|A ballpark dream deferred|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 staff
Editor's Note: This is the 26th report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.
CINCINNATI -- The Great American Ball Park opened this season, signaling the long-anticipated rebirth of Reds baseball.
The beautiful stadium, named Structure of the Year by Architectural Digest, is sold out for the next five seasons but that doesn't matter to the hundreds of fans floating and boating on the Ohio River while they wait to catch one of Ken Griffey Jr.s' many rivershots.
Griffey, who maintains his body strength and health by distributing crates of food to Cincinnati's poor every morning, is on pace to hit 78 home runs, win the Triple Crown and play every game of the season. The fans love him -- everyone wears his replica jersey -- and general manager Jim Bowden is negotiating a six-year, $90 million contract extension for him. That sounds like a lot, but the fans have learned to trust Bowden, especially after he pulled off that deal for Bret Boone at the All-Star break.
With his sons Bret and Aaron anchoring the infield, manager Bob Boone has the Reds closing in on 100 wins and ready for the postseason. Everyone in Cincinnati is so excited about October that former owner Marge Schott not only sent Boone a bag of Schottzie 3's fur for luck, she sent him the lampshade made out of Schottzie 1's skin.
"This is a great time to be in Cincinnati!" said former mayor Jerry Springer, who cancelled his show to run for the U.S. Senate. ("It was time for me to give back to the community after polluting the airwaves with that crap for so long.") "And it's all due to that beautiful new stadium, which was paid for entirely by the generosity of owner Carl Lindner.''
"And as excited as the city is now, just wait until the Bengals start playing!"
Well, that's the way it was supposed to work out this season when the new season opened. A funny thing happened on the way to the diamond, though.
Junior is hurt (again). Architects ripped the stadium's design. Fans are buying tickets in underwhelming numbers (the Reds drew better at Riverfront Stadium three years ago). Cincinnati has a losing record (again) and is dropping toward last place. Bowden and Boone were fired, Aaron Boone was traded and the team is cutting so much payroll you would think Marge was in charge again.
No wonder fans are excited about the prospect of Pete Rose being reinstated.
1. Exterior architecture: Yes, that's me next to the statue of Big Klu with my sleeves rolled up. And no, I haven't been out in the sun much this summer. ESPN.com keeps me chained to my computer. (As you can tell, we don't have a weight room here, either.)
I'm including that rather embarrassing photo because the statue is my favorite part of the park. Which is too bad because I was expecting more. The Cincinnati Enquirer interviewed six architects and they all hated the stadium, and I see what they mean. There's nothing terrible about the stadium but it could have been -- and should have been -- so much better.
It has a metallic look from the outside and doesn't utilize its river setting the way Pittsburgh and San Francisco do. While there are some nice views of the Ohio River from the upper deck, it would be nicer if players could hit a home run into the river -- but it's just a little too far away. I don't think Griffey could Go River even if he was healthy and on steroids and using an aluminum bat and facing the Reds pitching staff.
The Reds pretty much wasted the location. It's like trading for a hometown kid who is the greatest player in baseball, and then watching him sit on the bench with injury after injury. It's all one gigantic missed opportunity. Points: 2.5
2. Interior architecture: You can walk around the entire stadium, which is nice, and I like the goofy riverboat smokestacks that shoot fireworks when a Reds player homers. But what, is there no paint in the city besides white? Hey, don't be afraid to warm the place up with some deep earth tones. A little splash of Fenway green would do wonders for the place. Didn't the architects ever watch "Trading Spaces"?
There also is a lack of memorabilia from the team's rich history but the Reds are building a Hall of Fame that will open next year and plan more statues outside the park, so I'll cut them some slack.
There is one very nice historic touch I liked. The bench where I sat to eat a sandwich was from the dugout bench at Crosley Field. Sitting in the exact spot where Pete Rose sat? You can't get that experience anywhere else other than a strip club in Covington.
(As great as that bench is, it leaves me begging for more. The Reds -- and other teams -- should incorporate more items from their old stadium into their new crib. You should be able to put your cigarettes out in the same ashtrays Marge Schott used. You should be able to call friends from the same payphones from which Rose placed his bets. And you should be able to lay on the same Riverfront trainer's table Junior did while he was on the disabled list.) 3
3. Access: My friend Scooter and I arrived about an hour before game time, took the first exit off the freeway and were in a downtown parking lot within minutes. We paid $10 for a lot -- there is no general parking at the stadium -- that was a quick walk to the stadium and we could have gotten much cheaper if we hadn't been in a hurry. 4
4. Friendliness and helpfulness of usher staff: The Reds' security staff thoroughly frisked Scooter as soon as he walked inside the stadium, brusquely telling him, "Come over here" and then wanding him for weapons. They even made him remove his baseball cap. Now, Scooter is 55 years old and lean. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. He didn't have a backpack or any sort of bag. And the security guard still went over him so intently that he not only was able to declare that Scooter carried no weapons of mass destruction but that there were no signs his non-Hodgkins Lymphoma had returned. It was ridiculous -- John Ashcroft must have been in town.
