The Best of Cleveland
Bob and Dad on the Ballpark Tour in 2008

In September of 2008, Dad and I brought our Ballpark Tour to Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

This was a strange trip. We landed in Cleveland on a Monday, got in our car, and immediately drove to Pittsburgh. Then, after two nights there, we checked out of our hotel on Wednesday morning and returned to Cleveland for the last day and night before leaving early on Thursday for home.

The summary of the whole trip can be found by looking at the one day in Cleveland… where we were having a pretty good time bouncing around between the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Progressive Field, and The Winking Lizard (for lunch), and never went to the hotel until after the baseball game. So we checked in around midnight and never really did see enough to develop a fair opinion of the place.

In short… partially planned chaos… lots of running around… and a surprisingly packed list of things to do supported by an incredible amount of unexpected fun.

And yet, amazingly enough, after considering some of the chaos and travel, this trip is likely the one that will most resemble our future trips in the quest to see a ballgame played in ever major league baseball stadium. We have previously journeyed to Fenway, Wrigley, Camden Yards, Shea and Yankee Stadium. This time though… it wasn’t a day trip (like Boston or New York)… it wasn’t a trip we had both made with another purpose to it and a ballgame tossed in (Baltimore)… it wasn’t a “see the Sox play the Cubs at Wrigley” journey with alot thrown in.

This time we deliberately sought out the stadium tours available at PNC Park and Progressive Field. We used lessons from Chicago (and, to a degree, other parks/travel) to give us a few local attractions we would be looking at for sightseeing or meals. And… amazingly smart to do, always there in some way before, but really contributing this time… we asked people we met where they would go if they were us. In Cleveland we found The Winking Lizard thanks to this approach… in Pittsburgh we walked across the Sixth Street Bridge into the city for lunch.

For this particular travel column, things are a bit different. All of this… from the travel to the companion columns that will focus on each ballpark… means no traditional diary for you. Instead, here are some of the things we really enjoyed in Cleveland and a few thoughts to go along with each one.

The Good Stuff

Ballpark Tour – Progressive Field
I suppose you need to be in love with baseball to even plan such a trip… seeing ball games played in different stadiums, including teams you don’t normally follow that closely. So consider the source when I say this…

Taking an hour or two and touring a stadium can be a fantastic experience. And at Progressive Field, it absolutely was a great time.

We were introduced to Diane in the stadium’s gift shop. Our tour leader, she was outgoing and knew the material she needed to know about the Indians. When introducing ourselves as being from New England, she made the appropriate connections of information to conclude that we were familiar with Manny, and let us in on a secret… as far as she knew, no one in Cleveland or the organization was in any hurry to bring him back.

The tour basically began by walking from the gift shop out to centerfield and a section called Heritage Park. This area is home to all things Cleveland Indians. It showcases the team history and honors its greatest players. And for a baseball fan… it is certain to include a few surprises.

Progressive Field
I have to admit… Monument Park at Yankee Stadium really changed my mind about some things involving the ballpark and off-the-field attractions. Legacy Square at PNC Park in Pittsburgh added to that feeling. It’s now something I definitely find missing at Fenway… and the statue of Ted Williams just doesn’t cover for it.

As mentioned, here at Progressive Field, we find Heritage Park… the home of all things Indians… the best Cleveland best players, a team hall of fame, references to memorable moments… and it works.

The Indians have retired “455” as a reflection of the record they held for consecutive sell outs, and honor this inside the park. (The record has since been surpassed by the Boston Red Sox, which continues increasing today and could cross the 600-game mark during the 2010 season.)

I still can’t believe how big the ballpark felt. It just feels massive.

Winking Lizard Tavern
Back in 2005, when Dad and I were headed to Chicago, I reached out to someone I had met over the internet… the summary of the story is that I found her web site as a result of National Novel Writing Month… and she gave a few suggestions about visiting the city on a trip set up for seeing games at Wrigley. Because of Meg, we had made plans for visiting the Cubby Bear before we had even left home.

That experience can be counted as a lesson learned, and now on any trip I always ask questions about local things to do, when possible ahead of time. What I’ve found is that more often than not the information leads to a great experience… and it always results in a story.

Already on this trip to Pittsburgh and Cleveland we had discussed lunch with our tour guide at PNC Park. Katie sent us on a short and fantastic walk across the Roberto Clemente Bridge and into Market Square.

Now… we were in Progressive Field… and when we posed the “where would you go for lunch today” question, the answer was apparently pretty simple.

The Winking Lizard.

Diane didn’t hesitate at all.

A few blocks from the ballpark, following a very quick walk, we arrived at the Winking Lizard Tavern Dad went with a turkey sandwich and I tried the turkey reuben. We also shared some fried ravioli.


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
I’m not going to lie to you… I was disappointed in many ways with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

They don’t let you take pictures. No cameras allowed. At all.

This picture was taken before I knew no pictures were allowed. I saw U2 on this tour.

The “hall” portion is a bit of a let down… effectively nothing more than a wall of signatures. (That’s probably not 100% fair, since they do have a theater that played highlights from each induction year. But it simply wasn’t that mystical walking the hall. Plus, I have my own personal misgivings about the place (we don’t need a detailed recap here… let’s just say I question some of those recognized while people like Wolfman Jack have yet to be enshrined).)

And yet, when Dad suggested spending some time there, I quickly agreed. In the end, I must admit there was plenty to enjoy and make it a must for anyone stopping in Cleveland. I even plan to return at some point.

Was it perfect? No. I really, really didn’t like not being able to take pictures. I mean, it would be an improvement even if they just had one section where it was allowed and blocked off everything else so you could at least have some shots of someone’s guitar or props from a concert tour or something.

But there were plenty of items that did connect with me. There were conversation starters for Dad and I, with common ground being found in many places. And there were several items that had me looking around for others in various sections.

And I have to say this… the parking could not have been any better. We were literally next to the building, and not in some garage. On the water… street adjacent to the stairs leading in… next to the building.

And… the Not-So-Good Stuff

As always, along with the good there are a few things that deserve mention if only to be a warning sign for those yet to travel on the road. So… a thing or two that might not have been so great…

Dodge Caliber
Ok, the reality here is that I should more likely be blaming Thrifty Car Rental. Because the car they gave us was beat to hell.

Dad and I stand convinced it was involved in some form of illegal activity, but we don’t want to make guesses in print… a theory that grew from a “ha, ha, I’ll bet there was a shovel and some blood in this car” joke into a very seriously considered and ultimately we determined plausible “you know, we might want to be careful with our speed since the state police might be looking for this vehicle” source of dark humor over the course of our drive from Cleveland to Pittsburgh.

Scratches… dents… a broken door handle that had to be locked/unlocked and opened from the inside… a smell of cleaning products so strong we had the windows open for most of the driving on day one… it all would have been funny if the car was any good.

It wasn’t.

This car was awful before the first drop of gas was ever put in its tank.

And that’s why I’ll blame the Caliber more than Thrifty. I think what we’re looking at here is a car that wants to be compared to the likes of the Nissan Versa or maybe the Toyota Matrix. The reality is the car has no clue what it is. The trunk… boot… hatchback… whatever portion of the car seemed useless to us. And even that would have been fine, since in this size of a car, often the very back is useless as it gets sacrificed to create leg room for the other seats. Only, in this car, none of the seats were comfortable.

This might be the worst car I have ever driven. Though I have to admit… I could have been stoned on cleaning fumes.

Best Western
This one really isn’t too fair… and that’s why I am not going to great lengths to tell you details about exactly which Best Western we stayed in.

We left Pittsburgh early on Wednesday. We had reservations for a late morning ballpark tour. On the drive to Cleveland, Dad suggested going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So… over to the Hall for about an hour or so… then the ballpark tour… lunch. We decided that with about four hours open until the gates opened for the game, we could head back and see portions of the Hall we had missed. (It is only about five minutes away from the Progressive Field by car.)

By the time we were done goofing around in Cleveland and settling in for the evening’s entertainment, we were in our seats at the game and had yet to even consider going to the hotel.

Sure… we called to tell them we’d be checking in late. But we also ended up starting our drive over there well after 11pm. And late arrival… long day but exhausting day… morning flight… is simply no time to effectively judge a place you’ve never seen before.

We had troubles with our room keys… especially annoying since between the late arrival and early departure we were using one key only one time, to get in and go to sleep. And there were other things… such as not really loving the parking lot.

But those are minor things, and as I noted, the reality is the combination of a long day, unfamiliar setting and checking in long after dark could easily be playing tricks on us.

I will point out that the free breakfast was a welcome treat, including… for the second straight place… a waffle iron. Fresh made waffles. Awesome.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at