A Baseball Road Trip

Thirty Major League Baseball Stadiums. Sixty Stadium Dogs. One Season.

Cleveland Rocks

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“I got some records from World War Two.  I play ’em just like my Grand Dad do.  He was a rocker, and I am too.  Oh, Cleveland rocks, yeah Cleveland Rocks.”  ~Ian Hunter

Game 22.   Cleveland.   Indians  vs.  Twins.

We’ve been gone from our homes about two months now.  I check in from time to time, of course, to find out how tall the grass is, and see if there are any Category Three storms in the Gulf.   Today I call my good friend Steve, in Orange, to discuss a small plumbing problem my son has told me about.  Something about upstairs water becoming downstairs water.  We get that matter resolved, well, actually, just chronicled, then move on to more pleasant stuff.

“We’re going to Cleveland!”

“On purpose?”

He’s a funny guy, that Steve.

It’s a three hour drive from Detroit to Cleveland.  We’re hoping to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame  in Cleveland before tonight’s game.  So it’s Pop Tarts again, while we drive.  I’m getting a little nostalgic for waffles.  And orange juice.  Some people think this is odd, others just cute, but in my home state, many motels offer waffles, the ones you make yourself, in the shape of the state of Texas.  And while they pretty much taste the same as ordinary waffles, they do look better.   And none of that has much to do with baseball, I just realized.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sits on the southern shore of Lake Erie, just a little over a mile from Cleveland’s Progressive Field.  We are wondering how Cleveland came to be the home of a rock music museum, and the answer is waiting for us, on a plaque outside the entrance.  Cleveland radio dee-jay Alan Freed, we read, is credited with coining the term ‘rock and roll’ to describe the music he was playing on the air in the early 50’s, and with organizing the first ever rock and roll concert in 1952, in Cleveland.

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The museum is a 7-story, glass pyramid building, with great views of Lake Erie, and downtown Cleveland.  It is very comprehensive in its chronicling of the birth and history of rock and roll, with countless artifacts and musical instruments of the legends.  There are opportunities to listen to the music that influenced future rockers.  Old video clips of live performances from back in the day are fascinating.  Films of a very young Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Johnny Cash, and Ricky Nelson, and the blues artists who influenced them are hard to stop watching.  It occurred to me as I watched his hip shaking that Elvis probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves for helping to create a new genre.  He melded country, blues and gospel, then took it somewhere none of us had been before.  That gets forgotten, I think, because, having delivered that gift he had for us, there was nothing left for him to do but become his own impersonator.

We could have spent the entire day here.  It is an amazing collection of rock and roll history.  There are countless instruments used by the rock and rollers on display.  And clothing and photos.  Elvis’s Cadillac is there.  And Johnny Cash’s tour bus.  John Lennon’s Sgt Pepper’s uniform is on display, as is the wavering Mellotron Paul played when The Beatles recorded ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.  The sheet music for The Beatles’ ‘Birthday’–with no musical notation because Paul McCartney didn’t know how to write any of that–is there.  A special exhibit to the Rolling Stones includes quotes from the band about their rebellious, bad boy image, (‘The Beatles got the white hats, so what’s left?  The black hats.’ –Keith Richard) and video clips of Mick Jagger on stage, playing guitar.  Ok, maybe there weren’t any strings on it.  Mick himself tells us his biggest influence was Little Richard.  And we learn the band got their name from the 1950 Muddy Waters song, ‘Rollin’ Stone’.  There’s a b/w photo of a pensive Mick Jagger sitting with John Lennon, which intrigues me for some reason.  I seem to like knowing that the two bands got along pretty well.

We’re at the top floor, exploring the Stones exhibit.  Vicki speculates about the differences between Beatles fans and Rolling Stones fans.  It seems like a great question.  A party ice-breaker.

“I don’t know.  You were Stones, I’m thinking.”

“Sure,” she says.  “And I guess you like the Beatles.”  She knows about my framed poster hanging in the stairwell, so it wasn’t much of a guess.

And so we talk about rebelliousness and musical energy and perfection and innovation.  And by then it’s time to walk to the ball park.

Formerly Jacob’s Field, and still referred to by some locals as The Jake, Cleveland’s baseball home is now Progressive Field.  (Nearby is the home of the NBA’s Cavaliers, the Quicken Loans Arena.  Corporate venue naming should be illegal.  Clearly.)  Progressive is very much a downtown ball park, sitting snugly amongst the clubs, cafes, sports bars, and skyscrapers.

