Monday, June 20, 2011

How to Be a New York Fan In Cincinnati

The Yankees have left Chicago, and moved on to the second half of their Interleague roadtrip, to play the Cincinnati Reds. The Mets will play there July 25 to 28.

Disclaimer: While I have been to Cleveland, and I have seen games at Jacobs/Progressive Field, I have never been to Cincinnati, so none of this information is firsthand. But some of it comes from the Reds' own website, so I would tend to believe it.

Before You Go. The Cincinnati Enquirer website is predicting high heat and thunderstorms all 3 days. This could be a problem. When not raining, it could be as high as 92 tomorrow.

Getting There. It’s 641 miles from Times Square in New York to Fountain Square in Cincinnati; 649 miles from Yankee Stadium to Great American Ballpark; and 650 miles from Citi Field to GABP.

Flying may seem like a good option, and don’t let the fact that Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport is in Florence, Kentucky fool you, it’s 13 miles southwest of downtown, a little closer (and in the same direction) than Newark Airport is to Midtown Manhattan. But, this late (you’ll already miss the first game; sorry, but my failure to get this done sooner couldn’t be helped), it’ll be about $1,400 round-trip. For Met fans going next month, if you order your flights now, it’ll be much cheaper, with flights available at under $500. And it’ll be about a 2-hour flight.

Greyhound’s run between the 2 cities is not good, a 16-hour ride that costs $200 round-trip and forces you to change buses in Columbus. The terminal is at 1005 Gilbert Avenue, less than a mile northeast of Fountain Square. Take the Number 11 bus. Amtrak’s run to Cincy is problematic as well, as it only offers service out of Penn Station to Cincinnati every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, and it’ll take over 18 hours, from 7 in the morning until after 1 in the morning outbound and from 3:30 AM to almost 10 AM back, and cost $236 round-trip. Union Terminal, now also a museum and shopping mall, is at 1301 Western Avenue, about a mile and a half northwest of downtown.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping.

You’ll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike. Take it to Exit 14, to Interstate 78. Follow I-78 west all the way through New Jersey, to Phillipsburg, and across the Delaware River into Easton, Pennsylvania. Continue west on I-78 until reaching Harrisburg. There, you will merge onto I-81. Take Exit 52 to U.S. Route 11, which will soon take you onto I-76. This is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the nation’s first superhighway, opening in 1940.

The Turnpike will eventually be a joint run between I-76 and Interstate 70. Once that happens, you’ll stay on I-70, all the way past Pittsburgh, across the little northern pandhandle of West Virginia, and into Ohio all the way to the State Capitol of Columbus. Then leave I-70 at Exit 99 and get on Interstate 71 south to Cincinnati.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours and 30 minutes in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, and about 3 hours in Ohio. That’s about 10 hours. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter Ohio and around Columbus, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Cincinnati, it should be no more than 14 hours, which would save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not flying.

Tickets. In spite of a return to postseason play last season and contending again this season, the Reds are averaging just 24,647 for home games, about 800 per game less than they averaged last season. Chances are, you’ll be able to get any tickets you can afford.

Infield Boxes will go for $60, Field Boxes (down the foul lines) for $49, Mezzanine and View Box seats for $39, and View Level (uppermost in the stadium) for $30. The right field bleachers go for $40. In honor of a similar section at the old Reds’ ballpark, Crosley Field, these bleachers are known as the Sun Deck for day games and the Moon Deck for night games. But the left field bleachers are just $23.

Going In. Great American Ball Park (“ball park” as 2 words, and named for the insurance company owned by former Reds owner Carl Lindner Jr.), opened in 2003, is separated from downtown by I-71/U.S. Route 50, and is right on the Ohio River. Although, like Waterfront Park in Trenton, the park is close enough to the river that a very strong player could hit a fair ball into it, unlike in Trenton as of yet this has not happened in an official game.

The Southbank Shuttle leaves from 5th & Vine Streets in Fountain Square, although the park is basically close enough to walk anywhere from downtown. The park’s official address is 100 Joe Nuxhall Way, named for the 1950s-60 Reds reliever and longtime broadcaster who died in 2007. Officially, the streets around it are Second Street (3rd base) to the north, Broadway Street (left field, and, no, that’s not “Broadway,” it’s “Broadway Street”) to the east, Mehring Way/U.S. Route 27 (right field) to the south and Main Street/Joe Nuxhall Way (1st base) to the west. Extending from the 1st base side is Pete Rose Way.

