Early in its existence when it was known as Jacob’s Field, you couldn’t get a ticket. Cleveland’s baseball team, then (and some would say, forever) known as the “Indians”, sold out 455 straight games from 1995 to 2001. A pent-up fan base celebrated the team’s escape from The Mistake on Lake by cheering on those successful teams in droves.
It was the first park to follow the revolutionary Camden Yards. It didn’t get the same fanfare as Camden, in part because most people don’t remember Number 2, but also because it lacked a truly crowning feature like so many of the newer stadiums. The view of the skyline was nice but didn’t have a defining building. The large left field wall wasn’t oversized enough to be “the thing”. And the light standards, constructed vertically as an homage to the old Cleveland smokestacks, while brilliant, are perhaps too subtle to define a park.
That aside, Progressive Field is a quality venue that’s been made better with some nice renovations that included a huge boost in the amenities. There are some flaws that came with the initial design that can’t be fixed which drag the score down a bit. And since crowds have tapered off since those early years, the excitement isn’t as strong here as it is in other parks. And so it sits in the middle of the pack of ballparks ratings. But don’t let that detract you from putting this place on a “to see” list. It’s inexcusable for stadium junkies to miss given you can get to nearly half the stadiums in baseball within an easy day’s drive (Pittsburgh 2 hrs, Detroit 2.5 hrs, Cincinnati 3.5 hrs, Toronto 4.5 hrs, Chicago 5 hrs, Baltimore 5.5 hrs, Washington 6 hrs, Milwaukee 6.5 hrs, Philadelphia 6.5 hrs, New York 7 hrs).
Exterior aesthetics 8/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 6/10; Sightlines & seating 5/10; Amenities & entertainment 10/10; Flow 4/5; Celebrating history 5/5; Scoreboards 5/5; Grand entrance 4/5; Sense of place 8/10; WOW Factor 23/30. Total 78 points divided by 2 for 39
While the stadium does suffer a little from “generic stadium” on the inside, lumping it in as “another retro park” is a little unfair. It’s a really good stadium with a couple of serious flaws.
- The exterior is a nod to Cleveland’s industrial heritage. The white exposed steel reflects the city’s blue-collar ethos and conjures up the many city bridges. The beige brick and limestone that make up the rest of the exterior doesn’t work as well for me, but keeps with the color scheme seen most in the area.
- Despite having a right field stand that wraps well into center, and a huge scoreboard in left, the park still feels open. You know you’re in a city, even if identifying which one may be a little trickier.
- The scoreboard is the largest in baseball, allowing it to tell the game story as well as any. It truly is humungous. I have no idea where the scoreboard size race ends, but I struggle to see why anything larger would be better (except maybe to replace the patchwork of boards in CitiField and Busch Stadium).
- The batter’s eye is made up of attractive shrubbery rather than a boring dark green wall
- The centerfield greeting area is quite nice with the various statues of past greats welcoming you as you get ready to enter
- Inside the park, there’s a nice monument to the team’s past greats (Heritage Park) tucked away in centerfield. And there’s a Bob Feller exhibit on the Terrace level. They do a pretty good job honoring the team’s long past.
- The renovated right field social area is impressive. The stars are the concessions, but there are also seating areas and drink rails if you can snag one, many with views of the field. If you want a more sit-down experience, the left field Terrace Club is also open to all.
- There’s a fairly extensive kid’s area in right field. When they open it (I’ve seen it shuttered a few times during weekday games when school is still in), it’s among the better such areas in baseball even with the extensive waivers that you need to sign. There are a few other baseball-oriented entertainment spots throughout the park as well.
- The Guardians are one of the few teams to have concessions on both the exterior and interior concourse in the lower bowl. If your concession of choice is available on one of the interior stands, it minimizes time away from the action.
- While I find the seats to be overpriced, I was impressed with the renovated lounge area in the (horribly named) Discount Drug Club.
