get to bed after a long day. However, I'm sure my kids would have stayed for the entirety of the game.
Before we left the arena my daughter needed to use the restroom, so I asked some of the ushers if there was a "Family Restroom" available. The usher told me there wasn't, and that I could use the handicap rest room because it was bigger.

I know many sports venues are adopting family restrooms, and I hope the TU Center will look into this.

Overall, this experience was tremendous, and I could have asked for much more. I highly recommend that parents take there kids to Albany Devil's games. Not only is it kid friendly, but it's also a great place to take children with disabilities including Autism. 

Side Notes:
The above experiences was from my visit to the Albany Devils game on Saturday, December 15, 2012. I also went to to on Wednesday, December 12, 2012 with a friend and we had a similar experience but it was a little different without having kids around, but still a great time.

One thing I noticed at the game on Wednesday night while I was standing at the season ticket sales table, a man walked up with his son who was probably 14 years old, and noticeably had Autism. The man asked one of the people at the desk if they had any promotional items for his son, and the attendant went under the table cloth and pulled out a bag of goodies for the young man. I thought that was a classy move, and shows that the Devil's care for their fans.

The Press of Atlantic City is reporting Atlantic League President Frank Boulton is looking into the possibility of starting a new independent league with smaller teams, and a level equivalent to A-ball.

This league would most likely have smaller parks with less overhead costs to maximize return. While I think marketing plays a huge roll of success in a business or team. I think location is a just as important. Here are some suggestions of places I think that would fit well in a league like that.

Saratoga, NY - Saratoga is booming with business! Global Foundries a computer chip manufacturing company has come in and brought jobs to the area. They've increased the population of the area, and the overall development. As more companies come into the area because of Global Foundries the population and development will only increase. From July to September it also has an increase in tourists do to horse racing season,

The closest team to Saratoga is the Tri-City Valley Cats located in Troy, NY about 40 minutes away. The Valley Cats play a short season schedule of 76 games. This year they had a record attendance of 159,966.

Williston, VT - Located about about 10 minutes outside of Burlington, VT, Williston continues to be the center of urban sprawl around Vermont. Developers continue to try and put more stores and industrial companies in the area but have encountered push back from citizens concerned with ruining the image of Vermont.

A new ballpark would add a breath of fresh air to the area which has only a single-A team the Vermont Lake Monsters that plays in one of the oldest minor league ballparks in the country. Last season the Lake Monsters drew 2,500 fans per game. The Lake Monsters currently have a player development contract with the Oakland A's through 2013.

What are you thoughts on this? You can tweet me @corey42080.
Here's a new segment to my blog for the fall and winter called "7 Questions."

Our first "7 Questions" is with Stanley Cup winning goalie Bill Ranford

CM: What is your fondest memory playing hockey?
BR: Winning the Stanley Cup and World Championships

CM: Who was your favorite player growing up?
BR: Ken Dryden

CM: How did you get into coaching (Ranford is currently the goalie coach for the Los Angeles Kings)?
BR: I started in the WHL, and was then offered the Kings job.

CM: What does it mean to you mentor a Conn Smythe winner (Jonathan Quick)?
BR: I am fortunate to have a good relationship with all my goalies. Having one of them win the Conn Smythe Trophy is special.

CM: What does it mean to you win "the cup" as a coach?
BR: It was tough to watch instead of playing, but it was fun to celebrate with the players and the city of Los Angeles. 

CM: What was it like doing the goalie stand-ins for the scenes in the movie "Miracle?"
BR: It was long hours but great for my daughters to see their dad in a Disney movie.

CM: What were the thoughts that went through your mind just before you won the Stanley Cup in 1990?
BR: Excitement and then relief that the long journey was over.

You can read all about Bill's great career by visiting his wikipedia page!

Last fantasy season started off so promising for me. I thought that I was going to be flying high with LaGarrette Blount, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart as my running backs, and Carson Palmer, Colt McCoy and Blaine Gabbert as my quarterbacks. However, the ride became very turbulent and my fantasy season came crashing down. I was deserted on a desert island with nothing.

I waited all off season for someone or something to save me and finally in a distance I saw it. It read "Wilson." Not just one Wilson, but two.

Okay, enough with the "Castaway" references.

Going into my keeper league draft this year I knew I was in desperate need of running back and a quarterback.  I knew with the #4 pick in the draft I wasn't going to be able and get the top running back in Trent Richardson or either of the top quarterbacks in Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. I set my sites on trying to make the most logical decision possible to help my team win.

I decided that my need for a running back outweighed my need for a quarterback. I was currently carrying three quarterbacks on my roster, and this years draft was loaded with them, so I set my sites on the best available running back for my first pick. Here's how I ranked the top three running backs on the board.

#1 - Trent Richardson
#2 - Doug Martin
#3 - David Wilson

I knew Richardson was going to be gone after the first two picks so I was faced with either Doug Martin or David Wilson. Both would fit my team nicely.

For my second round pick I needed to get a qaurterback. I knew Luck and RG3 wouldn't be there, so I looked down the line and saw that Russell Wilson was having a good preseason. I always liked Wilson at Wisconsin, and thought maybe he could be the steal of the draft.

