Akron stands tall

Home of the champion Aeros offers scenic views

Akron's Derby Downs is home to The Soap Box Derby World Championships. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

March 21, 2006 6:07 AM

Calling Akron, Ohio one of the top spots in Minor League Baseball is easy. In fact, that is literally the definition of Akron.

Akron is derived from the Greek word "Akros," which translates to the phrase "high place." The city lives up to the definition in more ways than one.

Akron is located in Summit County in Northeastern Ohio and is situated on the highest point of the Ohio-Erie Canal. It is the home of one of the best teams in the Minors. The Akron Aeros, the Cleveland Indians' Double-A affiliate, won the 2005 best-of-five Eastern League Championship Series against the Portland Sea Dogs, 3-1.

The Aeros played at a high level last year, finishing with the best record in the Eastern League at 84-58 and posting the top marks in home runs, RBIs, runs and ERA en route to their second title in three years.

The high points of Akron don't stop there. Akron connects people from all over the country, as 50 percent of America's population is located within a 500-mile radius. Famous citizens from Akron include high-flying NBA superstar LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the late Challenger astronaut Judy Resnick. It is a premier place for Soap Box Derby races, as the sport's World Championships are held at Akron's Derby Downs every August.

Akron also is the home of the Loral Airdock, one of the largest buildings without interior supports. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company once built blimps in the 22-story structure, which is large enough to accommodate four football games at once.

Goodyear has been a mainstay throughout most of Akron's history, helping the city earn the title of the Rubber Capital of the World. Akron was founded in 1825 by Simon Perkins, who helped commission the Ohio Canal.

The rubber industry grew under Dr. Benjamin Franklin Goodrich (who formed B.F. Goodrich Tire), F.A. Seiberling (Goodyear's founder) and Harvey Firestone (Firestone Tire) as railroads replaced canals for commercial use. Even to this day, Goodyear remains the top non-governmental employer in Akron with just under 5,000 employees. The polymer industry also has a big hold on Akron with 400 polymer related companies located in the region.

Goodyear has symbolic influence at Canal Park, the Aeros' state-of-the art home that opened in 1997 at a cost of $31 million. The park has a clock tower modeled after Goodyear's Akron headquarters on East Market Street.

Canal Park, which seats 9,000, has revitalized downtown Akron as the centerpiece of a vibrant business district, allowing easy access to prime baseball action after work. It was designed by Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, Inc. (HOK), the same firm behind the blueprint for the Indians' Jacobs Field. It offers scenic views of the Ohio-Erie Canal and an open concourse so fans won't miss any baseball. The amenities include 25 luxury suites that line the stadium, and outdoor picnic areas.

The Diamond Boardwalk, a pedestrian bridge, spans the canal and when the Aeros aren't playing, a bike path runs through left field. Restaurants, bars and shops are located outside the ballpark as well. In September, Canal Park will be the finish line for the 4th Annual Akron Marathon.

On the other side of the canal across from Canal Park is the University of Akron. The university has a public law school that was ranked as one of the best values in the country. Its athletic program is distinguished, having sent a pair of players to the NFL. Former Zips quarterback Charlie Frye became the highest player drafted out of Akron when he was selected in the third round (67th overall pick) by the Cleveland Browns in 2005. The University of Akron also is ranked second in the world for the number of patents produced per $10 million in total research funding, according to an international survey of higher learning institutions conducted by the Association of University Technology Managers.

Not coincidentally, Akron is the top spot for ingenuity. "City of Invention" is inscribed on the Akron's official seal and the National Inventors Hall of Fame resides in Akron. Inside its halls, visitors can view the achievements of 221 legendary minds such as Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford and Orville and Wilbur Wright.

There are other Hall of Fames in close range of Akron too. The most famous one, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is located less than 25 miles from Akron in Canton and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland. But it shouldn't be any surprise that the best inventors, football players and rockers would receive their highest honors near Akron.

Eric Justic is a contributor to mlb.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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