The Other Two

 

President McKinley Site - Canton, Ohio

— Matt Nelson

Regrettably, when I travel to ballparks not all of my time is spent at ballparks. There are many, many, hours on the road, and in those hours I often try to find some unique (and cheap) places to visit.

I’m a fan of United States history, and I’m a fan of Presidential history. I claim no true expertise.

President McKinley

Presidential gravesites are interesting places to visit. The local communities where the presidents grew up are always very proud of their native sons. The thing is, other than a select few, most people don’t know a whole heck of a lot about many of the 44 presidents in this country’s history. They may have school buildings and street signs that bear their names, but visiting a presidential gravesite always prompts me to learn a bit more about them.

Garfield Site

Ohio is a hotbed for presidential history. On a trip out east in 2009 I stopped in Fremont to check out the gravesite of #19, Rutherford B. Hayes. I recently traveled to Ohio to visit the Midwest League ballparks in Dayton and Eastlake (those stories come to KCRG-TV9 and KCRG.com in August).

President Garfield Site - Cleveland, Ohio

This time around I saw the gravesites of two presidents who unfortunately, share a common bond. It’s probably safe to say most Americans know that Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were assassinated, but until you read the photo captions on this page, could you name the two other assassinated Presidents? They are #20, James A. Garfield, and #25 William McKinley.

President Garfield

Garfield was shot in a Washington D.C. train station and was President of the United States for just 200 days. He rests in Lakeview Cemetery just east of downtown Cleveland a few miles. His resting place is tough to miss. It’s a large building on top of a hill, providing a view of downtown Cleveland.

View from the McKinley Site

McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, New York. He was in his second term as president. McKinley’s resting place is also in a large building on top of a hill, but in Canton, Ohio, about one mile from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hayes, Garfield and McKinley. Just three of the eight presidents born in Ohio, “The Cradle of Presidents.” The Buckeye State is in a bit of a drought though, #29, Harding (who also died in office, but of natural causes), was the last president produced by Ohio.

Garfield's Resting Place

“The Other Two.” Abe, JFK, Garfield, and McKinley. Might help with a trivia question some day, you never know!

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The Lost Ballparks of Cleveland

  

The Ballparksmobile sits in foul territory down the right field line at a Lost Ballpark

 

— Matt Nelson  

Many cities have “Lost (Major League) Ballpark” sites. Believe it or not Keokuk, Iowa, is one of those places. In 1875 the highest level of professional baseball was played there by the Keokuk Westerns of the National Association.  

Most cities don’t have a list of Lost Ballpark sites as long as Cleveland, Ohio though. “Green Cathedrals” by Philip J. Lowry lists more than ten in Cleveland and the surrounding area.  

Cleveland Browns Stadium today, old Cleveland Stadium site from 1932-1993.

 

On the north side of downtown Cleveland is Cleveland Browns Stadium. This is the site where Cleveland Stadium was from 1932-1993 (the Indians played at Cleveland Stadium full time starting in 1947).  

For ballpark nerds that site is nice, but there’s a real Lost Ballpark site a couple of miles east of downtown Cleveland that is easily one of the best anywhere in the country.  

League Park III (1891-1909) and more notably League Park IV (1910-1950) were located at Linwood Avenue and East 66th Street.  

Even though most of League Park IV was demolished in 1951 parts of it still stand! The ticket booth at the corner of East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue is in very rough shape today, but is a great piece of ballpark history.  

Ticket Booth In Past Years.

Ticket Booth Today.

Also still standing is part of the exterior brick wall on the first base side which runs right along East 66th Street.  

 

In both right field and left field are foul poles that mark the spots where those were located.  

 

Best of all, there is a non-profit effort now by the League Park Society to restore the parts of Cleveland’s League Park that do still exist, while improving the entire block and giving the area a place to hold baseball games at the site where many Major League games were played through the years. You can check out their efforts here.  

 

 

 

 

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Rickwood Field – Birmingham, Alabama

— Matt Nelson

“America’s Oldest Baseball Park.” For a “Ballpark Nerd” or a “Ballpark Chaser” it’s one of the toughest to catch. Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Sure, you can stop by most any time and take a stroll through the park that opened on August, 18, 1910. But to find a minor league game being played at the old green facility on the westside of Birmingham, you have to be there on one specific day on the calendar.

In 1910 businessman Rick Woodward needed a new home for his baseball team, the Birmingham Barons. He built one that still stands. Modeled after early concrete and steel big league parks Shibe Park (Philadelphia) and Forbes Field (Pittsburgh), Woodward’s park hosted many teams for many years.