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Finally the draft had arrived and as expected the first two picks were Andrew Luck #1, and Trent Richardson #2. The next pick shocked me as a huge Redskins fan passed on RG3 in favor of Doug Martin. Now I was faced with either drafting RG3 or sticking to my game plan and taking David Wilson. I stayed the course and took Wilson. Even though I like RG3, I needed a running back more.

The picks started to fly off the board and finally I was up once again, and sure enough Russell Wilson was available. With a click of the mouse Russell Wilson is my future.

I'm extremely happy about both of my picks. I think David Wilson will become the Giants feature back and one day and his versatility lends himself to big fantasy numbers. While Russell Wilson possesses a cannon arm and he understands the game. In a few words, "he gets it."
As important as tomorrow's start may be for Roger Clemens, it may be more important for the Atlantic League.

The Atlantic League has been considered the best independent league by players but has been at times been mocked by fans and national analysts who haven't taken the time to understand the league. To many it's a "bush" league but to the fans who understand and follow it...it's way of life.

The Atlantic League will be on display tomorrow, showcasing one of their original franchises in Bridgeport, and their newest, Sugar Land. The league will have the opportunity to show the baseball world that not only is the league "legit" but that it's worth going to see.

The Atlantic League hasn't seen this much national attention since 2007 when Jose Offerman attacked Matt Beech with a bat during a game. This time the league can leave a better impression on the baseball world.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow with Clemens or the out come of the game. The league and it's players will get the attention it deserves. It's inevitable that fans will do online searches about the league and it's history, and maybe those fans will get to learn about the great careers of players like Josh Pressley, Jeff Nettles, Jesse Horrelbeke and Ray Navarrete, who never made it to the major leagues but became legends. And maybe players like Luis Lopez, Shea Hillenbarnd and Joey Gathright will once again be remembered as major leaguers. 

While the Atlantic League can't offer the highest quality of baseball, it can offer the highest level of passion for the game. None of the players are becoming rich from playing in the league, but every day they suit up and play the game they love. They walk onto the field and see the fans that have become friends and many cases family, and smile.

The Atlantic League is special, and they have an opportunity to show a national audience how special it is tomorrow.
As part of series "Old University of Vermont Football Photos," I've been trying to identify some of the players in the photos. Many of the photos I scanned in were not labeled, so people have been sending me messages helping me with who's who. A special thanks to my high school classmate Steph Farnham Puchalski for showing her dad, former UVM football player/Athletic Director Richard Farnham this photo. He was able to identify the players in the following photo.
Peter Clifford, Paul Simpson, Jim Culhane and Bobby Mitchell
Photo via Skeeters facebook page
In 1997, Gordie Howe played a single line shift for the Detroit Vipers of the IHL (International Hockey League). Howe skated around for a little bit and players were told not to touch the 70 year old legend while he took his shift. He eventually he skated off and didn't return. On that day Howe played in sixth decade of professional hockey.

In 2004, Rickey Henderson played for the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League. The aging Henderson was no longer the speedster of his youth but still had the diva attitude. One night against the Long Island Ducks, he ripped a ball down the line which would have been a stand-up triple ten years earlier. Instead, Henderson ran half way to first and walked the rest.

Howard Johnson played for the Rockland Boulders of the CAN-AM League last year which gave him the opportunity to play with his son Glen. This season Jose Cansesco made a comeback with the Worcester Tornadoes (they're in last place).

They were all gimmicks, to bring fans in, sell a few more jerseys and give their respective teams some national attention.

Can you really fault the Sugar Land Skeeters for signing Roger Clemens? It gives them attention in a baseball market with a major league team that is struggling. If you live in Houston area would you rather pay $30 to see a Triple-A team, or $12 to see Roger Clemens? The Skeeters actually aren't in dire need to sell tickets, they currently lead the league in attendance, and have a majority of their future games sold out. The Clemens signing is for the future. It will make fans aware of their team, and bring people through the gates in the future years. Independent league teams can flourish or perish in a season, look at the list of defunct teams over the last few years that includes the London Rippers, Brockton Rox, and Pittsfield Colonials.

The Skeeters are firmly implanting themselves in the baseball culture of Houston. 

You won't see Clemens lighting up the radar gun with a 98 mph fastball, or striking out 20 in a game. He may only pitch once. So you won't see much. What you will see is a good business move by the Skeeters.
Here's what pitcher Bubbie Buzachero had to say about his return to Long Island.

"I appreciate the opportunity again and that although it is great to see all my old teammates, I came back cause of unfinished business, a Championship! Long Island has such a great support from the fans, and for me personally to see how many Islanders keep up w my career is very surreal and amazing for me."

Great to have Bubbie back with the Ducks!

Pitcher Bubbie Buzachero has signed with the Long Island Ducks. Buzachero was a member of the Ducks in 2009, and 2011. He started the 2012 season pitching for the Kufstein Vikings in the Austrian Baseball League.

Bubbie Buzachero was originally drafted by Toronto in the 23rd Round (686th overall) of the 2002 MLB Draft out of Tennessee Tech University.

