— Matt Nelson
Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, home of the Lake County Captains, is where it belongs. In the Midwest League.
Prior to 2010 the Captains played in the South Atlantic League and considering Classic Park is about two miles from Lake Erie, it’s good that this instance of “Ballpark Geography Inaccuracy” has been resolved. Now if we can just figure out a better league name for the AAA teams in Memphis, Nashville, Des Moines, Omaha and Round Rock. “Pacific Coast” they most certainly are not.
Classic Park opened when the franchise moved from Columbus, Georgia, to Eastlake in 2003 and seats more than 7,000 fans. Interestingly enough, the other new Midwest League team, Bowling Green, also relocated to its present city from Columbus, Georgia (in 2009).
Although it is a suburban ballpark surrounded by the usual parking lots, it’s not “new” suburbia, which is what one might expect. The area it is in is older than the ballpark itself.
Speaking of those parking lots, one thing that isn’t found at other Midwest League ballparks is a pedestrian bridge to get fans from surrounding parking lots, over a busy highway, and into the ballpark safely. There’s also a bus stop built into the ballpark and the Lake County Tourism Office. The name, Classic Park, comes from the naming rights deal with a local group of car dealers, Classic Automotive Group.
Inside the ballpark the lighthouse in Center Field stands out…like a lighthouse is supposed to! Captain Tony greets fans to the park, and then stations himself on guard to sound sirens and light the lamp for Captains home runs.
The Captains are an Indians affiliate, as evidenced by the t-shirts available in the gift shop, the Cargo Hold, of course. While some teams in the Midwest League are many miles from their parent club (Cedar Rapids is 1,800 miles from Anaheim), the Captains play just 18 miles from where they hope to play in a few years, Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland.
On the night I visited Classic Park, the fans were busy worrying about a Cleveland superstar in a different sport, LeBron James. July 1, 2010, was the opening of NBA Free Agency and the Captains got into the pitch to keep LeBron with the Cavaliers.
“Please Stay LeBron Night” included the Captains renaming themselves the LeLake LeCounty LeCaptains, taking the field under a cloud of baby powder (like LeBron does), a slam dunk contest on a Nerf hoop, full page ads from a local newspaper being displayed to state their plea, the team employees wearing James-esque headbands, and many more unique efforts. In the end, it didn’t work and LeBron left for Miami, but it did make for a fantastic promotion that the crowd really got involved with.
Classic Park is a pleasant place to watch a baseball game in a major metropolitan area. It offers fans the chance to watch future players for their favorite big league team a few years before they arrive in “The Show.”
Be sure to check out the video coverage of Classic Park and Progressive Field!