Indians Unveil Progressive Field Upgrades

Earlier this week, the Cleveland Indians welcomed a contingency of fans and media into their home to show off the finished product of their much discussed offseason renovation work conducted at Progressive Field in the new Right Field District.

Throughout the presentation of the improvements, there was a special emphasis on the importance of the heritage and history of the Indians ballpark and the desire to preserve the beauty of Progressive Field, while recognizing that times have changed and it was important that the stadium do the same.

“It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Tribe and to be a Tribe fan,” said Indians President Mark Shapiro shortly after 2 PM on Monday afternoon.

The shining star of the unveiling may have been The Corner bar, situated in the right field corner where the former Budweiser Patio once sat. With a capacity of 750 people, the beautiful and modern looking structure was crafted from wood salvaged from the Columbus Road Bridge, formerly of the Flats.

The establishment has all of the best qualities of a sports bar while having the benefit of a Major League Baseball game within eye and ear shot. Counters with servers are available for patrons on each of the two floors of the bar and a digital “beer wall” is part of the second floor décor. Fans in attendance have the ability to choose from 40 different beers on tap, including 14 hometown options.

“It’s hard to believe that we are standing in this space,” said Shapiro. “It has been years since we’ve been researching and talking to and understanding what might be the best way to take a building that is really a crown jewel, not talking in northeast Ohio, but throughout the professional sports landscape, and accept and admit that it is 21 years old and that it needs to adapt, to adapt the way this ballpark interacts with our fans and the way our fans interact with it.”

Outside of the bar, a standing room area has been constructed for fans to gather and wait and watch the game. On the second floor, the impressive view of the field is matched by large and comfortable seating and a fire pit that will undoubtedly become a fan favorite hangout on cooler evenings in the months bookending the Indians regular season schedule. The $13 District Ticket provides fans with a standing room only ticket and their first drink, on the Indians.

In the area spanning from the right field entrance to The Corner are the five Cleveland area regions recognized in the park. Each area pays homage to its neighborhood through local foods, drinks, and desserts – Ohio City (Great Lakes Brewing Company), Tremont (Barrio), Gordon Square (Sweet Moses), Cleveland Heights (Melt Bar and Grilled), and University Circle (Dynomite Burgers).

If initial impressions remain firm, The Corner and its nearby and well-established eating options will become a favorite spot for fans coming to the yard for games.

“I defy you to find a bar that has this view anywhere in Cleveland,” said Shapiro, “where really fans of all ages, from millennials to people living downtown can come to multiple stories and can enjoy an incredible view of the game and not just stay in here, but on a pretty day spill out into the stands and down into the old visiting bullpen and up to the fire pit upstairs with an incredible view of the field.”

For fans hosting a younger generation than those who might frequent a bar setting, the Kids Clubhouse, to the right of The Corner, has also undergone an impressive face lift.

The indoor playground has expanded to two stories, complete with interact games and activities for children and a great view of the field for them and their parents from the right field corner. A slide from the second floor back down on to the first floor is just one of many fun stops in the area. The “Locker Room Experience” comes complete with jerseys past and present that sandwich an interactive touch screen video board. Users of the board will be greeted by guest appearances from players like Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, and Jason Kipnis. Another game, “Hot Corner”, built onto the wall closest to home plate, has eleven different baseballs built into the wall that are to be hit when they light up.

Outside of the play area are several other activities, several of which may even grab the attention of a fun seeking adult fan or two over the course of the season. A new outdoor wiffle ball field sits adjacent to a running track, “Tribe Tracker”, where kids can see how their times stack up against their favorite Indians. In one interactive video game in the area, the participant throws a baseball to a video game batter on a screen. At “Show Your Stance”, users are challenged to mimic as many of a variety of players in their batting, fielding, or throwing stances that are presented in a minute’s time.

“We have to accept that in 1993 and 1994, the sports entertainment experience, the way fans watched games, is very different from the way those guys watch games right there, the kids, and the way the next generations will watch games as kids like that grow up,” said Shapiro. “So what we looked to do was maintain and honor and preserve what made this building so special and enhance that. What we really end up with is something I believe transforms the fan experience.”

The upper deck changes have been amongst the most noticeable for fans looking into the park during the offseason. Seats in the seldom used upper deck were removed and the area has a new terraced look. A green splash was being added to the middle tiers of the structures, while the names and numbers of Indians retired legends and Major League Baseball’s retired number for Jackie Robinson and the pennants commemorating division or league titles adorn the platforms.

Fans entering the park through the right field area will be greeted by the statues of Bob Feller and Jim Thome, both of which are already situated outside of the park. Also new is the placeholder for the coming statue of Larry Doby, set to arrive later on this season.

Those electing to enter at this portion of the park will see a much different view than in previous years, as the whole area is much more opened up as a gathering spot while providing a fuller view of the city of Cleveland and immediate access to a team shop and the fine eateries mentioned above.

In construction news that directly affects the players on the field, the new bullpen area in center field replaces the previous ones set in two different parts of the outfield. The two-tiered structure is readily accessible to fans, especially those sitting in the rows directly in front of the Indians bullpen. A clear half-wall and netting will provide fans with a good view of the activities and antics that will likely be going on behind them, especially with the frequency in which manager Terry Francona handles his relievers.

In the remnants of the old visiting bullpen in right field, fans will have an opportunity to go down and sit on the bullpen bench and enjoy a field level view of the game.

Additional and minor changes have also been made around the ballpark.

A Key Bank sign has been attached to the lights on the first base side of the stadium. Premium seating that was once directly behind home plate near the walkway has been relocated several sections over in the final rows of that area. In a less publicized and potentially upsetting move to some, a net has also been placed above the seats behind home plate, extending from the top of the previously existing screen that had prevented line drives from striking fans. This net will decrease the opportunities for fans sitting directly behind home plate from being struck by balls exiting the field of play, but will also eliminate chances for said fans to bring home a game-used souvenir.

The right field gates will open two hours prior to first pitch Monday through Friday. All other gates will open one hour prior to game time. On the weekends, all gates will open two hours in advance. The lone exception would be weekday afternoon start times. In addition, the old ticket office at Gate C has been replaced by four ticket kiosks.

Once again, the team has several exciting giveaways and special events for fans in attendance throughout the season. Four previously shared bobblehead games are on the schedule along with four jersey days commemorating the past and the present. Fifteen Dollar Dog nights are also on the slate for the season, as well as Dollar Pepsi days. As usual, the team also has 15 fireworks nights scattered throughout the year, including the ever-impressive Rock ‘N Blast presentations.

It was an impressive amount of work done over a short period of time in what was one of the worst winters in the history of the city of Cleveland. This winter’s project is just one part of a series of changes expected at Progressive Field over the coming years, when other areas of need, including a severely outdated sound system and possibly even the scoreboard above the bleachers, are expected to be addressed.

Just as was the case with the Indians roster in the offseason, a strong foundation was in place at Progressive Field, and it only needed the right pieces in place to keep it a winner.

Photo: Bob Toth/DTTWLN

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