Last year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums. It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April. So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.
Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.
Rankings like this are inherently subjective. I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites. I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support. I only care about the building and the location. I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.
30. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)
29. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland Athletics)
28. Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)
23. Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians)
The last entry on this list, Guaranteed Rate Field (formerly U.S. Cellular formerly Comiskey), carries the distinction as the last stadium to be constructed before Camden Yards changed the rules for building stadiums. Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field) carries the opposite distinction–the first one to be built afterward, along with the Texas Rangers’ new stadium, then called The Ballpark at Arlington. Camden opened in 1992–the Indians and Rangers opened theirs in 1994. These two stadiums, even more so than the one in Baltimore, cemented the trend of retro-modern stadiums in MLB.
After it’s construction, Jacobs Field was a massive success. Most teams see attendance booms in the first year of a new stadium. Many fade after one season. The Indians sold out every game at their new stadium for 455 consecutive games from 1995-2001, a streak only recently broken by the Boston Red Sox. Of course, the Indians had great teams in the late 1990’s, but the excitement of the new stadium helped fill the seats. There were several seasons during their sellout streak where every ticket was purchased before the season began.
Things have changed since then. Even with a pennant winning team, the Indians couldn’t even average 20 thousand fans a night last season. Progressive Field is now neither new, nor unique. Eighteen different teams have opened new ballparks since the Indians first christened Jacobs Field. Think about that. Progressive Field is now in the top half of oldest MLB stadiums.
Had I made this list 20 years ago, there’s no question the Indians stadiums would have been ranked in the Top 10, probably Top 5. The fact that it’s now ranked number 23 is not a reflection on the ballpark, it’s a reflection on the creativity and ingenuity being used in modern stadium construction. This ranking isn’t an indictment of Progressive Field; it’s a compliment to modern baseball architecture.
In many ways, Progressive Field is the perfect stadium for the Indians and for Cleveland. For comparison, the Texas Rangers have already made plans to replace their stadium opened the same year. Turner Field, built after Progressive Field, has already been retired. As noted, the Indian’s stadium has aged, but it’s not showing it. On the contrary, the team has continually tinkered with the stadium to keep it fresh and to current with modern trends. A two-year renovation was just completed, adding new amenities like updated club levels and a new bar. Most notably, they decreased capacity to roughly 35K, which is more appropriate for Cleveland’s market size. Unlike Texas and Atlanta, it’s unlikely to see Indians fans clamoring for a new ballpark anytime soon.
Part of Jacobs Field’s initial attraction back in 1994 was the upgrade it provided from the Indians former home, Cleveland Stadium. Commonly referred to as the “Mistake by the Lake,” Cleveland Stadium was a largely lifeless multi-purpose stadium the Indians shared with the Browns. Too big for the baseball with over 70 thousand seats, the park would be freezing from Lake Erie winds during the colder months and swarming with midges during the warmer months. The move to Jacobs Field presented a contrast in almost every way.
The new stadium was downtown, away from the lake winds and among restaurants and bars. The ballpark became a centerpiece of a largely successful city downtown revitalization. The Cavaliers now play right next door at Quicken Loans Arena. Where Cleveland Stadium was cavernous, Jacobs Field was intimate, with seats closer to the field with improved sightlines thanks to it’s baseball-only design. The old stadium was plain, the new one had quirks–an asymmetrical outfield and eccentricities like the mini-Green Monster in left field. Even the stadium lights were unique–a toothbrush-like design so distinctive the team put it on its stadium logo.
Progressive Field is a hard stadium to rank. There is nothing about it that’s lacking, but there is also nothing about it that makes it transcendent–at least not anymore. Back in 1994, the Indians discovered the right formula to build a ballpark. Unfortunately for it’s spot on these rankings, it’s a formula easily replicated throughout the country.