Tagged: Cleveland Indians

The Forgotten Influence of The Jake

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Baseball people rightly
credit the designers of Oriole Park at Camden Yards for revolutionizing the way
ballparks were built. Whomever you wish to assign credit for the retro,
fan-friendly design–the Orioles, HOK, Eric Moss–there isn’t any question that the
opening of Camden Yards ignited an explosion of state-of-the-art
facility-building that still continues today.

Camden Yards is automatically
considered to be the park that got the proverbial ball rolling, but is it
possibly fair to ask whether the ball would have kept rolling had it not been for the folks in Cleveland?

Jacobs Field (now Progressive
Field, to the chagrin of many Clevelanders) opened in 1994, the same year that
saw a new ballpark in Arlington and two years after Camden Yards stunned the baseball
world. And truth be told, it was hardly a ripoff of Camden…its construction
fa├žade was limestone and exposed steel rather than brick, it has a greater
capacity, and it isn’t built around a landmark like the B&O warehouse. And
the Indians installed a gargantuan scoreboard, its most striking visual and
something that Camden could not achieve. The only real attribute the ballpark
that Indians fans affectionately refer to as “The Jake” did have in common with
Camden Yards was its location in the heart of the city.

When Jacobs Field opened in
Cleveland, it did even more for its city than even Oriole Park did. Before
1994, Cleveland was the butt of geographical jokes. The Cuyahoga River catching
fire was cited as a black mark on Cleveland more often than Eagles fans
throwing snowballs at Santa Claus is for Philadelphia.

The Jake, and a newly
contending Indians team that would sell out 455 straight games, changed all
that. Cleveland became a thriving, hip city. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
opened in 1995; a year later the Great Lakes Science Center opened. They would soon
even get their departed football team back. Two popular sitcoms, The Drew Carey
Show and Hot in Cleveland, were based in the city that was once called “The
Mistake by the Lake”.

If you said “Cleveland
Rocks!” in 1993, you would have gotten a bemused reaction, at best, from anyone
who had visited Cleveland. Now you can sing it.

The Ballpark in Arlington is
not in downtown Dallas or Fort Worth; it was put in a suburban area that didn’t
particularly need an economic uplift. Coors Field would open in 1995 to rave
reviews in the Lower Downtown (LoDo) section of Denver, but the Rockies already
possessed a certifiably insane fan base, even while playing in a wildly
inappropriate football stadium. Denver was already a popular city to visit.
Neither locale suffered from the inferiority complex Cleveland had. Both
ballparks had an impact, surely, but they didn’t turn an entire city around.

No one remembers who is
second–who made the second transatlantic flight, who was on the second mission
to the moon, who was the second athlete to run a four minute mile. But as the
(tied for) second new retro ballpark in history, the success of Jacobs Field is
important to note in the ballpark revolution. Baltimore showed that a beautiful
new ballpark could lift the reputation of an entire city; Cleveland proved it
twofold, and experienced even more of a civic uplift, one-upping Baltimore at
least in that regard.

Today new ballparks have
greatly improved the tourist reputation of cities nearly everywhere, but
especially in places like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Seattle, and other cities
whose former baseball homes were relative blights on the game when compared to
classics like Wrigley and Fenway.

That certainly would not have
happened without Camden Yards. But it was the Jake that proved that it could be
done again.