I was recently reading an article in Paste Magazine where the author broke down some of the best places to watch a live performance. It was a good list that talked about the top 40 venues and uncovered a glaring recurring theme that seemed to thread it all together. Although this particular list was genre specific (folk) each venue on the list had a strong historical component and a unique vibe.
After reading this I decided it might be an interesting idea to talk about my favorite places to play lacrosse. Now, please keep in mind that this group is totally subjective and is not a list of the “best” places but simply my personal favorite fields.
#10. Comet Stadium – Carthage, NY
Where it all started for me and as simple as a lacrosse field gets. Grass, two goals, and some lines. Across the street from a chicken farm and shadowed by a forest of massive dark green pines, Comet Stadium obviously holds a special place in my heart. In my day it was natural grass (now it’s field turf) with chipped green painted wooden bleachers, a chicken coop looking shed for concessions affectionately known as the “Piker Hut” and surrounded by a rough gravel track. This was all set just beside our school bus junkyard where they parked all of the buses that had rusted out and stopped running. So as I hope you can gather from my description, it was ugly. But that didn’t matter one bit. It was on this grass where I watched my early heroes like the Coffman Brothers, Casey and Ryan, Mark Metcalf, Pat Gagnon, Joe Siedlecki, and more.
When Carthage lacrosse first hit the scene with a blue collar playing style and an amazing crop of athletes people didn’t know who we were or where Carthage was on a map. Because of our strong dairy farming community we were referred to by the Syracuse city schools as the “Hicks with Sticks”. Our head coach Kirk Ventiquattro decided that it would be advantageous to embrace this moniker instead of fighting it. So we would walk out together at the start of each game with Hillbilly Jim’s “Don’t Go Messing With A Country Boy” blasting through the Comet Stadium speakers on our way to give our opponents a good ol’ fashion country boy beat down.
#9. Vail Lacrosse Shootout – Vail, CO
As far as scenery goes, this is about as good as it gets in my opinion. Much like watching a concert in the state’s greatest music venue, Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison Colorado, the fields at Vail are absolutely jaw dropping. When I was in high school I made the trip west to play on the Under Armour team with my brother Casey. I didn’t play much because because I was 16 and the Under Armour team that year was absolutely loaded with some of the greatest players ever. So needless to say I had lots of time to look around and admire the pure beauty of the setting. The Rockies are just ridiculous and when you’re nestled into them on an 85 degree sun filled day playing (or watching in my case) lacrosse you quickly realize how lucky we are to be alive. The atmosphere of the Vail tournament is electric and positive. Super intense on the field and super laid back once the final whistle blows.
#8. Hawaii Lacrosse Tournament – Honolulu, HI
The moist ocean breeze blows over the beach and enters the mask of your helmet. The thick green grass is enough to lose a ball in and is so soft it makes you want to take a mid day nap. Giant green plush mountains are off in the distance and most times covered with a humid fog. The Hawaii tournament is something that I look forward to very much. It falls every year on my birthday — which is nice! Playing on these fields is unique because of the Japanese teams that show up to play and the massive insurgence of pro players. On any given field you can find some of the NLL’s best like Gary Gait, John Grant Jr. and Gavin Prout slinging it and then you move on to the next field and it’s guys like Rob Panell, Lyle Thompson and Kyle Harrison. Because of the way this falls on the calendar, this is really the only pro field tournament in the world.
You feel healthy when you’re in Hawaii and when you combine that with competition and your closest friends it is a win win. After the games have ended you can take a few steps and slide into the light blue sea water or take your rental dirt bike up to Diamond Head for an amazing tropical scened hike. Hawaii makes my list because just the thought of going to Hawaii makes me smile. If you’re looking for a good time playing lacrosse, add this one to your trip schedule.
#7. Garber Field – Amherst, MA
When is the last time you’ve been hit in the head with an orange while you’re getting ready to dodge at X? No Division I college lacrosse field lets the students get closer to the action than the folks at UMass. Garber field is built into a pit like an amphitheater that seems to channel and amplify the sounds of the cheers, boos, and taunts. With just a simple and flexible rope ten yards off the sideline to separate the fans from the players it makes playing a Garber a truly interactive experience. I love college lacrosse and I love when the student body shows up to support the lacrosse team. This is something we lacked at Syracuse. I remember walking out on to Garber and hearing the entire student body section chanting “you’re not Casey” through my entire warm up – now that is college lacrosse! So I have to say that Garber makes my list because of the students that make it so special.
