Baseball season just started so that means your summer ballpark road trip is that much closer! In a bid to help you with your upcoming journeys, Big League Stew has solicited the help of the locals. Over the next month or so, we'll be hitting up our usual guest blogger crew to feature 10 tips for enjoying each of the 30 ballparks like the locals do. Have a suggestion in addition to the ones listed here? Make sure to list it in the comments below.
Next up on our ongoing travelogue is our good pal Scott Sargent of Waiting For Next Year. Progressive Field isn't often discussed as one of baseball's best gems, but it just might be the most underrated place in the league to watch a game. Here's how to do it like a pro:
So, you want to venture to Cleveland for some baseball watching, do ya? Well with a burgeoning downtown and Michael Symon restaurants popping up by the day, you probably couldn’t pick a better time to do so. The weather is breaking, the potholes are (slowly) being filled and — with essentially no wage inflation — items of leisure remain less expensive than in most of the other professional sports markets throughout this lovely country of ours. A bonus: Our inhabitants are becoming less pale, and with increased Vitamin D levels come a little bit of extra happiness. Clevelanders are typically affable folks, we really are, but the collective mood during the spring and summer months is just a little bit better.
We get that Cleveland remains the low-hanging fruit of macro sports jokes. No championships, a shoddy track record when it comes to free agency in all three major sports, and ownership that has had — and currently has — its fair share of, shall we say, issues. LeBron James left, did he? Oh, and the Cuyahoga River once caught on fire like six decades ago. Odds are, if you are heading downtown, you won’t run into anyone who was old enough to remember the blaze, but we’ve heard about it. And while outsiders want to pretend the event is funny and indicative of the current-day culture, Clevelanders prefer to consume a craft beer that pays homage to the inferno.
But hey, everyone has their preconceived notions. Trust us, we are all well aware of the reputation our city has. In the same light, we are all willing to prove that things are not as bad as they seem, regardless of that one story you may have read from that one guy who prefers Los Angeles’ weather to that of Cleveland. Really out on a limb, that guy.
Sure, we can come off as a tad disgruntled, oftentimes undeserving of anything that would resemble fortune. This is the side effect of our tendency to wear our sports-related misery on our sleeves. But at the end of the day, we just want to have fun and win. Something. Anything. Come join us in our journey. And while you’re here, we have a few tips for you to fold up into the back pocket of your jeans — as that’s really all we wear here — as you venture into our rust belt town.
1. It’s still “The Jake.”Sure, the sign out front may say Progressive Field, but the only people who religiously call it such are team employees and broadcast partners. Jacobs Field holds a special place in the hearts of many as this was the house that was packed for 455 straight games in the mid-to-late 90s. This was the home of Albert and Kenny, Carlos and Sandy, Omar and … Jose. But the reluctance of embracing the new name also serves as our last hope at avoiding the corporate takeover of our humble sporting abodes. Jump in a cab? Tell the drive to take you to “The Jake.” Slugging back a 24-ounce can of something hoppy at a local establishment? Ask a local what time they’re heading to “The Jake.” Clevelanders cling to nostalgia, almost to their own detriment. But if you’re looking to endear yourself early on, adding “The Jake” to your road trip lexicon is one of the most efficient ways possible.
2. How you get downtown is up to you. The Indians have made great efforts in providing fans easy and cost-effective ways of getting into downtown Cleveland. A partnership with the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) offers a free shuttle from the Ohio City area — a hip and ever-growing pocket of Cleveland that is located on the near west side — to The Jake on Thursday nights, Fridays and Saturdays. But if you would rather have some added flexibility, driving yourself downtown and parking is one of the least complicated, most cost-friendly options in all of professional sports. If you are coming in from either coast, you’ll be glad to see that the average parking spot near The Jake will cost you no more than $20; your walk will literally be a matter of a few blocks. Either way, we highly recommend that you…
3. Get downtown early.If you opt for the free shuttle, there are countless bars and restaurants in Ohio City — it’s the home of the widely popular Great Lakes Brewing Company as well as several other establishments that serve enough craft beer that your liver will want to wait in the car. When it comes to the food, take your pick—if Cleveland has seen growth in anything over the last few years, it’s culinary quality. If you prefer to drive yourself, the amenities may differ in name, but the outcome is the same. Cleveland’s outdoor/patio setting is one of the highlights of the spring/summer months so taking advantage of this prior to heading to the stadium is highly recommended. You can do sandwiches and canned beer at Panini’s—a local stuffed sandwich chain—or go for the entrée and concoction route at one of the many high-end restaurants located a few blocks from the stadium at the popular East 4 th neighborhood. (This is where one of Symon’s places are, in case you’re looking for the Iron Chef experience before your nine innings of stick and twine.) Restaurants are popping up like dandelions; getting a table at one of them shouldn’t be hard, but if you want your choice, don’t wait until an hour before the first pitch.
4. Say hi to Bob. Just outside of Gate C exists a statue of the Heater from Van Meter himself, Bob Feller. Feller pitched his entire career with the Indians, struck out countless batters, signed countless autographs and stuck around Cleveland until the very end. The Tribe honored Feller throughout the entire 2011 season, and while his seat in the press box remains unused, the statue outside of the stadium is a fantastic place to meet up with other parties, stop for an Instagram upload, or just take a minute to admire a guy who — when compared to today’s excess — once signed a contract that came with a $1 signing bonus. Bob was an outspoken chap who was never one to hold back when delivering, be it opinion or a two-seam fastball. Oh, and while you’re standing there, look up — you’ll see the first ever wind turbine to be installed on an MLB stadium, part of the on-going “green” efforts endeavored by the Indians.
