September 16, 2004: Cincinnati, Ohio
I have been following the Cincinnati Reds since I dominated the PlayStation 2 world in 2002 with EA Sports’ Triple Play Baseball. Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns were young star outfielders coming into their own, but what drew me to the Reds was the presence of Ken Griffey, Jr. In his prime, Junior made the most difficult game in the world look easy. His return to his hometown was great for the game of baseball. He signed a long-term contract that would defer money, paying him far after his retirement. Junior’s signing was yet another great moment in Cincinnati baseball history. The Cincinnati Reds’ history dates back to 1869 when they were called the Cincinnati Red Stockings, making Cincinnati home to the first professional baseball team. Junior’s return to Cincinnati revitalized baseball in the Queen City; interest in the team grew as fans began to see the nucleus of a winning team. This excitement was only amplified when the Reds opened Great American Ballpark in 2003. Great American Ball Park provided Cincinnati with a first-rate ballpark to call its own, drawing fans from far off places like Brooklyn, New York. Mike and I were looking forward to the 7:10 game between the Reds and wild-card contending Chicago Cubs. The Reds were winding down another sub-.500 year, which was a disappointment because they were leading the National League Central as late as June 9th. After checking into the Millennium Hotel, Mike and I wanted to see what Cincinnati had to offer. Unfortunately, we were only spending the night in Cincinnati before driving to Cleveland. Mike and I decided to walk though Bicentennial Park, which was built in 1998. It offered great views of the Ohio River and passing riverboats, but what made the walk worthwhile was what waited for us on the other end — lunch at the Montgomery Inn. The Montgomery Inn has been the rib king in Cincinnati since the 1950s. Cincinnati’s BBQ is all about the sauce, a tangy array of spices that satisfied this road-tripper. The walk back to the hotel was a great way to burn off one of the best lunches Cincinnati has to offer.
Although Great American Ball Park is home of the Cincinnati Reds, from the amount of Chicago Cub fans walking through Crosley Terrace I thought I was back in Chicago, waiting in line for the Wrigley Field bleachers to open. During the Ballpark Tour, I usually sit back and relax during the game, but with thousands of Cub fans in attendance rooting against the hometown team, I had to make my voice heard.
Great American Ball Park combines modern amenities with a classic ballpark feel. Upon entering Great American Ball Park, I was impressed with two large tile murals. The first entitled “The First Nine” pays homage to the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. The original nine players are shown on the banks of the Ohio River. The second tile mural is entitled “The Big Red Machine” and is dedicated to the World Champion Red teams of the late 1970s. The club-level concourses are filled with timeless baseball quotes. My favorite quote is by all-time hit leader Pete Rose who said “I’d go through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.” Say what you will of Pete Rose, but as a player no one produced more out of his abilities than Charlie Hustle. Our visit to Cincinnati will also be remembered for an unprecedented event; I forgot to charge the batteries for my camera! Our only chance to see a game in Cincinnati ruined by my lack of preparation. I planned on walking out of the ballpark to buy batteries, purchasing another ticket to get back in, but luckily the Reds Clubhouse store sold the batteries I needed.
With the battery situation behind us, Mike and I could enjoy the game. The 20,884 in attendance were treated to a wonderful September game, with direct playoff implications. Cubs starter Kerry Wood pitched seven innings, striking out 9, but teammate Aramis Ramirez stole the show. Trailing 4-3 in the top of the 7th, Ramirez hit his third home run of the night to put the Cubs ahead for good, 5-4. I was disappointed the Reds lost, but overall it was a terrific day. I will always have fond memories of the day Mike and I spent in Cincinnati. It served as a springboard to a great Ballpark trip that included stops in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.