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Sports


"The Jake" at 20: Indians mark the transformative ballpark's anniversary
Jacob's Field was one of the first stadiums of its kind built in the nation and ushered in some of the best years of baseball in Cleveland
by WKSU's AMANDA RABINOWITZ


Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
 
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In The Region:

This weekend, the Cleveland Indians are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Progressive Field. The $175 million ballpark -- originally and affectionately known as The Jake -- marked a new era for the franchise and the city. WKSU’s Amanda Rabinwoitz reports.

LISTEN: Progressive Field turns 20

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One of the first "retro-modern" ballparks
When the then-Jacob’s Field opened on April 4th, 1994, fans lined the gates on Carnegie, Ontario and East 9th Street just to get a glimpse inside. It was among the first so-called retro-modern ballparks that took the look of old stadiums and made them new. It was built with angular, asymmetrical fences, a smaller upper deck, stepped tiers and a singular color scheme.  

Indians Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Bob DiBiasio says the players at the time -- Sandy Alomar, Charlie Nagy and Carlos Baerga were wowed – even before the ballpark was built.

"We would put hard hats on them," DiBiasio says. "And we would walk them on tours and say, ‘This is your clubhouse,’ and there were only a few cinder block walls. And to see their eyes glow and get so wide."

Fleeing the "Mistake on the Lake"
For 61 years, the Indians were tenants at Municipal Stadium where the Browns played. The personification of the “Mistake on the Lake” was a publicly-funded 70,000 seat concrete and cement stadium. It was cavernous and dark and the lakeshore winds often kept the seats cold well into spring. DiBiasio says the 40,000-seat Jacob’s Field was intimate and clean.

"People picked up their hotdog wrapper and walked over to a trash can and threw it away," DiBiasio says. "They had so much pride in this place. Where at old Cleveland Stadium, you’d finished a beer, a pop or a hotdog, and it’s on the ground and you didn’t care if there was mustard stains on the cement."
 
More money, better players 
The new stadium also marked a dramatic shift on the field. President Mark Shapiro began his career in baseball operations with the Indians in 1991, just when the ground was moving for the new stadium. He says the team began selling corporate suites. Season tickets were at a premium because there were fewer seats to sell. And, they could better market the team without having to share the ballpark revenue with the Browns. That allowed the Indians to put together a star-studded team for the first time in 40 years, signing players like Eddie Murray and Orel Hershiser to long-term contracts.

"If there was ever the opportunity to kind of turn the page on that “Major League” movie depiction of the Cleveland Indians as this sorry, losing franchise that was kind of mockery -- to one that had a chance to be a shining example of what’s great about professional sports, this building was the catalyst for that," Shapiro says. 

The Indians became the first team to ever sell out an entire season. They did that in 1995 – and for the next five seasons, (June 12, 1995, to April 4, 2001) totaling 455 games.

The Tribe's drummer: John Adams 
In the stands for all of those games -- and thousands more -- was John Adams. He sits at the top of the bleachers banging his bass drum to a pulse of clapping fans. It was something he started doing at Municipal Stadium in 1973 to add to the sound of fans banging on their seats. He’s missed just a few dozen games in more than 40 seasons. His favorite Progressive Field memory is the 1997 World Series.

"Everybody in the park was about six or seven inches taller because they were just floating," Adams says. "The buzz, the energy. We could have lit the lights with the spare energy and still had some left over." 

Adapting for the next 20 years 
Players like Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel moved on, and season records went from as many as 100 wins to fewer than 70. Still, Adams plans to continue banging his bass drum in the bleachers for another 20 years at Progressive Field. But, other things at the ballpark will have to change. President Mark Shapiro says that while money from Cuyahoga County’s sin tax helps keep the stadium looking fresh on the outside, he has to figure out how keep fans interested inside.

"There are ballparks of this age that are being torn down now," Shapire says. "That’s not going to happen here. The question’s here is, ‘How are we going to make it the next Wrigley? The next Fenway? How do we make sure that we don’t have an archaic building but then re-envision it so that it’s relevant and that it’s viable?’"

A community
As for die-hard fans like John Adams, just being at Progressive Field at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario is enough to keep them coming back each day. Because he says what makes the stadium most magical is the community.

"When you’re sitting at a ballgame, everybody’s the same," Adams says. "What you are, is you’re all part of Cleveland. That’s what makes it home. It’s like a neighborhood. You’re altogether. Your hearts are connected."

The Indians have been marking the 20th anniversary by paying homage to some of the dynamic players of the early 1990’s. On Saturday, the team will unveil a statue of Jim Thome, the Indians' all-time home run hitter.  It shows Thome pointing the bat toward the mound. 


Related Links & Resources
Cleveland Indians: Celebrating 20 years


Related WKSU Stories

Pluto: Indians' Progressive Field is still magical 20 years later
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Better than being there? Sports teams try to attract a tech-savvy crowd
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In the Browns' shadow, Indians bank on nostalgia
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Another Indians season opens with Chief Wahoo under scrutiny
Monday, April 7, 2014

"Perfect storm' of beer and frustration hit Cleveland 40 years ago tonight
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Take me out to the ballgame for peanuts, crackerjacks -- and lobster nachos
Friday, May 30, 2014

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