Cleveland OH/Pittsburgh PA, Saturday May 20, 2000

Welcome to Jacobs Field!

Our only baseball trip of 2000 took us to western PA and northeast OH in late May. Since the trip by car was in excess of five hours from central NJ, we drove out to northeast OH on Friday, May 19th, staying just outside of Cleveland for the night.

Saturday, May 20th dawned cloudy and chilly, much cooler than one might expect in late May across northeast OH. With a few hours before the 105 PM contest between the visiting New York Yankees and the hometown Indians, we decided to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located adjacent to the southern shore of Lake Erie. Uncharacteristically, we visited the Hall without a camera, so we don’t have a visual record of our visit.

To my delight, the crowd at the Hall was thin, perhaps due to the weather and the relative early hour (as the doors opened at 1000 AM). As a result, we were treated to nearly unobstructed views of the myriad exhibits. Though we moved fairly quickly through the artifacts, we were able to appreciate the history of rock and roll (as well as pop music). Not surprisingly, the Beatles exhibit was the largest in the Hall, and our favorite band, Led Zeppelin, was well represented.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to explore Jacobs Field, we left the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after about 90 minutes. Even with the limited time spent there, we were impressed by the museum, and plan to return in the future for a better look. If you are a rock and roll fan, and plan to be in the vicinity of the Hall, leave yourself some time for a visit: you won’t be disappointed.

1. Jacobs Field

Venturing back out in the cool and breezy conditions, we completed the short drive from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Jacobs Field. Had the weather been better, we might have walked the distance, but the cool and damp air ruled that out. We were able to secure parking just across the street from the ballpark in a private lot at a reasonable price.

We performed our typical tour around the outside of the park, but the weather curtailed our walk. Ducking inside the stadium at the home plate entrance, we were greeted by a nearly empty park. Once inside, we had access to the entire seated area, exploring while taking pictures. Unfortunately, the low overcast made the stadium appear drab, but the images capture the conditions on the cool and cloudy early afternoon perfectly.

Jacobs Field from the upper deck behind home plate.

Since both teams were playing well, tickets for the Saturday matinee were scarce, and our seats were located in the last row of the upper deck on the first base side of the field. Just before game time, temperatures hovered in the 40s, and the persistent breeze off the lake made it feel even colder. Despite an announced crowd of 42,000+, the unseasonably cool weather held the actual attendance far below that number.

Starting for the visiting New York Yankees was veteran right hander David Cone. Thus far in 2000, Cone was struggling (with an ERA over 5.50), though he was less than a season from his perfect game in 1999. On the mound for the Indians was left hander Chuck Finley, who was in his first campaign for the Tribe. Each team featured a potent offense, but the combination of good starting pitching and cool weather raised the specter on a low scoring contest.

Indians starter Chuck Finley featured on the cover of the scorecard/magazine.

New York scratched out a single run in the first inning against Finley, then tacked on another run in the fourth inning (with Yankee right fielder Paul O’Neill driving in the run with a single), giving the visitors a 2-0 lead. Meanwhile, David Cone kept the Cleveland bats at bay through the first six innings. Each pitcher worked deliberately, slowing their approaches with runners on base. In spite of the lack of scoring, the pace of the game was glacial, punctuated by the cold and damp conditions.

During the slow play, we were able to get a better feel for Jacobs Field. Dreary weather made the six year old stadium seem drab, with little contrast between the field and the slate gray overcast that seemingly encased it. Because of the conditions, Jacobs Field did not shine, and the lack of fans made the ballpark seem larger than it appeared on TV. Clearly we were not seeing the park at its best. Though the crowd was sparse, one of the more memorable parts of our visit was the persistent drumming in the left field stands. With a typical crowd, the drumming may not have been as noticeable, but with little else happening in the largely empty stadium, it echoed almost to the point of distraction.

The view from our seats. Note that the tops of the buildings were obscured by low clouds.

Cleveland broke through against David Cone in the bottom of the seventh inning, as Richie Sexson led off the frame with a solo home run. Scoring another run in the seventh, the Indians tied the game, while simultaneously knocking the Yankees starter out of the game. Each bullpen then kept the game tied heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Yankees Jeff Nelson surrendered four walks during the frame, forcing in the winning run with two outs to give the Indians a 3-2 victory.

