Hitting the road: Roob's 2012 Eagles travel guide


Hitting the road: Roob's 2012 Eagles travel guide

Its Feb. 5, 2005 the day before the Super Bowl. A carload of Eagles writers, weary after a weeks worth of 20-hour work days, decides to get away from Jacksonville, get away from the grind for a bit and enjoy the off day in Amelia Island, a quaint golfing village along the Atlantic coast about 50 miles north of Jacksonville.

We leave the hotel early, drive up the 1A, ride the ferry across St. Johns River, and park in the center of the nearly deserted tourist town at around 9 a.m. We pile out of the rental car and are greeted by the warm ocean breeze, the sing-song sound of seagulls and ... a group of Eagles fans chanting, E ... A ... G ... L ... E ... S ... EAGLES!!!!

The point is that Eagles fans travel better than any other NFL fan base. And its not just the Super Bowl or the playoffs. Its all the time.

Virtually every Eagles road game means a whole fleet of USAirways A321s packed with Eagles fans. It means downtown Saturday night packed with guys in Mamula and Westbrook jerseys trying to find one last bar thats still open. It means sizeable pockets of green amidst the home fans at kickoff and surprisingly loud Eagles chants after big plays.

With that in mind, we present our inaugural 2012 Philadelphia Eagles Fan Travel Guide.

With the release of the schedule on Tuesday, lets take a look at the Eagles eight road trips this year and what fans need to know if theyre planning to accompany the Eagles on the road this fall.

Sunday, Sept. 9, at Cleveland
Travel Grade: C-minus.

OK, lets be honest. Youre laughing. Who would go to Cleveland willingly? Exactly. But Cleveland has some appeal as a destination for Eagles fans.

First of all, its easy to get tickets. I mean, its the Browns. Second, its a chance to see the season opener, which is always awesome. Third, its not far, so you can snag an early flight home and be at work on time on Monday morning.

But the best thing about Cleveland is that the entire downtown area has undergone a dramatic renovation and now includes tons of nice hotels, bars, restaurants and shopping areas, in addition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Cleveland Stadium, which is an easy Sunday morning walk from all the downtown hotels.

You can take the train right from inside the airport terminal downtown, and everything else is walkable, so you wont need to rent a car. Unless you want to go for a drive and visit Akron or something.

Favorite spot: Porcellis Bistro, 1852 W. 6th St.

Sept. 23, at Arizona
Travel Grade: A.

Ideally, the Arizona trip would come in late November or December, when its cold back home and low 80s in Phoenix. But its still a tremendous trip.

Main thing to remember is that you dont want to actually be in Phoenix. Youre going to either stay in Tempe, home of Arizona State, or Scottsdale, with its resorts, spas and fancy restaurants.

You have to allow yourself plenty of time in Arizona. Head out mid-week if you can and make the four-hour trip north to the Grand Canyon. If thats a little much, mystical Sedona is only two hours away.

If your time is limited, theres plenty of world-class golf, dining and shopping around Scottsdale, and ASUs campus might be the nicest in the country. Downtown Tempe is packed with outdoor bars, bistros, coffee shops, bookstores and restaurants. A little more gentrified than it used to be, but still a terrific place to spend a day or two walking around.

Back in the old days, you could stay in Tempe and walk to the stadium. Since the Cards moved out of Sun Devil Stadium and into their own stadium in Glendale, its not quite the same. But its still a fairly easy ticket. And it sure beats Cleveland.

Favorite spot: Salty Senorita, 3636 N. Scottsdale Rd.

Oct. 7, at Pittsburgh
Travel Grade: C-plus.

I actually like Pittsburgh. Its a good, honest, gritty, working-class city, not all that different from Philly.

Like Cleveland, the stadium is an easy walk from all the downtown hotels, and along the way youll find the Strip District, a 10-block area jammed with stores and restaurants. Theres another collection of more sports-oriented bars and restaurants and a bunch more hotels adjacent to PNC Park, home of the Pirates, which is less than a mile from Heinz Field.

