08 Jun

Open House at Tiger Town

Yesterday, I was one of a crowd estimated at around 5,000 at the open house at the Tiger-Cats’ new stadium in Hamilton. Out of respect for Canada’s energy workers, I shall not identify the major corporate sponsor whose name is attached to the facility.

I took the GO bus from Fairview Mall and got off at Nash and Barton, where I took a little tour of Hamilton before heading for the stadium. On the bus, I was hoping to use my PRESTO card for the first time, but the fare box was out of order and, as a result, all the passengers ended up with a free ride.

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Not that I was in a hurry, but the bus was several minutes behind schedule. Perhaps I should complain and demand my money back. Every last dime of it.

Parking at the stadium, nestled in the middle of a residential neighborhood, is undoubtedly a chronic problem, even when Ivor Wynne Stadium stood there, but there was plenty of parking for cyclists like me on the plaza off Cannon Street, otherwise known as Bernie Faloney Way.

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Parked at one of the racks was this motorcycle, whose owner is obviously a passionate fan. The CFL barely registers on the radar in this part of the world, but you wouldn’t know it by walking around here.

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After entering through Gate 1, I was given a free jersey rally towel, which currently hangs from my mantel right next to the IceDogs towel I received at the regular-season finale. The cellophane wrapper had a “Made in China” sticker on it. Buy local. Or not.

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Just past the gate is the Seagram Touchdown Lounge, where fans can sit back in comfort and enjoy the game.

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Later, I noticed these tables right at field level, presumably reserved for VIP customers. I’m not sure I’d want to sit there for any amount of money. Even at this level, the guys hit pretty hard and that’s a little too close to the action for comfort.

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Walking through the concourse and passing the concession stands, I couldn’t help but think back to a year earlier when I was touring Manitoba Taxpayers Stadium for the first and only time. How things have changed over the past year.

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The stadium seats only 24,000, making it a target for the critics, who call it a high school stadium. However, I could find little fault with it. Everything looked first-class with all the amenities.

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Throughout the stadium, who I presume were Tiger-Cat alumni were signing autographs for eager fans. Since my knowledge of the proud history of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is practically non-existent, I had no idea who these guys were. I thought I recognized former quarterback Chuck Ealey, but that was all. It would have been nice to have signs at each table giving their names.

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My next stop was the Champions Club, the full-service restaurant on the club level where you can sit and watch the game while enjoying your meal.

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I arrived just as they were finishing with some announcements, but I was still able to partake in some of the free food. To my amazement, it was not a spread of hot dogs, nachos and other assorted junk, but rather yogurt and juices. The yogurt I had didn’t even have any of those hideous artificial sweeteners in it. This deserves a two thumbs up.

While near the podium, I had a nice, long conversation with Carol and Walter, an older couple who are regulars at the games. Carol actually does the face painting on the east side. In addition to being a connoisseur of all things Tiger-Cats along with cheese and sausages, Walter is also an avid cyclist who shared some tips on good places for a ride around the area. I nearly choked when he talked about how dangerous some streets were in Hamilton. I don’t think anyone can fully appreciate what danger means until taking to the streets of the degenerate capital of the SPRM on two wheels. The only thing that prevents me from writing an epic novel on that subject is the painful memories it would dredge up, memories I would rather leave in Canada’s toilet bowl.

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After finishing up in the Champions Club, I went down to watch as head coach and general manager Kent Austin put his team through a light workout. It is a refreshing change that the head coach and general manager doesn’t also own the team. Hockey fans reading from the SPRM will understand that reference.

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While watching, I couldn’t help but look to my left and notice the escarpment to the south.

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Contrasting that view is the industrial sector to the north with all the steel mills.

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Hamilton in a microcosm, right from your seat.

After practice, fans were allowed on the field to meet and get autographs from their favorite players, but with a 40-mile bike ride ahead of me to get back to St. Catharines, I left before the practice was over.

It’s not likely I’ll ever go to a game there, but I enjoyed the tour as I continue to explore my new home region.