Tribe cuts ribbon on Heritage Park

Tribe cuts ribbon on Heritage Park

CLEVELAND -- Bob Feller, resident raconteur and the greatest living player in Indians history, was off on another tale.

In attendance at Jacobs Field on Thursday afternoon for the ceremonial ribbon cutting to unveil Heritage Park, the Hall of Fame pitcher spoke of a conversation he had on Wednesday with Tribe southpaw C.C. Sabathia.

The current ace assured the venerated ace that X-rays of his left forearm "showed nothing" amiss after being struck by a line drive on Wednesday.

"Now, that's the same thing I heard Dizzy Dean say in the 1934 World Series," Feller said.

Dean, attempting to break up a double play, had been knocked out after a throw from second to first smashed into his head. Doctors later told Dean he was fine.

If nothing connects generations like baseball, nobody does it better than Feller. And no park will now do it any better than Jacobs Field -- at least to Feller -- with Heritage Park, a two-tiered park in center field celebrating the team's 107-year history.

"This is something," Feller said. "I'd even say it's a much better display of team history and baseball history than Monument Park [at Yankee Stadium]."

From the 27 plaques commemorating those inducted into the Tribe's Hall of Fame to the brick blocks celebrating the franchise's 38 most indelible moments to a recently discovered memorial plaque of Ray Chapman, team officials foresee the park being the field's top pregame destination.

The park will officially open for the home opener on April 8, but a sneak peek is on the bill. The Indians will be hosting an open house for the public on Saturday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. ET.

"I couldn't be more pleased," said Jim Folk, the team's vice president for ballpark operations, who spearheaded the $1.1 million project. "We'd seen the designs, and I had a pretty good idea of this, but I think this is even better than anyone expected."

"A wonderful surprise," said Bob DiBiasio, the Tribe's vice president of public relations. "When we saw the real thing, it exceeded everything."

This surprise is best captured in the unexpected arrival of perhaps the park's signature item -- a Chapman plaque recently unearthed in a Jacobs Field storage room.

After Chapman was killed when a Carl Mays pitch struck him in the head on Aug. 16, 1920, at the Polo Grounds, a 175-pound memorial plaque was constructed to display at League Park. The plaque -- engraved with the words, "He Lives In The Hearts Of All Who Knew Him," surrounding his bust -- was then showcased at Municipal Stadium.

But during the 1994 move to Jacobs Field, the bronzed plaque was relegated to a dusty room in the stadium's bowels.

"I had heard a lot of people talk about a memorial to Ray Chapman in the old stadium, but nobody knew where it was," DiBiasio said.

Stadium workers stumbled upon the plaque last winter. Once they cleared the pile of Sabathia dolls veiling the memorial, workers realized what they had discovered. A few dollars to refurbish the worn plaque later, and Heritage Park had its big-ticket item.

"A very happy accident," Folk said.

In some ways, the same could be said for the park's conception. For years, Indians management wanted to establish an open-air area to celebrate the team's history. They were also looking for ways to better utilize the picnic area behind center field, which fans could not visit during games out of a fear that the "batter's eye" would be compromised. When these ideas merged, the Indians had themselves a park.

At it's essence, the two-tiered section stands simply to honor the 27 former Indians inducted into the club's Hall of Fame, from Cy Young and Satchel Paige to Chapman and Rocky Colavito.

A new quartet of Hall of Famers -- Andre Thornton, Charles Nagy, Jim Bagby Sr. and Mike Garcia -- will be inducted on Aug. 11 before the 7:05 p.m. game against the Yankees as part of the team's Hall of Fame Heritage Weekend.

Yet more so, the park is a celebration of all the teams, players and moments that have brought more than a century of joy to this community -- from Larry Doby breaking the American League's color barrier in 1947, to Johnny Burnett's MLB-record nine hits in a single 1932 game, of the 1948 champs, to Travis Hafner's six grand slams last season.

For Feller, standing next to his plaque and just a few hundred feet from his statue outside the stadium, it was far more than he could have ever imagined.

"I hope I deserve all of this," he said.

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.