|Jacobs Field passes mustard|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
Editor's Note: This is the 10th report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.
CLEVELAND -- Walking into Jacobs Field always make me feel poor.
One glance at the three levels of luxury suites, restaurants and private mezzanines stretching from foul pole to foul pole, and I always think one question: Is there a blood center by the park, so I can sell my plasma?
Jacobs Field was the symbol of baseball owners' "We Need a New Stadium to Compete" baloney. Build a publicly funded stadium, they said, and winning seasons automatically follow. Which, as the fans in Milwaukee, Detroit and Pittsburgh can tell you, is complete rubbish. Sure, that's what happened in Cleveland, but the ballpark wasn't the biggest reason for those sellouts. The stadium helped, but what really drew all those fans was an exciting, championship team. As soon as the team stopped winning, the fans stopped coming.
The good news is Jacobs Field is still a pretty darn nice stadium, and now that the crowds are down, you don't have to plan your summer schedule in December. And there are enough cheap seats that you don't even have to visit that plasma center on the way home.
1. Seat comfort: Why is that some new baseball-only ballparks don't build all their seats so they face home plate or the pitcher's mound? That's the case here, but overall, the seats are pretty good. Points: 3.5
2. Quality of hot dogs: The hot dogs are just average and a little on the expensive side ($3.50). But Cleveland's famous brown stadium mustard more than makes up for it. 3.5
3. Quality/selection of other concession-stand fare: There's a great selection, including sushi (in Cleveland?), salad (in Cleveland?) and one of the best ballpark sandwiches I've ever eaten. The Cuban Panini sounds like a contradiction in terms -- an Italian Cuban sandwich? -- but it's delicious. But I'm deducting a half-point for the amazingly slow lines. It was like eating at the DMV. 4.5
4. Signature concession item: Americans have come a long way since the days when Chef Boy R Dee was considered international cuisine. One of the most popular cable channels is the Food Network. Emeril Lagasse has more books than Stephen King. Small towns have as many Thai food restaurants as McDonald's. So why is that so many stadiums still insist on providing only French's crappy yellow mustard?
Fortunately, that's not the case here. Cleveland knows that once you go brown, you never go back. 5
5. Beer: There's a good selection, including Guinness, at decent prices. Of course, the prices aren't as good as the time Cleveland held its infamous 10-cent beer night at the old stadium. Not surprisingly, the promotion resulted in a fan riot during which Texas manager Billy Martin armed himself with a bat. It was the worst promotional idea this side of Dollar Crack Night. 4.5
6. Bathrooms: They are clean and sufficient. 4.5
7. Scoreboard: The scoreboard is fine, but it's a little busy. It could do with a few less advertisements and a little more information on the players. 3.5
8. Quality of public address system: The speakers are excellent, there's a nice mix of pregame music and, unlike many ballparks, Cleveland doesn't overwhelm you with noise until your ears bleed. It's actually kind of nice to hear silence between innings. 5
9. Fun stuff to do besides the game: In addition to the usual speed-pitch, there is a full children's playground beyond right field. But the most interesting thing in the play area is an actual Ms. Pac-Man machine. While I can't say for sure, I believe the high score of 285,070 still belongs to Andre Thornton. 5
10. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: Cleveland has a full range of souvenir items, including plenty with the shameful Chief Wahoo logo. Not to go off on a rant here, but it's 2003. Isn't it about time the team acknowledged how racist, tasteless and offensive this is? I mean, good lord, look at the thing! Compared to this, Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima look positively progressive. 3
11. Ticket price/availability: We sat in the extreme upper deck in the right-field corner, which is literally eight or nine stories above the field. It may be the farthest away you can sit from a major league baseball team in a major league stadium, with the obvious exception of sitting in box seats directly behind home plate in Detroit.
On the other hand, those seats are normally just $5, which is a heckuva deal (you can't go to a matinee at the multiplex for that little). The night we were there, however, Cleveland charged an extra $5 fee for all tickets, because the Yankees were in town, which is almost cruel and unusual punishment. To have to pay double to see the Yankees? That's like having the theater charge you extra for the Dolby sound at a showing of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."
Actually, I'm not against this pricing policy at all. If fans are willing to pay more to see a certain opponent, why shouldn't the team benefit? After all, tickets for Eminem cost more than tickets for Melissa Etheridge. 3.5
12. Exterior architecture: There are two great things about the exterior. One, there is a plaza behind left field, where you can get a glimpse of the game without buying a ticket. Two, the Bob Feller statue beyond center field is so lifelike you can practically hear Feller bitching about today's players.
I won 266 games and threw three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters and I could have done a whole lot more except I lost three seasons -- IN MY PRIME!!! -- fighting for my country in Dubya-Dubya 2. Not that I consider myself a hero. The heroes are the guys who didn't come back. I was just doing my duty. Which is a damn sight more than today's overpaid prima donna players would do. The way they wear their pants these days makes me want to puke. 4.5
13. Interior architecture: Those awful luxury suites dominate the interior, but there are some nice touches as well at Jacobs Field. Fans can walk around the entire concourse and see the game from most parts of it. There also is a wonderful picnic area in center field where anyone can sit and eat and watch the game regardless of what ticket they bought. And there's a nice view of the Cleveland skyline 3.5
14. Access: Cleveland's rail transit line drops passengers off a short walk from the ballpark and there is plentiful parking. Traffic can be a mess after the game. 4
15. Ushers: Other than when they were glaring at me for trying to sneak into the box seats, they were pretty friendly. Although the center-field usher couldn't tell me whether Herb Score was still alive (fortunately, he still is). 3.5
16. Trading-up factor: We eventually sneaked into some lower bowl seats way down the left-field line, but this is a very tough environment. There are two ushers at the top of each aisle, and they're as vigilant as IRS auditors. 1.5
17. Knowledge of local fans: Say this for the four decades of losing Cleveland endured before 1994: It made them appreciative of the good times. They know their history very well here, because it was so often impossible to avoid. 4
18. Seventh-inning stretch: Average, but spirited. 3
19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: There are more restaurants and bars around the stadium than even David Wells can hit in an entire four-game series. 4.5
20. Wild-card: I'm giving the stadium five extra points for the picnic section in center field, which really is a terrific place to sit and enjoy the game. I'm also giving it one extra point for being so much better than the old stadium. And a final half-point for the presence of John Adams, the devoted fan who sits in the bleachers and bangs his drum. 6.5
TOTAL SCORE FOR JACOBS FIELD: 81