It is physically impossible to get tired of baseball in Ohio. Outside of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, the great Buckeye State has a bevy of minor league and independent teams to choose from. In this summer series, I will take a look at as many alternative options as I can, reporting on the pros and cons of the game experience. Whether you’re a family looking for a good time on a budget, or just a baseball fanatic who absolutely needs to be at a ballpark every weekend, this series will explore all the great state of Ohio has to offer.
Wow, it’s been a while since my first installment of this series, huh? Just a reminder, about two months ago, I did a review of the Akron RubberDucks (which you can find here), and I found the Tribe’s AA team to be a great value for baseball fans and families alike, rating high in on-the-field-talent as well as ballpark experience. As the Spring turned to Summer, however, I managed to swing a trip down to Columbus to see the organization’s AAA team, the Clippers, at Huntington Park. For those of us who live in the Cleveland area, a day trip to Columbus might be a bit much for a baseball game, but the fans in Brunswick, Medina, Ashland (and points around there) might find it just as convenient as a trip to the Land of the Cleve.
As a reminder, let’s look at the criteria that I will be evaluating the Clippers on:
1) Talent Level – Quite simply: how is the product on the field? When you head to a minor league park, you don’t expect Major League talent, but you do expect a certain level of play that is fitting of professional baseball. Still, this rating is all relative to expectations. This rating is out of 10, where a 1 equals “Highly disappointed” and a 10 equals “All expectations exceeded.”
2) Ticket Prices – How’s the value? Minor league baseball shouldn’t burn a hole in your pocket, especially compared to the Major League team. I will evaluate how far your dollar goes in getting close to the action, and keep it relative to value. Again, on a scale of 1-10, 1 equals “I felt extremely ripped off” and a 10 equals “I would have gladly paid more.”
3) Stadium - Simply put, I will rate the ballpark on feel, aesthetics, sightlines, and atmosphere. This is pretty straightforward.
4) Concessions – Gone are the days when cracker jacks, peanuts, and hot dogs will satiate the masses. What does the stadium offer, how are the prices, and how’s the service? By this point, I think you can figure out how the 1-10 scale works in this regard.
5) Overall Value – As a final metric, I’ll grade the total baseball experience on value. There’s no set criteria for this, but I will explain my reasoning. Scale is, as always, 1-10. Note: This rating is not an average of the previous four criteria, but my final word on the whole package.
I’ve been to two Clipper games in my life: one in 2006 and one in 2014. Both times, I was rolling with my high school friend and baseball buddy Bob (@rfisch_00 on Twitter, for those of you who need to add another Indians fan to your repertoire). Back in 2006, the Clippers were the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees and played at Cooper Stadium, and this was one of my first experiences with an “old” park.
You see, Cooper Stadium was not what one would call a “nice” place to watch a baseball game. The seats were cramped, the sightlines were mediocre, and the concourse felt like someone’s unfinished basement. The stadium opened in 1932 and felt every bit of 74 years old when I was there. I’m probably being a bit harsh on the place in hindsight, but it was not a superb experience. Though it is still true today (to an extent), in the mid-aughts the Yankees were not known for investing in their minor league system, and Cooper Park felt like a tribute to that legacy: dilapidated and forgotten.
In 2009, however, the Clippers became the AAA affiliate of the Indians and moved into the sparkling Huntington Park in the middle of downtown Columbus. Over the past four-plus seasons I had heard nothing but positive things about the new park (often superlative in nature) and so I was excited to get down there and see what improvements had been made to the whole experience.
Let’s get to the review, shall we?
1) Talent Level – Just like when I was in Akron two-plus months ago, this is a team benefiting from an embarrassment of offensive riches. I was there a few weeks ago, and the team has only gotten better since then with the additions of uber-prospect Francisco Lindor (from AA) and James Ramsey and Zach Walters (via trades last week). In addition to those guys, outfielder Carlos Moncrief has an OPS over .750 and is establishing himself as a prospect to watch.
The rotation doesn’t have any big sexy names in it in regards to the major league horizon (though Trevor Bauer, TJ House, and Josh Tomlin all spent time in the Columbus rotation this season), but SP Tyler Cloyd did toss a no-hitter last week, so there is that. Overall, this is a very good team in the International League — as of August 4th the team is in 1st place in their division, 2.5 games ahead of the Indianapolis Indians.
