Part VIII: Great American Ball Park
(AKA: Celebrating Great American Independence)
After a glorious Canada Day, I had to leave a country I’ve grown to love and make my way to my friend’s place for a few days. He lives in Cleveland, but the way the MLB schedule went, we would go there later. This part of the trip was tricky because I wanted to get the parks in that general area all in one week. With some creativity and some free tickets, I was able to set my sights in Cincy, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and his home town. After a somewhat easier day on Friday (which I will talk about in the next post), we left early in the afternoon on Saturday for Cincinnati. Watching a ball game here was the perfect way to spend Independence Day… and Cincinnati knows how to host a 4th of July game!
Ballpark 22: Great American Ball Park, elevation 488 feet
The game: Brewers @ Reds on July 4, 2015
Mike and I arrived very early to check out the ballpark and get some good parking. We parked under the US Bank Arena (where the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones play) for only $10 and walked along the river to get to Great American. Before the game, there was already a healthy crowd, and we could immediately tell we were in for a treat. First off, the city was all dressed up and ready for All-Star festivities. Even one of the buildings across the street had a pillbox cap and mustache on it. Yes, that whole area by the home plate entrance was not only dressed up for the All-Star Game to take place in over a week, but the 4th of July red, white, and blue banners were out. In addition to all that, there was a mustache just outside the ballpark which represented the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869, baseball’s first professional team. Everything about the exterior décor was exquisite.
As a small bonus for arriving early, I could buy any souvenirs early because the Reds’ flagship team shop is outside the stadium. Their team shop ranks up there as one of the best in all the majors. Aside from having a plethora of items for the All-Star game, this shop yields many hats from the team’s forgone eras, including teams from over a century ago. I couldn’t help myself and not only got the regular cap with the ASG patch, but I also got an old-school pillbox cap (also with the ASG logo). Yes, I was in vintage heaven. The caps were a bit much at $40 each, but well worth it for the special patches!
Another neat feature located outside the ballpark is the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum which houses artifacts from past ballparks. One final feature that didn’t go wholly unnoticed on this Independence Day is a tribute to the wounded combat veterans of America. The plaque shows a Purple Heart that is one of the highest and oldest U.S. Military badges of merit given to those wounded or killed while serving in the U.S. Military. This would be a precursor to the events inside the park that day. More on that later…
The fans: Everyone was present for this one… all with different decorations. Some were dressed in All-Star gear, others had Reds outfits, and many dressed in American regalia for the holiday. However, these were very proud Americans that didn’t show any fake patriotism whatsoever. Not one time during my stay in Cincinnati did I hear the much-maligned phrase, “MERICA!” To the fans of Cincinnati, thank you for restoring my faith in humanity and proving that you are some of the best fans in Major League Baseball.
Perhaps much of that behavior has to do with the fact that in the words of a friendly usher, “Great American Ball Park strives to be as family friendly as possible. We try to keep the profanity and ugliness to a minimum.” This game did have thousands of kids in attendance, and the ushers are amongst the friendliest in all of baseball. I was suggested on where to go, what to eat, and what to see before the game. One of those places I was directed to was the amazing mosaics near the front entrance. Another place I was directed to was the team’s memorabilia shop, which has some great jerseys at fair prices. In fact, I almost bit on a great blank Memorial Day jersey for $150. Then again, I still have several parks to visit and want to save my money for hats, drinks, and…
The food: I will admit this right now, I went a little crazy on food here (Read: I completely pigged out on food). The Skyline Chili in Cincinnati is legendary, and I couldn’t help but try some. Apparently, what makes their chili different is the fact that they use cinnamon and cocoa in their recipe. After trying one… I tried two more immediately after batting practice. Even though the size of these Skyline Coney hot dogs are not big by anyone’s standards, the price tag under $5 is very doable. With the amount of chili and cheese that was stacked on my dogs, I needed napkins and a fork. One neat feature that is being tried at Great American is the use of self-serve beer kiosks. The beer comes UP and goes into your cup. I had heard of this, but never saw it live until then. I’ll admit, I was amazed.
Walking along the back of the stadium, I was met with a fantastic view of the Ohio River and caught a glimpse of all the riverboats across the river. Those boats were also dressed up and getting ready for the All-Star Game. This city was all-in for the big showcase, and I appreciate the effort being put into such a grand event. To go along with the theme for 4th of July, I stopped for a couple minutes and stood by the lone black chair located in center field. That chair represents the American veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country they so dearly loved. This is a great tribute to our brave men and women, and having had family killed overseas during the war on terrorism, this hit a bit close to home. Huge bonus points to the Reds organization for putting this out there. Thank you.
The game: Independence Day brings out the patriotism in everybody, and that includes the players on the field. They had their special caps with the flag sublimated in the background. At first, I thought those hats were a bit much, but they looked great on the field. As for the jerseys, the only change was in the numbers and the logos on the front. They were filled with stars on top of the solid colors. Like the caps, the jerseys also looked excellent on the field. As for the All-Star gear at the store… Mike and I rocked our stuff pretty well, also. He got the ASG hat, and I got the Reds cap with the ASG logo here. They look pretty slick!
Right before the game, there were hundreds of soldiers standing on guard in the left field and they drew raucous cheers from the packed crowd. Remember how I mentioned the plaque for the Purple Heart a few paragraphs ago? It all came full circle before the game. The biggest moment before the start of the game came when former Marine, Clint Goethe, received the Purple Heart for his services. He overcame combat injuries while in Iraq to come back home to his family. After receiving the prestigious award, Goethe threw out the ceremonial first pitch to his 10-year-old son. The whole ceremony took a few minutes… and everyone in my section was standing the whole time. It was that powerful a moment, and one I was honored to see. More on him later…
The game started off without any runs scored in the 1st inning. Cardinals rookie pitcher, Josh Smith, was looking strong early on… but his 2nd inning was much more adventurous as he hit the first two batters that half-inning. He got out of that jam with a double play and a groundout. In the bottom of the frame, Marlon Byrd hit a deep solo home run to put the Reds up, 1-0. However, Josh Smith hit his third batter of the game in the top of the 3rd inning, and the umpires didn’t want to see any more hit batsmen after that. Luckily, Smith got out of that jam and the Reds remained with the lead after three frames.
