By Daniel G. Moir
While leaving my office for vacation, a coworker asked me where I was going. My reply of “Cleveland,” was met with the questioning response, “on PURPOSE?” Such is the common view of this Ohio city in the northeast corner of the state. Long derisively viewed as “the mistake by the lake” or “Cleveland: Under Construction since 1868,” I must admit that I somewhat shared this view and it was with some apprehension that I undertook my solo departure from Minneapolis to begin the 750 mile journey.
My reasons for going were not to see the city. As a music-loving baseball fan, my Minnesota Twins were set to play Cleveland for a weekend series at Progressive Field. After getting swept by the division rivals over four games at Target Field the previous week dropping them from first place in the American League Central Division, I wanted to see if my team could return the favor on the road. The Twins away record has been vastly superior to their home one, so there was a better than average chance. Besides, I figured I would spend the days at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the evenings at the ballpark before driving up I-75 to my wife’s family cabin near Cheboygan, Mich. to meet them for a true family vacation.
On one hand, Cleveland is a hard-rocking, gritty, industrial town. This hard edge may have spawned acts like Nine Inch Nails, the James Gang, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, but this place also bred Marc Cohn and Tracy Chapman. Simply put, this is not a one-note town, but a place rich in diversity and depth. As abrasive as NIN may be leader Trent Reznor once also appeared as the leader of chirpy, synth-pop band called “The Problems” in Paul Schrader’s 1987 film “Light of Day” starring Michael J. Fox and future Hall of Famer Joan Jett. First impressions may be deceiving.
The Rock Hall is located on the shore of Lake Erie and is connected in a straight line to Progressive Field on 9th Street by just eight-tenths of a mile. The Hall shares parking with the Science Museum and is an affordable $9 for attendees. I had worked it out to arrive shortly before the 10:30 a.m. opening of the hall to maximize the first day’s visit. For anyone planning on visiting more than two days, do yourself a favor and get an annual membership. Daily admission is $23.50, while a membership is a measly $50. For this you will get a t-shirt sent to you as well as 10% off at the museum store ‑ well worth the price.
I had first been to the Rock Hall nearly 20 years ago, and they have made a great many changes in the intervening decades. Wisely, greater attention is now placed on the origins and history of the musical form. The Ahmet M. Ertegun Exhibition Hall is the place to begin, and it honors the Atlantic Records founder’s namesake well. Front and center is an exhibit featuring this year’s inductees: Yes, Joan Baez, Tupac Shakur, ELO, Pearl Jam, Journey and Nile Rodgers. Their presentation is striking, but I am most interested in seeing the Red Yamaha Piano (nick-named “The Whale”) that Jonathan Cain played during the Journey Escape and Frontier tours of the early 80’s. My thoughts immediately turn to seeing their show at the old St. Paul Civic Center back in 1983. A young Bryan Adams opened that concert and remains to this day the best opening act I have ever seen. I also got a kick out of seeing the Chicago Cubs pin on the lapel of Eddie Vedder’s jacket from the grunge era. Some things never change.
Progressive Field broke ground in January 1992 and opened as Jacob’s Field in 1994, changing to its current moniker for the 2008 season. Still referred to as “The Jake” by some of the more ardent Cleveland fans, this 35,225-seat open-air stadium is both a delight to the eyes and reverent historical artifact featuring an abundance of reference points to the history of the 123-year-old baseball club. A statue of Cleveland slugger (and former Twin) Jim Thome stands outside the stadium with his mighty bat outstretched in commemoration of the 612 home runs collected during his 22-year career. However it is the figure of Frank Robinson, a two-time MVP and Hall of Fame player who became baseball’s first African-American MLB Manager when Cleveland hired him in 1975, that stands at the center of the Heritage Park in the left field corner. I am reminded by the quiet way that this sport continues to positively affect change in the world.
