One of the many highlights tied to the perceived rebirth of the Indians’ franchise and the revitalization of downtown Cleveland in the mid-90s was the 1997 All-Star Game.
Since that memorable event — oh, you remember the one that featured catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. hitting a go-ahead round-tripper in his home stadium and taking home All-Star Game MVP honors — the city, ballpark and organization have undergone several changes.
It’s almost fitting that the All-Star Game is set to return to Progressive Field, now over 20 years old, given the parallels that can be drawn between the Indians’ powerhouse clubs of the 90s and Cleveland’s current squad of players, a group that came within one win of ending the franchise’s long championship drought in the World Series this past October.
On Friday, the Indians made it official, announcing that the 2019 MLB All-Star Game will be played at their updated park, a stadium which has undergone several changes over the past three years and continues to be upgraded this winter.
The news breaks just as the Indians are preparing to head to Spring Training next month, hoping to build on the momentum gained by the club’s deep postseason run of 2016 — very similar to how the 1995 squad reached the World Series in advance of the 1997 Midsummer Classic.
“This is a very exciting time for our city and organization,” Indians owner Paul Dolan said. “We have had tremendous excitement coming off our American League Championship and historic World Series appearance. This announcement will only build on that heightened profile and momentum.”
Cleveland’s current group is certainly a favorite to return to the World Series. The Indians talented roster has been fortified by the surprising signing of slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year free-agent contract worth $60 million this offseason.
Encarnacion’s addition to an already potent lineup combined with the team’s stellar starting staff, tremendous bullpen and the hopeful return of the ailing Michael Brantley (attempting to return from a second shoulder surgery) has sparked a renewed interest in the organization by an often skeptical fanbase, and the announcement of the All-Star Game’s return should only help heighten the city’s emotional and physical investment in the talented team.
Tribe legends that played in the 90s era for Cleveland saw first-hand what that type of positive energy can do for a club.
“It’s special,” former Indians slugger Jim Thome told members of the media including 92.3 The Fan during Thursday’s Great Cleveland Sports Awards.
“When you watch and thinking back to what it did for our club after the All-Star Game, the excitement, I think it brought everybody together. And the city watching our guys perform great was very special. And I really believe it set the bar high. Now that you see the way the ballpark, they’ve reconstructed things, I think it’s going to be a great spot to host and the fans will love it for sure.”
And of course, Alomar’s two-run homer in the seventh inning to win the game for the American League made the event that much more iconic for the city and franchise.
“The opportunity to play in the All-Star Game is a wonderful experience,” Alomar, the Indians’ current first base coach, told the media on Thursday. “But the opportunity to play in an All-Star Game in your own ballpark is even better… I don’t play the game looking for awards or trophies, I play to win baseball games. But to have a chance to win an All-Star Game and delivering, it was a surreal moment for me.”
While the 2019 event is still a few years away, Cleveland has a group of players that could potentially remain intact for the foreseeable future.
The talented top of their rotation is locked up for a while. Their ace, Corey Kluber, is under team control through 2021, while Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are controlled through the 2020 campaign. Second baseman Jason Kipnis is also under club control through the 2020 season, and perhaps most important of all, their budding superstar shortstop, Francisco Lindor, is controlled through 2021.
With an new-look ballpark fitted with a new scoreboard, a popular right field concourse and a team set up to contend for a title over the next few seasons, Major League Baseball’s return to Cleveland for the 2019 All-Star Game is a tremendous development for a city revitalized by the Indians’ World Series run, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 NBA championship and the hope that upcoming renovations to Quicken Loans Arena could also lure the NBA All-Star Game back to the city for the first time since 1997.
“Beyond the money impact around hotels and other kind of venues people will be visiting, it’s more about the exposure you get,” Mayor Frank Jackson said. “When that happens, it really creates an image of our Cleveland that is good. Cleveland then becomes a destination. It’s not just the immediacy of the game and the week of the event, it’s about the impact that it has beyond that. This will have a significant impact.”
Dolan anticipates the 2019 All-Star Game will help generate $60-65 million for the city.
“It’s an important moment for our community,” Dolan said. “We’re on a bit of a roll here. The RNC occurred last summer and that was a culmination of a great revitalization of this community. But we need to keep the momentum going.”
Meanwhile, the 2019 MLB All-Star Game will mark the sixth Cleveland has hosted (1935, 1954, 1963, 1981, 1997, 2019), the most of any Major League franchise.
The Midsummer Classic has not been housed in an American League city since being played at the Minnesota Twins’ home ballpark, Target Field, in 2014. After being held in San Diego this past season, the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals, two more National League squads, will host the next two All-Star Games leading up to 2019.
The recent updates to Progressive Field certainly played a large role in bringing the event back to Cleveland.
“This ballpark is one that’s really stood the test of time,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “One of the things that is important for the All-Star Game is that we have a facility that we feel showcases the game, and the great facilities that we have in our 30 markets. Certainly Progressive Field is one of those.
“We also take into account when we’re selecting All-Star Game sites, the city and taxpayer support that goes into keeping facilities like this one absolutely first-class.”