- SERIOUS FLAW: There simply aren’t that many good seats in the stadium. The lower infield area is less than 30 rows high and if you’re not there, you could have an issue. Outfield seats tend to not be angled toward the plate forcing a 9-inning neck turn which gets more pronounced the higher you go. The club level is overpriced given they’re all-inclusive seats (something I eschew at the ballpark). And the upper deck is far from the field in large part due to THREE rows of luxury suites.
- Because the stadium has way too many suites for the market, a lot of prime real estate sits empty during games. They’ve converted a few suites into clubs and such, but it still feels like a dead zone that only serves to jack you higher if you’re in the upper deck.
- From the lower level, you can’t really go all the way around and see the game. The seat-side concessions help alleviate that somewhat, but structurally the concessions are separated from the field.
- When they cut seating capacity in the stadium, they took out some lousy seats in the upper deck in rightfield. Unlike the Colorado Rockies who physically converted that section into an amazing social area that also looks nice, the Guardians slapped up what look like white shipping containers and adorned them with retired numbers and advertising. It feels like a cheapie home reno and detracts from the beauty of the ballpark
- This may be just dumb luck, but I’ve had a faulty seat 3 of my last 4 visits. One leaned forward too much, one had a broken cupholder, and one wobbled badly. I almost never have issue with seats. Have these been in use too long?
There’s a lot of good, but that one serious flaw is a doozy.
Here’s where the park renovations have made a huge difference. Gone are the days where the best concession in the park was the brown Bertrand’s mustard that accompanies a Sugardale hot dog ———– though in fairness, that mustard alone (which has been part of the Cleveland stadium scene for over 90 years) still qualifies the Progressive Field hot dog as one of the better dogs in baseball.
Now the place is packed with local gems offering a variety of ballpark-appropriate vittles. It’s truly a bounty of riches:
- Three different restaurants, Barrio, Ohio City Burrito and Momocho, make Cleveland maybe the best park for Mexican food. (The Momocho nachos were once rated the best food in the Big Leagues by USA Today.)
- Fathead’s Brewery offers a couple of their massive sandwiches
- Dante’s Inferno offers “craft pizza”
- You can get all sorts of unique burgers from Dynomite
- Happy Dog sells some wacky “gourmet hot dogs” including The Slider Dog which comes with Froot Loops for some reason (hopefully it’s named after the colorful mascot and not the food’s exit strategy)
My personal fave of the bunch is a killer grilled cheese sandwich from Melt. The Parmageddon, loaded with pierogies, just rocked my world. But any of their sandwiches will satisfy you.
Here’s another area where Cleveland went from unnoteworthy to among the best in baseball.
The focus is decidedly Midwest. Local outpost Great Lakes Brewery sells 13 different beer alone including their Edmund Fitzgerald porter. Another local brewer, Market Garden, has a few as well including their Citramax IPA. Brew Kettle has an impressive tap list in the club level. And you can get some of Fat Head’s best stuff including their Headhunter IPA.
In addition, you can get regional craft brews from Bell’s, Rhinegeist, Ace, and Founders, plus some nationally-acclaimed choices as well.
If macro is your thing, you can get a 12-oz can for only $5.
The only bummer is with all this new stuff, they closed the “Your Dad’s Beers” stand which used to feature stalwarts like Gennesee, Hamm’s, PBR, Stroh’s and even Blatz. It was gimmicky but fun.
Northeast Ohio’s population continues to decline, and downtown Cleveland isn’t necessarily as hopping as other cities’ downtowns, but the area around the ballpark is quite active. Progressive Field and the basketball arena are side by side, allowing a good little sports bar/taphouse & grill scene to develop north of the ballpark. National chains like Wahlburgers and Hofbrauhaus are interspersed with local eateries and bars
I struggled a little with this score. It seems as if 8 of my last 10 games at the stadium have been day games, and it’s much harder to judge the buzz of a neighborhood if you’re pre-gaming at 11:00 a.m. (a lot of the better places are still closed, or still quiet). But the night games, especially the Friday and Saturday nighters, allow this area to shine. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Tickets are a little below league average for similar seats. Concessions are fairly standard. Parking becomes reasonable once you go a few blocks into downtown.
