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Everything ends eventually, excepting eternity, and so it was with my 2023 ballpark road trips. My final stop of the season was Huntington Park, located in downtown Columbus, Ohio. It opened in 2009, which was also the first season of the Clippers’ ongoing affiliation with the Cleveland Guardians.
I arrived at Huntington Park on the late morning of Sept. 10, having driven there from Indianapolis following a breakfast of beef jerky, hardboiled eggs and Red Bull. My first glimpse of this auspicious facility came from the beyond the outfield. No ticket needed, you can just peer on in.
For the first 31 seasons of their existence, the Clippers played at Cooper Stadium. This ballpark opened in 1931 as Red Bird Stadium, but its name was later changed to honor local baseball hero Harold Cooper. He grew up in Columbus, and on two occasions helped bring Minor League Baseball to the city (the Jets in 1954 and the Clippers in ’77).
Today, Harold can be found greeting fans outside of Huntington Park’s center field entrance.
The Clippers are one of three professional teams in Columbus’s sensibly-named Arena District, along with the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) and Columbus Crew (MLS). The views from within the ballpark provide a great sense of the city’s downtown. Note, also, that the standalone multitiered structure in left field possesses an architectural aesthetic that is very much in line with the neighborhood.
That building in left field is brick. The exterior façade is brick. The concourse walls are brick. There’s a lot of brick in this ballpark, is what I’m trying to say. Perhaps more bricks than any other Minor League stadium, with the notable and obvious exception of Oklahoma City’s Bricktown Ballpark.
On the concourse I came across the Clippers’ Victory Bell, marking the second time in some 16 hours in which I’d laid eyes on one (Indianapolis’ Victory Field is also home to a Victory Bell).
The Clippers’ bell has some serious history behind it, as it was originally used in a Columbus fire house. In the 1950s it was donated to the Columbus Jets, and it then resided in the Jets Stadium press box (Jets Stadium being yet another name for the facility also known as Red Bird Stadium and Cooper Stadium).
The Victory Bell means a lot to the team, to the extent that their long-running theme song is a chipper, polka-style ditty called “Columbus Clippers Ring Your Bell.” This season, the team gave away cowbells to the first 500 kids through the gates at Sunday games.
Since I’m on the topic of metal objects: It’s not publicly on display, but Huntington Stadium is currently the home of the Governors’ Cup. This trophy was given to the International League champion in every season from 1933-2019, and then sadly discontinued. The Clippers won it in 2019, so here it still resides.
I’m a Minor League guy, so this is my version of hoisting the Stanley Cup:
I could go on a long tangent regarding the Governors’ Cup, which was instituted as part of a groundbreaking playoff format (in which the top four teams in the International League competed in a multi-round tournament). One thing I do want to mention, before moving on, is that the Governors’ Cup seen above only dates back to 2009. The previous cup was destroyed earlier that season by an irate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre fan. True story.
Historical tangents are inevitable when writing about Columbus. Professional baseball in the city dates back to 1877, and the Clippers do a great job documenting it throughout the ballpark. (I wrote about team historian Joe Santry the last time I visited Columbus, as his knowledge base is, in a word, gargantuan.)
The bar located within the left-field building is lined with memorabilia, and there are photos and baseball cards arrayed along the bar itself.
On a staircase in said building, one can view Clippers murals featuring players of various degrees of recognizability.
More perspective can be found by chatting up ballpark regulars. Prior to the game I spoke with longtime team president Ken Schnacke as well as longtime employee Marvin Dill (pictured below). Marvin started with the team as a Jet Stadium visiting clubhouse attendant and now mans a reception area used by all manner of gameday personnel.
On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, the Clippers were facing the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. It was the opening day of the NFL season, but a solid number of Columbusans came out for the National Pastime instead. You love to see it.
Its now occurred to me that you might like to see pictures of ballpark food. I have the pictures but didn’t eat the food, as that task went to Designated Eater Austin Cull.
Austin, a Daytonian, is an Ohio University alumnus who now works as a quality improvement manager for the American Cancer Society. He’s also a fantasy baseball expert who produces and co-hosts the Fantasy Baseball On Deck show. He’s got skills, he’s got passion and his khakis and Clippers polo shirt made him look like a member of the Clippers front office.
Before eating, Austin and I stopped at The Mooler -- a walk-in cooler sponsored by a the Moo Moo Express Car Wash. Austin’s a big fan of Ohio’s breweries in general, and of Land Grant in particular. He chose Land Grant’s Oh Surf, which he called “not overly hoppy” and “more fruit forward.”
We then walked up to the highest level of the left-field building, as an outpost of Columbus-based Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace is located there. The menu is filled with specialty dogs, and we ordered two of them.
First up was the Strikeout Dog, topped with tots, jalapeños and cheddar cream cheese on a poppy seed bun.
You can watch Austin eat the Strikeout Dog HERE. In sum, he said the jalapeños provided a good kick and elevated “the mediocrity of what a hot dog is” before concluding that the “texture of the tater tots really brings it home.”
The next dog was a bit too similar to the Strikeout Dog, which was my fault for not reading the menu thoroughly. Puff the Magic Popper is topped with cheddar cream cheese, jalapeños and bacon bits.
Austin liked this one a tad better, saying bacon bits provided a more savory base than did the tater tots. He scarfed it down alongside Dirty Frank himself.
Temporarily bidding adieu to Austin, I scurried down to the broadcast booth (more like a shed, really, placed in the middle of a seating section behind home plate). The vantage point:
I joined Ryan Mitchell for an enjoyable inning on the radio, talking largely about -- you guessed it -- Minor League Baseball.
Austin and I then procured a final item: chicken wings and mac ‘n cheese from the Wings and Yuengs kiosk in right field (Yuengs being Yuengling beer, pronounced “ying-ling”).
This batch of wings and mac and cheese was procured late in the ballgame, so it wasn’t as good as it would have been in the first inning. Austin, coughing from the Buffalo sauce, noted as much while calling it an “enjoyable combo.”
From our spot in right field, I noticed a man with a prodigious collection of bells. His name is Gordon Walton, and he comes prepared.
There would be no ringing of the Victory Bell on this afternoon, however, as the Clippers lost to the RailRiders by a score of 13-2. Shortly before the ballgame concluded, I learned that my flight home to New York City was cancelled. Long story short: If you’ve never seen the sun set from a Columbus airport hotel, I’d highly recommend it. Beauty is everywhere, baseball is everywhere, and I’m looking forward to being back on the road in 2024.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
READ THE HUNTINGTON PARK BALLPARK GUIDE HERE
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.