#6. Rutgers Stadium – Piscataway, NJ
To be honest – this one made the list purely because of the memories of winning my first national championship in 2002. Outside of the memories though the first thing that comes to mind is the surface. This was easily the most well manicured natural grass field I have ever had the chance to play on and a decently sized stadium for lacrosse. I think the finals drew 20,000 people and they fit comfortably and they were loud. Overall just an awesome place to play lacrosse when your 17 years old on such an amazing stage. I will always have fond memories of playing lacrosse inside the walls of Rutgers Stadium.
#5. 25 North Jefferson Street – Carthage, NY
Our backyard growing up was always super fun to play in. The tightest net on the block, fully fenced in and always filled with awesome players. We had the the brick wall of the school about 30 yards away to tune your stick in before you stepped on the playing field. It was usually 2v2 battles and winner stays. Games got heated pretty quickly and I guess the best comparison I could make is that our backyard was like the Rucker park of Carthage lacrosse. It was a proving ground in many ways and a perfect platform to practice your most creative tricks shots and passes. You had to dodge the lawnmower, the four wheeler and the boat to get to the cage but still and forever one of my favorite places to play lacrosse in the entire world.
#4. Hal Tremper Classic – Denver, CO
I lived in Denver for a handful of years after college and got to play in a few Hal Tremper Classics. Even if you are a lacrosse fanatic, this may not be on your radar but this is one of the best times you can have as a lacrosse player. It isn’t even close to any lacrosse tournament you have ever been to. It is simple, communal and super super fun. It’s 3v3, no equipment necessary and the net in the goal is a ripped up bed sheet. Everyone shows up in a public park in Denver off of I-25, sets up there tents and parks in a big circle. That creates the fields and one car is responsible for the music. I love backyard style lacrosse and wish people played it more often because it is beneficial to your stick skills and definitely puts the focus back on how fun the sport is. If you have the opportunity to play in a Tremper do it up, I promise it will be an absolute blast.
#3. Lake Placid Shootout – Lake Placid, NY
People always ask me why I didn’t play professional lacrosse for very long and my answer is very simple. When I was growing up we didn’t have professional lacrosse. Every summer we would fill up a cooler and go spend three days in lawn chairs along the sidelines with our dogs watching the best lacrosse in the world from three feet away. I would watch John Zulberti score a behind the back goal, call a time out and go laugh and talk with people in the crowd for a second. During the time out I would run out on the field, take some shots on the cage and then return to my lawn chair once I heard the whistle blow. After the game ended all of the players would join their family, friends and fans for an afternoon under the ski jumps in the Olympic Village. The best were not just the best players but they were accessible people, it humanized my heroes and that made a huge impact on my view of the sport. I still go play in Lake Placid every year, I love it and it brings me right back to those pivotal days of my youth.
#2. Byrd Stadium – College Park, MD
When I think of college lacrosse stadiums my mind goes to College Park. When I was a kid I would grab a bag of flour and go out into the backyard, make a crease and write “NCAA” along the side. I wanted my backyard to look like a mini Byrd stadium because that is what I saw on TV. Back when I was growing up there were only a couple televised games a year and they were almost always played at Byrd. They games were loud and you could almost feel the sweat through those broadcasts. The stadium was the perfect size for college lacrosse, with every seat filled. Casey won the National Championship there his freshman year in ’95 and I rode down with my parents to witness it. The immediate area surrounding the stadium was blanketed with some of the most intense tailgating parties I have ever seen. The sight, the smell, the feel. It all felt like college lacrosse to me, it was surreal. I only played on this field one time in a preseason scrimmage when I was in college, but that didn’t matter — I was finally playing on the field I grew up worshipping. Sidetone: I really wish the NCAA Lacrosse Championships were still played in stadiums like this instead of professional football stadiums. When I watch the Final Four in a huge football stadiums with corporate sponsorships slapping you in the face it really waters down what makes lacrosse so amazing.
#1. Carrier Dome – Syracuse, NY
No surprise here at all. Simply the greatest place I have ever played lacrosse in my life. There is no place I feel more comfortable than on the home turf under the bubble. There’s no experience like playing in the Dome with a huge a crowd filling the upper deck. The sound and the lighting are unexplainable. With a lacrosse history as rich as Syracuse you can’t help but lay it on the line and play harder than you have ever played in your life to defend its honor. The game is faster and louder in Dome.
I hope you enjoyed the list and please be sure to comment below with any places that you have played that you really enjoy! Here’s to great lacrosse — in great places.