Theres really not a lot to do in Pittsburgh other than eat and drink, but, hey, youre an Eagles fan, so that works.

Of course, the best thing about making the Pittsburgh trip is that depending on where in the Delaware Valley you live, youre a 4 12- or five-hour drive away. Its actually easier to drive to Pittsburgh than fly, and that gives you the flexibility to leave whenever you want.

Its not an easy ticket, but Heinz Field is a terrific place to watch a football game. And if the Steelers are up 30-6 at halftime, you can bail out and be back in your living room in time to watch the Sunday night game.

Favorite spot: Tilted Kilt, 353 North Shore Drive.

Nov. 5, at New Orleans
Travel Grade: B-plus.

Best thing about this trip is that the Eagles-Saints game is on a Monday night. More time to enjoy the unique charms of New Orleans.

If youve never been to New Orleans, its a unique place. Much of the city never recovered from Katrina, and there are signs of the tragic flood everywhere you look. But the French Quarter is still going as strong as ever, and the revitalized Warehouse District is nearby, for those who are more interested in art galleries, fine dining, Bohemian boutiques and coffee shops than the debauchery of the Quarter.

To many, New Orleans just means drinking. But you dont need booze to enjoy the fascinating culture, history, food and music of Nawlins.

Best of all: The Louisiana Superdome is within stumbling distance of all the hotels.

One warning: Youre not going to sleep. The hotels in downtown New Orleans are more like frat houses than hotels. But if you need a 64-ounce Hurricane at 4 a.m., youll be in luck.

Favorite spot: Pat OBriens, 718 St. Peter St.

Nov. 18, at Washington
Travel Grade: B-plus.

Washington? Really? Yeah, why not?!

The District of Columbia is actually one of the great cities in the country to visit. With its museums -- all free art galleries, historic monuments, theaters and spectacular architecture and a terrific subway system connecting all of it, youll find plenty to do in Washington.

Take Amtrak down to Union Station in downtown D.C. Friday, spend Saturday in the city, take a cab to FedEx Field about 12 miles away in Landover on Sunday morning, then pick up Amtrak at nearby New Carrolton after the game on Sunday for the quick trip back to Philly.

Redskins tickets are easy to find, and youll feel right at home, since theres usually about 15 to 20 percent Eagles fans at every Redskins home game. If its late in the season and the Redskins have already collapsed, that number can go even higher!

Favorite spot: The Bier Baron (formerly the Brickskeller), 1523 22nd St., NW

Dec. 2, at Dallas
Travel Grade: C-minus.

It speaks volumes about Dallas that the only interesting thing in town is the site where a president got shot.

That and great Mexican grub.

Really, the highlight of a trip to Dallas , once youve visited Dealey Plaza and the Book Depository, is the stadium itself. Dallas Cowboys Stadium is a monument to all that is garish, excessive and over-the-top. The place is absurd I mean, there are actually nearly nude go-go dancers pole dancing over the east end zone but theres never been anything like it anywhere in the world, so its worth seeing at least once.

Plus, its Eagles-Cowboys, and the Eagles usually play well in Dallas.

Other than that, the Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth area is mainly an endless maze of highways, strip plazas, shopping centers and boot stores.

If you go, dont laugh if you see guys in the bars wearing cowboy hats. They do that. Seriously.

Favorite spot: Desperados Mexican Restaurant, 4818 Greenville Ave.

Dec. 9, at Tampa
Travel Grade: A-plus

The Gulf Coast in December? With apologies to Arizona, if youre going to make one Eagles trip this year, this is the one.

If youre a hardcore Phillies fan, youre probably familiar with the whole Tampa-Clearwater area, since the Phillies hold spring training in Clearwater, and March has meant a massive migration south for Phillies fans since 1947.

If you havent been to Tampa, just go. The whole region is loaded with attractions, from the spectacular beaches and waterside bars in Clearwater Beach to the museums and restaurants in St. Petersburg to the nightlife in Tampa.