Rickwood Field was the home to the minor league Birmingham Barons for all but two seasons from 1910 through the 1987 season. That’s when the club moved to a new park in the nearby suburb of Hoover. The Birmingham Black Barons of the negro leagues played at Rickwood for many years. In its early days Rickwood was hosted spring training games for a couple of big league clubs. It’s hosted countless “barnstorming games” that included players like Babe Ruth. College baseball games. High school baseball games. Heck, it’s hosted college football.

June 2, 2010, marked the 15th Annual Rickwood Classic. That is the one game each season that the Barons return to Rickwood Field. It’s really a big undertaking. There are a lot of logistical issues to work out to get everything ready for a park that usually doesn’t handle crowds close to 10,000 like The Classic often draws. However, the Barons and the non-profit group “Friends of Rickwood” do a great job with the event.

In fact, the “Friends of Rickwood” do a great job with the park year round. The park is owned by the city of Birmingham but the funding for the park these days comes from whatever the friends can get. They’ve done a nice job of fixing up things that must be fixed, but leaving whatever they can, as it is. That’s the difference between Rickwood and Fenway Park (1912) and Wrigley Field (1914). The Red Sox and Cubs have put lots and lots of money into their facilities. That makes for a great fan experience day in and day out, but they’re not as historically accurate to the old days as Rickwood Field.

Everywhere at Rickwood there is something historical. On the exterior there are fantastic old signs that read, “Home of Barons Baseball” or “Barons Offices Upstairs.” Signs that look like they haven’t been touched in 40 years. The old outfield wall still stands. It was 478 feet to center field from home plate! The old concrete wall is a long distance behind the current fence. The dugouts are tiny. The lights are something you won’t find anywhere else. Same for the recreated press box on the roof. The “No Betting In This Park” signs are simply classic.

These old features are the reason that movies like “Cobb” have been filmed at Rickwood. You could build a Hollywood set, but why build a set when you have an old ballpark that fits many old eras of baseball?

It’s clear that playing at Rickwood is not just another game in the course of a long season to the handful of minor league players who have the opportunity to play at Rickwood each year. During batting practice some of them had their own cameras and were taking photos. Current Barons skipper and former Cedar Rapids Kernels Manager Ever Magallanes was clearly excited to manage his team in the Rickwood Classic for a second year in a row.

Willie Mays. Reggie Jackson. Rollie Fingers. Dizzy Dean. The list of big name baseball players who’ve played at Rickwood is very long. It’s one of the reasons that “Ballpark Nerds” and “Ballpark Chasers” love Rickwood Field. And why they flock to Birmingham for that one chance each year to see professional baseball at the 100-year-old place known as “America’s Oldest Baseball Park.” It is a trip worth any length of drive, for any big baseball fan.

Be sure to check out the video report from Rickwood!

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Bowling Green Ballpark – Bowling Green, Kentucky

— Matt Nelson

They’re still getting used to this whole “baseball thing” in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The franchise now known as the Bowling Green Hot Rods moved from Columbus, Georgia, prior to the 2009 season, and into a brand new ballpark near downtown, Bowling Green Ballpark. The fans have been turning out at a rate of about 3,000 fans per game in 2010, but the Hot Rods have been working to increase that.

Just days before my visit to Bowling Green the team hosted “Super-Mega-Prize-A-Thon.” This giveaway involved giving away random items in large quantities. One person took home (well actually, they distributed them to fellow fans) 1,000 popsicles. Another took home live hissing cockroaches. All in an attempt to catch people’s attention and get them down to the ballpark.

My visit to the home of the Hot Rods came during a 13 game home stand. It also came during a 13 game campout. Kyle Hanrahan, who runs the team store, “The Body Shop,” is also the Hot Rods Community Affairs Dude. Yes, that is his actual title, it’s on his business card. He decided since he’d be at the park so much during that home stand that he’d just camp out and raise money for charity, namely the Hospitality House. Hanrahan says it’s along the lines of a Ronald McDonald House. His tent was set up on the first base concourse, complete with a view of the video board in right field. Hanrahan noted that it’s tough to get sleep at the ballpark. The cleaning crews wrap up their duties around 2am and by 4am the birds are chirping.

