Decision is a memorable one

Dad, daughter enjoy visit to Columbus Clippers’ home

Fans on Sunday enjoy the view from a small grassy hill in center field at Huntington Park in Columbus, the home of the Clippers, the Class AAA farm team of the Cleveland Indians. The park includes a fountain through which kids can run to cool off.

COLUMBUS — The decision. Nothing to do with LeBron James leaving Cleveland for the Los Angeles Lakers.

An 11-year-old girl pondering an all-day trip to Columbus with her father.

She saw the forecast for Sunday, mid-90s. All she thought about was the heat as she ate lunch with her grandparents, celebrating her Nana’s birthday.

An hour later, through an app on our phones, Alexa decided it was too important to miss.

Nine o’clock the next morning, she and I packed up the SUV, programmed Waze on my phone and headed west on I-76. Two stops. Arrival time 12:09 p.m., less than two hours before the Columbus Clippers’ first pitch against the Indianapolis Indians — an International League matchup. Ironically, Columbus is the AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.

Longtime Clipper fans Candi Soto, left, and Judy Therrien, both of Columbus, enjoy the game Sunday from their seats on the third tier behind home plate.

Pay $5 and park with a building separating us from the west entrance we’re supposed to enter. Helps getting there two hours early.

As we entered the glass double doors, we took the elevator to the third floor and made our way past the suites in Huntington Park — a 10-year-old ballpark which looks brand new and embraces it history.

Clippers general manager Ken Schnacke told us of the 22-foot green monster in right field, a smaller version of the left-field one at Fenway Park, and the three-tiered bleachers, similar to what you’d see at Wrigley Field.

Not a dirty spot to be found either around Huntington Park. You hear that, Michele? I’m talking to my wife.

Schnacke subscribes to the theory that cleanliness is next to godliness.

“We know that mom is our harshest critic when she comes and visits the ballpark,” he said.

Alexa and I headed toward the press box with our tour guide, Joe Santry, the team’s director of communications and media relations. He asked us to follow him to the Hall of Fame Bar. No alcoholic beverages were consumed there, just soaking up the rich history of the Clippers’ organization.

Each post told stories through words and pictures, as well as displays, but they no better than the mind of Santry, who has soaked up the Columbus baseball scene since coming to the ballpark as an 11-year-old in 1965 — looking at Alexa as he shared that fact.

We came to another display where there were a couple of uniforms hung on headless foam body shapes. The Clippers were the New York Yankees affiliate for 22 seasons prior to the Indians, playing at the former Cooper Stadium across town.

That’s when Santry pointed out Derek Jeter’s jersey. He asked Alexa, “Do you want to try it on?”

We look at each other and Santry with puzzled looks as he pulled out a key, opens the display and begins to put the white, stripped uniform over Alexa. It hung over her knees. She then turned around and pointed to the No. 13 on the back.

Santry said the uniform hasn’t been washed, still carrying Jeter’s DNA, even joking that the team could clone the Yankee legend.

Stunned that just happened, I’m sure Alexa can’t wait to tell her friend Max, who is a Yankees fan. Whoops, sorry Alexa, I just did.

We later met Judy Therrien and Candi Soto, both of Columbus, who’ve been coming to Clippers games since 2000 and almost every game at Huntington Park. Only a wedding and rotator cuff surgery prevented them from going.

Therrien had no less than a dozen bells hanging from a homemade wooden handle cradling each mini cowbell, made by her husband Bill, who sat on the other side of Judy. They ring often from their seats on the third floor behind home plate. There you’ll find a club area separating the two press boxes into writing and production.

It’s a view the two friends wouldn’t trade.

“She’s known as the bell lady,” Candi said. “I just have two here.”

“Everybody comes down and said they want to see my bells,” Judy said.

It’s a sight to see here, but so is 85-year-old Bob Owens, who has worked for the Clippers for the past 24 years.

The Columbus native said his father pulled him out of school when he was 4, 5, 6 years old and took him to area ball games, a passion he carries to this day.

He even befriended the late Thurman Munson, who he took to the Port Columbus airport after an exhibition game as Munson and his wife negotiated the purchase of a jet, the same one in which he was killed in 1979. It was the last time Owens saw Munson.

I asked Owens for a picture, but he wanted one with Alexa first.

As we said goodbye, I shook his hand. So did my daughter, but Owens picked up her hand and kissed it in the middle. There’s a sign of a true gentleman.

Later in the day, Owens came in the press box to retrieve a baseball for a young fan. He quickly saw Alexa and handed it over to her then grabbed another ball. Alexa asked Bob to sign it. It said 2-U from Bob. The smile wouldn’t leave her face, something you couldn’t get rid of all day.

Santry asked if we’d been around the ballpark to see all the sights. We said we were going to go that way soon, then asked Alexa if she’s had Dippin Dots, a form of ice cream.

He then pulls out his wallet and pulls out $20 of his own money and said to go get some junk food. “That’s what you’re supposed to do at a ballgame. You and your dad spend it all here.”

She tries her hand at speed pitch, going near 40 miles a hour. If I did that, I might be there with Soto, having rotator cuff surgery.

We found a stand giving away free samples of spring rolls and eventually got a drawstring bag. As we made our way down toward the grassy area near center field there were fans camped out there sitting on blankets. Yes, those are seats too.

To the left of the scoreboard, you can find the center field fountain where children can run through and get as wet a possible. Later that day, I overheard the area was quite congested. Alexa didn’t want to have soaked clothes, but wanted to go the other way where she saw a mini Clippers baseball bat.

Then, on the other side of the park, there was City Barbecue. A fellow sportswriter has been raving about this place for years. I had to get a sandwich and got a side of macaroni and cheese, in which Alexa said she could taste the bacon flavor.

We found a spot on the long table wrapping around the shape of the right-field corner, sitting on some backed bar stools. The occasional breeze was comforting, but not as much as being with my daughter on a magical day like this.

She kept saying on the way back to the Mahoning Valley how glad she was for going. It’s a decision I’m happy she made.

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