Attending the Indians Social Suite at Progressive Field back in 2013 ranks as one of my most memorable experiences since I started The Ballpark Guide in 2010. Don’t remember my account of that adventure? Here’s the link if you want to read it and get caught up.
The Social Suite was so great that I made a point of applying for it again last year. I was accepted, but wasn’t able to put a trip together and had to cancel my invitation, unfortunately. Fast forward to last off-season and I’d read that the Indians were discontinuing the Social Suite and introducing something called #TribeLive. Like the suite, you had to apply for #TribeLive and if you were picked, you’d get to visit Progressive Field for free and hang out in a special area during the game with other selected fans. To make a long story short, I applied, got invited and three hours before the first pitch on August 25, I was looking at this view after parking my car:
Progressive Field was the first MLB park outside of Toronto that I visited when I began traveling to games in 2010 and this trip would mark my sixth and seventh times visiting. It’s one of the nicest parks you’ll find and certainly one of my favorite places to watch baseball.
In addition to my excitement about #TribeLive, I was also curious to check out the recent changes to the ballpark. The Indians reportedly spent more than $25 million this past off-season to drastically change the appearance of Progressive Field, specifically the area in the right field corner and the old Gate C, which is the gate I always used to enter the park. I could see from my first view of the park (in the above picture) that things were indeed looking different, so I was eager to look around.
As I approached, I saw that the main attractions in the area were the three statues of Indians legends Larry Doby, Bob Feller and Jim Thome. The Feller statue has been a longtime focal point in this area, but the other statues are new since my last visit. A sports reporter from the local Fox affiliate was filming a report in front of the Doby statue …
… so I headed over to the Thome statue. It’s got a neat connection for me. Back in 2012, my brother and I visited Progressive Field on Jim Thome Night. The Tribe was honoring the slugger for recently hitting his 600th home run and part of the celebrations included unveiling plans for the statue. If you read my post about that game, you’ll see some early images of how the statue would look, so it was awesome to see the actual statue in person:
The new area around the gate was cool — in addition to the statues, there were a ton of plaques recognizing key Indians players and moments in history. The team does a great job honoring the past (Heritage Park is a testament to that) but it was nice to get a bit of a history lesson before even entering the gates. Here’s what the new spot looks like in panoramic form:
As always, I’d arrived at the park early enough to enjoy a nice walk around its perimeter before the gates opened. I set off counter-clockwise and headed down this street:
See the building at the end of the alley with the yellow “Q” sign? That’s Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers:
When I got to the front of the park, I decided to cross Carnegie Avenue and stand on a traffic island to take a bunch of pictures to build this panorama:
I continued my walk around Progressive Field until I made it back to the right field gate, where I lined up at about 4:40 p.m. and began the 20-minute wait until the park opened. I was nearly at the head of the line and when I looked straight forward, these scourges mocked me:
I first experienced metal detectors at an MLB park last year when I visited Comerica Park in Detroit. The Tigers were trialing metal detectors a season before they became mandatory at all parks. I get that they’re “needed,” but they definitely make it slower to enter the park. Your bag gets checked, which was always the norm, but then you have to put anything bulky or metal into a tray like at the airport before you pass through the detector. There’s always someone in front of you who didn’t hear the instructions and sets the machine off, which stops your line dead in its tracks. I figured out the quickest way to get through, though — take everything you have in your pockets or on your person and load it all into your backpack. This way, instead of putting your backpack, camera, keys, cellphone, wallet, etc. in the tray separately and then trying to fish them out while the next person’s stuff slides onto your possessions, you can just grab your backpack and unload it a few steps away at your leisure.