As for the ballpark itself, Bowling Green Ballpark is a nice new park to watch a game in, but it doesn’t break any new ground. The park has a nice brick exterior and the interior is similar to the design of most new ballparks. There is a gap in the outfield though so fans can’t walk all of the way around the inside of the park.

The outfield is pretty unique. The team clubhouses are in Center Field so fans can watch the players enter the field from out there, kind of like the Giants and their opponents used to do at the old Polo Grounds in New York. Also, the Right Field fence curves in towards the field because it runs so close to the street that is just beyond it.

One thing that members of the media take note of is the location of the press box. At Bowling Green Ballpark it’s actually down the third baseline which is a little different. The suite/press box level of the ballpark includes a bar/restaurant as well as suites and other group seating areas. I visited on a Tuesday night, but it was a pleasant Tuesday night in June, and that level was really being underutilized for that game.

The Hot Rods nickname comes from the fact that Bowling Green is home to the General Motors plant that makes the Corvette, and there is also a drag race track in the area. The Corvette is the official sports car for Kentucky.

Now the question can be asked, “How is Bowling Green part of the Midwest?” Well, it’s not, really, but the team moved over to the Midwest League in 2010 (as did Lake County) from the South Atlantic League. Bowling Green’s nearest league opponent is Dayton, and that’s still more than 250 miles to the north.

South Atlantic. Midwest. It doesn’t matter to Hot Rods fans and Bowling Green. They’re just happy to have a minor league baseball to watch.

Be sure to check out the video report from Bowling Green!

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Progressive Field – Cleveland, Ohio

— Matt Nelson

“I still call it ‘The Jake.'” Well, I can’t take credit for that line, but if you want a t-shirt with that quote, you can buy one here.

Progressive Field, probably still better known as Jacobs Field (1994-2007), is the very, very, nice ballpark located in downtown Cleveland, home of the Indians.

I’d been to a game at this park back in 2000. It’s a little different these days. Back then the Indians for the team to beat in the AL Central and the place was packed. No really, pretty much all of the time. From June 12, 1995, to April 4, 2001 the Indians sold out 455 straight games. That was a Major League record until it was surpassed by the Boston Red Sox in 2008.

These days the Indians are having a much harder time selling tickets. I visited the park for a day game on Thursday, July 1 against Toronto. No shortage of seats on that afternoon. Hopefully things will turn around a bit. The Indians are only a few years removed from their run to the ALCS in 2007. There seems to be a lot of talent in the Indians organization. But, as Indians VP for Public Relations Bob DiBiasio told me, “We are not a checkbook organization,” so don’t expect the club to sign a bunch of high-priced free agents to compliment those young players. The Indians lost Cy Young winners Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia in recent years because they couldn’t afford to keep them around.

The park is in a great location on the south side of downtown Cleveland. Sitting behind home plate or along the first or third base lines offers a nice view of the city. Of course if you sit in the left field bleachers, you’ll still find fans beating the drum.

Center Field pays tribute to the Indians long history. Heritage Park opened at Jacobs Field in 2007 and is very, very well done. Lots of great names have played baseball through the years in this city. No charge, just stroll in off the concourse. Also while strolling the concourse, make sure you hang out in the left field corner by the foul pole. A nice standing room-only area right there, and never a shortage of home run balls flying into that area either!

I love unique light towers, and the ones at Progressive Field are pretty darn cool. I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s kind of a distinctive look for the park.

Progressive Field is not at the top of my list of the 31 MLB parks I’ve been to, but it ranks relatively high and really is a nice place to take in a game. I have no complaints with this park!

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Look for more on Progressive Field when my segments on Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, air on KCRG-TV in a few weeks, and when they’re posted on the “Ballparks of the Midwest” KCRG.com site.

Classic Park is home of the Lake County Captains of the Midwest League, and Indians affiliate. What this means is that the Captains players are playing just 18 m iles from where they hope to be in 2-4 years.

The Indians were very accomodating with my interview/video request, as well as giving me the opportunity to watch the game from the press box! Again, look for that video story in August.

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Modern Woodmen Park – Davenport, Iowa

— Matt Nelson

There is one thing that is indisputable about Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits. It offers baseball fans the best view in the Midwest League, and one of the best anywhere in minor league baseball.

Municipal Stadium opened in 1931. It later became John O’Donnell Stadium. Then most of that park was torn down after 2003, the exception being the facade of the ballpark. Home plate is pretty much where it was before, so depending on how you want to look at it, the ballpark is either the oldest in the league, or one of the newer ones. I say it’s one of the newer ones. Yes, parts of it date back to the ’30’s, but the park feels like it was built in the last ten years.