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One of the streets outside the left field wall is known as “Rally Alley” and is set up as a pre-game street festival, with food vendors, musicians, games and entertainment.  It is here we come across a group of baseball players, dressed in wool uniforms from another era–The Cleveland Blues Base Ball Club.  I am fascinated.  They are a vintage base ball team, members of a national league of vintage clubs, they tell me.  They travel the region, playing turn of the century, bare handed, no gloves (as it was played then) base ball (two words, as it was spelled then).

“Do you play under the old rules of base ball, where the fielders threw the ball at baserunners to get them out?”

“Ah, you mean ‘soaking’ or ‘plugging’,” and he shakes his head.  “The Knickerbockers changed that rule, in 1845.  It wasn’t very gentlemanly.  And the fights that broke out generally ended the games.”

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We come across the bronze statue honoring Hall of Fame member Bob Feller, who pitched for Cleveland from 1936 (starting at age 17) until 1956, recording three no-hitters along the way.

We enter the stadium, and instantly see the red banners inside.  It’s Dollar Hot Dog Day!  Who knew!  So we grab four, to get started, and head to the condiment station, to add relish and official Stadium Mustard.  We unwrap our pre-wrapped dogs.

“This one’s sort of wadded up.”

“Yeah, this wiener isn’t exactly IN the bun.  The bun is actually sort of closed.  Permanently.  I think that’s a bun.”

We squirt relish and the official brown Stadium Mustard on them anyway, and head down to watch the Twins’ batting practice.  Our dollar dogs are great, we decide.

When the Twins finish, we explore The Jake.  Centerfield’s Heritage Park honors, with plaques and monuments, Indian greats Sandy Alomar Jr and Charles Nagy, as well as Bob Feller and Shoeless Joe Jackson, who played for Cleveland five years before heading to the White Sox.  There are others honoring Hall of Fame greats Cy Young and Satchel Paige.  We head up to the upper deck for skyline pictures (we’re not sitting up here tonight!), then I decide I need a dog upgrade.  I get an Italian sausage from the Sausages and Dogs kiosk, and we head to our seats.

I worked hard picking these seats.  I was on Stubhub’s site for thirty minutes two nights ago.  They are lower level seats, just above the ones down at the field level.  Much closer to the field than upper deck seats.   The usher walks us to our section.  We numbly take our seats, and know immediately that they are…..horrible.  They are the worst seats of our trip.  They are in a small section, tucked under a very low overhang.  We are on the last row, up against the wall.  It is hot in our cave.  And our view of the field feels as if we’re watching through a narrow window.  From across the street.  This is not good, I realize.

“This is not good.”

“Not so much,” Vicki agrees.

We are sweating, in our cave.  We think there are brief fireworks after the National Anthem.

“I think those were fireworks.”

“I thought I saw something go by.”

“I’m thinking about pouting.”

“I understand.  I won’t judge.”

This is not good.  I feel the energy of the night draining from me.  Our fellow cave-dwellers are fanning themselves.  Their eyes have glazed over.  We are all in trouble.  The first row of our little ten-row piece of heaven is empty.

“Let’s sit there,” I suggest.  “It’s closer to the mouth of the overhang.  It’ll be better.  It won’t be so hot.”

Vicki frowns.

“I’m not comfortable with that.   Those aren’t our seats.”

“It’ll be an adventure.”  I’m pouting less now.  The prospect of an adventure has excited me.

“I don’t know,” Vicki says.

“It’ll be ok.”

We move.  And it is much better.  We can see the sky.  It’s cooler.  It is better.

“Isn’t this better?”

“It is.  You’re right.  This is better.”

An usher walks up, with a family.

“Are these your seats?”

“It’s hot back there.”

“I know,” she says.  She seems apologetic.  “Maybe you can just move back a little.”

We move back two rows.

“This isn’t as good,” Vicki says.

We start to sweat.  I start to pout again.  I’m thinking of the couple in Milwaukee who I haven’t even told you about.  She was not happy with her seat.  And she shouldn’t have been.  She could see very little of the field.  A big piece of concrete was in the way.  They had words.  Yes, those words.  And that word.  He got up and left, then she left.  He came back and looked for her later, but she wasn’t there.  And I wondered then how the rest of their day went.  I stand up, here in Cleveland, and see several empty rows across the walkway, down below.  The expensive seats.

