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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Holy Cross has been playing football on Fitton Field since 1903. The Crusaders originally played on the site next door to the present stadium, where the Fitton Field baseball stadium is now located. In 1908 the football team moved to the site of the present stadium, with wooden stands built around the field. In 1924 steel structures were erected, and in 1986 the wooden stands were replaced by the metal stands in place today. The baseball stadium next door is also known as Fitton Field, named after Father James Fitton, who purchased the land that Holy Cross was founded upon. Fitton Field is a horseshoe shaped hodge-podge of different-sized metal bleachers with twin press boxes overlooking each sideline. Holy Cross is a member of the Patriot League, a league proud of its high academic standards, consisting of east coast universities stretching from Massachusetts to Washington DC.
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Tucked away under Fitton Field's enormous metal bleachers are two small concession stands, selling your basic stadium foods. Hot dogs ($2.50), pizza slices ($3.50), sodas ($2.50), and other snacks are available here. Coca-Cola products are featured, and on chilly November afternoons, hot chocolate is a big seller.
Since these two small stands would be inadequate to serve even a medium sized crowd, Holy Cross has smartly chosen to bring in a couple of outside vendors to help feed the hungry football fan. Tee's Deli offers assorted salads and sandwiches, including "The Rocket", a grilled chicken sandwich with bacon, cheeses, and vegetables served on French bread. Tee's provides the afternoon's most unique promotion, where a random customer receives his or her order for free during the second half. Also setting up shop in the end zone is Dad's, where the hungry football fan can choose from an extensive and eclectic menu featuring items such as foot long hot dogs ($4), roast beef subs ($7), meatball sandwiches ($6), chili ($5), smiley fries ($3), giant cookies ($3.50), and other culinary delights, including fried oreos and pickles on a stick.
There is no souvenir stand to be found at Fitton Field, but there are hawkers roaming the stands selling copies of the game program for $5.
Fitton Field has a capacity of 23,500 for football. It is an enormous, metallic structure devoid of modern amenities or creature comforts. It has a cold, sterile feel to it. Holy Cross was once a major player in intercollegiate football, hosting the likes of Georgia, Syracuse, Penn State, LSU, and Boston College, but those glory days are long gone. Crowds these days average around 6,000, which feels much smaller in such a large stadium. When attending on a cold November day with a crowd of less than 2,500, Fitton Field feels absolutely empty.
The athletic department at Holy Cross tries to provide your standard game day experience for those fans attending Crusader games. The pep band plays an eclectic mix of music throughout the game, ranging from classic tunes from the '50s and '60s to current hits, and everything in between. Although there is only one set of speakers to broadcast PA announcements in the stadium, there is no problem hearing anywhere. Beware to those fans standing in the open end zone near those speakers, it's quite loud there.
The tailgating scene at Fitton Field is an active, albeit laidback one. Despite the small size of the crowd, several tents and grills can be spotted throughout the parking lots, and the smell of BBQ fills the air during pre-game warmups.
Holy Cross is located in a residential area outside of downtown Worcester. As a result, there are not many dining options to choose from in the immediate vicinity. When looking for the best places to eat in the city, head to Shrewsbury Street, home of Worcester's "Restaurant Row", boasting more than forty different eateries ranging from fine dining to casual, takeout to nightclubs, as well as multiple salons and shops. It's a favorite destination for students when they venture off campus, or to take their parents during visits to Worcester. The downtown area around the DCU Center is another up and coming location for dining in Worcester.
For fans looking to stay in Worcester, there is a similar dearth of lodging options in the area around Holy Cross. Luckily, there are options available in downtown Worcester, only a couple of miles away from the Holy Cross campus. Worcester has a reputation as a tough, blue-collar city, but city leaders are working hard to change that image, and businesses are coming back to the downtown area. Often overshadowed by its neighbors in Boston and Providence, Worcester is carving out its own niche as an affordable, attractive alternative place to visit.
Worcester is not generally considered to be a destination city, and fans travelling from out of town will usually head on to Boston to spend their time. For fans visiting during ski season, Wachusett Mountain is located just ten miles outside of city limits.
Despite the fact that it was Seniors Day during my visit, few if any members of the student body were seen inside Fitton Field on this chilly November afternoon. Perhaps it was the 412-day home losing streak that kept them in their nearby dorms. The Crusaders' loss on this day ensured that the home losing streak will approach 700 days before the next home game entering into 2014. The fans that do show up at Fitton Field are generally older than your typical college football crowd, consisting of alumni that have been attending games for many years. Some families are scattered throughout the stands, and the emptiness of the grandstand ensures that there is much room to roam for any restless young Crusader fans.
Out of towners may be surprised to learn that Worcester (pronounced "Woo-stah" by locals) is the second largest city in all of New England, behind only Boston. Worcester is centrally located in New England, less than an hour's drive from Boston and 45 minutes to Providence. Four major airports are located about an hour from Worcester, Boston's Logan Airport, Providence's Green Airport, Hartford's Bradley Airport, and Manchester's Manchester-Boston Airport. Worcester is served by Amtrak train service, Greyhound Bus Lines, and Peter Pan Bus Lines. Both train and bus terminals are located in downtown Worcester, a five minute drive from the Holy Cross Campus.
The College of Holy Cross is located in Southwestern Worcester, at the junctions of Interstate 290 and Route 146. Fitton Field is located on the northern edge of campus, directly off of Interstate 290. The campus is not accessible by means other than automobile, but is a short 5 minute drive from downtown for those needing taxi service. There is ample parking near the stadium. Fans arriving early for tailgating will find a laidback party scene surrounding Fitton Field.
The concourse under the grandstand has a unique feel to it. Tucked away in every available space are buildings used for concessions, restrooms, or storage. There is a real temporary feel to the entire place, despite the fact that Fitton Field has been around for close to a century. Restrooms are plentiful, with enough room in the facilities to serve a larger crowd than typically shows up at Fitton Field. For those fans who require handicapped seating, there is a small area at the end of the grandstand. In addition, fans are welcome to stand and watch the game in the open end of the stadium.
Tickets for Holy Cross football games cost $14 for general admission seating, $8 for seniors, and $6 for students. All seats in Fitton Field are metal bleachers without seatbacks. Parking is available at no charge in the garage directly behind the bleachers at Fitton Field, or in designated fields on either side of the football stadium. In an unusual twist, tailgaters are allowed to park in the outfield of the adjacent baseball stadium. I can't imagine that this arrangement goes over too well with the baseball team or the summer collegiate league team that calls the field home.
One extra point is awarded for the sense of history at Fitton Field. Several retired numbers are present along the top of the visitors' bleachers. For a team that has been playing intercollegiate football for over 100 years, more such touches would be a welcome sight.
Another extra point is awarded for the Holy Cross pep band, which is a very active and entertaining band throughout the game. Kudos to any band willing to take on local heavy metal favorites Boston and Aerosmith during their halftime show.
Holy Cross is a small school with an enrollment of under 3,000 students with an impressive sporting history. As one of the first schools in New England to play organized football, the Crusaders history dates back to before 1900. Listed in the annals of Crusader history is a trip to the Orange Bowl in 1946. Fitton Field harkens back to those glory days, and much like Holy Cross football, has seen better days. Holy Cross would be better served by a much smaller, more modern facility. There is not anything necessarily wrong with Fitton Field, it just feels too big and too cold for the current needs of the program.
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