Today is Memorial Day and the 5th and final stadium on this roadtrip. Despite feeling awful & rundown in Pittsburgh , I got up at 3 AM with only a few hours sleep and walked to the Greyhound station to make my way back to Ohio. I boarded a 3:30 AM bus out of Pittsburgh, changed buses in Columbus, made a 30 minute stop in Dayton and finally pulled into ‘The Queen City’ at 10:35.
A man who boarded in Dayton wearing a gold sequented tunic who smelled like he just ran the marathon then bathed in a tub of sardines after he finished, sat next to me. For the entire ride to Cincinnati he was talking on his phone speaking a language that had more clicking noises than actual words. Like I said, Greyhound travel is a unique experience.
It was a gray and rainy morning with the afternoon forecast calling for more of the same. The risk you take when booking roadtrip games is the possibility of a rainout, in which case there’s not much you can do but plan a return trip at some point – but I was keeping optimistic.
About 2 hours before game time, I took the short 15-minute walk through downtown to the park. Situated on the banks of the Ohio River, the Great American Ballpark is located in one of the more picturesque settings in the majors. From the outside looking in, the stadium has a very modern look to it with painted steel, limestone and brick with clean lines and plenty of glass. There were lots of additional signage and some special exhibits in honor of the park hosting this years’ annual all-star game.
The neighborhood around the river near that park is pretty lively before and after games and has an eclectic mix of eateries and watering holes most notably Moerlein Lager House, Yard House and the Jefferson Social.
Near the front entrance, in honor of Crosley Field, ( the Cincinnati Reds’ home park from 1912 to June 1970), there’s a monument called ‘Crosley Terrace’ which features statues of Crosley-era stars Ernie Lombardi, Joe Nuxhall, Ted Kluszewski, and Frank Robinson (still regarded as the most regrettable trade ever made in Red’s franchise history giving this guy away to Baltimore).
On the side of the stadium is a really cool 50’ limestone carving called ‘The Spirit of Baseball’ which features a young baseball player looking up to the heroic figures of a batter, pitcher and fielder, all set against the background of many of Cincinnati’s landmarks, including the riverfront and Union Terminal.
Despite a good holiday crowd, getting into the park was quick and easy. Inside the park, there is a wide and clean concourse and lots of interesting features to catch the eye – most notably, the mosaics panels just inside the main gates off the Crosley Terrace. These panels are each 16 feet wide by 10 feet high and depict two great eras in Reds history – “The First Nine”, the 1869 Red Stockings who were the first professional baseball team in history with a record of 57-0 in their first season and “The Great Eight”, the famous Big Red Machine that won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976.
Incorporated into the design of the park is a 35-foot wide break in the stands between home plate and third base called “The Gap” . Aligned with Sycamore Street, it provides views into the stadium from downtown and out to the skyline from within the park. The 41 story Great American Tower in Queen City Square looms over the stadium and must offer some nice views of the game from some of the corporate suites on the higher floors.
In right center field there two smokestacks (called the ‘PNC Power Stacks’) reminiscent of the steamboats that were common on the Ohio River in the 19th century. These stacks flash lights, blast flames and launch fireworks whenever the Reds do something special. The seven baseball bats featured on both smokestacks (14 total) symbolize the #14 of Pete Rose. By authority of MLB, no direct reference to Rose maybe made anywhere in the stadium – so this was a sly way of acknowledging the hit king. Between the stacks there is a “Hit Me” sign where if a HR makes contact with it, a randomly selected fan will win the red Toyota Tundra perched next to it.
Another homage to Rose, adjacent to both the stadium and the Reds Hall of Fame is a rose garden that symbolizes his record-breaking 4,192nd hit. It was strategically placed there because the ball landed around this area in Riverfront Stadium.
By first pitch, the rain had slowed to a steady, annoying drizzle and there was no delay to the start. Despite this, a couple in front of me felt compelled to open up a huge umbrella blocking the view of half my row. The ushers dealt with it pretty quickly though. Seriously, who brings an umbrella to a baseball game? By the 3rd inning , the skies cleared and the sun came out. Walking around the park is a nice experience. Aside from the river views and cool features, the concessions are laid out nice without really long lines and plenty of good options.
Some local food choice favorites include Cincinnati “famous” LaRosa’s Pizza and Calzones, Mr. Red’s Smokehouse (which serves Cincinnati’s own Montgomery Inn Pulled Pork and Chicken), Porkopolis, United Dairy Farmers Ice Cream and, the piéce de resistance, Skyline Chili slathered over spaghetti – which for some reason is all the rage in Cincinnati. On the left field corner concourse area is Fry Box featuring French fries or baked potatoes covered with choices of Buffalo chicken, pulled pork, and other varieties.
If you enjoy mascots, then you’ll love this park. The Reds have 4 of them (which is 3 too many if you ask me).
For me, it was an easy walk to the park from the Westin, but for those not staying in town, highway access is good and there is plenty of parking both sides of the river. Another option to get to the game is the Cincinnati Bell Connector – a streetcar route 3.6 miles long traveling on a loop.
Cincinnati fans (as well as employees, police officers, etc.) were the most friendly, accommodating fans I have encountered as a visiting team’s fan in an away ballpark so far.
After the game it was back to the Taste of Cincinnati festival where I think I sampled pretty much every food and beer they had to offer until well into the evening. I topped it off with one of the best treats in Cincinnati – A must have – Graeter’s Ice Cream .
Back to NJ tomorrow morning. The next trip is planned for the end of June down in the southeast.
Fans – B+ – Friendly, cordial, engaged -A bit subdued but their team isn’t very good
Features – A – The mosaics, the gap, the riverboat, the Hall of Fame, the rose garden, etc. – All very nice
Location – A – Right in the heart of downtown near plenty of bars and restaurants. Great views of the Ohio River and Kentucky
Food – B – Lots of great options
Game – C – Two dreadful teams. A blown Chapman save
Overall Experience – B – A really nice town and a great ballpark. Nicer weather may have gotten this a B+