You’ll be most likely to enter by Second Street or Pete Rose Way. You’ll see a limestone carving of a kid in a baseball uniform looking up at grownup players. These statues are known as The Spirit of Baseball. They also have a mosaic paying tribute to the 2 most famous baseball teams from Cincinnati, which I’ll get to when I discuss Team History Displays.

The ballpark faces southeast, away from downtown and the city’s skyscrapers. But the park’s openness does provide a nice view of the river and the Kentucky shoreline beyond. The scoreboard has a steamboat motif known as the Power Stacks. The foul lines are rather close, 328 to left and 325 to center, however the alleys have respectable distances, 379 to left and 370 to right, and center field is 404. Seating capacity is officially 42,271, although standing room can push it to 44,599.

Food. Being in Big Ten Country where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect the Cincinnati ballpark to have lots of good options. But it doesn’t. Concession stands are plentiful, but it’s basically the standard stuff. There is no mention on the Reds’ website of any specialty stands, including, unlike so many ballparks, regional favorites. If you have a strong stomach, not only does Cincinnati, like Detroit, favor the “cheese coney, “a hot dog with chili and cheese on it, but they like chili over… spaghetti. Huh? But as far as I can determine, these items are not sold at the ballpark. Feel free to let me know if I’m wrong.

Team History Displays. Outside the park is The Mosaic, honoring Cincinnati’s 2 most famous baseball teams: The 1869 Red Stockings, baseball’s first openly professional team (though the current Reds have no official connection to this club, disbanded after the 1880 season) and the 1970s Reds, the Big Red Machine of Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and manager Sparky Anderson. A tribute to Rose is on the back of the left-field scoreboard, known as the 4192 Mural for his record-breaking 4,192nd career hit on September 11, 1985.

The Power Stacks have 7 bats on them, totaling 14, a way of acknowledging Rose’s Number 14, even though the Reds are not permitted to retire that number due to Rose’s banishment. (It’s only been issued once since, in the brief 1997 callup of Pete Rose Jr., who’s had his own problems but has never been banned from the game. The street named Pete Rose Way is outside the ballpark, and thus MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig have no say in what the street can be named.)

The team’s other retired numbers are shown in the outfield: Bench’s 5, Morgan’s 8, Anderson’s 10, Perez’s 24, the 1 of 1961 Pennant-winning manager Fred Hutchinson (who died of cancer in 1964 shortly after nearly leading them to another Pennant), the 13 of 1970s shortstop Dave Concepcion, the 18 of 1950s slugger Ted Kluszewski, and the 20 of 1950s-60s slugger Frank Robinson. Phillies legend Mike Schmidt grew up in nearby Dayton, Ohio, and wore 20 in tribute to Robinson, and as far as I know it’s the only number in baseball retired in honor of a player who wore it in tribute to another player’s number that ended up retired. Barry Larkin’s 11 has not yet been retired, but it has been removed from circulation, likely in anticipation of his deserved election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Outside the main entrance is Crosley Terrace, a reference to Crosley Field, with statues of Crosley-era stars Nuxhall, Kluszewski, Robinson and 1930s-40s catcher Ernie Lombardi, a Hall-of-Famer and one of the best-hitting catchers ever, but whose Number 4 has never been retired by the Reds.

Nuxhall became the youngest player in major league history, as a result of World War II depleting rosters, when he came up on June 10, 1944, at 15 years and 10 months old. He got shelled, and returned to the minors, but he did make it back in 1952, age 26 and much more ready. He remained in the majors as a lefty starter until the close of the 1966 season, age 37, and went into broadcasting. Unfortunately, the one full season he spent with a major league team other than the Reds was 1961, the only season between 1940 and 1970 that they won a Pennant. But he got to broadcast 5 Pennant-winning and 3 World Series-winning seasons with the Reds. And yet, his Number 39 has never been retired; and in 2008, after his death, the patches on the Reds’ uniforms didn’t have his 39, but his nickname NUXY. (His other nickname, the one he gave himself, ironic considering how old he was when he came up, was The Old Lefthander.)