He advanced to Triple-A four separate times in his career, in 2007-2008 with Buffalo (Cleveland Indians), and in 2009-2010 with Las Vegas (Toronto Blue Jays). 

Last season, he had a 7-2 record with 22 saves, and a 3.26 ERA  for Ducks.

I talk to Bubbie every once in awhile online. He's a great guy who loves to play baseball. Many Ducks fans were disappointed when he didn't start the season with the Ducks, but are happy he's back. Y

You can follow Bubbie's career through his website/blog at http://www.bubbiebuzachero.com/.
The Sugar Land Skeeters have signed former Cy Young Award winner, Roger Clemens on Monday.

Clemens who is now fifty years old will start for the Skeeters on Saturday against the Bridgeport Bluefish.

In June, Clemens was acquitted of lying to a congress about using performance enhancing drugs.

Clemens has been out of baseball since 2007. That season he  went 6-6 with a 4.18 in 18 games for the New York Yankees.

In 24 seasons, Clemens has a 384 wins, 46 shutouts, 4672 strikeouts, and a 3.12 ERA. He was named an All-Star 11 times, and won 7 Cy Young Awards.

Here's a link to the Skeeters press release
Here are the pictures I took from yesterday's game between the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Vermont Lake Monsters. Vermont won 4-1. My "Venue Review of Centennial Field" will be up later this week.

Here's the third part of my blogging series about my keeper league football team called, "Keeping The Faith."

I've been a part of one of the most competitive keeper leagues around called the Tri-State Football League. I originally started this league in 2001, but handed off the commissioner reigns to my brother in the second season. You can check out the league website here.

Out of all the positions on my roster, I feel most confident in my receivers. I don't have a huge fantasy stud, but I do have some solid receivers who could turn into a stud.

Hakeem Nicks was the Giants number one receiver last year until he was injured and Victor Cruz stepped up. Nicks was very inconsistent as a fantasy performer last season. He either has a huge game or does nothing. His targets will likely go down because of Cruz and the addition of running back David Wilson. However, I'm not sold on Cruz and I think Nicks will eventually emerge as the Giants number one receiver.

The days of the diva wide receivers seem to be over but DeSean Jackson remains. After going public with his contract dispute last season the Eagles gave him a huge contract. The Eagles will need to use Jackson's big play ability if they hope to make the playoffs this season. Last season he lost targets to LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin but should get them back, since neither player showed ability to make a big play. Jackson will be a starter for me, especially since we get points for punt return yards.

Kenny Britt can be a number one fantasy receiver if he stays healthy, which he hasn't been able to do through out his career. He's also had issues off the field. Physically he's a top ten receiver in the NFL, but mentally he has a lot to work on. If he's healthy he could be a beast, especially if Jake Locker lives up to expectations. He's a solid number two.

Michael Crabtree had a solid season for the 49ers last season, but he'll lose targets to newly acquired Randy Moss. However, I think the 49ers will throw the ball more with their aging running game, which could give all the 49er receivers more chances. Crabtree could have a break out season.

Anquan Boldin's best days are behind him. He's become a possession receiver in a run first offensive. He's a bye week filler.

Here's the second part of my blogging series about my keeper league football team called, "Keeping The Faith."

I've been a part of one of the most competitive keeper leagues around called the Tri-State Football League. I originally started this league in 2001, but handed off the commissioner reigns to my brother in the second season. You can check out the league website here.

It seems like quarterbacks have become a forgotten part of fantasy football with so many quality ones. The lack of production out of my running backs has made me rethink who my starting QB should, or if I should try and trade for one.

My starting quarterback right now is Carson Palmer. Yes, Carson Palmer. He once showed glimpses of greatness but like many of the Southern Cal to come out over the last ten years has under performed.  Last season, he came to Oakland a few games in the season and didn't do much to drive up his stock. While he has a great arm, he makes too many bad decisions, especially when trying to fit the ball into tight coverage. He'll get no help this season, especially with the receiving he'll have. I'm definitely looking to trade him.

Blaine Gabbert is a work in progress but the Jagaurs have him on a short leash with the signing of Chad Henne. Jacksonville has completely revamped their receivers adding Laurent Robinson, Lee Evans and Zach Miller. They also drafted the best receiver in the draft, Justin Blackmon. I think Gabbert is going to surprise some people. However, defensive's might not respect the run and just sit on the pass if MJD work out his contract issue. That could be a major issued for Gabbert.

Both Colt McCoy and Matt Moore look to be handing to reigns of their starting job to Rookie QB's. While I think McCoy could keep his job for a little while, Matt Moore will most likely become a back-up. Didn't this just happen to Moore a few years ago in Carolina? I'll most likely drop Moore.

If I'm unable to get a #1 running back in the draft, I'm going to take a hard long look at Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. I think Luck is going to take a while to became a fantasy stud, while RG3 could pay off instantly. Outside of those two guys there isn't anyone else I'm "in love" with.

Here are the pictures I took from last night's game between the Bridgeport Bluefish and the Long Island Ducks.

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