Jonathan Knight | On 21, Aug 2015
While watching the Indians trot their increasingly maddening world tour through Boston this week, we got to enjoy one of the more satisfying experiences of this steaming turd of a season.
There’s just something special about watching our team play at Fenway Park. Partially, I suppose, because it’s like getting to sit at the grown-ups table. But more than that, it’s nice to steep the Indians in a place with a history and tradition that’s universally respected and revered. You may hate the Red Sox and may really hate Boston fans, but you gotta respect Fenway.
Not only is it over a century old, but it’s one of the only two parks left – Wrigley Field, natch, being the other – that serves as the emblem of the franchise that plays its games there. It’s bigger than the players – bigger that the team itself, really. And no matter what kind of season they’re having – the Red Sox’ 2015 campaign, for instance, essentially mirrors the Tribe’s shitshow – the ballpark is still revered and a place you want to be every time it throws open its doors.
It wasn’t long ago that Jacobs Field was both of those things for the Indians. For at least its first 10 years, and probably a bit more, it was Cleveland’s Hall of Justice, the home of its Super Friends. For a while, it was the hottest ticket in town, but even when it wasn’t, it was a special place where magic happened and, even in a down year, anything was possible. It was one of the few – perhaps the only – of the new renaissance of 1990s/2000s ballparks that genuinely transformed a franchise.
Is it still special? And if not, could it be again?
Like Fenway Park, Jacobs Field’s first full season saw its team reach the World Series. And coincidentally (or not), also like Fenway Park, it underwent massive renovations after its 21st season: the Green Monster went up at Fenway in 1933, and earlier this year, The Corner – the right-field bar where people can seek asylum for the freedom to check Facebook and watch TV without being distracted by that night’s game – was inserted into Progressive Field like a colostomy bag.
The six-year sellout streak remains the centerpiece of the Jacobs/Progressive Field legacy to this point, but there were still plenty of magical moments outside of the streak: the 12-run rally over Seattle in 2001, the midges in the 2007 playoffs, and Jason Giambi’s homer during the 2013 playoff run to name just a few. This year’s doldrums notwithstanding, there have been ample comebacks, walkoffs, and dramatics.
And keep in mind, Fenway wasn’t really considered a revered, magical place until it was well past its 50th birthday. Through many of those years, it was considered, at best, a relic. At worst, a dump, not unlike the sump hole that was Cleveland Stadium. The Red Sox were miserable for a good portion of that first half century, much worse than the herniated run of mediocrity the Indians have endured over the past 15 years.
However you feel about the Indians or even the recent renovations, Progressive Field is still a beautiful place. You could climb on the slippery slope of comparison shopping and point out things that ballparks built five-to-10 years later have that it does not (for example, even nicer places where people who have paid to watch a baseball game can go to not watch a baseball game). But again, the way the ballpark kick-started itself and the franchise – how it even saved the franchise – gives it a leg up on its counterparts in the karma department.
It’s unlikely that Progressive Field or any of the new renaissance ballparks will ever reach 100 years old like Fenway has. In the landscape of professional sports, the drums start beating for new venues around the 30-year mark. Unless America becomes District 13 in The Hunger Games, it’s doubtful that any major-league ballpark built since new Comiskey will live to see its 50th birthday – which was right around the point when Fenway started to become a national landmark.
But even in that short timeframe, Progressive Field is on track to become (or maybe just remain) Cleveland’s Fenway Park. It will never reach the national stature that Fenway has or receive the universal media love.
But to us, it will always be home.