Shock The World Chronicles: The Suite Life In Cleveland

For the last three years, my fiancée has been attending law school at the University of Akron. Somehow, I had failed to make the trek from Philadelphia for a visit, and with graduation rapidly approaching, time was running out. So last Thursday, I boarded a plane for the short flight to Akron to get the northeastern Ohio tour. I mentioned to her that I would love to take in an Indians game, as I had never been to Progressive Field (it will always be Jacobs Field to me.) She said that wouldn’t be a problem, and boy did she mean it.

As it turns out, she works with the daughter-in-law of Mike Hargrove, one of the greatest managers in Indians history and now a senior advisor. After mentioning my visit, my fiancée was informed by her coworker that she would love to have us as her guest in Hargrove’s personal suite at Progressive Field. Naturally, I was incredibly excited by this development, and the experience didn’t disappoint.

Since I had never been to Cleveland, we decided to make a day of it. We departed Akron shortly after noon to make the short drive to Cleveland. Our first stop was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. On top of all the musical exhibits, the museum has something for everyone: art, fashion, journalism, photography. The museum does a fantastic job of covering the full scope of music and the music industry. It is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Cleveland.

From there we meandered around downtown, just kind of checking things out and seeing what the city had to offer. We stopped for some excellent tacos and some beverages, sampling some local brews, and then began our walk to Progressive Field.

As we made our way towards the stadium, we happened to pass a sneaker shop. Being that I am a huge sneakerhead, we decided to take a look around. I perused the store like a kid in a candy shop, eyeing all the sneakers I dream of having in my collection when something caught my eye. It was the Air Jordan 7 “Hares”, a shoe I have had my eye on since its retro release last year. Long story short I am a very lucky guy, and the “Hares” were purchased. I was floating.

At this point, I’d had a hell of a day and could have been completely satisfied to call it quits right then and there. But the best part of the day was still to come.

We arrived at the ballpark with about an hour until game time. We took a lap around the stadium, stopping at different places to take some pictures and take in the different angles and sightlines. We checked out all the different concessions that the park had to offer, and then I stopped and picked up an Indians cap with the Chief Wahoo logo on it before the PC police arrive to pressure the club to do away with the logo.

The ballpark itself absolutely beautiful, and offers great views of downtown Cleveland. Once inside, the wide concourses allow for ease of movement and offer plentiful areas to stand and take in the action. It was virtually spotless. And beyond the right-centerfield wall, the Indians offer their version of Yankee Stadium’s monument park, with plaques honoring all the greats who have donned the Indians uniform. They also had a large plaque offering information on the 11 different Negro League teams that have called Cleveland home, which was fascinating.

We then made our way up to the suite for the game, which was almost directly behind third base. The room was absolutely beautiful, decorated with photographs and jerseys and autographs acquired during a lifetime in baseball. I could have spent the entire game admiring the walls alone. As I was looking around, the suite began to fill with members of the Hargrove clan, with Hargrove’s son and his wife as well as one of his daughters and her husband joining us, and three of his grandchildren. Then Mike arrived, along with his wife. As the kids ran to their grandfather and everyone exchanged hellos, it was clear that Mike is a wonderful family man.

After the introductions, we settled in to watch the game. As soon as everyone was seated, the baseball stories began to flow. Mike regaled everyone with tales of his life in baseball, from playing in a perfect game to managing in the World Series (stay tuned for a more detailed post on Mike’s life in baseball, as he has agreed to speak with me again in the near future to discuss his playing and managerial careers in more detail.) His son, Andy, who played several years of minor league ball, and I talked about the Phillies and he asked my thoughts on the Eagles coaching hire and decision to pay a king’s ransom to acquire Carson Wentz. I gave Mike a comparison of Philadelphia’s Citizen Bank Park to Progressive Field, as he has not been able to get to a game there yet.

The game was providing plenty of entertainment on its own. It was back and forth, with the Indians taking the lead for good in the 8th inning despite closer Cody Allen almost giving it away in the 9th. The teams combined to hit 5 home runs, with the Twins’ Byung Ho Park hitting home runs in his first two at-bats and sending a ball to the warning track in his third. Francisco Lindor made the defensive play of the game with a sterling barehanded scoop and throw to first on a slow roller to short. As if I wasn’t already having an incredible day and enjoying a sports fan’s dream, in the middle innings a foul ball shot into the suite adjacent to ours, where it was retrieved and presented to me. In the hundreds of baseball games I’ve been to, it was the first foul ball I’d ever gotten, and despite being a grown man I was filled with child-like excitement.

As the game wore on, high-level Indians employees and former players stopped by to say hi to Hargrove, each of them just as friendly as the previous. Former Indians relief pitcher Mike Jackson came in and watched the last few innings, sharing a story about how shocked and nervous he was when Hargrove let him hit in a World Series game.

The entire Hargrove family was incredibly friendly and gracious, making us feel at home and making a genuine effort to get to know us. It was a pleasure to talk to them and to spend three hours taking in the game with them. It was an amazing experience, and a dream come true for this sports fan and baseball fanatic.

On Saturday, we were able to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was awesome to see all of the old uniforms, and the museum has a lot of interactive exhibits, which was cool. Of particular interest to me, besides the uniforms, was the certificate of inception of my Philadelphia Eagles and an exhibit on what goes on under the hood during replay reviews.

All-in-all, I think Cleveland gets a bad rap because this was an incredible experience. The ballpark was absolutely beautiful, and the city was clean and loaded with great food and drink. I was particularly impressed with the Cleveland fans. Everywhere you looked you saw someone wearing Indians and/or Cavs gear, and the fans at the game were all over the action, creating an excellent atmosphere despite the relatively small crowd. Progressive Field is worth checking out for any baseball fan, and the city has plenty to offer outside of sports as well.

The opportunity to catch my first game at Progressive Field is one I will never forget. Taking in a game with a man who has spent his life in baseball and is one of the franchise’s best managers was truly a thrill. Listening to his stories and talking baseball strategy with him was a dream come true, and getting my first foul ball was the icing on the cake. They say Cleveland rocks, and my Shock The World experience there supports the claim.

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