Ichiro Suzuki famously slandered Cleveland when having to return there to make up a snowed-out game, “To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.”
Frankly, I was ambivalent about the city having visited twice before my youngest put a school there at the top of his college list. In the intervening trips for campus tours and moving him in and out of dorms, there has been some opportunity to explore the city, dine at some amazing restaurants, and better formulate my thoughts on what Cleveland has to offer.
Moreover, there is an awful lot of baseball history in the Cleveland area to experience. Most of my landmark hunting to date has been in the early morning hours while everyone else sleeps in, often by way of a roundabout bagel run. Spanning several trips I have lingered at League Park, admired the statues of Elmer Flick and Rocky Colavito erected in town parks, paid my respects at the (purported) grave of Ed Delahanty, and attended games played by the Guardians and Lake Erie Crushers of the Frontier League.
Our most recent visit was for parent’s weekend, a delightful departure from past visits free of the “is this the right place for him?” quandary or the stress of packing and moving and making sure we brought enough ramen. We enjoyed an afternoon of hiking at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, had an amazing dinner downtown, and toured the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) after a late breakfast the following morning.
But of course I had some time to see a few baseball things. I headed first to the marker at Brookside Stadium and found the park quite easily with turn-by-turn directions from the SABR Baseball Map on my phone. It was a bit of a walk down a paved path the marker, but it was worth it.
Built in a natural amphitheater, a baseball diamond still occupies the former site of Brookside Stadium, which was razed in the 1980s. According to the marker, Brookside hosted the largest crowd ever recorded for an amateur baseball game, some 115,000 people in 1915. What a contrast to the park I found, serene and lovely on a crisp fall morning.
Part of exploring baseball history is finding new landmarks, so I was thrilled to look over and see another marker detailing the history of Brookside Stadium that we did not yet have on our list. I learned that the ballpark was built in 1909 in an effort to have the 1912 Olympics awarded to Cleveland.
I then headed over to Highland Park Cemetery to pay my respects at the grave of Luke Easter, a fascinating player who seemingly came out of nowhere and met a tragic end. [Do not miss the chapter on Easter in Outsider Baseball by Scott Simkus.]
And perhaps most surprisingly, I happened upon some baseball-related art at the CMA. The oversized Standing Mitt and Ball by Claes Oldenburg was a fitting companion piece to his Batcolumn erected in Chicago, just blocks from my office.
I also happened upon this centuries-old headgear displayed in the armor gallery, which most certainly qualifies as the earliest known baseball helmet, right?
There are several more trips to Cleveland in my future and I cannot wait to continue exploring the area. That I might get to see some baseball-related sites along the way is just a bonus.
Ichiro was wrong.
Larry Stone, “Ichiro unlike any player we’ve seen or will see again,” Longview (Washington) Daily News, March 23, 2019: B7.