Commentary

Raise your game

For all of the best sports experiences, read on

Updated: July 2, 2010, 10:54 AM ET
By Lane Strauss | ESPN The Magazine

Andrew Milligan/AP ImagesThere aren't many more picturesque settings than Svangaskard Stadium.

This article appears in the July 12 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Best Cheap-Seats View

Forget Wrigley or Lambeau. For a really picturesque setting, head to Svangaskard Stadium. "We see a lot of interesting places, but nothing like this," says Brittney Thomas of Vivid Seats, a ticket brokerage. Located on the Faroe Islands, halfway between Scotland and Iceland, the 6,000-seat home of the B68 Toftir village soccer club also hosts international matches, including World Cup and Euro qualifiers. (Yes, the plucky Faroe Islanders have a national team.) Svangaskard, abutted on two sides by the North Atlantic, looks out at mountains towering over the sea, which provides a serious world's-edge vibe. Totally beats a wallful of overgrown ivy.

Best Virtual Sports Experience

Watch out, Wii: Xbox 360 is aiming to make it "game over" with Kinect. "It has the potential to bridge the gap between casual and hard-core gamers like nothing I've ever seen," says The Mag's Gamer columnist Jon Robinson. Three years in the making, Kinect uses full-body-scan technology to make the player the remote control. You kick, your avatar kicks. You drop back to pass, it drops back to pass. There's voice recognition, too. Kinect has also launched a partnership with ESPN, so soon you'll be able to watch sporting events on the worldwide leader's family of networks while interacting with other fans via Xbox 360. The first wave of Kinect-enabled sports games, including track and field, soccer, bowling and beach volleyball, hits in November. Your move, Wii.

Best Odds Of An Upset

If you want to see David trounce Goliath, make sure they're wearing skates. Since 1999-2000, more than one-third of the Stanley Cup playoff series have been won by the lower seed, a higher frequency than in any other seeded major tournament or postseason. Jay Kornegay, who runs the Vegas Hilton sports book, has seen enough ice-bound underdogs pay out to posit an explanation. "You have to consider the sheer luck of the bouncing of the puck," says the sports-book boss. "A basketball game generally isn't decided by one play. But one weird flip of the puck can change a hockey game." And win you some green.

Best Event You've Never Heard Of

Not quite a day game, not quite a night game, the Midnight Sun Baseball Game is totally worth the trek. (You've been meaning to go to Alaska, right?) "It's one of the coolest things I've ever seen," says Robert Tuchman, author of The 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live. Since 1906, Fairbanks has celebrated the 24 straight sunlit hours of the summer solstice (June 21 in 2011) with a game that starts at 10:30 p.m., pauses at midnight and can go past 2 a.m. They've never used artificial light, and the game has never been called because of darkness. As you'd expect, the event draws its share of characters. In 2008, then-61-year-old former Red Sox hurler Bill "Spaceman" Lee returned to avenge a loss in the 1967 tilt. (He won.) Says Tuchman, "It's a fantastic experience."

Best Game-Day Sustenance

Let the fancy-pants fans scarf down a crab cake at tony AT&T Park or a knish at chi-chi Citi Field. If eating is essential to your sports experience, you need to break out of the lower-loge bubble. "Find where the Latino communities play soccer on the weekends," says food writer Peter Meehan. "That's where you'll discover some of the most amazing and different kinds of national foods anywhere." From New York to LA, wherever decent-size Latino populations have put down roots, street vendors will line their recreational fields of play to serve up classic Mexican, Central American and South American fare. Good eats, at a great price. "A lot of pride goes into what these people offer," says Meehan. "No one's out there just slinging food. It's part of their culture and the game itself." In short, a total score. Here are places where the chow rules.

• New York City Red Hook Ball Fields
Ecuadoran dishes including seviche, baleadas from Honduras (tortillas filled with mashed fried beans) and plenty of tacos.

• Chicago Lincoln Park, River Park fruteros (fruit from vendors), eloteros (grilled corn on the cob), tacos.

• Atlanta Spaghetti Junction Argentine tacos and empanadas, Salvadoran foods including pupusas (handmade corn tortillas filled with cheese and pork).

