Sunday, July 29, 2007

Game #6: Cleveland Rocks

Ok, so maybe not so much.

In fairness, when I arrived last night, I was very impressed with the city. With a downtown area far more populated with large buildings than I’d anticipated, and with a free outdoor blues festival underway just a short walk from my hotel, I was definitely digging it. But, after spending one additional day here, with an afternoon game and a bit of a wander both after the game and at night, I can safely say I’m done. Not a bad city, mind you, but just one from which I'm ready to move on.

Jacobs Field (aka “The Jake”) is another of the original new-era baseball-only parks, and was a natural segue after Camden Yards as a result. For anyone exceptionally perceptive, you’ll have noticed that Cleveland was intended to fit later in the tour. As it happens, with 4 days between games, and with my tentative plan of heading to Cooperstown subdued by realization that this was the Hall of Fame’s induction weekend, and that access & lodging would be difficult to come by, I figured I’d slip in a quick side trip from Pittsburgh to Cleveland in order to create more buffer later in the schedule. Hopefully this’ll help if I run into rain-outs further down the path.

Jacobs, though, both didn’t carry the weight of expectations of Camden, and was still built as a modern park – just as a nicely architected, baseball-only park. And for this reason, it was definitely a pleasant experience, and a nice place to see a game. The one disappointment was that I’d decided to get upper deck tickets again, but close to the front of the upper deck and immediately behind home plate. However, I quickly realized that the upper deck at the Jake is certainly higher than most, due to three (!) levels of luxury boxes, providing a resultant disappointing vantage point. It’s a bit worrisome, though – while I’ve not really looked over the plans for the two new parks in NY, it’s certainly believable that they might emphasize increased number of luxury boxes at the expense of the view of those in the upper deck. Given the great quality of the front-ward upper-deck tickets at Yankee Stadium, that’d be a real shame.

The feature of the Jake I particularly appreciated was the inclusion of a shrine to their top old players in the form of a small monument park in right field. This concept, inspired by Yankee Stadium and also included in Baltimore and Philadelphia, was particularly well done here, including the following small plaque to former Indian and current Giant Omar Vizquel.


Two other notable elements: First, the restaurant in right field was particularly impressive in terms of providing fantastic views and a luxurious-seeming feel to diners. Second, while activities for kids are common at new parks, Jacobs Field, for the first time, also featured a full-fledged playground for young kids, complete with kid-sized benches and tables surrounding the outside. Pretty impressive.

On to the game. Unfortunately, it appears my home-team charm effect may have worn off. I’d bought my ticket projecting this to be an ace-vs-ace matchup of CC Sabathia and Johan Santana, only to miss Santana by one night. However, Sabathia was brilliant, reaching the 2-outs-in-the-8th point in the game with a 1-0 shutout still intact. From then it all began to unravel. First, a deep fly ball to right flew over (poor-fielding) RF Trot Nixon’s head, scoring the tying run. Then, a routine grounder to the second baseman was first boggled (error #1), and then thrown away (error #2), getting the batter to 2nd and the man on 2nd home. Classic little-league stuff, compounding problems with further problems. Remember “Major League”, with Charlie Sheen as Wild Thing and Bob Uecker as the sarcastic commentator? There’s a reason they chose the Indians as their team, and despite the team playing far better since the Jake was built, they clearly still know how to mail one in.

That said, there was a point in the game that very much felt like a classic game changing moments, providing the typical rush of adrenaline and excitement through the stadium crowd. In the 6th inning, in a 1-0 ball game, with a man on 3rd and nobody out, Sabathia was able to get out of the jam by striking out the side. Wow. That got the crowd pumped and into the game, and in a split second, helped further highlight why it is that this game is so fun. Unfortunately, it wound up not being enough, leaving the home crowd to head home disappointed for the first time on my trip.



Off to Pittsburgh tomorrow, with the Pirates and PNC park coming up on Tuesday night.

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