Many corporate ballpark names come off as rather awkward or incongruent. Not so with Classic Park, sponsored by the Classic Automotive Group and home of the Lake County Captains. Just the sound of Classic Park, located right around the corner from Cleveland and Lake Erie, has a great ring to it.
Opened: April 10, 2003
Dimensions: 320L, 400C, 320R
Surface: Matural grass
Owner: City of Eastlake
League: Single-A Midwest League
Parent: Cleveland Indians
Address: 35300 Vine St., Eastlake, OH 44095-3142
Directions: From Cleveland, take I-90 E to Rt. 2 E, take Eastlake Exit, make a left on Rt. 91 N,; stadium is on the right. From the East and South, take I-90 W to Exit 189, make a right on Rt. 91 N; stadium is on the right.
Parking: $5 for all public lots surrounding the stadium, with pedestrian bridge crossing Rt. 91 connecting city lot to ballpark.
Written By: Jesse Goldberg-Strassler (January 2013)
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The franchise that became the Captains began life in Georgia as the expansion Columbus Indians in 1991, though the team nickname was changed to RedStixx entering 1992.
A decade later, it was publicly announced that the team would be relocated to Ohio. The franchise’s new home was perfect for avid Cleveland Indians fans: Eastlake’s brand new Classic Park would be only 18 miles northeast from the Indians’ Jacobs Field (renamed Progressive Field in 2008), an easy drive.
Lake County enjoyed a stellar 2003 season in the Buckeye State, drawing 437,515 to Classic Park and posting the best record in the full-season Minors at 97-43, a .693 winning percentage. Luis Rivera was voted the South Atlantic League’s Manager of the Year, and the former Fausto Carmona (now known correctly as Roberto Hernandez) went 17-4 with a 2.06 ERA to claim honors as the league’s top pitcher. The Caps’ new home field was named the Best Playing Surface in the South Atlantic League, a feat repeated in 2004 and 2007. The season ended with a disappointing Championship Series loss to Rome, one of the only matters that didn’t end in the Captains’ favor.
Lake County did not reach the playoffs again until 2008, but fans continued to stream in through the gates to the cozy ballpark. The only trouble was the team’s place in the Class-A South Atlantic League, which made perfect sense for a Columbus-based ballclub, but much less sense for a team in northeast Ohio. The road trips -- to cities as distant as Savannah and Augusta -- were exhausting.
An agreement was thereby worked out to switch the Lake County Captains to the Midwest League entering the 2010 season. The young Bowling Green Hot Rods, born in 2009 after a similar move from Columbus, were packaged with Lake County to keep the leagues with an even number of teams.
Now far more rested from easier travel, the Captains attained their greatest on-field success in 2010. On the final day of the first half, shortstop Casey Frawley belted a game-winning homer against Lansing to clinch the Eastern Division title. In the postseason, the Caps struggled through the fullest extent of games, outlasting West Michigan in the first round, toppling favored Great Lakes in the Eastern Division Finals, and ousting Clinton in an epic five-game Midwest League Championship Series that included an 18-inning marathon in Game 2. The Captains had lived up to their name in their very first season in the MWL, bringing with it a well-deserved pose with the league’s mammoth blue and red championship banner.
How would they follow up? In the team’s very next game at Classic Park, facing the Dayton Dragons in the 2011 home opener, Lake County’s Trey Haley, Francisco Jimenez, and Clayton Ehlert no-hit the Dayton Dragons, 3-1. It was the Captains’ second no-hitter in Eastlake and their third as a franchise.
You’ll know when you’ve arrived at Classic Park; the drive down Route 91 takes you directly beneath a pedestrian bridge with the ballpark’s name proudly emblazoned. Parking is readily available, allowing easy access to the ballpark.
The stadium features a devotion to the Captains’ nautical theme, particularly with the sight of the Classic Chevy Lighthouse beyond the center field fence. The lighthouse presents more than just a fun visual target -- the aforementioned Frawley homered off of it at the close of 2010, earning a $1,000 prize to split 50/50 with a randomly selected Caps fan.
Frawley’s money-winning roundtripper was the first of its kind, an unusual note considering Classic Park is one of the Midwest League’s top home run havens. An inviting section of blue bleachers sits beyond the wall in left field, perfect for catching a souvenir on a regular basis.
Lawn seating stretches behind left-center and right field, with the teams’ clubhouses located down the right field line to the far reaches of the ballpark grounds. As such, this causes the players to traverse a ramp behind the wall in right-center, crossing the field on their way to their respective dugouts. The bullpens, meantime, are placed deep in each corner and provide their own sort of advantage. During the 2012 season, balls hit into the bullpen bench perplexed visiting outfielders as to whether or not play them, thus gifting Lake County a pair of fluke inside the park home runs.
The seating is cozy and convenient, with options from foul line to foul line, a picnic plaza down the left side, and a picnic terrace down the right side. The eating options at Classic Park are diverse and intriguing, carrying the Captains’ maritime feel alongside the ready presence of Cleveland’s own Bertman Ball Park Mustard wherever you might require it. (A pretzel or hot dog, perhaps?)
With the approach the Lake County Captains take toward baseball, the overriding feel is -- dare we say it? -- pretty darn classic.
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