Easy to get to by car as several interstates converge around the area. Traffic is usually manageable. There are free downtown trolleys that may be helpful if you’re staying too many blocks away to travel afoot. Light rail is available including the red line which gets you close to the park from the airport. It’s one of the easier urban parks to get to.
Cleveland weather is some of the worst in baseball. Often terrible early season and oppressively muggy in the dog days. Rain is a common threat: Cleveland gets some sort of rain 30% of days during baseball season.
Some may protest that this is low. But the reality is, Cleveland is a football town.
After the initial new ballpark honeymoon phase, fans stayed away once the team struggled, and stayed away even after they became really good again. I understand lower attendance in a place like Pittsburgh, but it spiked when the Pirates were competitive. The Guardians really didn’t get that boost. Even the year after their 2016 World Series appearance, attendance only got to 25,000 a game.
Those who are there are usually pretty hardcore and into the game. The exception is the popular rightfield social area, The Corner, which usually has a more “party vibe”, with many in attendance having no idea of the score. But it’s among the best social areas in baseball, and a model many other teams are emulating as they renovate their parks.
The 8th inning “Ohio rendition” sing-along to Hang On Sloopy is pretty cool. And John Adams, once he recovers from a triple bypass, plans to keep banging his drum as he tries to incite rallies from his seat in the left field bleachers.
In-game entertainment is solid but standard. The Sugardale hot dog race is a poor man’s Sausage race. My beef: in a race between ketchup, mustard and onions, mustard should be nearly undefeated!
OTHER FUN THINGS TO DO
Three fun Cleveland eateries:
- Seti’s Polish Boys (Industrial Valley. It’s a food truck in a seemingly random area. But they make the best Polish Boy in town, i.e. a kielbasa link topped with fries, cole slaw and hot sauce.)
- Butcher and the Brewer (Downtown. As the name implies, good meats and good in-house brews.)
- Panini’s (Ballpark. Right by the stadium, this local chain offers sandwiches similar to Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh i.e. meat, slaw and fries on fresh Italian bread.)
Three places to imbibe before the game:
- Winking Lizard (Ballpark. My fave of the close-to-the-park bars. 100+ beer available.)
- The Clevelander (Ballpark. Not to be confused with the South Beach club, this slightly upscale sports bar can get pretty hopping pre and post-game.)
- Thirsty Parrot (Ballpark. Busy bro bar with Jimmy Buffett vibe across the street from the park.)
One bar in the area worth hitting:
Do an Ohio City pub crawl. Start at West Side Market for a quick bite from one of the vendors, then work your way through Market Garden Brewery, Nano Brew and Town Hall.
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- Great Lakes Brewery (Ohio City. Very midwestern old timey space serving their suds and decent food. It’s across from West Side Market so you can add it to your Ohio City pub tour. Shuttle service available to most Guardians games for $1 for patrons.)
- Noble Beat Brewing Co (Downtown. Funky space and good brews one mile north of the park toward the lake.)
- Masthead Brewing (Downtown brewery in an historic building only a half mile from the park.)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- Rock N Roll Hall of Fame (Downtown. Probably my favorite American museum.)
- Cedar Point (Sandusky. The world’s best roller coaster amusement park with 17 coasters just 1 hour west.)
- Pro Football Hall of Fame (Canton. The second-best sports HOF in America, less than 1 hour south)
Progressive Field does many things well. The scoreboard is gigantic; the food and beer are among the best in baseball; the social areas are game-changing; the team history is nicely honored; and it’s easy to get to. Alas, its abundance of empty suites, disappointing attendance and limited supply of good seats pushes this down a few points. It may take you a little bit to get used to calling the home team the “Guardians”, but it won’t take you long to feel at home here. It’s really as good as all but a handful of stadiums, and when combined with a couple of the other fantastic attractions in Northern Ohio, would be an enjoyable stop on any ballpark tour.