Talent Level Rating: 8.5/10
2) Ticket Prices – Considering this is AAA (with some Major League quality players and top prospects), you might expect to pay a decent amount for a ticket. I am pleased to say that this is not the case. Bob and I took in the game from the first row in the left field bleachers for $12.00 a person after all associated fees — that’s not bad. There is a cheaper option on the lawn in center field for about $9.00 after fees. If you want to sit along the baselines in a more comfortable seat, that should only put you back $15.00 or so a person. There are also club seats available for $20 a person plus fees, but I don’t have a lot of information on that (I wasn’t able to find anything on the website in regards to perks of these particular seats).
Ticket Prices Rating: 7/10
3) Stadium – I’m going to cut right to it: Huntington Park is the nicest minor league park I’ve ever been to, and it isn’t even remotely close. The concourses are spacious and modern — I remarked to Bob that I just felt like I was at a major league park while walking the concourse, which is a huge achievement for a minor league team. It’s a minor detail, but I really enjoyed the “Speed of the Game” posters along the length of the concourse (in conjunction with a sponsor, the posters provide fun little trivia about how fast things happen during a game).
The concourse is mostly open, in that you can see the field while walking behind the seating bowl. Seriously, there are major league parks that try to achieve the openness and functionality of the Huntington Park concourse, but most don’t come close.
I will say that the hard metal bleachers kind of hurt my behind, but it was a hard metal bleacher, so what do you expect?
The overall sightlines from the seats are great, and there are a variety of places to view the game. The right field wall, for example, has two levels with viewing decks for standing room crowds. From my perspective, I can tell you that your game ticket will provide an intimate feeling (you will feel close to the action) in a modern stadium. I could wax poetic about Huntington Park all day, but I won’t.
Stadium Rating: 10/10 – It delivers a Major League experience in a Minor League package.
4) Concessions – Sometimes, simpler is better. I don’t know if there are any crazy concessions available at Huntington Park, but I didn’t see them advertised anywhere. And that’s just as well, anyway. If you’ve been to Progressive Field, you’ll find many of the same partners at Huntington Park with similar prices: Sugardale Hot Dogs, Bob Evans Bratwurst and Italian Sausage (Look, Bob Evans might be a chain restaurant, but they make a good breakfast and their meat is pretty good quality. Don’t knock it.), as well as an assortment of burgers, chicken tenders, and the like. It’s all pretty standard.
…Huntington Park offers Donatos Pizza, which is just incredible. I don’t often eat pizza at the ballpark (and I didn’t when I went, to be honest), but you cannot go wrong with Donatos. In fact, the guy sitting next to me in the bleachers (no, not Bob, on the other side) did opt for the pizza and made me regret every culinary choice I had made that night. I am not ashamed to say that I ordered Donatos the next day for lunch.
So, while Huntington Park keeps it standard, that’s okay, and they do it well. I must also say that the customer service was friendly and responsive, and the employees seemed happy to be there. I must also note: when we went on a Friday night the right field party area had $1 beers until first pitch — no idea if this is a nightly or weekly occurrence, but that’s a tremendous deal, too.
Concessions Rating: 8/10
5) Overall/Final Thoughts
Columbus is a bit of a drive for us Cleveland-area folk, but it’s definitely worth the time. Bob and I (notoriously cheap when it comes to parking) managed to score $3 parking at a railyard just a block away from the right field foul pole, so the overall cost of the night was pretty low.
I can’t say a bad word about my experience – the worst thing that happened was that it rained pretty much constantly, but that certainly wasn’t the fault of the Clippers (at least… I hope not). The sight lines were good, the park was gorgeous, the staff was friendly and attentive, and the value was spot on. With the additions to the roster since I was in Columbus, I can only speculate that the value is even better now.
Also, the Clippers have one of the best Social Media presences that I’ve seen. Their tweets during Cloyd’s no-hitter were fantastic at every turn. You can follow them at @CLBClippers.
Overall Rating: 9/10 – If you’re looking for a fun time at a baseball game and you can make it to Columbus, I highly recommend the whole experience.