On a bleak January evening in 2002, two ambitious 18-year olds on winter break from college sprawled a U.S. map across a Cape Cod living room floor, sifted through a stack of ink-splotched MLB team schedules, and plotted a summer road trip for the ages: eleven games in eleven different ballparks in nine cities over ten days.
Over the last twelve summers, I’ve chipped away at my goal of seeing a home game in all 30 MLB cities. At press time, only one remains: Minneapolis. Today we look at Riverfront Stadium, which was succeeded by Great American Ball Park as the home of the Cincinnati Reds.
Cincinnati was the one stop on the trip where we came, saw, and immediately continued down the road. Despite Red Sox broadcaster Dave O’Brien’s assertion that Cincy is a haven for good food, our operating budget (with the promise of free lodging ahead in Chicago) meant Riverfront Stadium (then Cinergy Field) would be our only stop. The allure of the WKRP studios or possibly bumping into DJ Hi-Tek on the street wasn’t enough to stick around.
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The stadium itself was like a smaller version of the Vet, which we’d visited just three days prior. This wasn’t a good thing. With a new era of stadium architecture underway, “cookie-cutter” multipurpose stadiums across America like Riverfront were on the way out; construction of Great American Ball Park was nearing completion beyond the outfield walls. I originally thought, “Great American Ball Park – what a cool name for a field,” when my more-aware friend Will corrected me and explained Great American is an insurance company. Just as he did when I thought the Mets’ new stadium was to be “City Field” instead of “Citi,” after the bank.
The good things about visiting Riverfront in its final season: cheap tickets, plenty of good seats, cool commemorative cups (despite the stadium being a relative eyesore, the Reds did have a tremendous history at the stadium), and finally – real grass. After 30 years of Astroturf, grass was installed for baseball at Riverfront for the last few seasons when the Bengals moved to a football-only venue. This made the stadium experience feel a little less synthetic.
As for the game itself, we saw a future Hall of Famer go yard when Barry Larkin homered off Al Leiter. The Reds really took it to Leiter, while Elmer Dessens (!) logged seven scoreless innings in shutting down the Mets. The Reds prevailed, 9-1, much to Will’s dismay. Larkin had three hits in the affair.
Great American opened the following summer. With modern amenities, nods to Crosley Field and the team’s history, including subtle tributes to Pete Rose, it seems like a great place to take in a game. The next time I’m in Cincinnati…