There are a variety of hotels downtown, but I select the Holiday Inn Express on Euclid Avenue, in between the Hall and the Field. Once a former bank building, this old structure features large, comfortable rooms with hard wood floors and is perfectly located for my purposes. It is a 10-15 minute walk to either site and provides a good drop-off location for Artoo (my 2010 Mini Cooper that is my only companion for this trip). Valet Parking is $25 per day, so to be honest I have no idea where R2 is at this exact moment. He is a pretty personable guy, so I am certain he is in some dark garage corner downing a couple of quarts of oil with some new found Minnesota license plate wearing friends…
Cleveland’s fans are incredible. I get to the ballpark about an hour and a half before the game and while I am standing out in the outfield, I meet a fan who presents himself as “The Amazing Joe Smith.” He explains that he always introduces himself this way because he doesn’t want to come across as “just another Joe.” I take an immediate liking to the young man who was attending Saturday’s game with his sister. We have a detailed conversation about pitching and the effects that the dimensions of “The Jake” play on certain hitters’ plate approach. Baseball is one of the great unifiers. Politics may divide us, but this game can unite.
It is very strange to go to a game by yourself and see your club play in another stadium. I don’t see many fans wearing Twins gear, but when I do, there are instant high-fives, handshakes and cries of “Minnesota!” I have never seen these people before or likely ever will again, but by the simple colors we both wear, we are bound instantly together.
At the same time, all this feels very unusual. Case in point was the leading home run hit by Brian Dozier in the top of the eighth inning. You want to jump up and scream your head off, but the stadium is so silent that doing just that would seem, well… wildly disrespectful. So, you sit there and quietly clap your hands saying a simple “Alright” under your breath. Besides, you learn that the lady sitting just to the right of your PERFECT, near home plate, seat had just exchanged your “season ticket only” seat location in at the box office when her usual companion couldn’t make todays game about 10 minutes before your purchase last night. Maybe not screaming is “Minnesota Nice” on your part, but you still you do internal cartwheels of celebration.
After a great game, I am off to do some wandering. It’s past 9:30 p.m. and I am beginning to feel a little peckish. Great dining can be found just off Euclid in a little side boulevard known as E. 4th Street. This closed for traffic lane, anchored by the Cleveland edition of the “House of Blues,” is filled with many bars & restaurants catering to a variety of palates. For my tastes, I grab a patio table at Mabel’s BBQ. Open just a little more than a year, this joint serves meats and ribs served with Cleveland Pickles, Cleveland kraut, and Mediterra Rye Bread. The fact that their house-smoked meats come from grass-raised animals without antibiotics just seals the deal as far as I am concerned. The meal is reasonably priced, the service is warm and friendly, and the food is unbelievably succulent and delicious. The pork ribs fall off the bone and taste like candy. I am certain that all the other restaurants along 4th may be equally good, but I will be hard pressed to go to another location the next time I am in C-town based on this dinner alone.
Cleveland is a city of interesting culture. Coupling the industrial leanings of the past with the desire of forward thinking culture, it is a city at the crossroads of the 21st century. There are numerous places to shop and the architecture is old, fresh, modern and imaginative. Downtown comfortably mixes the curved, high glass of the “Dollar Bank” building with the low-down street grit of the post-game watering hole “re:bar” just outside Progressive Field. Dotted throughout the path are scores of visual artistries, from the giant “Free” hand stamp in Willard Park to varieties of fluorescent speaker wedges found throughout downtown.
The Twins leave Cleveland with a 3-game sweep, including two shutouts, as well as their first-place divisional position temporarily restored. As for me, I may have originally come here as a one-off trip to see my team play an opponent in an important mid-season series, but I leave with both a greater appreciation of the people and the solid realization, that while Cleveland may be by the lake, this city is by no means a mistake.
This article was edited by Rachel Wohrlin.
Daniel G. Moir is a freelance writer, musician, part-time DJ and baseball enthusiast. Mostly, though, he is among the most passionate music fans and aficionados of our times. He can be contacted at @DMoir5150.
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