Column: Cleveland stadiums a glimpse at what we’re missing

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 7, 2001

Winter was getting long, we were getting tired and it was time for a vacation.

Saturday, April 07, 2001

Winter was getting long, we were getting tired and it was time for a vacation. Time to head for – Cleveland, of course.

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This is my family’s first week back after a spectacular eight days on the sunny shores of Lake Erie. Cleveland is a nicer city than its reputation would have you believe; the downtown area is even flourishing.

Those who have followed the stadium debate in Minnesota have heard about Cleveland before. It’s usually an example stadium backers use to demonstrate the benefit of top-notch, taxpayer-financed stadiums.

Cleveland has two new stadiums downtown: Jacobs Field, built in the early ’90s for baseball’s Indians, and Cleveland Browns Stadium, which opened a couple years back as the home of the new Browns football franchise.

They are impressive. Jacobs field looks like a real baseball stadium; vertical rows of lights tower over the intricately curved steel and glass structure. I could imagine the sound of 40,000 fans echoing out the top of that open-air park and blanketing the area. I caught a peek into the stadium, with thousands of seats angling sharply up from a lush, green grass field.

Almost as impressive was the area around it. It was clear Jacobs Field had an impact. There were several sports bars and restaurants that were obviously new. Light poles had Indians banners, and billboards made references to the team. This was the Indians district, and the whole area was looking good.

St. Paul has already seen similar results after one season of Wild hockey. The western edge of downtown looks drastically better.

Down on the shore of the lake, the Browns’ stadium sits right in a row with a brand-new science museum and the stunning Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I could only imagine how many visitors those three attractions on the waterfront bring to Cleveland every year.

I don’t hide the fact that I’m a hard-core Twins fan, and I am probably biased when I talk about a new baseball stadium in Minnesota. But seeing those stadiums in Cleveland – those twin gems in the crown of northern Ohio – I couldn’t help but wonder what our state is missing out on.

It’s not only the metro area; it’s all of us. There are Twins fans in Freeborn County (and there would be more if the team had a good year). And we’re close enough to the Twin Cities that a drive to a Sunday afternoon ballgame is well within reason.

There are also Twins fans throughout Iowa, the Dakotas and even Montana. Won’t they be more likely to head to Minnesota – maybe through Albert Lea – if Minnesota had a first-class stadium and the better team that would surely come with it?

And it’s not just about creating jobs for minimum-wage hot dog vendors and sports bar waitresses. A strong sports franchise goes further than job creation; it serves to put us on the map for the rest of the country. As a baseball-obsessed boy, I learned much of my geography by memorizing the cities of the American League. It seems stupid, but people rank states and cities based on things like which ones have good baseball teams or stadiums. It’s a matter of both pride and economic security for Minnesota to have a good reputation.

Without a stadium, we may not have big-league ball. If the team doesn’t move, it may fall victim to contraction, whereby other teams will buy up the franchise, dissolve it and sell of the players to better teams. What a terrible end it would be to a 40-year old team that brought home two World Series titles.

And one last thing about Ohio: All across the northern part of the state, we saw what an event Indians opening day is. Newspapers, TV commercials, radio – it’s like a holiday. And you can’t find a place that doesn’t sell Indians hats, shirts, key chains, or something. I’m guessing things weren’t that way when the Tribe was suffering in their shabby old ballpark.

Minnesota has a chance to pass a bill and get a new park built with one of the smallest public contributions of any baseball stadium in recent history – and more than a dozen have been built during baseball’s building boom of the last ten years. I hope something can get done, because it’s our best chance and possibly our last.


More on Cleveland: It was exciting to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and see some artifacts from Albert Lea native Eddie Cochran, who was inducted into the hall early in its history. I saw some old records, a guitar and a leather jacket of Eddie’s. He was also mentioned in a film about rock’s early years that was shown as part of the tour. For anyone passing through Ohio, the Rock hall is definitely worth seeing.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays. E-mail him at