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Progressive Field / Cleveland Indians

Address: 2401 Ontario Street, Cleveland, 44115.
Cost: $173 million, although there were later costs combined with the Quicken Loans Arena construction.
Architect: Populous (formerly HOK Sport+Venue+Event).
Owner: Gateway Economic Development Corp.
Capacity: 45,109 (includes 500 SROs and 400 on the party deck).
Dimensions: 325L, 370LC, 400C, 375RC, 325R. LF wall height: 19 feet; CF/RF wall height: 9 feet. Ballpark footprint: 12 acres.
Ticket Line: 216/420-HITS. (Click here for ticket information and availability.)
Playing Surface: Grass.
Other Tenants
: None.
Naming Rights
: Progressive Insurance, 16-year deal averaging $3.6 million annually.
Former Name
: Jacobs Field (“The Jake”), 1994-2007.
First Regular-Season Game: On April 4, 1994, the Cleveland Indians defeated the Seattle Mariners 4-3 in 11 innings, as Wayne Kirby singled in the winning run. President Bill Clinton was on hand to throw out the first pitch.
Landmark Events: The Cleveland Indians made the 1995 and 1997 World Series, but lost both series (1995 to Atlanta, 1997 to Florida) away from Cleveland. Between 1995 and 2001 Jacobs Field saw more than its fair share of playoff games, as the Indians won six divisional titles in that span. The American League won the 1997 All-Star Game at Jacobs Field, 3-1, behind MVP and local hero Sandy Alomar, whose two-run homer in the seventh inning broke a 1-1 tie. Alomar became the first All-Star MVP to win the award in his home ballpark. Kansas City’s Jose Rosado was the unlikely winning pitcher for the American League: he gave up the tying run during his only inning of work.

If you ever questioned the great and mighty power of karma in our universe, take a visit to gorgeous Progressive Field in Cleveland. After years of suffering through the cold and damp of Cleveland Municipal Stadium – the original “Mistake on the Lake” – local baseball fans were rewarded with one of the finest facilities in baseball, a downtown ballpark that took the Oriole Park blueprint and refined it further. Retro at its best.

Basically, Progressive Field is a great baseball experience because it’s simply a fun place to be: it’s a well-designed ballpark with good front-office management stressing a great ballpark experience. Though it’s easier to get a ticket to an Indians game than it was in the opening years of “The Jake,” Progressive Field is still a must-visit for any baseball fan.

Most people don’t remember what a great baseball town Cleveland has been over the years. Despite playing in a cavernous old park, the Cleveland Indians set major-league attendance records when fans showed up in droves to see Bill Veeck’s team compete for world championships. But the Muni was also a cold behemoth seating 74,000 — the most of any major-league ballpark — and fans suffered through chilly winds coming off the lake, seating so remote that the center-field bleacher inhabitants never caught a home-run ball, and management that didn’t care much about putting a winning team on the field. So you can see why locals were thrilled when Jacobs Field opened in 1994.

Even after more than a decade, a night at Progressive Field is still an event. If you go, head to the ballpark as early as possible and wander through the concourses. For the greatest drama, enter through the left-field gates and take in the crowd that can usually be found gathering two hours before game time. A great advantage to Progressive Field is the presence of a great many nooks and crannies where fans are expected to just hang out and watch the ballgame with friends; the informality afforded by these spaces makes a ballpark a true community builder.

To your left will be the bleachers and a fairly new Indians Hall of Fame in center field. Take a look at the ballpark from the left-field patio: it’s a popular meeting spot before the game and a wonderful vantage point once play begins.

Past the bleachers in dead center field is a three-level Heritage Park, honoring noteworthy players in Cleveland baseball history. A lot of great players grew up and competed in Cleveland, including Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie, Satchel Paige, Stan Coveleski, and Tris Speaker. Plaques with detailed descriptions of the players and their accomplishments make this a must-visit for any true baseball fan.

(Click here for Progressive Field ticket information and availability.)

The concessions in the center-field plaza have been revamped in recent years to more closely match what is sold in other Progressive Field; that’s a shame, as the food was more unique and interesting out there in the past. Still, the area is a popular gathering spots well in advance of the start of the game, and a nice little respite to crowded sections of the grandstand. We snuck down into the outfield seating in right center, where we could see both the action and the scoreboard well.