Despite the low scoring affair, the nine inning contest took three hours and 38 minutes to complete, which seemed even longer in the cold and wind. We filed out Jacobs Field quickly, as we planned to attend a game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburg that evening. Disappointed that we didn’t get to experience the ballpark in better weather, we would have to return in the future to get a better feel for the stadium and environs.

My scorecard for the game

2. Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh PA

Google Maps depiction of the route from Cleveland to Pittsburgh.

Spending more time at Jacobs Field than expected, we were left with about two and one-half hours to get to Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Though it would be tight, we were optimistic that, with light traffic, we would arrive before the first pitch at 710 PM. However, events would conspire to make arriving on time impossible. A bit more than an hour into the trip, we encountered thunderstorms that hampered our progress. As we got closer to Pittsburgh, traffic slowed to a crawl.

Finally, we reached the parking lot next to the ballpark, located on the north shore of the Allegheny River (north of downtown Pittsburgh). Arriving well after the first pitch, we parked in a dark area under an overpass of Interstate 385. While there were plenty of fans in the area, it seemed fairly remote, and I had an uneasy feeling about leaving the car there.

Because we arrived in the second inning, we had no time to wander and explore as we normally would at a new stadium. Instead, we rushed to our seats to enjoy the game. As we travelled from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, we went from early spring weather to early summer weather, as very warm and humid conditions greeting us at Three Rivers Stadium. While there were storms in the area, they managed to avoid us during the game.

Unfortunately, we did not take pictures at the stadium, as we left the camera in the car in our haste. Three Rivers Stadium was a typical multipurpose stadium, nearly identical to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. This season would be the last for the Pirates at this ballpark, and its condition seemed to reflect that fact. However, it was a pleasant place to see a Saturday night ballgame.

Pittsburgh hosted the St Louis Cardinals, who scored early and often. St Louis scored six runs in the first four innings, the scored 13 runs in the last three frames, on the way to a 19-4 drubbing of the hometown Pirates. With the game out of hand for the Pirates, they sent catcher Keith Osik to the mound to pitch the top of the ninth inning. As might have been expected, Osik fared poorly, surrendering five runs on five hits. This outing marked Osik’s second MLB pitching performance. In 1999, he also pitched an inning during a blow out, and his performance then was only slight better than this night.

Even with the high scoring, the game took less than three hours, a stark contrast to the affair in Cleveland. Fortunately, my car was still there following the game, and because of the late game finish, we stayed at nearby a nearby hotel, driving home Sunday morning.

Cincinnati Ohio, Saturday September 18th, 2004

The Great American Ballpark from the right field line. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

1. New Jersey to Cincinnati

Our second baseball trip of 2004 took us to Cincinnati, Ohio to see the Great American Ballpark, the new home of the Reds. From central New Jersey, the drive to Cincinnati was deemed to too long for a two day visit, so we decided to fly. The flight was just two hours, so flying out of the Newark-Liberty Airport in the early afternoon brought us to Cincinnati a couple of hours before the first pitch, scheduled for 710 pm EDT.

After landing at the airport, we picked up our rental car and headed to the hotel to drop off our bags. Since the Cincinnati airport is actually in Covington, Kentucky, we stayed at a hotel near by, rather than in Cincinnati itself. Following a 15 minute drive, which took us across the Ohio River from Kentucky into Ohio, we arrived at the ballpark. Great American Ballpark is located along the banks of the Ohio River, part of a larger complex which includes Paul Brown Stadium (home of the NFL’s Bengals) and the Heritage Bank Center. Not surprisingly, parking was ample throughout the complex, and after securing parking, we walked up the stadium.

2. Great American Ballpark

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Having arrived about an hour or so before game time, we skipped out normal walk around the outside of the stadium and entered the ballpark (as we would have a better opportunity to explore the area the next afternoon). Soon after walking into the stadium from the centerfield gate, we discovered the best feature of the new ballpark (which opened just the year before): the view of the Ohio River.

Located adjacent to the river, the park was constructed to take full advantage of the spectacular view of the river, as well as the structures across the river in Covington and Newport. Since the game time was about 30 minutes before sunset, the encroaching darkness diminished the view to some degree, but we would get a much better look during the afternoon contest the next day.