5. Swing by Heritage Park. If you enter through the Gate C near the Feller statue, you’ll be within a few steps of every major amenity within The Jake. There is a team apparel shop a few concession stands away; The Ridgid Job Site (Formerly named the Batter’s Eye) is a four-sided bar in right-center field that is surrounded by high-top tables and stools that allow fans to watch the game from just over the shoulder of Michael Bourn. But just beyond this area exists a brick walkway and that gives way to a large circle of pillars, each housing the likeness of a player who has been fortunate enough to be enshrined within the Indians Hall of Fame. The rotunda is very similar to that of Central Park’s “Strawberry Fields”; the names and that grace the walls not only enrich visitors, but they are there to honor the past and connect the future. Sometimes it is tough to recall just how many excellent players wore Cleveland on their jersey — Cy Young, for instance — despite the recent run of futility. If you’re feeling really ambitious, just beyond Heritage Park is the spot where the Jim Thome statue has been commissioned. This one, however, is still a touchy subject to a lot of Tribe fans.
6. Eat. Drink. Be merry. As if having one of the league’s most affordable average ticket was not sufficient, the Indians have taken extra steps to make the in-game experience even more cost-friendly than in season’s past. With their 4-3-2-1 set-up, fans can purchase $4 domestic 12-ounce draft and can beer; hot dogs starting at $3 every day; $2 soda refills; and six additional Sugardale $1 dog nights, for a total of 15 throughout 2013. Yes, just $4 for a beer. Los Angeles may have better weather, but try finding a $4 beer anywhere near there. Also, don’t forget to top off your hot dogs with Bertman’s Original Ball Park Mustard. The stuff is so good you may consider eating it straight from the pump. (I wouldn’t recommend this, however — they sell it in stores if you need a little extra for the ride home.)
“Spirits of Ohio” sells craft beer (Great Lakes, among others) and wine, while “Your Dad’s Beer Stand,” housed outside of section 119, serves more than one dozen “retro” beers that link to prior generations. Blatz, Genesee, Stroh’s, Pabst … you get the drift. Something for everyone and a time machine for your dad.
7. The ushers really, really take their jobs serious. Really. Yes, I know that The Jake has been roughly a quarter full as of late. Sometimes, it nears the half-way point. Regardless, you’ll be hard-pressed to sit anywhere but your own seat unless you’re really, really good at the seamless advance. At one point during a rain delay, despite an entire section being unused, Progressive Field ushers would not let fans sit underneath the cover until the storm passed. During one of the many drubbings last season, an usher forced a man and his son to return to their original seats despite the father simply trying to show his son what the field looks like from up close—in the ninth inning. One could hear the conversations of fans across the stadium, but this man was violating a major rule by letting his son see Shelley Duncan flail his arms on the on-deck circle. Tickets are cheap enough, so if you want to sit close, lay down the extra couple bucks. You can try to move up, but don’t say you haven’t been warned.
8. If you’re coming with the family, swing by the kid’s play area.I know grown adults who can’t sit through an entire baseball game. Alas, I’m of the understanding when small children need to blow off some steam, especially if they’ve been pumped full of cotton candy for the first four innings. The “Kid’s Clubhouse” is located in the right field mezzanine level and features a slide, a ball pit and a smaller baseball field that allows for some in-game wiffle ball play. Free for any fans who are inside the stadium, the Clubhouse is also located near some kid-friendly concession stands that offer smaller servings of pizza, hot dogs and Pepsi products. And don’t worry dad… This area isn’t sequestered in the concourse somewhere between an escalator and the team shop. You’ll be able to see the game from the Clubhouse as it has taken the place of several suites that were removed to accommodate your viewing needs.
9. Feel free to join the social media parade. A slew of the Indians players and public relations folks are on Twitter, but it’s the team that has been making all of the moves, creating a Tumblr page as well as an Instagram feed. Take pictures, upload them and tag them with #TribeTown, and there’s a good chance you’ll get some love — if not a regram — from the team. This is, of course, assuming you can access the cellular signal within the stadium. And lastly…
10. Go out after the game.You can hit up whatever place you laid claim to before the game, or — as we would recommend — try somewhere different. The Horseshoe Casino opened last fall and continues to be a high traffic area while being just a block or so away from the stadium. Tables, slots, wheels, loud noises…you name it, it’s there. East 4th is typically a hot spot following games, but know that that the atmosphere is more laid back than an arena district would lead one to belive. If bottled domestics and pomade are your thing, Cleveland’s Warehouse District is a five-dollar cab ride away and has a chock full of bars (and clubs) which will be flowing until the early hours of the morning. If you’re heading back to Ohio City, and high-end mixed drinks are your thing, The Velvet Tango Room was just named as one of the best bars in America. Just note that t-shirts are prohibited and you’ll have to leave the baseball hats in the car.
The options are plenty. The choices are yours. By now, you should not only be an expert with regard to Progressive Field, but all of the amenities that you have at your disposal before and after the game. Come on over to Cleveland. Make it an event. Our ballpark, though nearing 20 years of age, is still beautiful. Seats are cheap. The experience is enjoyable. And if you leave hungry, you have only yourself to blame.
Scott Sargent is the co-founder and contributing editor of WaitingForNextYear—the blog for all things Cleveland Sports. He can be found venting on Twitter as well as uploading plenty of Cleveland sports-addled pictures on Instagram.
Previous parks: Citi Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, Petco Park,Comerica Park, Progressive Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Wrigley Field, O.Co Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Fenway Park