Continue your walk through the right-field concourse, where you’ll pass by a variety of concession stands until you reach the right-field corner. There are three noteworthy features there: a larger children’s play area, a kid-oriented gift shop, and another smaller patio where standing fans can watch the action.

From this point you’ll encounter something fairly unique: dual concourses. Behind the seating you’ll find a fairly narrow concourse with its own set of concession stands. Behind that is another wider concourse with yet more concession stands and gathering areas, such as a picnic area near first base (next to the gift shop) and a food concourse. (Interestingly, the team souvenir shop is on the smaller side, especially for a major-league park.) There’s a large-screen television showing the game action for those waiting in line for a beer or a dog. Both the narrow and the wide concourse run from foul line to foul line. As you walk through them, stop to the right of home plate and take in some action from yet another standing area.

As you walk down the third-base line, you’ll eventually make your way back to the left-field corner to the aforementioned patio. If you’re in a more formal mood, you can dine at the glassed-in restaurant in the left-field corner.

The outfield bleachers are their own world: it’s here you find the more rabid fans as well as John Adams playing the Wahoo drum: he purchased two tickets for every game, one for himself and one for his drum. (The big disadvantage to these seats: you can’t see the scoreboard, one of the biggest in baseball.)

The upper deck was a pleasant surprise: while they are very high above the action, the pitch is pretty extreme, so you feel like you’re looking directly down on the game. (Avoid these seats if you have a touch of vertigo.) And they may be the best deal in major-league baseball. You also get a good view of the Cleveland skyline, both in front of you and behind you.

The Indians used to be the hottest ticket in major-league baseball, at one point selling out 455 straight games and selling out entire seasons before opening day three times. Today it’s not as hard to get Indians tickets as it once was: though the Indians come close to selling out specific games, there’s plenty of inventory for most other games. Too bad: We think Progressive Field is one of the most underrated ballparks in baseball, a gem that’s aged remarkably well.

Best Seats

Best Sections to View a Game: Almost every seat at Progressive Field is angled toward the infield, so there are very few bad seats in the ballpark. Generally, ticket prices are on the inexpensive side, giving you more bang for the buck. Field Box pricing ranges from $25 to $70 depending on the game, with most falling at the $60 price point — a very cheap seat by MLB standards for a primo location. We’re also partial to the left-field bleachers ($16-$20) and $20-$24 Upper Box seats: with a steep pitch you feel like you’re right on top of the action. (Be warned the Indians use variable pricing depending on the game, so your mileage may vary.)

Best Cheap Seats: The Upper Outfield Reserved (sections 507-518) seats are only $8-$9 and provide a pretty good view of the action and the scoreboard.

Most Underrated Sections: Bleacher seats are only $16-$20 and are close to the action, sitting in back of a 19-foot-high fence. Typically there’s a rowdy crowd out there as well, making for an entertaining experience. The bad thing about these seats: the impressive scoreboard is at your back.

Seats to Avoid: Sections 119-121 are tucked in the right-field corner. In a ballpark filled with good seats, these stick out like a sore thumb: they present a limited view of the field and are not fully angled toward the infield. Similarly, sections 176 and 177 are tucked into the left-field corner and don’t present the best view of the ballpark. Interestingly, these five sections are in the $24-$30 price range and are overpriced; buy seats there only if the rest of the ballpark is sold out. In the upper deck, avoid sections 520 and 521: they are not angled well toward the infield, but they are a tolerable buy at $8-$9.

Ballpark Quirks

Progressive Field features open bullpens, the rage in all the retro ballparks. Interestingly, the bullpens feature three mounds instead of the usual two.

Home plate was originally used at Municipal Stadium and then moved when Progressive Field opened.

The Cleveland Indians have seven retired numbers: 3 (Earl Averill), 5 (Lou Boudreau), 14 (Larry Doby, the first African-American in the American League), 19 (Bob Feller), 18 (Mel Harder), 21 (Bob Lemon), and 455 (the number of consecutive sellouts enjoyed by the team). You can see all the numbers in right field, beneath the speed-pitch sign.

Food and Drink

There are 68 concession stands at Progressive Field, but they are so spread out you don’t find traffic congestion except perhaps in the right-field food court.

Buy a Sugardale hot dog for two reasons: 1) they’re pretty tasty, and 2) they’re a good excuse for having some Bertman’s Stadium Mustard. (In fact, we’d recommend heading to a local grocery store before or after the game and buying some for home.) Bertman’s Stadium Mustard is a spicy, German-style mustard and also a longtime Cleveland delicacy.

One disappointing aspect to the concessions: the lack of variety among beer offerings. There are only two stands (113 and 552) where there’s a decent selection of beer – it’s worth the effort to find a local Great Lakes Brewing Company offering.

Also worth the effort: head to the first-base side of the grandstand for a beer stand devoted solely to Miller High Life. Yeah, we have a soft spot in our hearts for the Champagne of Beers, but it’s so crazy retro to have a whole stand at a ballpark outside Wisconsin to feature nothing but High Life.

Handicapped-Accessible Seating

The Indians installed 610 handicapped-accessible seats in a variety of configurations. There are accessible seats at the end of a row without an armrest, seating for the visually impaired behind the screened area, and wheelchair seating featuring either an open spot or a pivoting seat for easy access. These seats must be specified when you buy your tickets.

For the Kids

The right-field corner contains a kids’ play area, a kid-sized concession stand with offerings (like PB&J or hot dog value meals) designed to please the rugrats, and a souvenir store with kid-oriented wares. It’s a smaller area and feels cut off from the action, so it’s not the greatest place to supervise the kids and watch the action. (Be prepared to hunker down at a nearby table and give your kids a good time.) In fact, chances are you’ll play the Ms. Pac-Man game instead.

Slider is the Indians mascot, designed along the same lines as Youppi! and the Philie Phanatic. He’s cute, adorable and utterly unctuous.

Ballpark Tours

Tours of Progressive Field run between May and the end of the summer, with stops at Kidsland, the press box, a party suite, the club lounge, the Indians dugout and indoor batting cages. Call 216/420-4385 for more information on dates and times.

Team Ballpark History

Cincinnati gets the most attention from historians when researching the roots of professional baseball, but there’s also a deep tradition of pro baseball in Cleveland as well.

If you go back to the days of the American Association in 1871, Cleveland professional baseball teams have occupied no less than ten ballparks. All had their endearing quirks: for instance, Kennard Street Park, the home of the National League’s Cleveland Spiders from 1879 through 1884, was so cozy there were trees in the outfield and the left-field fences were so short any ball clearing them were ruled doubles, not homers. There were also small ballparks occupied by American Association, Negro League and Players League teams as well.

The first League Park, featuring a wooden grandstand, was built for the Spiders in 1891 and occupied through the 1899 season before the National League contracted the Spiders out of existence. The American League Indians then played there from 1901 through 1909, with the ballpark almost burning down in 1892. A replacement, featuring concrete-and-steel construction, opened for the 1910 season. It originally was known as Dunn Field – so named after Indians owner James Dunn – and also served as the home of the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues.

TRIVIA
The Indians didn’t start life as the Cleveland Indians. When the American League launched in 1901 the team was known as the Blues or the Bluebirds because of their blue uniforms. Players didn’t like the name, so the team went by the Bronchos name for the 1902 season. That didn’t last long: the team underwent another name change to the Cleveland Naps, in honor of the team’s most recognizable player, Nap Lajoie. After Lajoie departed for the Philadelphia Athletics for the 1915 season, the team held a name-the-team context, and the winner was Indians.

Many Clevelanders speak nostalgically of League Park, the home of the Indians from 1910 to 1946. (They rarely speak so nostalgically of Municipal Stadium.) It was a small, neighborhood ballpark with a right-field fence originally 290 feet from home plate. Tris Speaker roamed center field and Nap Lajoie patrolled the infield at League Park. Tigers slugger Sam Crawford launched more than a few there before Indians management erected a 40-foot-tall wire fence; undaunted, Crawford homered over the new fence in his first at-bat. The ballpark dimensions were obviously determined by the size of the rectangular lot: it was 375 feet down the left-field line and 460 feet to center field. Maybe it was the Cleveland water or some deficiencies in the Cleveland pitching staff, but for the most part opposing players hit the most memorable homers at League Park: Ted Williams launched one over the fence in right-center field (fence and all), while pitcher Walter Johnson once cleared the whole ballpark with a shot to left-center field.