The opponent for the hometown Reds this evening was the Chicago Cubs. With the St Louis Cardinals running away with the NL Central in 2004, the Cubs were still in contention for the wild card spot, but the Reds were limping toward the end of a disappointing campaign. Starting for the visiting Cubs was future Fall of Famer Greg Maddux. The three-time Cy Young award winner was not quite the pitcher he was just a few years earlier, but was still effective and an important part of the Cubs rotation as they pushed for a playoff spot.

Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux delivering a pitch at the Great American Ballpark. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Aaron Harang took the ball for the hometown Reds. For the 6 foot 7 inch right hander, 2004 was his first full year in the Reds rotation. With both pitchers having mediocre seasons (especially Maddux), we were prepared for an offensive display from both teams.

Clear skies, light winds and comfortable temperatures greeted us as afternoon faded into evening. After picking up a baseball dinner, we went in search of our seats. Though the Reds had been out of playoff contention for some time, there was a sizable crowd for the Saturday evening contest. Consequently, our seats for the game were located down the right field line in the middle deck. Further from the action that I would have liked, but the great weather made up for the distance.

Great American Ballpark at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Despite my expectations of an offensively dominated contest, starting pitching dominated the first half of the game, which each team scoring just a single run in the first five innings. However, as often happens in MLB games, both pitchers struggled as they made their way through the lineup for the third time. The Cubs scored three runs in the top half of the sixth inning, including a home run by LF Moises Alou. Not to be outdone, the Red erupted on Greg Maddux in the bottom half of the inning, with C Willy Mo Pena hitting his second home run of the game, giving the Reds a 6-4 lead.

Sammy Sosa batting fifth for the Cubs at the Great American Ballpark. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

A solo home run by the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa in the top of the eighth inning brought Chicago within a run. Not quite the slugger he was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he was hitting 60+ home runs a year, Sosa was still a force to be reckoned with, exuding the same enthusiasm for the game as always.

Sosa’s home run ended the scoring, as the Reds bullpen shut down the vaunted Cubs offense to secure a 6-5 Reds victory. Despite the scoring, the game was completed in two hours and 45 minutes. My initial impression of the Great American Ballpark was positive, but we would get a better chance to see the ballpark with the mighty Ohio River as a backdrop during an afternoon contest the next day.

My scorecard for the game.

New Jersey/Canton OH/Detroit MI September 10-11th 2009

Google Maps showing the seven hour plus drive from NJ to Canton OH.

1. New Jersey to Canton, Ohio September 10th 2009

Our lone 2009 MLB trip took us from New Jersey to Detroit, Michigan by way of Canton, Ohio from September 10th through the 13th. The first day of the trip (Thursday, September 10th) was dedicated to the drive from central New Jersey to Ohio. We assumed that we could not expect to get from New Jersey to Detroit, Michigan in one day (though we did exactly that in 1999), so we consciously chose Canton as a destination. Our plan was to stay overnight and visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame Friday morning, September 11th, before heading to Detroit for a game that evening.

The trek itself was rather non-descrip, driving along Interstate 76 for the entirety of the state of Pennsylvania. That route took us from near Philadelphia just after the morning commute across the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg (the state capital), where we could see the nuclear reactor cooling towers of the Three Mile Island facility. Following a short stop for lunch, we got back on the road.

Between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, we witnessed the heartland of America. On one side of the interstate, we saw acres and acres of corn, which was mature and ready to be harvested. On the other side, we saw acres and acres of cows standing and laying among the rolling hills. From that slice of Americana, we passed north of Pittsburgh before crossing into Ohio. After about an hour, we reached Canton, checked into our hotel, and ate a quick dinner before settling in after a long day of driving.


2. Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton Ohio, Friday September 11th 2009

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton OH. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Checking out of our hotel on the cloudless, relatively cool morning in Canton, we headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Arriving about the time the doors opened at the Hall, we were able to secure parking adjacent to the museum, rather than have to parking offsite and catch a shuttle bus. Having gotten there early, we had much of the Hall to ourselves, save a crew filming for a local or national news broadcast.

Our visit began in the Hall of Fame Gallery. Home of the plaques describing the current Hall members, it was reminiscent of the busts at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Since the Pro Football Hall of Fame elects new six entrants each year, there are many more members of the Pro Football Hall. Examining each plaque consumed a considerable amount of time, especially since there were a large number of members from the early days with whom I was not familiar.