“Let’s sit there.”  And I point.

“I don’t know.”

“We’ll go in the bottom of the first, when people are coming are going.  Those are great seats.”

“I don’t know.”

Three outs.  It’s the middle of the first.  We get up and move, again, down into the Field Box Seats.

“Wow,” Vicki says, looking around.  “These are great seats.”

And they are.  There are several empty rows here.  And no ushers.  The field is close, the breeze is cool.  This is absolutely better.

Two couples walk up, and sit down behind us.

“Let’s sit behind these people,” one of them says.  “The ones who keep changing seats.”

Vicki’s eyes are instantly wide.  I turn around, and see the faces of our former fellow cave dwellers.

“We’ve been watching you,” she says.  “‘Let’s follow them’, I said.”  He smiles broadly and shakes my hand.

We laugh, agree that it’s too hot back there, and dare someone to come take away our seats.  Then another couple with two children enters our new section, and sits down in the row in front of us.  The Mom turns around, smiling.  They are from The Cave.   Our family is back together.

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The bottom of the first goes quietly.  The Indians string together a double and a single in the bottom of the 2nd, and take a 1-0 lead.

The man behind us, who had shaken my hand the inning before, leans forward and asks me about our pins.

“We’re seeing all the stadiums.”

“All of them?  This season?”

I nod.

He looks at his wife.

“That’s wonderful,” she says.

“You’re just,” and he waves his hand in a loop, “you’re just going to all of them.”

“Yes.”

He nods. And then he smiles.  “Well that’s something you won’t ever forget, isn’t it.”  It was not a question.

The score is 2-1, Cleveland, until the bottom of the 7th, when the Indians send 8 men to the plate.  Two walks, and three hits combine to produce three more, making the score 5-1.

In the middle of the 8th,  ‘Hang on Sloopy’ plays throughout the stadium.  The Cleveland crowd shouts out “O-H-I-O during the pauses, and form the letters with their arms.  Just like ‘YMCA’.  And then they do it again.  It’s infectious.  And we join in.  We’re a happy crowd.

I ask the man behind me about the story behind that song.

He’s not sure, but he knows they play the song at every Ohio State football game, at the start of every 4th quarter.

Vicki looks it up.  “Hang on Sloopy”, was written as a tribute to Steubenville, Ohio jazz pianist Dorothy Sloop, who performed during the 1940’s and ’50’s under the name ‘Sloopy’.  The song was recorded by the McCoys in 1965, and became very popular on Ohio State campus juke boxes, eventually making it onto the OSU marching band’s playlist.  It has since been proclaimed the Official Rock Song of Ohio, by the Ohio State Legislature.

I lean back to tell him.  He leans forward.  We have that kind of relationship now.

“Ok.  We looked it up.”

And I give him the short version.  He grins at the news.

“That’s a great story.”

The top of the ninth is uneventful for Vicki’s adopted Twins, who spring train in Fort Myers, Florida.  The home team Indians win 5-1.  Announcements are made concerning the upcoming Friday Night Fireworks.  It is our 2nd fireworks show of the trip.  Soon the lights dim over the field, which has the crowd murmuring.  Baseball stadiums look very cool just before fireworks shows.  I don’t exactly know why, but there’s an exotic, surreal peacefulness to the place when the lights are low.  The show is spectacular, with fireworks shot from centerfield joining in with the larger ones from outside, surprising and entertaining the crowd each time they do.

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The stadium lights come back up, and we stand to leave.  Our friends behind us wish us all the best on the remainder of our trip, and shake our hands.

‘Cleveland Rocks’ plays on the stadium speakers as we leave The Jake, and set out to find our parking garage near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I need to look up that song now, but the garage closes at midnight.

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2 thoughts on “Cleveland Rocks

  1. Hi, I just found your blog and LOVE it!
    me and my Boyfriend are HUGE baseball fans and I’m just in awe of your trip.
    I’m planning a 15 day MILB trip for us next summer… but reading your blog just makes me want to scrap it and do this instead.

    We are Cleveland Indians Fans and live in Toronto, but were at this game.

    Like

    • Thanks, Claudia! We dropped below the poverty level making the trip, but I would absolutely do it again. We loved visiting with the fans we met in all the ballparks. Good luck on your trip–whichever version you take on!

      Like

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