Despite only having visited Cleveland, Ohio for two short trips I feel like I understand the city more than almost any other big city this side of Minneapolis, Jackson (if you can call Jackson a big city) and maybe Columbus. I have this confidence because I feel like I understand people from Cleveland since there always seemed to be people from Cleveland in my life while I was at Miami University. It started with the girl I liked freshmen year who after talking over the situation (liking me) with God (her words, not mine) picked her current boyfriend over me. Then there was the fact that I lived with three people from Cleveland, who could spend hours discussing Dennis Northcutt and the "best receivers in the NFL." My knowledge of the actual city might be less than impressive, but for reasons I might not be explaining well I get Cleveland.
I think that my understanding of Cleveland and its fans gives me a unique perspective on Jacobs/Progressive (from now on I am going to call it Jacobs Field, because Progressive seems too weird) Field. I felt like I could go to the park as if I was a native from Cleveland who had been cheering on the Indians since the days of Bob Feller. From that standpoint I can understand why Jacobs Field is considered such a great ballpark. However, when I tried to be more objective (and Cleveland fans should never be considered objective when it comes to their teams) I found faults that others might have missed. Below is my review.
Scalping/Ticket Prices - A-
Thanks to my friend Megan I was able to get my ticket for free, which means I wasn't able to try out the scalpers or even check the ticket prices at the box office. Still I give this category an A- based on my initial research on the prices (reasonable) and the fact that there were amble scalpers available outside the park. The same "trying to find a competent scalper" problem I had in Kansas City or outside US Cellular in Chicago didn't seem to be the case in Cleveland. If you wanted tickets there seemed to be plenty of people willing to negotiate with you.
Aesthetic Appeal - B
From the outside there isn't much to praise or complain about how Jacobs Field looks, so I will just stick with an average ranking. As for the view from the inside Jacobs Field does a good job of showcasing Cleveland's skyline. Of course Cleveland's skyline isn't the most impressive site ever, so there is only so much that one could do in building a ballpark. The stadium overall looked nice, but I felt like their was something distinct missing. I was looking for an old time scoreboard (Wrigley Field), or waterfalls (Kauffman Stadium) or even an incredible out of town scoreboard (Busch Stadium) and Jacobs Field just didn't have that. The scoreboard wasn't very small, but also wasn't very big. The only distinct thing about the outfield was a Progressive car that would periodically open up its doors and shoot t-shirts into the stands. Also, there were fireworks that went off in between innings to apparently scare of the birds that have been known to swarm the outfield. In fact if I was looking for something unique about the park I might have to go with the bugs, birds and other animals that have made appearances in the past.
Fans - C
I have never been to Fenway Park, so it is an accurate statement to say that I will never visit Fenway pre-2004 World Series victory. Therefore I think the most "woe is me" fan base I will ever get to experience is Cleveland fans. Even up 9-0 on there in-state rivals the Reds I could hear some fans muttering about how no lead was safe with Cleveland's bullpen. The anticipation of defeat is something that in my experience is uniquely Cleveland. There is something in the water (besides the pollution) that breads a negative attitude in the town and frankly it is draining. I fully expect Mike Brown or someone to pull a Rick Pitino speech and quote something like "Mark Price is not walking through that door. Brad Daugherty is not walking through that door and if you expect them to walk through that door they will be gray and old and announcing Nascar. All the negativity in this town sucks."
Buzz - C+
I heard the old Jacobs Field used to be a rocking place to go to when it was selling out every game. This Jacobs Field was only partly full for a "rivalry" game and didn't have much buzz. I will cut the Indians fans some slack because this year's team is terrible and I know that if it is an important game the entire city will show up to support the team.
Food - C
In all my ballpark visits I have never seen better pictures of food than the ones above the concession stands at Jacobs Field. The disappointing thing is that whoever took the pictures didn't actually take the pictures of the food served at the park. The food ranged from slightly above- average (the $4.50 sausage pizza) to average (the $6 wings), to below-average (the hot dog according to my friend). I did think the variety of the food was lacking since besides the basic options there wasn't really much else. Again I am going back to the common theme that Jacobs Field needed something to distinguish themselves from other parks.
Fun things to do besides the game - C-
I guess you can eat the average food or hope to see birds in the outfield, but besides that there aren't many options for fans. Originally I had this as an F, but I have since changed my mind and upgraded it to a C- because I remember the incredible fireworks show after the game. The Indians have a promotion called "Fireworks Friday" and they definitely delivered a memorable display after the game. The fireworks went off behind the scoreboard in the outfield and were set to current music. I don't normally care much about fireworks, but this was very impressive and probably is the most impressive thing most Friday nights with this Indians team.
Overall impression - B-
I like the availability of the scalpers, the sight lines, the view from home plate and the fireworks display. I was lukewarm about the the buzz and overall aesthetic appeal. I found the fans, the food and the fun things to do besides the game to be below average for a variety of reasons. The good news for Jacobs Field is that the there are easy fixes to most of the problems. The fans need a championship in order to get the 1964 monkey off their back. I think people from Cleveland have the potential to be normal fans, but right now most of them are completely insane and annoying when it comes to their teams. The other fix I would immediately implement would be to improve the variety of the food.
However, my last complaint is the biggest and the toughest one to fix because I don't know what they can do to add a signature item to the park. Until they do I think the park is good, but not great and ultimately a park that is strangely boring. If the action on the field is compelling then I would go to the game, but otherwise there isn't much else drawing the average fan to Jacobs.
My last point is that I have heard the Twins are using Jacobs Field as a model for the new Target Field. As a model I think that is a fine idea because the idea of a having a downtown park with the skyline visible is a good one. My only suggestion to the people in charge of Target Field is to improve upon the model with some small but meaningful changes. I don't think it is too much to ask than to be better than Cleveland.