The Dallas Cowboys exhibit in the NFL Gallery at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Our next stop was the Hall theatre, which showed a loop of famous games and clips. The loop was interesting, but disappointingly short. Following the main presentation, we wandered into the NFL Gallery. The Gallery contained exhibits for each NFL team, as well as multimedia displays telling the history of the game. For the casual and die hard fans alike, this gallery contained the heart and soul of the game, stepping us through time as the game evolved.

In addition to the history of the NFL, the gallery chronicled the American Football League (AFL). Founded in 1960 as a rival league to the NFL, the AFL featured a more wide open offensive game, a sharp contrast to what the NFL had to offer. Despite a more exciting game, the AFL was widely derided among football fans as inferior to the NFL. However, the AFL signed Joe Namath out of Alabama in 1965. Shocked by the signing, the NFL pursued merger talks with the AFL shortly thereafter.

The signing of Joe Namath in 1965 brought instant credibility to the American Football League. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

To my surprise, the gallery contained a small exhibit dedicated to the World Football League (WFL). Developed in the mid 1970s as a direct rival to the NFL, it featured a team in Hawaii, and encouraged NFL stars (such as Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield of the Miami Dolphins) to jump to the new league. Featuring key rule differences, the new league enjoyed a fairly successful first season, but the lack of a national TV contract and overzealous spending doomed the WFL before the end of the second season.

An official WFL football, featuring orange stripes, ostensibly for better visiblity during night games. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Perhaps the most interesting features in the gallery were the wax figures of NFL legends. Life sized versions Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Lynn Swann were among the greats immortalized in the wax museum. Finally, we walked through the Super Bowl gallery, which featured multi media displays of each Super Bowl. Being New York Jets fans, we were attracted to the Super Bowl III exhibit, as the Jets beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. That victory legitimized the AFL in the eyes of many NFL fans, and represents the lone Jets Super Bowl appearance.

Walter Payton immortalized in wax at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

All told, we spent more than two and one-half hours in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including the obligatory visit to the Hall store for souvenirs. Though I consider myself a knowledgeable pro football fan, I learned quite a bit about the game, and enjoyed the exhibits greatly. If you are just a casual fan, and you find yourself in the Canton, Ohio area, you owe it to yourself to visit the Hall. You won’t be disappointed.

Goodbye Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hope to see you again soon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

3. Canton, Ohio to Detroit Michigan/Comerica Park

Comerica Park, Detroit MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following lunch near the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we hit the road for Detroit, Michigan in order to catch the game that evening against the Toronto Blue Jays. The 210 mile, three and one half our trip took us south of Cleveland, Ohio around the western edge of Lake Erie into the southeast portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan. The trip itself was uneventful, with generally light midday traffic working in our favor.

We reached our hotel south of Detroit off Interstate 75 a couple of hours before the gates opened at the ballpark, allowing us time to relax before the game. Approaching the hotel, our GPS unit informed us that the hotel was a left turn off the interstate, though visually we could see that the hotel was actually to the right of the exit. Back then, the GPS units did not often update their maps, and clearly this unit was out of date.

Arriving at Comerica Park about the time the gates opened, we had little difficulty finding parking. There were five main parking lots around the ballpark (including parking near Ford Field, located across the street), reasonably priced at about $10. Had the main lots been full, there are many parking options within a short walk (generally less than one-half mile) of the stadium, with varying prices.

The Renaissance Center from just outside of Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Like many newer MLB ballparks, Comerica Park was located downtown. Walking around the park, we glimpsed the colossal Ford Field across the street. The domed stadium (home to the NFL Lions )dominated the skyline in this portion of Detroit, seemingly much larger than Comerica Park. On the other side of the stadium, we could see the Renaissance Center, located on the banks of the Detroit River.

The environment surrounding the ballpark was unexpected. Stories of Detroit has me expecting a war zone, yet downtown Detroit had a distinctive architecture that held a charm that exceeded my expectations. Having caught my interest, we would have to explore downtown Detroit further.

