NOTE: This (long-delayed) post is the fifth in a series of Features describing the author’s first visits to various MLB ballparks around the country. After spending a week among my relatives in southeast Pennsylvania, including a visit to the Phillies’ home, Citizens Bank Park, I was back on the road and headed for my next major league destination, Cincinnati, for a June 17th game between the Reds and the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.
A first visit to any ballpark is, to a certain extent, dependent upon the luck of the draw. My initial experience at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park illustrates that point perfectly.
For instance, the fact that it was sunny and boiling hot in the Queen City that Saturday afternoon was not in any particular way part of the plan. Had the weather been relatively cool, or overcast, or even a touch rainy, an afternoon spent in Great American Ball Park’s upper deck might have been a pleasant experience. Instead, as fate would have it, that day was a grueling experience in baseball survival, with plenty of liquids consumed while hoping and praying that the few wispy clouds in the sky would block out the intense heat of the sun, if even for a few moments.
So any first visit to a stadium is at the mercy of things beyond the home organization’s control. That’s why it’s imperative that a club get the things it can control completely right, to ensure that those first-time visitors will want to come back. In the Reds’ case, the team got a lot of things right with Great American Ball Park–but there were a few swings and misses, too.
For a downtown stadium, Great American Ball Park seems–based on my one experience–to be quite easily accessible. There are a number of nearby buildings with garages who are only too willing to rent parking spaces to members of the game-going crowd. At $20, my space in a garage just a block and a half away from the stadium seemed like a decent deal. (Garages a few blocks further away from the park were offering spots for a lower price, but I was interested in convenience.) A quick walk across the city’s busy thoroughfares brought me to the ballpark, where I was able to get a reasonably priced upper deck seat for myself despite the large crowds, thanks at least in part to the fact that I was flying solo that day.
Why the large crowds? Well, because the people of Cincinnati are big-time baseball fans, to be sure–but it also helped that I just happened to make my visit to Great American Ball Park on the day that the Reds were unveiling a new statue outside the stadium, a bronze figure honoring none other than Pete Rose.
“Ultimately, Great American Ball Park is a lot like what I saw at Citizens Bank Park in Philly: … it doesn’t quite rise up to the standard set by the best of the current crop of ballparks.”
Whatever his transgressions may have been–he bet on baseball, in case you were wondering–Rose still stirs the passions in Cincinnati, where the bulk of his amazing career was played. It was hard to actually get through the park’s main gate plaza due to all of the fans crowding around the newly minted sculpture of Charlie Hustle diving headfirst for the base, as he did many times in his career. But I fought my way through and got my ticket, which not only got me into the stadium but delivered unto me a small replica of the very same statue that was being dedicated that day. Except for a large plastic cup I took from Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, my mini Pete Rose statue is the only keepsake I brought home with me from my ballpark visits during my June trip.
With ticket and figurine in hand, I took myself up to the higher reaches of Great American Ball Park, where I procured my standard meal of hot dog, nachos and a soft drink and made my way up to my seat…where the ordeal under the sun began. At least my hot dog–a Nathan’s frank–was suitably delicious; the nachos were OK, with generous portions of chips and cheese, though the flavor of the cheese sauce was a little bit off.
Before the major melt really took over the experience, I was able to take in the scene around me, including the pregame ceremony in which Rose was feted by a number of big names from Reds history, including Marty Brennaman (who served as host) and several of Rose’s former Big Red Machine teammates, including Johnny Bench, George Foster, Cesar Geronimo, Dave Concepcion and Tony Perez. It was pleasing to see Rose get to bask in the love of both his peers and the Cincinnati fans, even with the knowledge that the goodwill would not necessarily extend beyond southeast Ohio. (However, my uncle John did voice his positive opinion of Rose, in noting his impending induction in the Phillies Hall of Fame later this season, during my Citizens Bank Park sojourn; maybe Pete has more support out there than I believe.)
While still relatively unroasted, I also was able to take in the measure of Great American Ball Park as a place to watch a game, and while it is not awful by any means, I must say that it does not compare favorably with some other parks I’ve visited this season.
Notably, Great American Ball Park seems large. That in and of itself is not a bad thing, though with baseball parks you always have to be careful to maintain the sense of intimacy; GABP fall short–or, rather, stands too tall–in that department. Not only does the stadium’s upper deck seem very large, but it also seems far away from the playing field. My seat in Cincinnati–in the first few rows of the stadium’s top deck–was analogous to my chairs in both Petco Park and PNC Park, yet the latter two locations felt much closer to the infield than the relatively distant perch I occupied in Great American Ball Park.
In other parks, a heightened location such as I enjoyed in GABP would at least come with an interesting and scenic vista beyond the outfield pavilions–but in Cincinnati, all you get for your upper tank ticket is a relatively bland view of the Ohio River and some of the greenery of Kentucky beyond that. Perhaps there was little choice to be made when the stadium was being built, given a baseball diamond’s traditional east-west axial orientation, but it seems as though the positioning of Great American Ball Park could have been planned out a little better. A view of the actual Cincinnati cityscape might have been preferable to the not-very-exciting view the ballpark ultimately delivers.
Then again, the views of Kentucky and the river are still light-years better than what you see when you look at the actual field at Great American Ball Park. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Reds as currently constituted are dreadful. It may not be a stretch to imagine that those Big Red Machine stalwarts might beat today’s squad if they suited up and took them on–and I mean as they are now, not from back in their primes.
As it was, champions of the past were not necessary to lay a clubbing on this year’s version of the Reds. The current Dodgers were more than capable of laying that hurt all by themselves, and they did so to the tune of a 10-2 win over the overmatched Reds. Back to back home runs by rookie sensation Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson established the rout in the top of the third inning and rendered the remainder of the blowout a mere formality–one that took a scorching 3 hours and 28 minutes to bring to its fruition. Thank goodness that the Reds had the sense to install cooling stations, with large fans blowing misted water onto the gathered, overheated bodies, along the ballpark’s concourses; one can only imagine the miseries fans might endure there throughout a long, hot summer without such relief facilities.
The end did eventually come, and I made a a very quick and painless exit from the park–ingress and egress is accomplished quite easily at GABP, one of the design positives of the place–and left the Reds’ faithful to their business of paying homage to Rose’s statue out front of the building. The Cincinnati fans may have little to cheer about today, but at least they can still dream about what once was–with or without the bronze reminder.
Ultimately, Great American Ball Park is a lot like what I saw at Citizens Bank Park in Philly: it is unquestionably an improvement over what was once there, and is no doubt much appreciated by the Cincinnati locals–but it doesn’t quite rise up to the standard set by the best of the current crop of ballparks.
Up next: I head west for a Monday night game at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium.
Previous “A View From The Park” posts: