A couple years ago, the Atlanta Braves announced a plan to build a new stadium, abandoning Turner Field before the Braves had even been there twenty years. The move has generated its fair share of controversy and discussion: some don't like that the Braves are moving out of Atlanta proper and into a more upscale suburban area, and many point out that the stadium — SunTrust Park — will be mostly paid for by Cobb County, which surely has better things to spend its money on. I had just visited Turner Field for the first time a few months before the announcement, and at the time I noted that “I had the feeling that in the 18 years of the stadium's existence, the owners have taken care to keep it up to date,” and if you asked me what baseball teams needed new stadiums, Atlanta would have been prioritized at best halfway down the list.
Cleveland is a different market than Atlanta, and Atlanta's situation is different because of its relationship with Disney, but a year later, the Indians’ announcement that they were doubling down on Progressive Field stood in stark contrast to Atlanta's plan. Progressive Field has undergone several renovations in the past — the most recent major renovation was in 2004 and brought a new Jumbotron and auxiliary scoreboards — but the proposed improvements promised to be the biggest by far. To me, Progressive Field has never really felt outdated, even though it's now older than all but 11 active MLB stadiums, but I was intrigued and impressed by the scope of the improvements the Indians were making. And while it took me a while, I finally got a chance to check out the (almost) final product.
Over the years, Progressive Field has undergone a lot more than just a name change. Take a look at this picture of what it looked like on Opening Day, April 4, 1994, the first day of Jacobs Field's existence:
From 1994 through 2014, the bleachers got the two non-rectangular wing sections to add more seating area, the scoreboard's been redone a couple times, a couple of pitch speed clocks have been added, the Home Run Porch was formally named, and that awkward auxiliary bleacher section in right center field was replaced by a vendor area and bar, just to name a few. And that's just in the seating bowl; there have been an equal if not greater amount of improvements and additions to the concourses as well.
I drove up to Ohio last weekend for several reasons. For one, while I've seen my family recently, I hadn't visited home in a few months. Second, since becoming a somewhat serious runner I'm always on the lookout for ways I can escape the extreme heat or extreme cold of whatever climate I happen to be in, and I'll just say that if every weekend was as nice weather-wise as last weekend was in Ohio, tourism would be a much bigger industry in the state. And last, but certainly not least, I hadn't seen the Indians play in person this season, nor had I seen the new changes at Progressive Field. So I made plans, drove up, and my parents and I saw the Indians play the White Sox last Friday night.
I'm trying to treat this like it's a typical ballpark review, and if Progressive Field were just another stadium, I'd have been pretty annoyed at the ticketing situation. I bought the tickets on StubHub for about $20 a seat (first row of the upper deck, just about directly behind home plate), and was surprised to discover that StubHub was going to charge me about $90 for three tickets. After doing some investigation I found out that StubHub is charging a markup of about 50% per ticket in fees, which is absolutely nuts. Furthermore, when I went to buy a parking pass online, the Indians charged me another $12 for the pass plus $6 in convenience fees. I'm not sure if the blame lies entirely with the Indians, but I don't remember ever paying fees like that with StubHub, and the $6 convenience fee is just plain greed.
But apart from the fees, parking and getting into the stadium was uneventful (and the smaller crowd made getting through the metal detectors less painful), and I got my first look up close at the renovations, which primarily affect the right field area:
Here's a rundown of the changes you can see:
- The visitors’ bullpen, which used to be behind the right field corner, was moved to right center and is stacked above the Indians’ bullpen. The Indians’ bullpen is more or less in the same place, but the pitchers warming up now pitch parallel to the wall rather than towards the field.
- Heritage Park, which is sort of the Indians’ version of Yankee Stadium's Monument Park, was redesigned somewhat and expanded, and sits next to the bullpens on the center field side. The picnic plaza that used to be out there is now gone.
- In right field, the seats in the 500s sections of the upper deck have been removed and replaced with temporary (I hope) containers.
- The right field corner now houses a two story bar called “The Corner”, and the right field mezzanine concourse now houses a kids and family area.
- Concession stands in the lower deck in right field now offer food from Cleveland area restaurants like Melt.
- The bar that used to be in right center field behind the lower deck has been removed and is now a wide open walking space. People on East 9th street can now see the field from the street.
- There are now seats available both in front of the bullpens (a couple of rows, just over the right field wall) and right behind the wall at field level where the visitors’ bullpen used to be.
Our seats weren't near right field and we didn't come in gate C, so we settled down to watch a few innings before getting up and walking around. Fortunately, the Indians jumped out to an early lead off of Chris Sale and were on their way to an easy win, so we got to explore without the game being too tense.
The first thing we came across was The Corner, the two story bar in the right field corner. I don't drink and don't really frequent bars, but this one seemed pretty cool as far as bars go, and offered plenty of seating with views of either the field or one of many big screen TVs, as well as a wide selection of beers. Most people there were just drinking but at least a few had ordered food too, and it wasn't too crowded, at least on that night.
Next we checked out the rearranged bullpens, which were moved so fans would have more of an opportunity to engage with the players and feel closer to the action. I'm generally not a fan of the stacked bullpen approach, and the row of seats in front of the bullpens seemed a little weird when I first heard about them, but in practice it works pretty well and the bullpens are certainly worth a visit when either team has someone warming up. The bullpens are incredibly visible, the visitors’ especially so, almost to the point of being exposed, and ingeniously, the steps to Heritage Park run right behind the home plate areas of the pens, so as you're walking down that way you can stop and get a look at what a major league fastball looks like at eye level.
Moving the bullpens around also yielded some previously unavailable space that's now being used for some niche seating. One of the things I liked about my visits to ballparks like Target Field and Nationals Ballpark were the small amount of seats that weren't in conventional areas, like behind outfield walls or above bullpens, and the Indians added both. The seats in front of the bullpens aren't a new view (they used to be the first couple rows of the lower deck) but still have that niche feel since they're limited in number and right in front of the bullpens. The seats behind the right field wall, on the other hand, are brand new options and I'd be really curious to try them at least once. Either way, I like how that space was repurposed.
The mezzanine level in right field now has a bunch of interactive activities (mostly for kids, but I found myself wanting to try a few of them). Some of them are conventional, like a radar gun to clock your pitch speed, but some are unique and Cleveland-specific, like the wall climb that lets you try to emulate Kenny Lofton's famous catch (watch that video and listen to Jack Corrigan call that “the play of the day”, which had to have been the understatement of the decade).
And that brings me to the only thing I don't really like about the renovations, which is the upper deck in right field. I was initially under the impression that all of the seating up there was going away, but it's only the 500 sections, which happily leaves the 400 sections open. (It's mostly nostalgic, but I have a lot of happy memories from section 411, row C, and I'd have been bummed if those seats were no more.) As I understood it, the 500s sections were supposed to be replaced with a standing-room only area, similar to what Coors Field has, but as of right now it looks like someone just put a bunch of shipping containers in the upper deck in right field. The renovations were always supposed to take two years, so I'm pretty sure this is temporary, and I hope so, because it's really the only part of Progressive Field that's worse than it used to be.
Look, you were never going to get a fair review of the new Progressive Field out of me. I'm completely biased, and its for reasons that haven't changed with the renovations, like the fact that the hot dog condiment stands serve Ballpark Mustard, or the happy memories that come to mind when walking through the concourses, or even just the simple fact that when I go to Progressive Field, one of the teams is usually the Indians. I'm not a parent, but asking me if I still like Progressive Field is a little like asking a mom if she still loves her daughter even after her daughter got a new haircut. All of that being said: if you liked visiting Progressive Field before, you're still going to like it just as much if not more, and if you've never visited before or thought it was a bit behind the times, the new additions should do nothing but make the experience better. I greatly enjoyed my return to Progressive Field and can't wait to go back again.
More photos from my return to Progressive Field are available here.