The guard did give Scooter a coupon for a free ice cream for his time but that seems like a small token compared to being treated like you're a member of the Taliban. 2
5. Ticket price/availability/location: There is a wide range of prices (the upper-deck bleacher seats are a bit steep at $10) and with just over 42,000 seats, most of them provide a great view of the game. 4.5
6. Seat comfort: The seats are big. They're angled toward home plate. They have cup holders and Reds logos. And sitting in them is as comfortable as batting between Johnny Bench and Tony Perez must have been. 5
7. Quality of hot dogs: If you read my Detroit review, you might remember the horrible Coney Dogs with fake cheese they sell there. Well, Cincinnati sells them, too, and I'm happy to say that they use REAL cheese and LOTS OF IT. And best of all, they're cheap – only $2.50.
True, Scooter pointed out that the hot dog's color bears no resemblance to anything found in nature, but what do you want for $2.50? 5
8. Signature concession item: I'm not sure but I swear I saw a stand selling bologna sandwiches. I can only hope that's some sort of local joke.
I love it when stadiums take that most obvious of extra steps and include food from the local favorite restaurants. Seattle has food from Ivar's and Kidd Valley, Pittsburgh has sandwiches from Primanti Brothers and Cincinnati has barbecue sandwiches from the Montgomery Inn. Delicious, if a little spendy ($6.50). 4.5
9. Quality/selection of other concession-stand fare: The woman serving me was the friendliest concessionaire I met the entire tour. She wanted to know where I was from, who I rooted for, what brought me to Cincinnati. She was so gosh-darn friendly I expected her to ask whether I wanted to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and savior in addition to the sandwich. 4
10. Beer: You can get a macro-brew for $5.25 and a microbrew for $6.25 but what stands out is the kiosk selling wine and champagne. With all that available, Marge wouldn't last five innings here before passing out. 3.5
11. Bathrooms: Plentiful (there are even six family restrooms with diaper-changing areas), clean and you can practically hear the team's future flush down the toilet. 4.5
12. Scoreboard: It's big and it's good but they were having a little trouble with the out-of-town scoreboard the night we were there. According to the scoreboard, Minnesota led Oakland 1-0 in the sixth inning, then the game was tied 5-5 in the eighth, then it was 3-1 in the ninth, then 1-0 in the seventh, 5-0 in the sixth, back to 1-0 in the seventh, a 3-1 final and then 1-0 in the eighth.
And the thing is, I'm not sure that Oakland and Minnesota were even playing each other. 4
13. Quality of public address system: Like many teams, the Reds hold a quick applause game to determine which music will be played in a certain inning. I know everyone in Cincinnati must be tired of the old WKRP references by now but I still think it would be nice if they had Howard Hesseman or someone else from the show introduce the music segments.
I mean, Gary Sandy can't be too busy these days, can he? 4
14. Fun stuff to do besides the game: You can walk all around the park. You can look at the river. You can stand in the shower room and cool down on a hot day. But best of all, you can get your picture taken with Mr. Red. I love Mr. Red and he's seriously underutilized. If the Reds want to raise some quick cash, they ought to arrange a mascot championship bout between Mr. Red and Mr. Met. It would be bigger than Tyson-Holyfield. 3.5
15. Trading-up factor: We bought bleacher tickets but were able to sit anywhere and everywhere we wanted to. Sort of like it was for Junior when he first got to town, before they grew tired of his act. 4
16. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: The night before we were there, some fans booed Griffey when he left the field with his season-ending injury. But if you really want to know how unpopular he is, consider this: The Reds are literally giving away Junior merchandise (a free cap with every $5 purchase) at the well-stocked souvenir stands. 3.5
17. Knowledge of local fans: These are very sharp baseball fans, other than the fact that they are under the impression that Pete Rose is innocent. 5
18. Seventh-inning stretch: The organ music was live but other than that, it was nothing special. 3.5
19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: There isn't much immediately around the stadium but there is a very lively bar scene across the river in Covington. One glance at the crowd fan and you'll realize that's just a little too far of a walk for many of these fans. 3
20. Wild card: Two points for the view of the Ohio River from the upper deck. One point for depicting Big Klu with his sleeves rolled up. One point for having the Big Klu statue standing on infield dirt instead of a pedestal. One point for the Reds Hall of Fame that opens next year. One point for the Pete Rose quote, "I'd Walk Through Hell in a Gasoline Suit to Play Baseball" mounted in the concourse. 6
TOTAL POINTS FOR GREAT AMERICAN BALLPARK: 79