Last week's visit to Target Field was like stepping back in time for Indians first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. It reminded him of 1994, when Cleveland opened Jacobs Field.
"The amount of energy the fans bring to the park is amazing," said Alomar, an Indians catcher from 1990 to 2000. "That's what happened to us. The big difference here is the Twins were good before they got here. We were not."
Longtime Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton compared Target Field favorably to the Jake, as he traded memories with former Cleveland slugger Jim Thome. Twins reliever Matt Guerrier, a Cleveland native, said his family has been struck by the similarities, too.
This is some of the highest praise imaginable for the Twins. Several teams tried to emulate Cleveland when they opened new ballparks. Few succeeded.
We're not talking about cosmetics. Target Field and the Jake are both downtown ballparks that look somewhat alike, with limestone touches, dark green seats and big scoreboards beyond the left field wall. But this has more to do with the foundations.
As Thome explained: "When we were going into the new ballpark in Cleveland, they wanted the foundation set, so they could run guys out there and fans could relate to them. Minnesota's done that here with Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer. They've been here, and they're going to be here. That's what's nice."
For decades, cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium sat mostly empty along Lake Erie as the Indians wallowed at the bottom of the standings. Known as the "Mistake by the Lake," the faceless stadium could seat 74,000 fans for baseball and even more for the Browns.
"I think the Twins had it better with the Metrodome," Alomar said. "[Municipal] was such a big stadium, that if you had 20,000 people, you didn't even notice them. It was a little depressing."
Guerrier, 31, attended between five and 10 Indians games per year, often buying general admission seats and sneaking down near the dugouts. He was at the raucous finale in 1993, when Alomar, Thome, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton and company capped a 76-86 season. Guerrier also attended the first exhibition game at Jacobs Field, when he was a sophomore at nearby Shaker Heights High School.
"I always remember just driving downtown and getting tickets," Guerrier said. "But when Jacobs Field opened, it was crazy. If you wanted to go, you had to know somebody."
Between 1995 and 2001, the Indians sold out 455 consecutive games. Three times, every seat was sold before Opening Day. It didn't hurt that Cleveland reached the postseason six times in those seven years.
Of course, Cleveland is a reminder that good things don't last forever. Belle, Thome and Ramirez eventually left as free agents. The Indians came one victory from reaching the World Series in 2007, but they have since traded away stars including CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, leaving renamed Progressive Field about 75 percent empty most nights.
No wonder Alomar and others get nostalgic when they see an energized fan base flocking to a new ballpark.
"When they locked up Joe Mauer, that was a huge move for the Twins," Alomar said. "It reinforced for the fans that they mean business."