The River Bandits are an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals (although the affiliation has bounced around…it was a Twins affiliate for several years, including 2002 when Joe Mauer spent his season in Davenport) which makes sense since Davenport is about 275 miles north of St. Louis right on the Mississippi River (don’t forget, AAA Memphis is also on the river!). And not only is Davenport on the Mississippi, the ballpark is too. And sometimes, the ballpark has had the misfortune of being in the Mississippi.

Located on the edge of downtown Davenport, Modern Woodmen Park is literally just feet from the river. Barry Bonds, steroids or not, could hit one into the river, most minor leaguers can’t. In addition to having the river right by the park, the Centennial Bridge adds to the backdrop, especially when the lights come on at night.

It is a fantastic location and view, one that is a rare find in baseball. The problem of course is the spring flooding. Modern Woodmen Park has flooded several times in its history. This has resulted in the team playing games at the home of the Clinton Lumberkings, the home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, and several high school fields in and around Davenport. With the aforementioned renovations that were done in 2004, the club added a berm in the outfield to help protect the stadium, as well as building some walls and doing other flood-preparation work.

All of that work was put to the test in 2008 when flood waters rose. These were not “over the outfield fence” flood waters like the ballpark had experienced in the past, but they were significant amounts of water. The team built a wooden platform to get fans into the ballpark, which looked like an island. That worked for a game or two, but then for safety reasons it was decided that some of the River Bandits home games would need to be moved. That said, the waters didn’t damage the field, so the team was able to return much sooner than in other years when the field was submerged for an extended period of time.

Modern Woodmen Park has many nice features including lots of outfield grass seating, a 360-degree concourse so you can check things out from any angle, restaurant and bar areas and much more. The River Bandits organization deserves a lot of credit as they really do a good job of coming up with promotions and other unique ideas to get people out to the ballpark. This even includes movie night on the outfield grass on weekends when the team is on the road.

Modern Woodmen Park is a great place to watch a game. There’s a lot to like about this park, but by far and away the biggest thing to like is the spectacular location on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Be sure to check out the video reports from Davenport by clicking here.

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Fox Cities Stadium – Grand Chute, Wisconsin

— Matt Nelson

Snow. It was snowing. That’s right. May 7 in the Appleton, Wisconsin, area, and that’s what the weather was like. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are the northernmost team in the Midwest League, so maybe that was just very appropriate for my tour of the ballparks in the league. Thankfully the snow was melting as soon as it hit the ground, and 12 hours later at game time, it was long gone.

Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium opened in 1995 and is located in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, which is just west of Appleton. The ballpark is nice, but lacks some of the ammentities of newer parks. Within the Midwest League it is probably the most comparable to Coveleski Stadium in South Bend. It has a mostly open concourse with a small press box at concourse level behind home plate. The exterior is ok, but doesn’t necessarily standout. The location of the ballpark is near a shopping mall and a major highway meaning it’s easy to get to and there is plenty to do near the park, but the fact remains that the stadium is pretty much just surrounded by parking lots.

Give the Timber Rattlers organization a lot of credit though, they’ve put in some very nice features. There’s a restaurant/bar, plenty of group seating options throughout the park, and a new addition, there’s a giant sand box in right-center field, much like what Petco Park in San Diego has. So although the ballpark isn’t the newest, flashiest, park in the league, it’s clear that the club has made efforts to give fans a great night of entertainment.

It’s also clear that the fans in the Fox River Valley enjoy coming out and supporting the team. Part of that is probably due to the switch at the beginning of the 2009 season from being the longtime Mariners affiliate in the Midwest League, to having an affiliation with the in-state Brewers. They’re also tough fans. It was 46 degrees at first pitch on the day I was in Grand Chute, and there was a very good crowd who didn’t seem to mind the weather…probably because they have years of experience toughing out much worse weather 30 miles north in Green Bay at Lambeau Field. The team gets credit for having plenty of heaters placed throughout the concourse so fans can easily warm up for a few minutes by them.

One other thing of note for college sports fans…Fox Cities Stadium has hosted the NCAA Divison III World Series for many years now. Clearly the NCAA likes this ballpark and Grand Chute, or they wouldn’t keep the tournament coming back year after year.

Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium is not a great park of the league, but it’s a venue that has had some money invested in it, and the fans really come out and support their club. That’s worth some serious points right there.

Be sure to check out the video reports for Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium here.

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