Stone tigers lurking over Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Since we were not sure that would would arrive in Detroit for the start of the 705 pm game, we did not obtain the best seats possible for the game. Instead, we sat in right center, just to the left of home plate. The view gave us a great view of the stadium, as well as an unobstructed look at home plate.

The view from our seats of the 9/11 ceremony prior to the start of the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Being September 11th, the Detroit Tigers held a short but dignified ceremony marking the eighth anniversary of the attacks in 2001. To be honest, I hadn’t given the date much thought (outside of a cursory acknowledgement), so the somber ceremony caught me somewhat by surprise. Following a moment of silence to remember the fallen on that fateful day, the players took the field, with the first pitch thrown at 707 pm.

The Tigers opponent that evening was the Toronto Blue Jays, a regional rival, even though the teams are in different divisions in the American League. The Tigers held a five and one-half game in the AL Central over the Minnesota Twins, while the Blue Jays were mired in fourth place in the AL East, 26.5 games behind the division leading New York Yankees. It was against that backdrop that the Tigers sent left hander Nate Robertson against the Blue Jays starter, left hander Nate Tallet.

This is how the action looked from our seats. The game was better attended that I expected, perhaps since the teams form a regional rivalry. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With the game featuring back of the rotation starters struggling through their 2009 campaigns, the circumstances seemed ripe for a slugfest, as both teams had power in their lineups. However, the score was close through the first half of the game, with the teams trading runs through the first five innings.

As the evening blended into evening, the wind died down, leading to comfortably cool conditions for the middle of September. With the Blue Jays protecting a 3-1 lead entering the seventh inning, the teams both scored three times in that frame, which ended the scoring for the contest.

A tiger with laser beams for eyes, prowling just to the left of the main scoreboard at Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Toward the end of the game, a light breeze off Detroit River brought a light fog to Comerica Park. The fog allowed for an amazing effect on the laser eyes of the bengal tigers perched on the scoreboard. The scattered light from the tiger’s eyes gave it a more menacing appearance. Fortunately, the fog remained light enough not to affect play, as the Blue Jays took the first game of the three game weekend set 6-4.

Following the game, we experienced little difficulty exiting the area before heading back to the hotel to relax after a long day that started with football and ended with baseball.

Cleveland Ohio to Altoona Pennsylvania August 6th 2019

After spending the night in Independence, OH, our next stop was Altoona, PA, home of the Curve. Since we had some time before getting on the road to Altoona, we made another trip back into Cleveland. Waiting until after the morning commute, we visited Edgewater Park, along the shore of Lake Erie.

Cleveland Ohio from Edgewater Park, on a muggy morning, August 6 2019. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

During our last visit in 2000, the cold and lack of time prevented us from seeing Lake Erie. On previous trips, we’d seen the shores of Lake Michigan (in Milwaukee) and Lake Ontario (in Toronto), and time afforded us the opportunity to see the lakefront on a warm and humid morning. As was the case with the other Great Lakes we’ve seen, the lake extended to the horizon, much like the view of the ocean from the beach. Being August, the wind off the water didn’t provide much relief from the building heat, as we explored a largely deserted lakefront.

However, the lakefront was not completely empty. Standing on the lake’s edge, we saw something bobbing on the waves. From a distance, it was difficult to identify. As brother ventured closer, he was able to see what was coming ashore.

A reptilian local came to greet us on the shore of Lake Erie. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

It would be difficult to understate my surprise at the prospect of a snake coming ashore right in front of us. The snake, between three and four feet long, got within a few feet of us, before slithering back into the lake. Some checking identified it as a northern water snake, which bore a striking resemblance to the water moccasin. Northern water snakes are non-venomous, and the water moccasin (which can be found in my home state of NJ) are definitely venomous and can be deadly. Not being able to top that, we left the park and started on our way to Altoona.


The drive to Altoona was rather uneventful, as traffic was generally light. A quick bite at a local diner along the way was the only stop, and we reached the hotel just outside of town before 500 pm. By that time, clouds were building on the horizon, a harbinger of things to come.

Building cumulus at the hotel outside of Altoona PA.

A 15 minute drive from the hotel, we arrived at People’s Natural Gas Field, home of the Altoona Curve, the AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Nestled among the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains, the 7200 seat stadium is famous for its roller coaster in right field. Most of the die hard baseball fans with whom I’ve spoken said this stadium was a must see, and shortly after arriving, it was clear why.