The team has a Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, located on the west side of the park on Main Street. Oddly, the Reds have more players in their team Hall of Fame than any other – in fact, more than any team in the 4 North American major league sports except the Green Bay Packers: 78.

Two of the 1869 Red Stockings are in, the brothers Harry and George Wright (not to be confused with the Wright Brothers from Southern Ohio who invented the airplane in 1903, these Wright Brothers invented professional baseball). They are in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, as are 2 of the 6 other players in the Reds Hall from the 19th Century, Bid McPhee and Sam Crawford. Not in the Cooperstown Hall is Billy “Dummy” Hoy, a deaf player who was supposedly the inspiration for umpires’ hand signals for balls and strikes, and who threw out the first ball at a 1961 World Series game between the Yanks and Reds, at age 99, then the oldest ex-player ever. (Sadly, he didn’t make it to 100.)

The Reds Hall has 9 members of their 1919 World Champions, including Cooperstowner Edd Roush, possessor of the most lauded outfield arm of his era, and who lived until 1988 insisting that the Reds would have beaten the Chicago White Sox in that World Series even if the “Black Sox” had played on the level. (He had a case: The Reds won 95 games that season, the White Sox only 88.) The Reds that won the 1939 Pennant and the 1940 World Series have 16 members in the team Hall, including Lombardi. Between the 1940 and 1961 Pennants, they honor Ewell Blackwell, who won 16 straight games including a no-hitter and nearly a 2nd straight in 1947, and later pitched for the Yankees; and Kluszewski and Nuxhall.

From the 1961 Pennant, they have 17 members, including Robinson, Hutchinson, and Gus Bell, who became an original Met the next season and whose son Buddy and grandson David became big-league stars as well. (Each of them had David as their real name.) Lee May, in this Hall but not the Cooperstown one, was on their 1970 and 1972 Pennant winners but not the 1975 & ’76 World Champions; that team has 17 members, including Rose, Bench, Morgan, Perez, Anderson and future Yankees Don Gullett and Ken Griffey Sr. Between the 1976 and 1990 World Championships, they honor 2 pitchers: Yes, Met fans, Tom Seaver is in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, and Mario Soto. And from the 1990 champs there are 5 honorees: Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, Tom Browning, Jose Rijo and Chris Sabo.

The museum is fundraising for a statue of Bench, calling him “Baseball’s Greatest Catcher.” To turn Sparky Anderson’s words about Thurman Munson on their head, Don’t embarrass anybody by comparing him to Yogi Berra.

Stuff. Clubhouse stores are located all over the park. The usual items that can be found at a souvenir store can be found there.

With the 1970s nostalgia wave in full flower now, books about the Reds teams of that decade, known as the Big Red Machine, have come out. Tom Adelman’s The Long Ball tells of the 1975 season, and how the Reds and Boston Red Sox went through them on their way to their meeting in an epic World Series. There’s The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-Stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, by Joe Posnanski; and The 1976 Cincinnati Reds: Last Hurrah for the Big Red Machine, a tribute to the only team ever to go undefeated in a baseball postseason of more than one round (7-0; the 1999 Yankees went 11-1).

There’s also Before the Machine: The Story of the 1961 Pennant-Winning Reds by Mark J. Schmetzer and Greg Rhodes, issued on the 50th Anniversary of that team. A contemporary book about that team, Pennant Race, was written by one of their pitchers, Jim Brosnan, who had previously written about a less successful season with the St. Louis Cardinals in The Long Season. Jim Bouton's Ball Four was clearly influenced by Brosnan.

Available DVDs include Cincinnati Reds Memories, the official World Series highlight films of 1975, ’76 and ’90 (1919 and ’40 preceded official films), and a box set of the 1975 Series, including every Series game (yes, Game 6) and a few bonuses from that era.

During the Game. You do not have to worry about wearing Yankee or Met gear in Great American Ball Park. Just because the sight of the Reds’ “Wishbone C” logo still makes Met fans remember the 1973 NLCS fight Rose picked with the far smaller Bud Harrelson doesn’t make Reds fans hate the Mets. Though they do tend to not like New York, for reasons beyond baseball. But unless you’re wearing Cleveland Browns gear to a Cincinnati Bengals game, or University of Michigan gear to an Ohio State University sporting event, people from Cincinnati aren’t going to go out of their way to be obnoxious to you, let alone violent.

