All photos of Canal Park available on Flickr.
After settling our night's bar tab that I mostly remember, Sunday morning began with a stop at the old Forbes Field, which is a few miles east of downtown in the Oakland neighborhood (see PNC Park photos). Today the majority of the former site has been engulfed by the Carnegie Mellon campus, which is perhaps most well-known for the 42-story neo-Gothic Cathedral of Learning tower. All that remains of the former home of the Pirates is a portion of the outfield wall and the flag pole that was famously in the field of play due to the vastness of the outfield. It's sad that this historic park is gone, but the fact that anything remains at all is more than you can say about a lot of old parks. We played catch near the wall for a few minutes until we realized we were too out of shape to continue, and then headed out for the 2-hour drive to Akron.
Canal Park takes its name from the Erie Canal (which unfortunately is just out of sight behind the stadium) and it sits right in the middle of downtown Akron. It was a much larger and denser downtown than I was expecting, sort of like a Dayton or a Rochester NY in terms of architecture and feel. I couldn't help but laugh when I noticed that the block the ballpark sits on was renamed "King James Way" and my trusty navigation device refused to call it that. Canal Park is only a couple of years younger that UPMC Park, but paradoxically, the newer "retro style" makes it feel more contemporary. A very strong and dominant brick and stone façade fronts the main street and really serves to tie it into the downtown area well, and gives it a powerful street presence and proper sense of scale. So many "retro style" ballparks are just retro for the sake of replicating a style, but in this case it actually serves a purpose. The main entrance leads you onto the 1st base side on grade with the concourse, and the field is sunken below. The concourse was a fairly standard concourse of a ballpark this size but was very busy. The park wasn't super crowded because of how hot it was, so it wasn't a huge factor, but I could see with a full park that the concourse would get congested very quickly due to all of the extra standalone concession booths crammed in there. Canal Park uses just about every square inch of space under the shade of the suite level to fill with anything and everything they can staff to make extra money. It's not at all due to the lack of built-in concession stands either; in fact, there are a ton of those with a remarkable variety. So if distractions and eating are your thing at a ballgame, you will not be disappointed here, but to me it just made an otherwise beautiful park seem chaotic and noisy. Other than that, I really enjoyed the layout and look of the stadium. There were a couple of bar areas in right field that provided refuge for many sweaty patrons - one was an outdoor tiki bar similar to the setup in Nashville, and the other an indoor bar that looked to be more private and nature. It actually looked like an ordinary bar on the street that just happened to access the stadium, rather than vice versa, so probably a nice non-gameday option for the people of Akron to see the ballpark on their lunch. We had seats behind home plate again, but spent a fair amount of time behind both base lines, and the views from all sides was surprisingly beautiful. I think I appreciated the experience and uniqueness of Erie more, but in terms of classical beauty and function, Akron was very approachable and a nice place to watch a ballgame.
Erik and I had a dilemma in that we had both not eaten all day by the time we got to the game, but with the temperature in the mid-90s, also could not bear the thought of anything super hot or heavy. I decided to go with a Jet's meatball sandwich and Erik a cheeseburger, both of which we knew would be room temperature at best under the stadium concession warming lamps. With full bellies and large cold beverages, we settled in for a matchup between the newly renamed RubberDucks and Rumble Ponies. The RubberDucks, formerly the Aeros, take their name from the local economy largely built on tires - Goodyear, Firestone, and Bridgestone were all founded in Akron - but don't ask me what the hell a Rumble Pony is.
The star of the show and clearly the reason most fans came out to the park was to see former Tim Tebow stuff his former quarterback frame into a Binghamton uniform and see if he was any better than Michael Jordan. He started out as nothing more than a publicity stunt when he signed with the Mets last year - and he still is - but he has turned in a respectable season thus far that was good enough to make the Eastern League All-Star game last week. He was hitting .276 with 6 homers and 36 RBI as of Sunday and went 1-4 as the DH out of the 7-hole. It was crazy how many people were there wearing an assortment of Denver Bronco and minor league Tebow shirts. The other recognizable name in the game was the starter for the RubberDucks, Triston McKenzie. He is the Indians' top prospect and has been moving through the system fast at age 20. He pitched into the 6th and gave up 3 runs while striking out 7, but his stuff was much better than his pitching line indicated. There was also a dude named Logan Ice on the Ducks who for some reason did not use "Ice Ice Baby" as his walk-up song, and I am seeing now on MLB.com that he is not just a cool name and is actually their 20th ranked prospect. Tyler Krieger, another Indians top 30 prospect, was the offensive star of the day going 3-4 with a stolen base and an RBI. We ended up having to leave in the 8th so Erik could catch his flight out of Cleveland, and it looks like we missed another 5 runs after we left. Of course the one time in our entire lives we left a game early and that would happen, but we still saw an impressive 49 innings in less than 72 hours so I can't really complain. Akron held on to win the see-saw affair 9-5 with the help of their 4 runs in the 8th.
After the game, it was a quick 45-minute jaunt to the Cleveland airport and then another 6 1/2 hours of driving for me back to Milwaukee. I got home about 11pm CT, but thankfully I'm an adult with a reasonable amount of vacation now so I was able to take off Monday as well. That's about it on the new ballpark front for me this year, but rest assured that Erik and I are already talking about next year's trip!
park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 8
views from park - 7
view to field - 6
surrounding area - 7 (downtown Akron, for whatever that's worth)
food variety - 10nachos - 8
beer - 7 ($4.50 for 12oz domestic, 20 & 32 oz also offered)
vendor price – 8 (bonus points for souvenir refillable Duck Mug)
ticket price – 7 ($13 behind home plate)
atmosphere - 7 (Tebow Time!)
walk to park – 6
parking price/proximity – 9 (free street parking on weekends or $5 lots)
concourses - 4
team shop - 4 (points deducted for no rubber ducks!)
best food – Nice 2 Meat U Grill
most unique stadium feature – tiki bar in right field, randomly angled wall in center
best jumbotron feature – Webster v. Rubberta go-kart race
best between-inning feature – Erik and I refusing to participate in the multi-inning Lip Sync Battle
field dimensions - 331/400/337
starters – Harol Gonzalez (BNG) v. Triston McKenzie (AKR)
opponent – Binghamton Rumble Ponies
time of game – 2:57
attendance – 3,770
score – 9-5 W
Brewers score that day – 7-6 L