People’s Natural Gas Field in Altoona, PA, shortly before game time. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We wandered the park from foul pole to foul pole, soaking in the ambience of this beautiful minor league park. Sitting along the 3rd base line, we had an unobstructed view of the mound. However, the burgeoning clouds at the hotel continued to build, and soon thunderstorms began to develop on the ridge lines behind centerfield. As the 630 pm game versus the Richmond Flying Squirrels (AA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants) began, the storms swept toward the park, threatening from the first pitch.

Pedro Vasquez facing the Richmond Flying Squirrels in the first inning, August 6th 2019. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Just after the top of the first inning, the skies opened up. One of the thunderstorms on the ridge tops descended upon the field, bringing with it torrential rain and gusty winds. The heaviest of the rain lasted about 30 minutes, after which time the ground crew took to the field. In a VERY impressive display of teamwork, the crew removed the tarp, then started to tend to the infield. Even though the tarp was placed on the infield quickly, there was still a fair amount of water ponded on the foul lines, especially behind third base.

People seemingly came out of nowhere to tackle the problem of the drenched field. One of the ushers (whose name escapes me) told us that the front office personnel were lending a hand, and that the team’s general manager was tossing diamond dust on the infield near third base.

Umpires inspecting the damage done to the base line by the torrential rain. A superb effort by the ground crew and the front office personnel turned this into a playable field in 45 minutes. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The rain delayed totaled 45 minutes, and the Herculean effort of the crew returned the drenched field into a playable surface. The teams returned to the field for the top of the 2nd inning, though storms continued to lurk nearby. A one-two-three top of the second inning was followed by yet another storm. This time, the storm won the evening, and the game was postponed before 800 pm. All told, we saw 10 batters come to the plate in one and one-half innings. Disappointed, we left the park, headed back to the hotel as the rain stopped and breaks in the clouds appeared.

Because of our travel schedule, we would not be able to stay for the completion of the game the next night. Despite the rain out, we felt fortunate to visit the field. People’s Natural Gas Field richly deserved its reputation as one of the best ballparks in the Eastern League.

Cleveland, Ohio, August 5th 2019

Following our stay in Akron, we made the short trip to Independence, where we stayed the night. Our plan was to visit Progressive Field for a 705 pm game between the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians. It is our first visit to Cleveland since 2000, when the stadium was called Jacobs Field.

Cleveland’s Jacobs Field on a cold, drizzly afternoon in May 2000. This picture was taken with a film camera, back before I owned a digital camera. Unfortunately the quality of the image shows that clearly.

A short drive into Cleveland brought us to the lakefront, where we wondered along the lake’s edge, waiting for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to open at 1000 am. The morning was warm and muggy, and by 1000 am I was ready to get out of the heat. Even before the Hall opened, crowds were gathering outside, complicating the opportunity to get a clear shot of the front of the Rock Hall.

Outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just before 1000 am, Monday, August 5th, 2019. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We had been to the Hall once before, during our last visit to Cleveland back in 2000. Since the Hall frequently changes exhibits, we fully expected a much different experience this time around. Walking among the exhibits and memorabilia, there was a palpable sense of music history. However, it seemed as though there were fewer exhibits than in 2000, and worst of all, there was no Led Zeppelin exhibit!!! For most people, that wouldn’t be that big a deal, but being a lifelong Zeppelin fanatic, this omission was unforgivable.

Again, it is understandable that some performers are underrepresented. There is only so much space in the museum, and rotating exhibits gives visitors the best viewing experience. The Beatles and Rolling Stones exhibits were well done, as was the exhibit for The Beach Boys.

The Beatles represented in the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Still, the Hall seemed to have less charm and content of the last visit. Perhaps I’m being too critical with my review of the Hall; any true Rock and Roll fan should make the pilgrimage here when near Cleveland. In contrast, despite its humble appearance, Sun Studios in Memphis had a much better feel, in my opinion. That place has a PRESENCE that the Hall seemed to lack. In any event, it was time well spent.

After lunch back closer to Independence, we took in a movie before relaxing in advance of the game. We saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Being a Tarantino fan, I enjoyed the movie immensely. In true Tarantino style, he took a fairly well known story and made it his own, complete with a rewrite of history at the end.


