Hey! My new website is Section 411. It's a lot like this site, except it's about 100% newer. Click here to check it out!

I found myself further and further from my home

You never forget your first love.

For me, it’s seeing a baseball game at Jacobs Progressive Field. Ever since my first game in 1995, the stadium at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario has been one of my favorite places to be. I’ve been there with family, I’ve been there with high school friends, and I’ve been there with college friends. The Indians haven’t won every game I’ve seen, but I have to think their winning percentage is well over .600 when I’m there, and even in the losses are good times had by all.

Since that game in 1995, I’ve been to at least one game every year except 2003. I moved to Columbia last year after seeing a game and happened to see another one on a visit home. This year, though, I was only home two weekends over the summer, and on one of them we went to a Pirates game, so I was convinced I just wouldn’t make it to a Tribe game this year.

When you move to a different state, I realized, you give up certain things. You give up your favorite restaurants (Winking Lizard, bd’s Mongolian Barbeque, and until last January, Chipotle), you give up some of your favorite activities, you give up seeing your friends and family on a regular basis. It was, I concluded, just part of life. But there are some things that aren’t worth giving up, and so in the span of a few hours, I went from “hey, I’m not doing much in September. Is there anything worth doing?” to buying tickets for September 25, against the Royals, the last Saturday home game of the year.

In an effort to reduce cost for the trip, I drove both ways. I’ve written about Interstate 77 previously, but that was before a harrowing trip home for Christmas when a 9-hour drive took 48 hours. It’s 520 miles as the crow flies, but the actual drive distance is about 620 miles, winding through the Appalachian mountains of the Virginias in the middle but staying fairly flat and straight on the ends. And as I drove the last few hundred feet of West Virginia, my iPod, supposedly shuffling a random playlist of 750+ songs, started playing “Hang On Sloopy”. I swear I can’t make this stuff up. When you move to another state you notice stuff like this. You notice that while the two states aren’t more than a half mile apart, the trees seem sweeter on the north side of the Ohio River. I even opened my window and was greeted with a cheerful rush of Ohio air.

It got cloudy as I approached Canton and a few miles north of Canton I veered northeast on Route 8 to head towards Perry, my hometown and where my parents still live. It wasn’t until the next night, driving on Route 2 with my dad towards Cleveland, that I saw the city from the ground for the first time in almost a year. The city looked better than ever, with the early autumn sun setting over the lake. The last time I was in town the iconic Terminal Tower was still under renovation, but this time, the scaffolding was gone and it looked brand new. The last time I was in town, the LeBron James poster was still polluting the landscape (I’m somewhat bitter), but this time it was taken down. As I drove through downtown it was like I had never left: I knew all the roads, I remembered the restaurants and companies.

Getting into Progressive Field was even more nostalgic. After parking the car in a garage which used to be packed to the brim every night but this time was barely 25% full, we walked through the brisk fall air across Gateway Plaza into the stadium.

To say it’s past its glory years is an understatement: Progressive Field is a ghost of what Jacobs Field used to be. There were about 25% as many people attending compared to games in the 90s, and some of the vendors in the concourse didn’t even bother to open. The spots on the concourse walls that used to hold poster shots of CC Sabathia, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez now house poster shots of Fausto Carmona, Travis Hafner and Manny Acta. And advertising was all over the place (the “Time Warner Cable Bleachers” are my favorite. I mean, is that the best you could do, Time Warner? What about, I dunno, the “Time Warner Cable Jumbotron”?).

But still, visiting the park was like visiting an old friend. I remembered that three years, two days before that night, I was watching the Indians clinch the Central division for the first time in six years. I remembered that thirteen years, two days before that night (September 23, 1997), I watched the Indians come from seven runs down to beat the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth to clinch the Central division. I remembered just two years ago, I watched Fausto Carmona deliver a present from Cleveland to Gary Sheffield, and then the rest of the Indians come back and win against the Tigers. And of course, the snow opener, the only time I remember seeing snow falling at Jacobs or Progressive Field.

As this would be the only time I would visit Progressive Field this year, I was reminded of a quote by one of my favorite baseball players ever:

There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.

— Joe DiMaggio

And in true Cleveland fashion (remembering how to win long after it’s relevant), the Indians won decisively against last year’s Cy Young winner. What did beating the Kansas City Royals in a meaningless game in September mean? Probably nothing. But it felt like they won it for me. As we walked out of the stadium to the strains of “Cleveland Rocks” (that’s how cool Cleveland is: it has its own theme song), you could have easily turned back the clock ten years and the Indians had just won an important September game.

I almost wrote a piece like this when I flew up to Cleveland for Mothers’ Day, a piece about how much I’ve missed Cleveland and how great it was to be back. But I couldn’t find the words because until I got to Progressive Field, I couldn’t really say I was back. Somehow I forgot how important baseball is to me. Next year, I won’t let that happen, because next year, my first Indians game of the season won’t be my last.

More pictures of my return to Progressive Field here.

Originally posted on Cleveland, Curveballs and Common Sense on September 29, 2010 at 9:21 AM. Post text content © 2010 Jimmy Sawczuk. All rights reserved.