Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hey, At Least It's Not Called U.S. Cellular Field

The home of the Cleveland Indians was officially renamed Progressive Field on Friday. Since Dick Jacobs' original naming rights had run out at the end of the 2006 season, it was only a matter of time before someone else slapped their name on the stadium. As much as I wanted the name to remain, you can't blame Jacobs for not renewing the contract; it just doesn't make any sense for him financially to maintain a stake in the stadium. I suppose one could argue Mr. Jacobs would have done a service to the fans by fending off the name change, but even that contract would have run out eventually. To the Tribe's credit, they did approach Jacobs about renewing the naming rights before beginning their search.

I was always very proud that Cleveland's stadiums maintained real names and didn't just sell ad-space to the highest bidder (at least until the Gund was changed). Stadium's fronted by corporations just seemed to lack the character and integrity of the old school fields. It's no coincidence that some of the oldest stadiums in baseball have been able to hold onto their original names, it's part of tradition at this point. Can you imagine the marquee at Wrigley Field with any other name? Of course not, that would be sacrilege in many baseball circles.

There's more to a baseball stadium's name than just the letters on the sign. Many stadiums become a part of the community. There's something special when someone mentions the Jake because of all the memories associated with it; it's like talking about an old friend. I might be going overboard with this whole thing, but I feel like a part of the city has been altered. It just doesn't feel right knowing that a famous Cleveland landmark won't be there to greet people entering downtown anymore.

Seeing owner Larry Dolan and the Progressive rep holding up a "Progressive #1" jersey at their press conference was incredibly lame and only added to my bitterness on the subject. Why do owners insist on draping every financial acquisition in a custom jersey as soon as it walks in the door? Progressive isn't even a player, it's a freakin' car insurance company. Whatever.

So what do the Indians get out of all this (besides a lot of irritated fans)? Well, Progressive is paying an annual fee of $3.6 million for the next 16 years. I was hoping the extra revenue would be a bit more than that (wishful thinking, I know). Instead of going into the "Re-sign Sabathia Fund," the $3.6 mil is more likely to pay for the Tribe's bench players. I suppose any type of guaranteed income is a good thing for a small market team, so there is that. At least now we don't have to worry about how Shap was going to juggle Jamey Carroll's contract into the payroll (phew!).

Also, Progressive is based in Cleveland, giving the name at least some local relevancy. I found it curious that the Plain Dealer's article on the re-naming reminded fans of how Progressive laid off 341 employees (many in Cleveland) and saw a dip in their stock value recently. Is there anything this paper isn't pessimistic about? Apparently Progressive "expects the local and national exposure to boost consumer awareness." Um...they do realize the Indians play in Cleveland right? Last time I checked, the only local team getting consistent national media exposure are the Cleveland LeBrons.

Do consumers even care if a company owns the name to a sports facility? Petco Park doesn't make me want to run out and buy a bag of dog food every time I see Jake Peavy pitch. It does make me feel sorry for Jake Peavy though, because he pitches in a drop-dead gorgeous stadium with a fugly name.

Despite all my ranting, it really could have been worse. I probably wouldn't even put Progressive Field in the top ten as far as worst stadium names in baseball. I also realize that Jacobs was paying to keep his name in lights for those 14 years and it could have easily been Progressive Field a long time ago. Selling the naming rights is actually a smart move by the Tribe and is just another aspect of baseball as a business. There are many things that I dislike about the way the sport operates in that regard, but this is by far a lesser offense from that list. I guess I just don't like change.

On a brighter note, the Plain Dealer reports that "the team hopes to preserve the Jacobs Field marquee in some way" once it is removed from its home at the intersection of Carnegie and Ontario. I'm guessing it will end up in a local museum, similar to the giant neon Chief Wahoo that used to sit on top of old Municipal Stadium (the relic currently resides in the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland).

In tribute/stubborn defiance, I'm going to post a picture of the original sign next to Jobu down below. Rock on Jacobs Field. Rock on.

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