As college spring breakers are flocking to the tropical beaches of Florida, it seems like the perfect time to share my Spring Break 2k15 adventure. While most college students pile their friends into a car and trek down to either Panama City Beach or Miami, with the intent of spending the week pounding beers on a beach, I took a more sophisticated approach. My parents and I made a last minute decision to fly down to Tampa, Florida, and then drive up to Thomasville, Georgia to visit my brother, then back down to Tampa (with my brother) to watch a Yankees vs Pirates spring training game, and then finally fly back to the pristine, yet a little colder, shores of Lake Erie. The main attraction for me on this voyage was, with-out-a-doubt, experiencing the wonders of spring training, even if it was with the New York Yankees. Of course, the Cleveland Indians spring training would be ideal to attend, but I’ll have to save that for another year (aka, next spring break). In the meantime though, a spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field was a great way to spend my spring break.
Pulling into the parking area, it was apparent that baseball was in the air. From tailgaters to ticket scalpers, believe me when I say, people take this whole spring training thing quite seriously. The parking area was directly in front of Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then to get to the baseball field, we crossed a pedestrian bridge over Dale Mabry Highway. Before finding our seats, we meandered around outside the stadium for a short time, making stops to see the retired numbers of Yankee greats at the mini Monument Park, as well as the George M. Steinbrenner Statue.
The city of Tampa became the first spring training site located in Florida when the Chicago Cubs setup camp in 1913. For years the city hosted different Major League Baseball teams during spring training, along with various minor league teams throughout the summer. Then in 1988, the Cincinnati Reds moved training facilities, and the following year, the last minor league team followed suit, leaving the city void of a baseball team and venue. An end to that spring baseball drought was announced in 1993, when the Tampa Sports Authority revealed a deal to build a new spring training facility for the New York Yankees. After a short debate over location, it was decided that the new complex would be built directly across the Dale Mabry Highway from Tampa Stadium, the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the time. On March 1, 1996, spring baseball was restored to the city when the Yankees hosted the Cleveland Indians. Today George M. Steinbrenner Field serves as home to the minor league Tampa Yankees, as well as the spring training location of the New York Yankees.
The “Legend”-ary Name
From the time of inception, the new ballpark was named Legends Field. On March 27, 2008, that name was changed to George M. Steinbrenner Field, in honor of long-time Yankees owner and Tampa resident, George Steinbrenner. At the time, Steinbrenner was in failing health, and later passed away in July 2010. To further honor the illustrious owner, a life-size bronze statue was erected at the stadium’s entrance in January 2011.
The Stadium Itself
George M. Steinbrenner Field, with a seating capacity of 11,026, is an intimate venue when compared to its colossal Major League Baseball counterparts. When visiting the ballpark, fans can catch subtle nods to the storied Old Yankee Stadium. The field dimensions of the stadium precisely mirror those of the former Yankees home. Also, the grandstand facade was designed after that of the legendary stadium. On this specific trip, my attention was slightly less focused on the actual stadium and more about the atmosphere. Spring training should be on the list of must-sees for every avid baseball fan. It gives you a chance to see veteran players in a lighter environment, alongside prospects fighting to make the team. Spring training allows fans to see players in all different stages of their careers. One of the most intriguing aspects of my visit was hearing a cacophony of boos as well as cheers raining down every time Alex Rodriguez’s name was announced. In years prior, that mixture would have been solely applause. Spring Training gives you a great preview of the regular season, and from what I saw in that one game, the 2015 season will be quite a spectacle.
From the Eyes of a Young Girl
Progressive Field, formerly known as Jacob’s Field will always be my favorite major league baseball stadium. Yes, I am a tad biased, but the ballpark contains many memories from my childhood. There was the time when I attended a game and received a home run ball hit by Jim Thome, from an amazing usher who works with my dad. Better yet, CC Sabathia signed that ball for me after the game. I will never forget the feeling of pure elation as CC took the ball from my tiny hands and signed it. It was a surreal experience, cementing my love for CC Sabathia. Or there was the time when that same usher took me down to the front row of the stadium, right behind the on-deck circle. Needless to say, I had the best view available!!! And then adding to my memories are the countless hotdogs consumed during dollar dog nights, the numerous bobblehead afternoons, summer night fireworks, rain delays, and opening days. There will never be a baseball stadium that replaces Cleveland’s stadium in my eyes.
We Walk to the Beat of our Own Drum
When hearing the name John Adams, most of America instantly thinks of the second president of the US. In Northeast Ohio, the name John Adams has a whole different meaning. Since 1973, John Adams, a dedicated Indians fan, has been attending practically every home Indians game. Not only does he attend every game, but he also brings along a bass drum and sits out in the bleachers playing it throughout the game. For first-time visitors to the stadium, it is always customary to point out Mr. Adams, right below the Roadrunner advertisement sign in the bleachers. Adams has now become a household name for Cleveland fans and has taken his drum to over 3,000 games. A staple of Tribe games, he was even honored with a bobblehead doll handed out at a game. Having a personal drummer is one of my favorite aspects of Progressive Field.
Have Some Fun on a Bun
All stadiums have some sort of quirky tradition. For instance, the Washington Nationals have a race of costumed characters meant to be US presidents and the Pittsburgh Pirates have a pierogi race. Progressive Field is home to the famous Sugardale Hot Dog Derby. At the end of the 5th inning, two doors in the outfield wall open and three hotdogs race around the field. The fans get involved cheering for either Ketchup, a prankster, Onion, a diva, or Mustard, an all-american boy. The race always gives the fan a nice chuckle and welcomed escape from the tension of the baseball game.
455 The Fans
I was born in 1994, the same year Jacob’s Field opened, replacing Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The new stadium breathed life into Cleveland and from June 12, 1995, through April 4, 2001, Jacob’s Field sold out 455 consecutive regular-season games. To remember the amazing sell-out streak, “455 The Fans” is printed in large red letters on a pillar behind the right field seats. This is just one of many rich historical stories of Progressive Field.
While the name of the stadium has changed to Progressive Field, it is still remembered as the Jake by many Cleveland fans. Putting the name aside, this ballpark will always be like a second home to me. There is just a comforting beauty about the field and the view of the Cleveland skyline. Whenever I spot the Bob Feller statue outside the stadium, or look up at the banners of different players, memories come rushing back. Memories of jubilation and also those of agonizing defeat.