Justice Is Served

April 19, 2010 5:00 AM

Crying shame in what's going on at Progressive


Navin Vaswani, a globetrotting Canadian, was part of history Wednesday night at Progressive Field. For $7, Vaswani bought a seat in the upper deck to be among the 10,071 fans at the ballpark, the smallest crowd there ever.

Visiting all the Major League ballparks this season, Vasnawi made Progressive the third stop on his baseball sojourn, a trip that any baseball fan would love to take with him. Here in Cleveland, on the corner of Ontario and East Ninth Streets, he found himself almost alone in a ballpark that used to rock 'n' roll under the stomping feet and clapping hands of 40,000-plus people each night.

No more, as Vasnawi found out. 

"I don't know where everyone else was," he wrote in his blog for The Globe And Mail, "or what they were doing; downtown Cleveland isn't exactly brimming with excitement, and the Cavaliers were playing down in Atlanta. I guess it's safe to say that, 16 years later, Progressive Field's novelty has worn off for the average Indians enthusiast."

Like Camden Yard, Progressive Field -- or The Jake as it was nicknamed in its glory days -- isn't the allure it once was. Back when it opened in '94, The Jake was a happening place. Its retro-look and stylish lines gave the game itself an intimate feel that old Municipal Stadium never did.

But one thing about sports fans, a fact that borne out over the decades, is they aren't enamored with style not packaged around substance.  You can get them to buy into style for a while, but at some point, they will expect more - a lot more than style.

For style doesn't carry with it victories, which is what people ultimately pay for. They want their teams to be contenders; they want their teams to play for the grand prize -- championships. Not just one here and there, but championships seasons after seasons.

It is those championships or the promise of championships that fill the seats in a 81-game home schedule.

But The Jake has not celebrated the grandest prize of all. It has played host to two World Series, but both of those are under a different ownership, a different general manager and a different collection of stars -- sluggers like Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Richie Sexton and Albert Belle who reached the seats with the kind of extraordinary display of power that no other team could rival.

Their power was the excitement that had fans flocking to The Jake -- night after night; season after season. It was that excitement that had the downtown abuzz with activity -= bars filled with people, people partying deep into the night, long after the last out and after the lights inside the ballpark had faded to black, far past last call.

Those days are long behind the place now. It's not the draw it used to be. For other ballparks like Safeco Field, Yankee Stadium, PNC Park and Target Field have been built since, and they have made Progressive Field seem, well, a tad dated in many ways.

The ballpark remains a great venue for baseball; it always will be. It just isn't the baseball magnet it used to be, as Vasnawi learned on his visit to Cleveland the other day.

"Me, I was like a kid in a candy store," he wrote in his blog. "What. A. Ballpark. I liked Comerica Park in Detroit. I loved Progressive Field."

But Vasnawi didn't see the ballpark at its grandest -- rattlin' and rollin' under the weight of raucous crowds. He didn't see much of an Indians team either, which explains the former.

A ballpark itself can only do so much to attract fans. Same goes for promotional gimmicks like "Dollar Dog," "Pepsi Half Price Tickets" and "Turn Back the Clock" nights, which are the calling cards of the 6-6 Indians these days. Fans come, fans return for what they hope will happen on the playing field.

And on most nights, nothing good is likely to happen there at Progressive Field, which is why it might see even smaller crowds in the months ahead than the one Vasnawi saw on his visit.  

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