When the gates opened at 5 p.m., I headed in and went straight down to the right field seats to check out the view:
As you can see, batting practice was on, but I didn’t stick around for long. I watched a couple minutes of the action and then was excited to walk through all the new changes to the park. One of the notable differences is that the bullpens are now together and stacked. Previously, the Indians’ pen was in center and the visitors’ was in right; now, they’re side by side (Cleveland’s is the one closest to the field) and they’re directly behind a cool new section of a select number of seats:
Here’s a panoramic view from behind the bullpens to put things in perspective a little:
My next stop was Heritage Park, which has always been one of my favorite destinations at Progressive Field. If you’re a baseball history buff, this is a place you need to visit. It’s still the same — pillars and plaques on the upper level …
… and more plaques and the top 100 players in Indians history on the bottom level:
I didn’t spend too long in Heritage Park as I’ve read all the plaques during previous visits. Instead, I ascended to the main concourse and soon noticed this set of intriguing stairs:
At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I descended, but I soon remembered that I’d read about this new feature, which might just be the best of all the recent changes. Since the visitors’ bullpen is no longer in this area, the Indians have opened it up to fans! Fans are free to check out this area before the game and after first pitch, you’ve got to line up at the top to receive a wristband that gives you access to the section for one full inning. Twenty-three fans can enjoy this zone per inning, and then they have to return to the concourse for the next group of 23 to come down. The best part is that you can go straight to the end of the line and get another wristband to enjoy this area for a later inning. Check out the seating:
And here’s the view of an Indians player about to toss a BP ball to the fans overhead:
This new section is not only a good spot to get a ball during BP, but also gives you a field-level view of the action, which is something you won’t find at every park. Here’s another cool feature — the old bullpen phone box is still mounted on the wall:
Of course, I had to be nosy and open it up to see if the phone was still there. Alas, it was not:
I took a quick shot of myself sitting on the bench …
… and then it was time to continue my exploring. I next visited The Corner, a new two-level bar with ample seating, tons of TV and even some radiant heaters, which were welcome on this semi-chilly night:
There’s also some cool memorabilia on display at the bar, including Corey Kluber’s 2014 Cy Young Award. After walking through The Corner, I found the #TribeLive section, but it was still empty:
There was no one milling around, either, so I figured the other guests were either not at the park yet or, like me, were simply off exploring elsewhere. At this point, I was weighing my options about where to go next when my camera made the decision for me — I looked down to see that my battery was almost dead. I charge my battery before each park visit but when I’d grabbed my camera out of my bag upon arriving at Progressive Field, I noticed that I’d left it turned on, which had obviously drained the battery. I couldn’t help but be partially amused; I’d given my wife trouble for leaving the camera on and letting the battery run down less than a week earlier, and now here was doing the same thing.
The amusement turned to a bit of panic, though — I had a lot of photos that I wanted to take and the battery would be dead any second. I always travel with my battery charger, so I grabbed it and began the hunt to find a wall outlet somewhere in Progressive Field. It wasn’t long before I tracked one down, but it was either dead or turned off. Hmmm. Time for Plan B. I noticed an usher who was standing right beside an outlet. I decided I’d just ask him if I could use the outlet for a little bit and figured there’d be no issue.
I approached him and asked, “How’s it going?” to get his attention. He responded with, “What?” This response wasn’t “what” as in, “what did you say?” but rather, “what do you want?”
I was caught off guard by his rudeness: “Uh, I see there’s a wall outlet there and I wonder if I could just charge my camera battery for a few minutes. I’ve traveled a long way for this game and my battery is about to die.”
His follow-up response as he pointed at the standard wall outlet: “That’s not an outlet.”
Other than wanting to visit the Indians team shop and buy him a custom jersey that read “World’s Worst Usher,” I didn’t have an idea of what to do. And then, I remembered that the attendant in the Field View Bullpen section was quite friendly. I went back down the stairs, spotted an outlet in a storage room off to the side of the seating area and explained my predicament. “Sure,” he said. “No problem — and if you want to keep walking around and come back later, I’ll watch the charger for you.” I didn’t want to let it out my sight so I hung out in the area and told him that I’d give him a shout-out in my blog. Thanks for helping me, Brandon!
It was inconvenient to have to spend the next 40 minutes waiting for my battery to charge, but the view couldn’t have been better. I watched more BP from the area and when my battery was full, thanked Brandon for his help and returned to the concourse. By this time, the gates allowing access to the rest of the park had opened so I went to the team shop and straight to the memorabilia section, which is my favorite area:
As you can see, there were game-used bats and helmets, signed balls, photos and all sorts of cool stuff. I didn’t buy anything, but did spend about 15 minutes thoroughly examining everything.
Next, I went back to The Corner, climbed up the stairs to the second level and immediately noticed this fire pit:
Comerica Park has recently added a fire pit and the first park I ever saw this feature was Dow Diamond, home of the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons. What a great idea for parks where it’s chilly in April and September, eh? The area around the fire pit has couches and standing-room spots and treats fans to an awesome view:
By now, it was about 6:15 p.m. and I was ready to eat. The new right field area has a ton of great-looking eateries, many of which offered an appetizing lineup of products. I’m always in favor of trying something different, so I lined up at Melt, a concession stand that sells various types of grilled cheese sandwiches. My choice was the Parmageddon, which you know is going to be ridiculous (in a good way) just from its name. It’s an enormous grilled cheddar cheese sandwich loaded with vodka sauerkraut, sauteed onions and a potato and onion pierogi! Here’s this beast in all its glory:
It was solid (in every definition of the word) but didn’t absolutely blow me away. The sauerkraut was very good but, overall, the sandwich could’ve used an additional ingredient to provide a textural change, like bacon or ham or something. It all sort of blended together.