LA MacArthur Park Korean barbecue-filled tacos, grilled bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

Best Off-the-Radar Memorabilia Stash

The 10th Inning, in Hampton, Va., is 3,600 square feet of collector-nerd bliss. "Their inventory is staggering," says Pete Williams, author of Sports Memorabilia for Dummies. How staggering? "We have more than eight million cards and 63 showcases," says owner Don Harrison. "We've got every sport covered -- except water polo. That's a little memorabilia joke." Got it. Goodies include:

• Early 1900s Ty Cobb tobacco card. Value: $10,000.
• 1982 John Elway minor league baseball card. Value: $650.
• Ted Williams home jersey, autographed. Value: $6,000.
• 1940s basketball arcade game. "I was offered $4,000 but turned it down," says Harrison. "Some things I just don't want to sell, to tell you the truth."

Best Place to Catch a World Cup Ski Race

You've seen one ski race, you've seen them all, right? Man, are you jaded. Listen to Andrew Weibrecht, U.S. bronze medalist in the Super-G at the Vancouver Olympics: "Wengen, Switzerland, has plenty of places to hang out and watch five or six turns, which is fairly uncharacteristic of a World Cup course." If your interests are more aprés-ski, though, Weibrecht has a different recommendation. "Kitzbühel, Austria, is pretty awesome," he says. "It's the ultimate party weekend, with easily 60,000-plus people." What's German for hot tub?

Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesWant to see an upset? Check out a Stanley Cup playoff series.

Best Path to Poker Riches

Looking for a shortcut to the final table in Vegas? Don't ask 1972 WSOP Main Event champ "Amarillo Slim" Preston. You won't like what he has to say. "Ain't nobody can teach you how to play poker," says the 81-year-old legend. "The only way to learn is to play, watch good players and see what they do. I get 10 calls a week asking me to teach. Can't do it." Not that he hasn't tried. "I've written three books and none of 'em are worth a crap. You could read a hundred books on how to drive a car, but until you get behind the wheel, you don't know how to drive." End of lesson. "Sorry, I gotta go. I'm in line at the Bellagio buffet and I'm starving."

Best Place to Snag a Baseball

Zack Hample has grabbed over 4,500 balls (fouls, homers, batting practice fouls and balls tossed into the stands by players), and has a personal consecutive game-nabbing streak of 645. He caught the Mets' last homer at Shea and jacks in consecutive games during the last week of the old Yankee Stadium, not to mention Barry Bonds' 724th. In other words, if you want to know the secret to snagging a fly, he's the guy. "Without a doubt, Miller Park is the best," says Hample. "Hit the second deck around Section 200 behind home plate, shaded to the first or third base side." There are a lot of factors to consider when you are hunting horsehide: height, angle and arc; where the railings are; the strictness of ushers. From any of those angles, Miller rocks. "The second deck has 10 rows of seats and behind those rows is a wide aisle, which gives you plenty of room to run," Hample says. "Just hang out there, schmooze the usher, pretend you're buying a hot dog. Whatever you need to do."

Couch Potato's Best Friend

"People don't realize how mind boggling Boxee is going to be," says Paul Hochman, gear and tech editor for the Today show. Might help if they knew what it is. We'll take care of that: It's a simple interface that connects computer to TV so you can control both with a remote. The Boxee Box ($200), puts the Internet at your fingertips from your perch on the couch. "The Internet pops up on your TV. You can watch a game, browse scores, whatever," Hochman says. "And the back of the remote is a QWERTY keyboard, so you can be a full-speed multitasker." Girlfriend definitely not included.

Best Chance to Beat Roger Federer

The U.S. Open is finally that. In April the USTA launched the U.S. Open National Playoffs. Now, anyone over 14 has a (long) shot at qualifying for one men's and one women's spot in Flushing. Former MLBer Todd Walker, for one, has chased the dream. Didn't even matter he lost to a 17-year-old. "I knew I wouldn't win," says the 37-year-old, "but what an experience to say, 'Yeah, I tried to qualify for the U.S. Open.'" This year's playoff has moved on to the second stage, so wannabes have time to prepare for next year's. Mr. Federer and Ms. Williams, you've been warned.

Lane Strauss is contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine.