ALL-STAR GAME: 1997 WORLD SERIES: 1995, 1997, 2016 (0 wins, 3 losses)
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: I visited in February 1998, drove by in August 1998, and saw a Twins-Indians game on August 7, 2012.
"Faith" is sometimes defined as the triumph of hope over experience, and Progressive Field is a perfect example. After getting burned by Cleveland Municipal Stadium back in 1932, the citizens of Cleveland had every right to be leery of funding another baseball stadium, just as the citizens of Montreal are today. Yet unlike the "Mistake on the Lake" where the Indians called home for half a century, this stadium turned out to be a wise investment, both in terms of the team's performance and in terms of revitalizating downtown Cleveland. Like Oriole Park at Camden Yards, this ballpark is superb in terms of both architectural design and aesthetics. In terms of field layout, it almost a mirror image of Camden Yards, with right and left fields reversed. However, Progressive Field's futuristic stylings, with bare white tubular structural steel that stand in contrast to its Baltimore counterpart. It may be considered as the first "postmodern" baseball stadium. The roof is suspended by a unique series or arches, and the outer eight or so feet remain exposed, as if it was designed to accommodate a temporary tarp to provide additional shading on hot days. Like Ebbets Field, the sides of the structure are determined by the surrounding streets, and except for the center field segment of the wall, all of the sides are either parallel to or perpendicular to the two wings of the main grandstand. The view of the Cleveland skyline behind the left field scoreboard makes this an authentic urban ballpark. One "debit" in the overall account is the fact that 88 percent of the cost to build Jacobs Field was financed with taxpayers' money, midway between the public funding ratios of Camden Yards (96 percent) and the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (80 percent). Of all the neoclassical" baseball stadiums, it has the lowest capacity in relation to that of its predecessor. It is a cozier, far more comfortable venue for watching a baseball game. Also like most other stadiums of this class, the playing surface is 18 feet below the main concourse, which is about street level.
This is a great ballpark from a fan's perspective. Like Camden Yards, there are three main decks plus a skybox level above the mezzanine level. The second deck is one of the largest of any stadiums currently in use, surpassed only by the new Yankee Stadium, and it is cantilevered so that it hangs out over a substantial portion of the lower deck. Thus, it is positioned closer to the diamond than any other mid-to-upper-level deck in a recent stadium. (Fans in the back rows of the lower deck might get a little claustrophobic, however.) The second deck is replaced by two skybox / press box levels in the right field corner, behind home plate, and all along the third base side of the stadium. Perched above the 19-foot left field wall, the bleachers offer a great view of what's happening on the diamond, but anything that happens on or near the warning track in left field is out of sight. At some point after the stadium was originally built, probably in 1997, the bleachers were expanded by adding a trapezoidal-shaped section of seats to each side. The huge scoreboard in back of the bleachers features a huge "Indians" logo on top and is crammed with billboards along the sides, usually including the world-famous Cleveland Clinic. It's all perhaps a bit overdone, but does add unique character to the ballpark. Next to the home team bullpen in center field is a terraced picnic area, adorned with a number of small trees and shrubs. In 2007, that area was converted into "Heritage Park," with monuments to past Indian greats arranged in an open circle formation. There is ample "standing room" in the left field corner and in right center field, where temporary bleachers are installed for postseason games and other high-attendance events. At Gate C (on the north side of the stadium) is a statue to Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller. One convenience is the elevated walkways extending from the ends of the upper decks on both sides to the parking garage in back of the bleachers. For the well-heeled fan, there are a series of glass-enclosed multistory skyboxes angled toward home plate, located near the left field foul pole. NOTE: In recent years, the distance marker in center field was changed from "405" to "400," but there has been no change in the position of the walls. Perhaps it was always 405 feet to the deep corner just left of dead center, rather than 410 feet. Further research is necessary.
From a player's perspective, there are also many unique features. In contrast to other Neoclassical stadiums, there is a relatively large area behind home plate, making pop foul balls and wild pitches more exciting. Even though the field dimensions are roughly the same from right field to left field, the sharp corners and odd angles in the outfield walls, and the varying height thereof, combine to make for a significant element of asymmetry. The 19-foot high wall in left field is a challenge to sluggers, and gives occasion for many weird bounces from line drives, as with the Green Monster at Fenway Park. Until the end of 2014, the visitors' bullpen in right field was partly covered by the overhanging second deck. One minor irregularity is the fact that the wall in the right field corner is taller the rest of the wall in right field, about 14 feet compared to 9 feet. (Prior to 2003, it was 12 feet and 8 feet, respectively.) This reflects the fact that the "bend" in the lower deck grandstand in that corner (where the orientation of the seating rows shifts) is closer to home plate than the corresponding bends in the upper decks. Thus, there is virtually no overhang below the second deck on the right side of the bullpen.
Almost from the moment they started playing here, the Indians underwent a miraculous transformation from being perpetual losers -- as depicted in the movie Major League -- to frequent pennant contenders. They made it all the way to the World Series in 1995 (losing to the Braves) and in 1997 (losing to the Marlins); if it were not for that fluke ending to Game 7 in 1997, the Indians would have been world champions for the first time since 1948. The team's success was matched at the box office: From June 12, 1995 until April 2, 2001, there were 455 consecutive sold-out games, a Major League (!) record. After several years in the lower tier of the standings, the Indians surprised many people with a breakout season in 2016, winning the American League pennant and coming oh-so-close to a world championship over the Chicago Cubs. Cleveland fans may be glum now, but have a lot to look forward to in the near future.
On on January 15, 2012, an outdoor hockey match was held at Progressive Field: In the "Frozen Diamond Faceoff," the University of Michigan Wolverines defeated the Ohio State University Buckeyes by a score of 4-1. A ski ramp was also constructed in left field.
After the 2014 season, construction crews began a massive renovation to Progressive Field. Most notably, all but the front five rows of seats in the upper deck in right field (wrapping around the corner three sections toward first base) were covered by new party decks festooned with historical banners. This was designed to reduce excess capacity, in much the same way that the Rockies did at Coors Field. Second, the old bullpens were replaced with new ones parallel to the center field wall, in the same location as one of the old ones. Third, the front half of the second deck in right field was chopped off, reducing it from 19 rows to just 10, and almost all of it was removed in the two sections on the right side. Fourth, several seating sections in the left and right field corners, as well as the bend beyond right-center field, were replaced with table-top seats or drink rails. Finally, the "bridge" that used to connect the upper deck in right field with the parking garage beyond center field was torn down, making room for future improvements. In October 2016, the Indians surprised many people by winning the American League pennant for the first time since 1997. On November 2, they fell just short of beating the Chicago Cubs in one of the most thrilling World Series Game 7s ever.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Pastier (2007), USA Today / Fodor's (1996), Gameface - Cleveland Indians Magazine (Aug. 1997), Google Maps