A sandwich of this nature calls for a little exercise, so as soon as I’d wiped the last crumbs from my face I set out to tour around the other parts of Progressive Field. Besides, the #TribeLive area was still surprisingly empty. My first stop was the bleachers in left field, which is a spot I rarely visit at this ballpark. There’s no reason why; I just don’t often make the climb up there. The bleachers have a fun atmosphere, although they were still largely quiet at this point. Here’s the view from this area:
My next mission was to head to the upper deck to shoot some photos. On the way to the top, I had this cool view of part of the city. The “Welcome to Cleveland” sign is new since my last visit:
I made it to the upper deck in time for the anthem and then took a number of photos to build this panorama:
The #TribeLive area still looked empty, although I couldn’t be 100 percent sure because of the distance between the area and me. I switched to my zoom lens to survey the scene and here’s how the area looked shortly before first pitch:
As an aside, do you see the bullpen view area in the bottom left of the image? And see the staff member standing directly above the yellow University of Toledo crest? That’s Brandon, the guy who helped me with my dead battery issue.
Since first pitch was approaching, I descended back to the main concourse level and made my way to the #TribeLive spot. From a distance, I could see that it was now occupied and, as I got closer, I was shocked at who I saw. Jacob Rosen, who was one of the Social Suite guests when I sat in that area two years ago, was standing right in front of me! He and I chatted a lot during the Social Suite experience, follow each other on Twitter and have occasionally exchanged tweets over the last two years. I think I was staring at him with my mouth wide open, and he noticed me and said, “Ballpark guide?” It was a funny moment and good to catch up with him in person. Want to give him a follow on Twitter? Just click here. His Twitter account is full of interesting and varied sports stuff.
Jacob told me that I had to go elsewhere in the park to pick up my nifty-looking #TribeLive credential, so I ran to grab it, returned to the section and shot this photo:
The view from this section was great. As you might have seen in other photos, we were right behind the right field foul pole, as you can see at the edge of this panorama:
I watched the first inning or two from this spot and then met with a pair of other #TribeLive guests, Mark Firkins and his son Travis. They live near Rochester but are huge Indians fans and make a number of trips to Progressive Field each year. (It actually turns out that they were staying in a hotel about two minutes from my hotel, too.) I spent the duration of the game talking baseball with the Firkins. It’s always fun to meet other baseball travelers and Mark and Travis have been to several MLB and MiLB parks over the years so it was interesting to compare notes. We essentially never stopped talking right until the end of the game, and I definitely hope to run into them again on my trips.
Summed up, my #TribeLive experience was this: Talk a bit to Jacob, watch some baseball, talk to Mark and Travis, watch some more baseball, take some photos — and repeat. Overall, the #TribeLive didn’t have as much to offer in terms of its setting as the Social Suite. It was basically a standing-room area at the front of a larger standing-room area that any can can use. But, it was still a fun experience with some fellow passionate baseball fans, and I’d love the chance to do it again in the future.
Since I spent the rest of the game in this designated area and didn’t wander around the park, I only took a few more photos. Here’s a shot of one of Mark’s tweets on the huge video board:
I wasn’t able to get on Twitter during the game because you now have to be an Xfinity customer to use the Progressive Field connection. I get that business is business, but after having dedicated Wi-Fi in the Social Suite, I couldn’t help but think the Xfinity idea wasn’t very fan friendly.
Wi-Fi aside, here are two photos that I found funny. The Progressive Field upper deck features giant tributes to the team’s all-time greats (more on that in my next post) and one of the players I could see across from where I stood was Tris Speaker. Speaker, of course, is a hall of famer and one of the best hitters in the history of the game. He’s also a little controversial because he was apparently a member of the KKK. Anyway, I couldn’t help but think that his display looked a little sinister:
The other amusing thing I noticed was over to my right on the Progressive Field video board. This board is arguably the best I’ve ever seen and provides great situational stats and tidbits that really provide value to the fan. Normally, these messages shine a favorable light on the Indians, but poor Yan Gomes got the short end of the stick on this one highlighting his 5-for-33 streak (that’s a .152 average) over the last nine games:
Finally, here’s one last panoramic shot from where I stood for the entire game:
When I left the ballpark, I made the short drive to my hotel for the next three days, the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence, where I’ve previously stayed twice in the past. It’s one of my favorite hotels to visit on my trips and, for fans visiting Cleveland, makes a lot of sense. The hotel is a little more than 10 minutes from Progressive Field and its location offers the many amenities of hotels in the suburbs, like being close to the highway and close to an impressive list of shopping and dining options.
Here’s a shot of the outside of the hotel:
As with my previous stays, all the staff members I encountered were exceedingly friendly. The room, too, was outstanding. The Hyatt Place has enormous guest rooms that feature a separate bedroom, living room and office/kitchen area. I’ll have more photos of my room in my next post, but here’s the living room:
And a shot of the living room and bedroom with the small partition between the two:
Other perks if you’re thinking about visiting the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence during your next baseball trip? Free parking, free Wi-Fi, one of the best complimentary breakfasts you’ll ever come across and a pool and athletic center. Whether you’re traveling with a few people or are solo and you just want a little more space in your hotel room, this one definitely provides that. It’s the one for me when I visit Cleveland and you won’t regret making that choice, either.
My next post will be detail my follow-up visit to Progressive Field and I’ll have it up soon!