Progressive Field

Ahead of the 705 pm game time, we arrived at Progressive Field around the time of the evening commute. Traffic heading to the ballpark was manageable, which made finding parking fairly easy. Prices just a block from the park was very reasonable ($20) especially for an urban setting. The downside of the parking adjacent to the park was that we were packed in like sardines, making me wonder how easily we might escape after the game. Considering the parking nightmares in other cities (yeah, I’m looking at you Philadelphia, though it has gotten better with the new stadium), we felt fortunate to finding parking so easily.

As is our custom, we walked around the stadium before entering. We were here nearly 20 years ago, so my memory of the surroundings is fuzzy at best. In any event, the outside of the stadium was nicer than I remember, but the last time we were here, I was more concerned about staying warm than enjoying the view.

Outside Progressive Field about an hour before game time, Monday, August 5th, 2019. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Walking around the inside of the park, we found a nugget I didn’t expect to find. Just after entering through the centerfield gate, we saw a space suit. Upon closer inspection, we found that it was a mock-up of the one worn by Ohio native son Neil Armstrong. A lifelong obsession with NASA and space travel, the suit was a pleasant surprise ensconced within another lifelong obsession (baseball, of course!!!). In fact, it might have been my favorite part of the visit to the park.

A recreation of the suit worn by Neil Armstrong in 1969. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We had great seats for the game, in the lower level on the third base side of home plate. The weather was markedly better for the start of the game than the last time we were here. Instead of a raw day, with temperatures in the lower 40s and a wind off the lake (which Oil Can Boyd famously referred to as the ocean), it was clear and about 80 degrees for the first pitch. The warmer weather allowed us to enjoy the experience much more than 19 years ago.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The concessions in Progressive Field offered the standard fare for MLB parks, with plenty of concession stands, and reasonable prices. Typically, I would sample the hot dogs, as I do at almost all of our baseball stops. However, I passed this time, with memories of the greasy hot dogs at Canal Park still painfully fresh in my mind. Upon finding our seats, we found great sight lines and a generally unobstructed view of the field. Sitting fairly close to the field for an MLB park, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were still far from the action. Attending many more minor league games over the past few years, we had become spoiled by the access they provide. This is not a knock on Progressive Field; almost all MLB parks feel this way. However, it did not detract from the charm of Progressive this night.

Francisco Linder and Yasiel Puig pausing before taking the field. Gotta love that Mohawk Puig was sporting. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The game was excellent, a tight affair as starters Mike Minor (Rangers) and Aaron Cevale (Indians) were in firmly command. The score was 1-0 Rangers going into the bottom of the 9th inning, when closer Jose Leclerc entered the game. A lead off triple by Jose Ramirez put Leclerc on the ropes. Seemingly unfazed, he retired the next three batter to notch the save.

Overall, it was a great game in a very nice ballpark. We took out time getting back to the car, since we were packed into the lot. To our pleasant surprise, the lot has cleared sufficiently to allow us a clean getaway from the park and out of Cleveland. Since we anticipated a late evening, we stayed in Independence one more night, after which we would continue our road trip, bound for Altoona, PA the next day

Ohio, August 3-4, 2019

August 3rd 2019: Akron, OH

The last road trip of the year was hastily prepared for the 1st week of August. Our target was Ohio and western Pennsylvania, adding two new Eastern League stadiums to our collection, as well as a return to a Cleveland for the first time in almost 20 years.

Departing central NJ early on the morning of August 3rd, we covered the distance to Akron Ohio in about 6 hours. Fortunately, the weather was good, and the traffic fairly light. The only stops along the way were for lunch in central Pennsylvania (a quick stop at a chain restaurant, rather than a local diner) and a fill up of the tank.

After a quick stop at the hotel, we headed out for the park. Arriving later than desired left little time to catch the first pitch. The home of the Akron RubberDucks is Canal Park, a ballpark nestled in downtown Akron. Parking is scattered around the park, and the task of finding suitable parking has hampered by extensive construction around the stadium. Arriving later than expected, we barely had time to find our seats before the National Anthem and the first pitch.