The Reds don’t have any notable in-park fans, although Harry Thobe, a sharp-dressed man who wore a straw hat and carried a megaphone, was a longtime denizen of Crosley Field, sort of a Midwestern Hilda Chester, Freddy Sez or Cow-Bell Man. Nor do they have many celebrity fans, although George Clooney is one, coming from Lexington, Kentucky, 83 miles away. True, that's about as close as Northeast Philadelphia is to Midtown Manhattan, but the Reds are still the closest major-league team, unless Louisville gets back into the majors for the first time since 1899.

The Reds were one of the first teams to have a mascot, Mr. Red. He served as the team’s logo for a long time before becoming a man in a costume on the field. There is a retro version called Mr. Redlegs, which matches the team’s logo from the 1950s when, due to McCarthyism, being called “Reds” was considered un-American. This version had a 19th Century-style mustache, reminding people that Cincinnati was the birthplace of professional baseball (though, again, this Reds team, which began in 1882, is not the same team as the 1869 one). A female mascot, Rosie Red, and a furry red… thing called Gapper have joined Mr. Red.

The Reds don’t have a traditional song for either the 7th Inning Stretch or after a win. Cincinnati does have a good music tradition, as James Brown and some other big-time musicians were associated with Cincy-based record companies. And George’s aunt Rosemary Clooney got her start there as well. But Cincinnati is simply not a very hip town – and those rural natives of Southern Ohio, Northern Kentucky, Southeastern Indiana and Western West Virginia like it that way.

After the Game. Downtown should be safe, but stay downtown. Cincinnati does have a bit of a crime problem. In 2001, there was a race riot there, something rarely seen since the 1960s.

I can find no references to well-known postgame bars, or to places where New Yorkers gather in or around Cincinnati. The sites that usually list bars for football fans in exile don’t seem to have references to where Giants or Jets fans go when they live near Cincy.

Sidelights. Cincinnati may have only 2 major league teams now, and one of those (the Bengals) has been a joke for most of the last 20 years. But it’s a pretty good sports town, and here’s some of the highlights:

* Site of Riverfront Stadium. The home of the Reds from 1970 to 2002 (known as Cinergy Field in its final years) and the NFL’s Bengals from 1970 to 1999 was across Main Street from its baseball replacement, bounded also by Second Street, Mehring Way and Vine Street. Here, the Reds reached the postseason 9 times, winning 5 Pennants and 3 World Series. The Bengals made the Playoffs here 7 times, winning the AFC Championship in 1981 (beating the San Diego Chargers in what is regarded as the coldest game in NFL history) and 1988 (on both occasions, going on to lose the Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ers). Riverfront was a pioneer in artificial turf, the first outdoor stadium in either MLB or the NFL to have it, and the first to host either league’s postseason on it.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is now on the site. And just beyond it is the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, named for its designer, who used it as the basis for his greatest achievement, the Brooklyn Bridge.

* Paul Brown Stadium. A few steps to the west of the ballpark and the site of Riverfron is the current home of the Bengals, named for the man who founded them and the Cleveland Browns. Since moving in, the Bengals have made the Playoffs twice, and been mostly awful the rest of the time, going from 10-6 in 2009 to 4-12 last season.

* U.S. Bank Arena. Formerly known as the Riverfront Coliseum, this building went up across Broadway from Riverfront Stadium (and can be seen from Great American Ball Park) in 1975, and has hosted minor league hockey and the Xavier University basketball team ever since. Unfortunately, it’s best known for the tragic events of December 3, 1979, when 11 fans rushed in for “festival seating” for a concert by The Who. This event was immortalized shortly thereafter in an episode of the series WKRP in Cincinnati, ordinarily one of the funniest situation comedies of its time and easily the best TV show set in the city.