Right now, I want to focus on the beautiful sites that can be seen while watching a game. The reason I diverted from the game here was because I was cognizant of the fact that I hadn’t taken any detailed pictures of the field, the seating, or anything in the outfield from my vantage point. I looked over in right field and saw the signage from the All-Star that was to take place over a week later. I also noticed something I had not seen in previous pictures of GABP… a new scoreboard in right field! I was told this was a new addition for the All-Star Game. This second board provided all of the out-of-town scores, and more detailed statistics about either who was hitting or who was pitching. I saw this as a good change for the park. Next to that scoreboard are smaller vertical screens that show the placements of each team in each division during the inning breaks, or detailed stats about the team while in play.
I then peered my eyes towards the smoke stacks in center field. I noticed some of the lights beneath the stacks were not lit, and I couldn’t tell if the lights were out, or if there is some kind of significant patterns in the way the circles are lit up. If anyone knows why, please contact me and let me know! Additionally, the smoke stacks shoot fire out from the top whenever a Reds pitcher records a strikeout. The best thing about those smoke stacks are the subtle homage to Pete Rose. Since he is banned from baseball, the Reds are not able to officially retire his #14. However, there are a total of 14 bats that sit on top of the smoke stacks which is a symbolic way of honoring one of the greatest players to ever put on a Reds jersey. Perhaps this is their way of ceremoniously retiring his number… in a way.
The steamboat on top of the batter’s eye in center field may seem over-the-top to some visiting fans. I think it fits in with the rest of the theme of the park quite nicely! Besides, how many people can say they saw a game from a makeshift steamboat? Finally, a nice reference to old Crosley Field lies on top of the main jumbotron in left field where an analog clock gives fans the time of day. Again, great nod to the past. Finally, a great touch to this new park is that the seats are angled towards the action on the field. Bravo, stadium designers.
The game was tied after four innings with one run apiece, but things got really interesting in the 5th inning. Unfortunately, there was some… questionable calls that rattled the Reds’ bench and may have affected the outcome of the entire game. After a Ryan Braun RBI single made the score 2-1 in favor of the Brewers, Braun stole second base with ease. When he stole third base on the next pitch, that call was close. On the field, the call was safe when it easily looked out live. This play went to review for over four minutes! Even on replay, the call looked out. Alas, the replay umpire called the play safe and Cincinnati catcher, Brayan Pena went a little ballistic. He was quickly tossed from the game, and he was followed by Reds manager, Bryan Price. With both of them arguing the call, the Reds had to shuffle around. Home plate umpire, Bill Welke, had clearly seen enough and was ready to throw out the next person who got out of line.
It didn’t take long for that to happen because on the next at-bat, Josh Smith hit his fourth batter of the game. This time, it injured Carlos Gomez as the pitch hit Gomez on the hand. Now Smith was gone from the game, and Carlos Gomez was understandably pissed off as he walked off the field. The Brewers would go on to score five more times in that inning and took a commanding 7-1 lead in the game. It’s a shame the umpires let the game slip away like that with multiple ejections and an injury that will affect the hapless Brewers.
After the Reds scored two more runs, a weird moment occurred in the bottom of the 6th inning with regards to the scoreboard. No, they didn’t go out like the boards in Miami. It appears that someone hit the reset button on the pitch count for Jimmy Nelson who was still pitching for the Brewers. Somehow, Nelson had five strikeouts on only four pitches?! It turned out to be a small oops as Nelson was pulled after that at-bat. Maybe the scoreboard operators thought Nelson would be gone after a meeting at the mound with the pitching coach. A funny moment happened in the top of the 7th inning when we had Gerardo Parra batting against Reds pitcher Manny Parra. Yes, we had a Parra vs. Parra matchup. After that, not much else happened as the game ended in a 7-3 victory for the Brewers.
Immediately following the game, we had a wonderful 4th of July fireworks show set to American music, of course. The finishing songs went from “God Bless America” to “America the Beautiful.” This was a particularly long fireworks show that was one of the best I had seen at a baseball game. Right after the fireworks, I was in for a special treat. As it turned out, former Marine Clint Goethe (who had thrown out the first pitch of the game in a special Purple Heart ceremony) was sitting in the section right next to us for the entire game! I thanked him for his service and got a picture with him. As you can see, he was proudly wearing his Purple Heart on his uniform. A great way to end the game, if you ask me.
Overall, this ballpark is a gem and should be visited by everyone. This was easily one of the best ballparks I had ever been to and I hope to return again at some point soon. The parking was fairly inexpensive and close to the stadium. The food was not terribly expensive and of top-notch quality. Believe me, I devoured four of those Skyline chili dogs. In hindsight, I’m glad I ate a fourth one during the game because it went very long. The fans were great, and the staff was among the friendliest I’d encountered. A huge thank you to everyone working at Great American Ball Park, this was a memorable visit for both myself and my friend. The rest of the parks on this trip now had some humongous shoes to fill after both Toronto and Cincy. Would they be able to fill those shoes? Find out next week as my next blog post will take a slight detour and go back to the minors. Until then, thank you all so much for reading. I’ve gotten more readers now, and I am truly appreciative. Please share this blog with your friends, and I’d love to hear from more of you. Thank you, and see you at the ballpark!