Canal Park just before game time Saturday, August 3rd, 2019 (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The stadium was packed for a Saturday night game, which featured the RubberDucks taking on the Binghamton Rumble Ponies (the AA affiliate of the New York Mets, our favorite MLB team). Typically, we conduct a quick tour of new ballparks before the game, soaking in the feel of the place, as well as take pictures. Since we arrived later than usual, we had no time to take in the ambience of the park. However, a quick look around the place showed that it was a beautiful ballpark, complete with a nice scoreboard and an urban vista over the right field wall. Being Hall of Fame weekend in Canton, the RubberDucks wore uniforms reminiscent of the ones worn by the Cleveland Browns.

Loquacious RubberDucks 1B Connor Marabell sporting the Brown inspired jersey. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As for the game itself, the Rumble Ponies offense mustered only four hits, as the Akron RubberDucks beat the Rumble Ponies 3-0. Though we were rushed on our first encounter at Canal Park, we would get another chance to explore tomorrow afternoon.


August 4th 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame

With the RubberDucks game scheduled at 205 pm, we decided to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in nearby Canton. We’d visited the Hall once before, in September 2009, on our way out to Detroit. The Hall of Fame Game had been played the night before, so we expected the Hall to be relatively quiet. However, the protocols for Hall of a Fame weekend were still in place, meaning we had to take a shuttle bus to the Hall from a nearby racecourse.

While wandering the Hall, I noticed two buses pulling up to the front of the Hall, and a few dozen men poured out of the buses. It was clear they were football players. Upon closer inspection, we discovered that it was the world champion New England Patriots. Not being a Patriots fan, I gave the team little notice, until sections of exhibits were closed to accommodate the players. Apparently, they were partaking in a tour of the facility, something unbeknownst to us (and based on the reactions of the other patrons, almost everyone else). Closing of exhibits with very little notice interfered with the visit, causing consternation among those in attendance.

Pro Football Hall of Fame (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes

Overall, this visit was not as satisfying as the 2009 visit. Aside from the inconveniences, the displays were not as impressive, and there were seemingly fewer of them than a decade ago. However, this is must see for any avid football fan.


August 4th 2019 Canal Park

Following lunch, we traveled to Canal Park for the RubberDucks 205 pm game versus the Rumble Ponies. The warm afternoon was perfect for baseball. While parking was once again difficult, we arrived well ahead of game time. This allowed us to explore the area around the park. The construction that hampered our parking efforts appeared to be part of a revitalization project.

Akron, OH near the ballpark. There was a considerable amount of construction underway. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Once inside the park on this warm and sunny day, we explored from foul pole to foul pole. Like many urban ballparks, Canal Park took advantage of its surroundings to enhance the experience. The result was a beautiful ballpark, more like a park we might see in a AAA town. The layout was somewhat like that of BB&T Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, dominated by cityscape in right field (though the vista is more impressive there).

Canal Park, Akron OH before the Sunday afternoon game. The light of day provided us a much better view of this beautiful ballpark. In fact, it is one of my favorite minor league stadiums.

Before the start of the game, we visited the team store. It contained the standard fare for minor league ballparks, at reasonable prices. Interestingly, a team photo was slipped into my shopping bag along with my purchases. It was a nice gesture, but it seemed odd to be given something, especially without asking first. Still, it WAS a nice picture, and I hung onto it, though I’m not sure why.

A freebie from the Akron RubberDucks

A visit to the concession stand was next. Visiting the stand on the first base side of the park (just above the section of our seats), I purchased hot dogs. Most ballparks serve fried hot dogs, and Canal Park was no exception. However, these dogs were particularly greasy, leaving me with an upset stomach. In fact, after this gastronomic experience, I have not had a single hot dog since.

As we have discovered to be typical, the crowd for the Sunday matinee was light, much less than for the Saturday night game. Our seats were better for this game, near first base. The seats were sun drenched, but fortunately it was not oppressively hot, as it can be in early August. Much like the night before, the anemic Rumble Ponies offense was shut out, this time on four hits. Losing two games like this is bad enough, but the more distressing thought (for Mets fans, anyway) is that there is but one blue chip prospect (SS Andres Gimenez, who had the day off) on the roster. This bodes poorly for the Mets’ future, with major league ready help still years away.

Following the game, we made the short trip to Cleveland for the next part of the road trip, staying in a hotel in Independence.