* Crosley Field. Three different ballparks were at a location bounded by Findlay Street, Western Avenue, Liberty Street and Dalton Avenue, a convenient location for teams coming into the city through the Union Terminal: League Park from 1884 to 1901, the elaborate Palace of the Fans from 1902 to 1911, and third from 1912 to 1970. First named Redland Field, appliance executive Powel Crosley renamed it for himself when he bought the Reds in 1934. Here, the Reds won the Pennant in 1919, 1939, 1940 and 1961, winning the World Series in 1919 and 1940. The Yankees clinched World Series wins here in 1939 and 1961. Bush Stadium, the former home of the Triple-A team in Indianapolis, stood in for it and Comiskey Park in Eight Men Out, the film about the Black Sox scandal.

Best known as the first big-league ballpark with lights, in 1935, it had an infamous incline, a.k.a. the “terrace,” that was trouble for left fielders; a building behind left field with an ad for the Superior Towel and Linen Service, nicknamed the Laundry Roof, which was torn down in 1960 to make way for Interstate 75 and a rerouted U.S. Route 52, the Mill Creek Expressway; and a right field bleacher section known as the Sun Deck for day games and the Moon Deck for night games. The Beatles played at Crosley on August 21, 1966, and the Cincinnati Pop Festival was held there on June 13, 1970, featuring Iggy & the Stooges, Mountain, Grand Funk Railroad, Alice Cooper, Traffic, Bob Seger and Mott the Hoople. The park was demolished in 1972. An industrial park now stands on the site, a 15-minute walk from Union Terminal. The Number 27 and 49 buses will get you Linn and Findlay, a 7-block walk (counting I-75) from the site.

As for the original 1869 Red Stockings, they played at the Union Cricket Club Grounds, a field with a stand for about 4,000 people. The Union Terminal was built on the site, so if you do come into Cincinnati by train, you’re already on the birthplace of professional baseball.

* Nippert Stadium. Home to the University of Cincinnati’s football team since 1924, and the original home (1968-69) of the Bengals, this ground has been extensively remodeled, so that it has few of the difficulties of being an old stadium, but also none of the look and atmosphere of one. 99 W. Corry Street, at Backstage Drive, on the UC campus. Number 17 or 19 bus. Fifth Third Arena, new home of the UC basketball team, is adjacent. The baseball stadium is also adjacent, and it’s named after former Reds owner, cheapskate and Nazi sympathizer Marge Schott. Hey, her money was as good as anyone else’s.

* Cincinnati Gardens. This is now one of the oldest surviving indoor sports arenas in North American, opening in 1949 and hosting the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals from 1957 to 1972. Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas went from here to Hall of Fame careers, although neither won a title. (The Big O did so with the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks, Lucas with the 1973 Knicks.) The Royals moved to Kansas City (and, due to the baseball team having the same name, became the Kansas City and eventually Sacramento Kings). A succession of minor league hockey teams has played here, and it has hosted arena football, too. The Gardens played host to the Beatles on August 27, 1964; and to Elvis Presley on November 11, 1971; June 27, 1973; March 21, 1976; and, just before his death, on June 25, 1977. 2250 Seymour Avenue at Langdon Farm Road, on the northeast side of town, near the Seymour Plaza, Swifton, and Hillcrest shopping centers. Number 43 bus.

Cincinnati isn’t a big museum city, but it is a Presidential birthplace and very nearly a Presidential burial place. The William Howard Taft National Historic Site, where the 27th President of the United States and the 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States was born and lived the first 25 years of his life, is at 2038 Auburn Avenue on the north side of town. The same Number 43 bus that would take you to Cincinnati Gardens would take you there. And the tomb of William Henry Harrison, the 9th President, who famously won the Battle of Tippecanoe against Indians (not the Cleveland variety) in 1811 and died only a month after becoming President in 1841, is 16 miles west of downtown in North Bend. A 10-minute walk from the Tomb is a house at Symmes & Washington Avenues, where “Old Tippecanoe” lived, and his grandson Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President (1889-93), was born. The Number 50 bus will get you within 2 miles of these sites.


Cincinnati calls itself the Queen City of the Midwest, and thinks of itself as a good, solid, family town. Read: They’d rather slit their economic throats and condemn their women to no say in if and when to have a child than vote for a liberal. After all, the last time they elected a liberal Mayor was… Jerry Springer. (No joke.) But it’s a good sports town, and a Reds game is well worth the trip.


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Will Deighton said...

Great American Ball Park offers regional favorites Skyline Chili and Penn Station Subs.