TRIVIA
The 1916 Cleveland Indians was the first team to wear numbers on their uniforms, sporting numbers on their left sleeves for a June 26, 1916 game. The practice didn’t last more than a few months and was attempted again in 1917 before the New York Yankees instituted the practice permanently in 1929 with numbers on the backs of the jerseys.

League Park was also home to some of the more memorable World Series moments: Elmer Smith hit a grand slam (the first in Series history) over the right-field fence in 1920 when the Indians defeated the Brooklyn Robins (the predecessor to the Dodgers) five games to two; in that same Series Bill Wambsganss notched an unassisted triple play. It was the only World Series played at League Park.

Bill Veeck made the decision to move the team from League Park for all Indians games, and it perhaps was one of his biggest missteps in a long and mostly distinguished career: yes, he attracted huge crowds in a short time at Municipal Stadium, but he consigned fans to a miserable existence for decades afterwards and took away what could have become a Wrigley-like ballpark. (League Park held a little less than 22,000.) Cleveland officials didn’t have the heart to tear down League Park until 1950 (it was still used for Negro League games up through its final days), and even then left behind some portions of the ballpark. (We discuss where to visit the remnants later in this story.)

If League Park was a cozy ballpark, Municipal Stadium was cavernous. Originally named Lakefront Stadium, the ballpark also was known as Cleveland Public Municipal Stadium and Municipal Stadium before the final moniker stuck. For several years the Indians split their time between the two ballparks, playing Sunday and some night games at Municipal Stadium and all other games at League Park. (The reason for the split is simple: on most nights the Indians simply didn’t need 70,000 seats.) Originally center field went back a whopping 470 feet, with the left-field power alley a surprising 463 feet. No one ever did hit a homer to center field with those dimensions in place; early on both Jimmy Foxx and Wes Ferrell came close, though.

It’s easy to see why Veeck wanted the move: he could cram a lot of behinds into the seats. For the first Indians game played at Municipal Stadium, a excess-capacity crowd of 80,284 fans showed up to see the A’s edge the hometown heroes 1-0.  It was a huge ballpark, holding more than 78,811 fans at its 1953 peak. Lakefront Stadium was originally built to attract the 1932 Summer Olympics, but Los Angeles ended up snaring the games, and the city struggled to lure the Indians there.

Despite having the largest capacity in the majors, the Indians never came close to regularly filling the place except for Bill Veeck’s stint as Indians owner. It was in Cleveland where Veeck first became known for his outrageous stunts, and he managed to fill the seats regularly with a full set of promotions and gimmicks. In 1946 teepees were constructed in center field, and in 1953 a bandstand was added in center field.

Fans and players alike hated Cleveland Stadium: it was cold most of the year, especially when the winds were whipping off the lake. It took a lot of determination for Cleveland fans to put up with a creaky old ballpark and a losing team – which made it even more rewarding when the Indians turned into winners in Progressive Field.

Today, most fans erroneously remember Cleveland Stadium from the baseball classic, Major League. Ironically, that movie was shot in Milwaukee’s County Stadium, except for some color and exterior shots from Cleveland.

Local Baseball Attractions

You can visit the sites of League Park and Municipal Stadium, discussed in the previous section.

In fact, you can walk on the same field where Nap Lajoie and Tris Speaker played if you head to the corner of East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue. Even though the city tore down most of the ballpark after the 1950 season, left intact were the ticket booths/team offices (now housing a youth center), a portion of the left-field stands, and the playing field, still used by youth and community groups. Cleveland officials talk about restoring the ballpark to some extent for minor-league baseball (spurred on by the success of the Sally League’s Lake County Captains), but budget woes are preventing city officials from moving forward with a plan any time soon. The site is clearly marked with a plaque from the Ohio Historical Society.

You can also visit the site of Municipal Stadium, but don’t be awaiting any similar commemorative markets. Cleveland Browns Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, was built on the site of Municipal Stadium. (The remains of the stadium were dumped into Lake Erie, forming an artificial reef.) On the outer walls of the new stadium are plaques memorializing great players in Cleveland football history.

There is an abundance of baseball in Ohio if you want to venture outside of downtown Cleveland. The Lake County Captains of the Class A Sally League play in Classic Park (35300 Vine St., Eastlake; captainsbaseball.com; 440/954-WINS), located in the suburb of Eastlake. The Captains are one of the successes of minor-league baseball, regularly drawing large crowds to the 7,000-seat ballpark. To the west is the Lake Erie Crushers of the independent Frontier League, playing at the cozy All Pro Freight Stadium (2009 Baseball Blvd., lakeerierushers.com; 440-934-3636) If you want to drive a little farther, you can catch the Akron Aeros (Class AA; Eastern League), the Toledo Mud Hens (Class AAA; International League) or the Dayton Dragons (Class A; Midwest League).

Where to Stay

There are an abundance of affordable hotels within a very, very short walk of Progressive Field.

We’d recommend starting your housing search with these five hotels. In the past visiting teams have been put up at the Radisson Hotel at Gateway (651 Huron Rd.; radisson.com; $100-$150), across the street from the sports complex. The Residence Inn Cleveland Downtown (527 Prospect Av.; marriott.com; $140-$200) is set in a historic building once housing the Colonial Hotel and still retaining a lot of charm. The Hilton Garden Inn (1100 Carnegie Av.; hilton.com; $100-$150) is kitty-corner from the ballpark. The Wyndham Cleveland at Playhouse Square (1260 Euclid Av.; wyndham.com; $85-$150) is a surprisingly affordable, modern hotel. The Hyatt Regency Cleveland at The Arcade (420 Superior Av.; hyatt.com; $160-$220) is set in a restored 1890 Victorian-style arcade originally financed by John D. Rockefeller and wealthy Clevelanders. (It’s worth a visit even if you don’t stay there.)

INSIDER’S TIP
There is one huge disadvantage to staying downtown: you’ll be forced to pay for parking, usually between $12 and $22 a night, as street parking in the Gateway area can be difficult. If you’re coming in from out of town and just hitting a ballgame or two, we’d recommend taking the short cab ride downtown and staying near the action.

Other hotels within a short walk include the Holiday Inn Express Cleveland Downtown (629 Euclid Av.; holiday-inn.com; $89-$125). The Ritz Carlton Cleveland (1515 W. 3rd St.; ritz-carlton.com; $185-$225) is considered the city’s finest hotel, with views overlooking the waterfront.

While You’re There

Downtown Cleveland may not be perceived as the most exciting place on the planet, but there are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area surrounding Progressive Field. In particular, the Gateway District surrounding the ballpark is a convenient place to grab a beer and a burger before or after the game. The following restaurants are located close to the ballpark.

A cluster of restaurants and bars is located on East 4th Street, between Euclid and Prospect. On one end is the Cleveland outpost of the House of Blues; yes, it’s a chain, but one run by people with a genuine passion for music and good food. Also located on 4th: Lola Bistro, the restaurant run by Iron Chef Michael Symon. There are plenty of other bars and restaurants on 4th Street; most feature outdoor seating as well.

The Winking Lizard is a Ohio chain featuring casual bar food and over 100 beers on tap, and the Progressive Field location (811 Huron Rd.; winkinglizard.com; 216/589-0313) hews to the formula with lizard wings (chicken wings served at a variety of spiciness levels). Don’t think too much about it: the place is perfect for kicking back with a beer and some wings.

Fat Fish Blue (21 Prospect Av.; fatfishblue.com; 216/875-6000) combines live jazz and blues with a Creole menu. Local blues legend Robert Lockwood Jr. plays every Wednesday night, with national touring acts in other nights of the week. It’s also a good place to head late after the game, open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturdays.

Panini’s Gateway Bar (840 Huron Rd. E.; 216/522-1510) serves that peculiar Ohio/Pennsylvania delicacy: sandwiches stuffed with French fries. It is the sort of thing you’ll groove on after one too many beers. A plus: outdoor seating.

There is one mandatory stop for anyone thinking they have led or want to lead the rock-and-roll lifestyle: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1 Key Plaza; rockhall.com; 888/764-ROCK), located on the Lake Erie waterfront on the north side of downtown. The glass pyramid does a good job of institutionalizing what began as a rebel music movement. Spend some time listening to the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll (a separate exhibit area with listening kiosks): while you can argue with some of the choices – country, swing, and bluegrass are criminally unrepresented, as is the Velvet Underground – it’s a thought-provoking approach to the music that changed the world. Be warned that affording the rock-and-roll lifestyle can be expensive: tickets are $22 for adults, $17 for seniors, $13 for children between the ages of 9 and 13, and free for kids eight-years-old or younger.

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