And itll be warm. And sunny. And the Eagles will probably win.

Favorite spot: Frenchys Rockaway Grill, 7 Rockaway St., Clearwater Beach.

Dec. 30, at Giants
Travel Grade: Seriously?

Yeah, lovely East Rutherford. Why not make a vacation out of it?

In all seriousness, heres the best thing about going to an Eagles-Giants game: The Eagles usually win up there. In fact, the Giants have won more Super Bowls since 2006 (two) than home games against the Eagles (one).

The Eagles are 8-2 in their last 10 games at the Meadowlands and 2-0 all-time at MetLife Stadium.

But the best thing about going to a Giants game? The Turnpike is right around the corner from the stadium. Youll be on your way out of that dump in minutes!

Favorite spot: Park and Orchard, 240 Hackensack St., East Rutherford.E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies


Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

DETROIT — Back when they were racking up National League East titles and filling Citizens Bank Park night after night, the Phillies could slug with anyone.
Those days are gone.
So even on a night when they got some power from two young up-and-comers in their lineup, the Phillies still couldn’t get enough to match up with the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.
“We don’t have enough pop to go blow for blow with them,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
The Tigers belted four home runs, three against starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, in beating the Phillies, 5-4, at Comerica Park (see Instant Replay).
Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph both homered for the Phillies, but Ryan Howard, no longer even close to the player he was during those aforementioned title years, slipped deeper into the May quicksand. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May.
“Man, it’s been brutal,” Howard said after the game. “I’m not going to lie. I need some breaks, man. It’s been tough. I’ve hit some balls hard, but they’re not finding any real estate out there.
“I have to keep grinding and swinging. Luckily, it’s still early to get it turned around.”
Yes, it’s early for some guys.
But it might not be that early for Howard. He’s 36 and in the final year of his contract. His slump has coincided with Joseph’s ascension from the minors. Joseph played first base Monday night and looked good at the position. In addition to hitting a game-tying homer in the sixth, he had a double. Half of his six hits in his first seven games in the majors have been for extra bases.
Joseph will continue to play first base while Howard serves as the designated hitter in the final two games of the interleague series in Detroit. After that, Joseph is expected to start against lefty Jon Lester in Chicago on Friday. If he keeps hitting — and Howard keeps struggling — the situation could be ripe for Mackanin to continue to play Joseph, even against the right-handers Howard usually sees.
“I'm going to look at it a week at a time,” Mackanin said. “We'll see. At some point it might come to that, but I can't say it's imminent.”
If Howard starts spending more time on the bench, it will be part of a downhill progression that started in the second half of last season when he became a platoon player. Will a progression to the bench ultimately lead to his being released in the coming weeks? Well, if Joseph keeps hitting and continues to earn playing time, management may have to seriously ponder the move.
Even with Franco and Joseph hitting home runs, the Phillies didn’t have enough to match the Tigers’ thunder.
Miguel Cabrera belted two home runs and in the seventh inning clubbed his 500th career double. He then came around to score the go-ahead run on a single by Victor Martinez.
Entering the game, the Tigers were among the top teams in the American League in batting average (.265), runs per game (4.60), homers (56) and OPS (.758).
Meanwhile, the Phillies couldn’t get much lower in offense. They ranked near the bottom in the National League in batting average (.233), runs per game (3.23), homers (32) and OPS (.651).
“You look up and down their lineup on the scoreboard and it looks like everybody is hitting .300 with eight or 10 home runs,” Mackanin said. “It can be daunting.
“The middle of their lineup hurt us with the long ball. We knew they were swinging the bats well lately. They weren’t earlier. Now they’re swinging well and we couldn’t contain them.
“We got 12 hits of our own. But they’ve got a lot of power on that team.”
The Phillies are at the start of a challenging trip — three in Detroit followed by three against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have the majors’ best record. The Phillies, a surprising four games over .500, will be tested on this trip.
They did not pass the first test. Velasquez had trouble commanding his pitches and for the second straight start ran a high pitch count. He took a 3-1 lead to the mound in the fifth, but it evaporated quickly under the weight of homers by J.D. Martinez and Cabrera. Reliever Colton Murray also gave up a homer in the inning. He also allowed the go-ahead run in the seventh as Mackanin held David Hernandez back in case the Phils got a lead.
“Velasquez didn’t have any command of his secondary pitches, pretty basic stuff, and he left some fastballs over the plate,” Mackanin said. “You have to throw quality pitches to a lineup like this. If you make mistakes against them, they don’t miss. If you don’t command your secondary pitches against good hitters, they become like sharks and smell blood and hit the fastball.”
Velasquez said he should have gotten the loss, not Murray.
“You can’t shy away from hitters and I did that,” he said. “You’ve got to pitch inside. I pitched around them.
“I’ve got to do something about this. I’ve got to challenge hitters.”

With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle


With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle


DETROIT — Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made a strong statement Monday night when he benched his best hitter in the seventh inning of a tie game.
With Odubel Herrera on the bench for the final innings, the Phillies went on to lose, 5-4, to the Detroit Tigers (see Instant Replay).
Mackanin did not regret his decision to yank Herrera and his team-high .335 batting average from the game.
“It’s important to me to set that tone,” Mackanin said. “When you don’t hustle, I’ve got a problem.”
Herrera had singled in each of his first three at-bats. He drove in the Phillies’ first run with a hit in the third inning.
But when he bounced back to the pitcher and took his time getting to first base in the seventh, Mackanin abruptly pulled him. Even Ryan Howard said something to Herrera in the dugout.
“He didn’t run,” Mackanin said. “One of the ingredients to our success to this point is the fact that guys play with energy and they play hard. We’re training them to play the game the right way and not running is not the right way.”
Herrera said he did not run because he was “frustrated” and “angry” with the at-bat. He said Tigers reliever Justin Wilson “got in his head” by varying his delivery times. Herrera even mentioned that Wilson quick-pitched him.
“The pitcher was playing with me,” he said. “I have to learn from it. I didn’t think [Mackanin] was going to bench me, but I understand why. I can’t argue. I was frustrated. I respect the decision. I know that I did wrong. I have to learn from my mistakes and it won’t happen again.”
Mackanin is a huge fan of Herrera. He has predicted the 24-year-old Venezuelan will someday win a batting title.
But Mackanin indicated after Monday night’s game that Herrera might be developing some bad habits — at least when it comes to the hustle that Mackanin values. The front office values it, too. Playing with “energy” is something the front office frequently says it wants to see, and the ability to get his players to play with energy is one of Mackanin’s strengths.
“I’ve seen it in the past and it’s been trickling in,” Mackanin said of Herrera’s occasional lapses in hustle. “I didn’t like it and I made the decision. He knows he should have run.”
Jonathan Papelbon put a chokehold on Bryce Harper’s neck last year in Washington for a similar transgression.
In the Phillies’ dugout Monday night, Herrera got a little talking-to from Howard.
“That was great to see,” Mackanin said.
Said Howard: “Doobie's got a lot of promise. He’s going to be around this game for a long time. He makes things happen. He brings energy to the game.
“The pitcher lost the grip and had to double-pump. If you’re running hard, maybe he makes a bad throw and you’re on base.
“I just told him, ‘You’ve got to keep going. I know it’s not the at-bat you wanted, but look at me, bro, I’m still out there grinding.’ If he’s running there, the pitcher could throw it away and he could be on second and we could squeeze a run out.”
Howard went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May (see story).
Mackanin said his message to Herrera was complete. Herrera will be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday night.

NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2


NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2


TORONTO -- A series that once looked lopsided is now even.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points, including a driving layup in the final minute, and DeMar DeRozan had 32 as the Toronto Raptors evened the Eastern Conference Finals by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-99 in Game 4 on Monday night.

DeMarre Carroll scored 11 points and Bismack Biyombo had 14 rebounds as Toronto improved to 8-2 at home this postseason and got back on level terms after big losses in Games 1 and 2.

"We've been counted out, and we like that challenge," DeRozan said.

The next challenge for Toronto? Game 5 on Wednesday night in Cleveland, where the Raptors are 0-3 this season, losing by a combined 72 points.

"We have to continue to make sure that when they punch, we punch back," Lowry said. "And if they punch three times, we punch four times."

The Raptors are 2-6 on the road in the playoffs.

After a 10-0 start to these playoffs, the Cavaliers are counting on home court advantage to help them reach their second straight Finals.

"Going back home we have to play a lot better and I think we will," LeBron James said.

Cleveland lost consecutive playoff games to an Eastern Conference opponent for the first time since dropping the final three games of the conference semifinals to Boston in 2010.

"We had a few defensive breakdowns that you can't have down the stretch of a game, especially in the playoffs," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "They executed every time we made a mistake."

James scored 29 points and Kyrie Irving had 26 for the Cavaliers, who trailed by as many as 18 points. Channing Frye scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Lowry scored nine in the fourth and DeRozan had 12, connecting on five of six shots.

"It's a cakewalk for me when (Lowry) gets going," DeRozan said. "It opens up everything."

The Raptors led 78-69 to begin the fourth but Frye made consecutive 3-pointers as Cleveland opened the final quarter with an 8-0 run, cutting it to 78-77. The Cavaliers made their first 11 shots of the fourth quarter.

"It wasn't enough because we got off to a horrible first half once again in this building and you're playing catch up the whole game," James said.

Frye's errant 3-point attempt at 4:12 was Cleveland's first miss of the fourth. DeRozan made two free throws at the other end and, after another miss by Frye, Carroll made one of two to put Toronto up 99-96 with 3:23 to go.

A long 3 by Irving made it 101-99 with 2:00 left, but DeRozan answered with a driving bank shot at 1:33. Toronto got the ball back after Biyombo blocked J.R. Smith's 3, and Biyombo kept the offensive possession alive by rebounding Lowry's missed shot. After a timeout, Lowry let the shot clock wind down before driving for the decisive layup, making it 105-99 with 22 seconds to go.

Toronto jumped out to a 13-5 lead as Cleveland missed eight of its first 10 shots. Following a timeout, the Cavs made five of their next six to cut the deficit but the Raptors led 27-24 after one quarter.

Lowry scored 15 points in the second, making three of Toronto's four 3-pointers, as the Raptors opened a 57-41 halftime lead despite not shooting a single free throw in the first two quarters. It marked the first time a team led by 15 or more at halftime in a conference finals game without shooting a free throw since Game 2 of the 2001 East Finals between Milwaukee and Philadelphia. The Bucks made two of six from the line, the fewest ever made in an NBA playoff game at the time.

DeRozan shot Toronto's first free throws at 6:13 of the third after being tackled by Smith on a drive. The foul drought came after Raptors coach Dwane Casey was fined $25,000 for criticizing the officials following Toronto's Game 3 win.

Fans cheered derisively when Matthew Dellavedova was called for Cleveland's first foul of the game at 8:56 of the second.

Not much to Love
After shooting 3 for 19 in Game 3, Kevin Love shot 4 for 14 in Game 4. He finished with 10 points. Love did not play in the fourth after appearing to injure his left ankle when he stepped on referee David Guthrie late in the third. "It didn't feel too great," Love said. Lue said Love's health was "no concern."

Fair and foul
Cleveland didn't shoot any free throws in the third quarter and had just two in the fourth. Twelve of Toronto's 19 free throws came in the fourth.

Cavaliers: James and Irving each had six assists. ... Cleveland shot 3 for 23 from 3-point range in the first half. The finished 13 for 41. . Cleveland's Dahntay Jones served a one-game suspension for hitting Biyombo in the groin in Game 3.

Raptors: Raptors C Jonas Valanciunas was active but did not play. He's been out since spraining his right ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 against Miami on May 7. ... Toronto is 10-1 in the playoffs when holding opponents below 100 points.