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Classic Park – Eastlake, Ohio

— 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!

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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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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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