Let it Snow: Open-air Stadium Always Ensures Adventures for April — or October — Baseball

Baseball in Cleveland at the beginning of the season is always fraught with its own peril – particularly at Municipal Stadium, which presented the double whammy of being built on the shore of Lake Erie and thus being subject to lakefront winds, and being a huge and typically sparsely populated stadium, without the benefit of close quarters and body heat to keep everyone warm. (“That’s what they get for building a ballpark on the ocean,” Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd once said.)

It was expected to be a little better when the Indians moved farther inland to Jacobs Field in 1994, nearly half the size of Municipal Stadium. But there were still a lot of worried people when the ballpark made its debut on April 4, 1994. Would the game go off as scheduled? Would it be cold? Would they have to postpone the game?

As it turns out, the concerns were for naught. The weather was almost perfect – and Indians fans couldn’t argue with the result of the game either, a 5-4 win in eleven innings over the Seattle Mariners. The next game – the first night game at Jacobs Field – would be April 6.

Or not.

After the opener, with temperatures getting into the 60s (although it was a little colder in the shade) and sunshine, a cold front moved in, bringing precipitation with it. The next game was snowed out.

Cleveland Stadium was built in the late 1920s and early 1930s. At the time, the idea of a domed all-weather stadium was crazy talk (although it wouldn’t be long before the NFL played the first indoor game, the 1932 playoff game between the Portsmouth Spartans – later the Detroit Lions – and the Chicago Bears, which was moved into Chicago Stadium from Wrigley Field because of cold and snow). But the stadium construction boom of the 1960s and 1970s brought with it domes, starting with the Astrodome in Houston, “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”

By the 1980s, Municipal Stadium was getting long in the tooth, due in no small part to the fact that the Cleveland Stadium Corp. couldn’t keep up with maintenance (Art Modell, the president and owner of CSC, was cash-strapped for as long as he owned it and the Browns). Plans were floated for a new ballpark and the Greater Cleveland Domed Stadium Corp. was formed in 1985 for a new domed stadium. One grandiose design was the Hexatron, a six-sided domed stadium that would serve as home for the Indians and Browns – and potentially even the Cavs. The Silverdome, which was home to the Lions and at the time the Pistons was cited as an example (given the fate the Silverdome has been doomed to, Northeast Ohio might have dodged a bullet with that one).

Plans were being made for the stadium on the site of the old Central Market downtown for a dome, but the expense was prohibitive. Instead, the plan would be a new and smaller baseball-only stadium for the Indians, and an arena bringing the Cavs back to downtown Cleveland. Modell either was blocked from being part of the project or wanted no part of the project (depending on whose spin you believe). After he took the Browns to Baltimore, a new stadium was built on the site of Municipal Stadium. It, too, had no dome.

The absence of a dome – Jimmy Haslam was even asked about it when he bought the Browns four years ago – has made Cleveland unlikely to host a Super Bowl (it’s the only city with an NFL team never to host or play in a Super Bowl), and has ensured that baseball in April – or October – in Cleveland is always a risk.

In 1997, the Indians beat the Florida Marlins, 10-3, in Game 4 of the World Series in the coldest recorded World Series game ever played (perhaps not coincidentally, it’s the only game in Cleveland the Indians won in the series). And in 2007, the Indians’ home opener was called one batter before it became official (in what would have been a no-hitter for Paul Byrd) because of snow – and possibly a little gamesmanship on the part of Mariners (and former Indians) manager Mike Hargrove.

Photo: AP Photo/Marc Duncan

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