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Official Review by Ryan Norris, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
President Herbert Hoover, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Lopez brothers; the brightest and most promising young minds have walked the halls of Stanford University.
Opened in 1968 and benefitting from a $30 million touch-up, Maples Pavilion is the home of the Stanford Cardinal basketball teams and women's volleyball team. This sleek, up-scale college basketball haven sits on the spacious Stanford campus in the heart of the San Francisco Peninsula.
This particular night featured the hometown Cardinal squaring off with the Bruins of UCLA. It was a particularly dreary Thursday night in the Bay Area and the crowd may have lacked because of this. We Californians can't handle the rain, it's nearly society stopping. So, dodging luxury vehicles in the parking lot, I made my way to the entrance and entered the well-kept arena, about 90 percent full.
The facility is beautiful. Glass windows surround the wide corridors revealing well-manicured swimming pools and football fields. The promenades surrounding the court within the facility have an indoor/outdoor feel with one end of the arena uncovered from the elements. This allows for plenty of ventilation in the walkways and refreshing atmosphere.
Glass doors lead you to the warm pavilion atmosphere. Head up the stairs into the cytoplasm and find your seat. Mine was about 20 rows behind the backboard, revealing the student section to my left and the Stanford tree front and center.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
You won't go hungry as there are plenty of places to grab hot dogs, nachos and peanuts. The spacious corridors allow for easy access to the vending carts and stations and each one seemed to have a theme. You could fulfill all your dog desires at one, whether it be polish ($6) or otherwise. Pizza was the fare at another for $7. Staying away from the greasy stuff? Specialty salads were also available, for a price ($8).
Sodas were available at every station with the large souvenir cup weighing in at $5 and much smaller frozen lemonades not far behind at $4. You can enjoy your greasy something or other at one of the convenient high-topped tables at either end of the gym with the rest of the Cardinal brethren.
This section got an extra point for the rowdy band and the eccentric mascot. Otherwise this Pac-10 tilt provided little of the college atmosphere I was expecting. The students section featured snappy shirt with the number "6" emblazoned on the front but their chants fell a little flat on my ears. It didn't help that it wasn't full and there were a few sitting in the corners less than thrilled about their awesome seats.
The band rivals their cross-bay neighbors at Cal in every way and surpasses them in dance moves. They even had an ode to The Decemberists to the delight to this writer's ears. The band works in perfect harmony with the ever excitable tree mascot. The oogly-eyed redwood is a fan favorite.
The lower bowl at Maples is what looks to be alumni territory. To get tickets you must buy the entire season plus make an additional "gift" to the University. This creates an atmosphere, though engaged, not what I was expecting because of the median age of the lower bowl.
The sight lines are pretty sweet. I walked all around the court and the views were great and never enjoyed a high, behind the backboard view more than at Maples.
The university covers a lot of land and two zip codes and is separated from downtown Palo Alto by the El Camino Real. The downtown area is an affluent area with beautiful, safe streets. There is a bunch of shopping, bars and restaurants that are sure to meet anyone's fancy.
All of that is to say I find it to be a most enjoyable neighborhood. It is to say there are plenty of options that will be sure to accommodate your needs when traveling to Maples. To be sure, I've always felt out of place over there and it wouldn't be my choice place to hang, all things considered. However, there is nothing wrong with grabbing a bite to eat or a quick drink before heading to the game.
Getting to Stanford early is certainly worthwhile as a stroll through campus is most enjoyable. Walking paths through the tree-lined campus reveal a beautiful setting complete with architecturally compelling buildings that flow effectively with the natural setting in which they lay.
Though disappointed with the less than rambunctious student section, I was thrilled with the surprising supporters adjacent to them in the lower bowl. I didn't think much of the section since my initial assessment was that they wouldn't provide the expected environment. Because of the investment each one of these fans make you can bet they're there supporting their squad. I took their passion into account and appreciated the unique atmosphere.
Stanford sits between two major freeways (101 and 280) and along the thoroughfare El Camino Real. This provides easy routes in to and out of the university with ease unless it is rush hour. Palo Alto as with much of the vehicle-heavy peninsula is troubled by severe traffic after work hours. Your problem is solved if you take Caltrain which runs from San Francisco to San Jose. A ride from San Francisco to Palo Alto ran me $6.50. You can hop on the free Stanford shuttle from the train station if the 15 minute walking is daunting (or if it's raining).
Once on campus, walking or driving to Maples is a breeze and entering the pavilion is even easier. The lot I walked pass was allowing access for $10 though I believe it got more expensive as you got closer to the gym. Plenty of entrances allow quick access inside, and the wide corridors get you to your seat without a hitch.
My ticket was the cheapest available, and pricey. $30 got me high above the backboard (actually a decent view) to watch the Cardinal take on the intrastate rival Bruins. $45 puts you upstairs on the sideline and these prices stay the same for each of the Pac-10 games. The concession prices were about what they are everywhere else but the hometown team didn't make the game very compelling. It was a game between two average teams in a very weak year for the conference.
This was two-for-one date night for the Stanford students so there were cute Love Show-esque games to entertain during stoppages. Banners at three of the corners revealed championships for each of the tenants including a 10 year run at the top for the women's basketball team.
I can't stress how well the game was played in front of me. I felt like I was right on top of the action, even from my perch. The level of competition is not what I have come to expect from the Pac-10 and that, combined with the lack of student vibe certainly affected my overall experience. At the end of the day, the view and beautiful construction of Maples beat out the negatives and surprises.
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