Cincinnati: America’s First Baseball Town

Great American Ballpark is just that, a great place for baseball. A must see!

Cincinnati, Ohio is home to the Cincinnati Reds, winners of five World Series titles and nine National League pennants, and resides in the city that was home to the first professional baseball team. It’s also the only MLB town outside of Atlanta where I’ve been to a game. However, this time was different. My previous encounters in Cincinnati were at Riverfront Stadium, a landmark of a bygone era, and home to the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. The new park–Great American Ballpark–is a park that is fit to house a team with such a storied history. Nestled along the Ohio River just like it’s predecessor, it’s surpasses the previous home of the Reds in almost every way (except for maybe the history).

Since I was going to be in the Northern Kentucky area for a few days, a trip to Cincinnati had to be on the agenda, and with some solid company (thanks to my buddy Zach), we made the journey from Louisville to Cincinnati to check out what their home team had to offer.

Throughout the last year, most of my baseball adventures on RFTHT have been to Minor League games, stopping by towns as small as Rome, Georgia and larger ones like Birmingham, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Cincinnati would be my first adventure in a big city and first (outside of Atlanta) to a Major League park.  So let’s see how the Reds treated this “away” fan, as I rooted hard for the Braves. 

The Stadium/Surrounding Area

Opening in 2003, Great American Ballpark is your stereotypical open air stadium, with outstanding views of the Ohio River when you look over center and right, and incredible views of downtown Cincinnati when you look over the stadium, behind home plate. Seating a little over 42,000, it’s a bigger park, but in no way huge. It’s a comfortable atmosphere to see a game, and has all the luxuries of a modern park. I can’t imagine their being a bad seat in the house, and the Reds provide more than ample different sections (and prices) for seating. The upper deck and top of the outfield bleachers will run you between $5 and $10, with pricier upper deck and outfield seats the closer you are to the action. The lower bowl gets pricy, but it’s Major League Baseball, so I anticipated far steeper prices than I was accustomed to at Minor League parks.

Looking towards right field and the Ohio River from the left field foul poll at Great American Ballpark

Great American is an incredible upgrade from the cookie cutter confines of the Reds previous home, Riverfront Stadium. It’s airy, roomy, and has some of the greatest views I’ve ever seen at park. Riverfront on the other hand was a steam bath. The games I can remember seeing there as a kid were the most humid, hot, and sweat inducing sporting events of my life. If it was 97 degrees in the stands, it was 120 degrees on the field, with zero breeze. I understand the convenience of the cookie cutter stadiums (you can play baseball, football, soccer, and whatever else you want in there), but man oh man, did they not plan of letting air move around the place. Great American on the other hand let plenty of air in the stadium. A nice breeze continued to blow throughout the game, however once it shifted the Reds took the upper hand and started crushing the ball. Nothing like a natural fan to keep you cool throughout the game.

The Reds have done a fabulous job outfitting their stadium with almost every modern convenience possible. There are restaurants, concessions, and bars aplenty throughout the stadium, and more giftshops than I’ve seen in my life. (No seriously, there is a gigantic two-floor Reds store outside the park and at least 2 other major gift shops that I saw inside the park.) One of the more curious conveniences were little grocery stores throughout the park. Coolers line the perimeter of a nice sized space, filled with sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, beer, water, tea, and just about any beverage you could enjoy at a game. There are displays with fresh fruit (apples, oranges, pears, bananas, etc.), a cooler with fresh sushi, candybars, and just about any other snack you could want. It’s unbelievable, and if ballparks want to appear more committed to healthy eats, they’ll follow the Cincinnati model and put these grocery stores in their parks in the next few years.

The Reds have a massive two-floor store outside the stadium. It’s one of at least three gift shops (not including kiosks) at GABP. The store was jam packed.

Prices were rather steep, but again it’s what you expect at an MLB game. A bottle of beer in one of these grocery stores cost $8, the same as the concession stands, that featured a rather weak selection of beer. I avoided concessions (mostly because I ate prior to the game), but I would be prepared to shell out quite a bit if you are planning on eating and drinking at the game, especially if you’re bringing a family.

If the eye-popping prices are too much for you to stomach, there are plenty of restaurants and bars throughout the downtown Cincinnati area, including several right next to the park that offer convenient dining before, during, or after a game. This is a huge improvement from what I’m used to in Atlanta. Turner Field is in the middle of nowhere with almost nothing around it except for a few shady rundown shops. Cincinnati could not be further from what I’ve come to accept as commonplace in Atlanta. There’s a massive brewpub directly across the street from the right field entrance to the stadium, and less than a block from river. Plenty of other options can be found within walking distance from the park, including a healthy selection across the street from the park, and tons of fare in the downtown area.

Listen up Atlanta, THIS is how you develop around a ballpark. There’s tons of new development surrounding the stadium, including great looking apartments, music venues, restaurants, bars, and businesses. They’re all brand new and sit comfortably between Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium (home of the Bengals). When I left the park last night, the big restaurant and bar directly across the street from the main entrance was jam packed. It was a Thursday night in May, and even with only 24,000+ in attendance, folks were still flocking downtown and enjoying themselves. It’s a fun area, and people seem to enjoy it. I firmly believe that if you develop right, offer the right kinds of incentives, you can use a new stadium to attract successful business to the surrounding area. Cincinnati has clearly accomplished this since they built Great American Ballpark a decade ago, and it shows.

If you arrive early enough (which sadly, I didn’t) there is a gorgeous looking Reds Hall of Fame outside of the stadium. It runs $11 for adults, and seems well worth the price of admission. It was packed with visitors when I arrived at the park and for good reason. Cincinnati is a baseball town and has been since the 1860s (the modern day Reds started in 1881), so there’s more than enough history to present in any sort of hall of fame. Add five world championships and nine pennants to the mix, and you’re really talking storied history. (Oh, and brief side note, you can’t ignore that the Reds won the 1919 World Series, you know the one that the White Sox intentionally blew so a character from Boardwalk Empire could make tons of money.)

The Reds Hall of Fame is a must see from what I hear (didn’t get to go).

Parking also proved easier than I had anticipated. I had thought about parking in Covington, KY and walking across the bridge to Cincinnati, but I arrived early enough that I decided to forego the long walk and park at the stadium. Here’s how it works in Cincinnati and it was unlike anything I’ve experienced. From Paul Brown Stadium to Great American Ballpark, there is an endless stretch of underground parking garages with entrances and exits throughout. I picked an entrance closer to the football stadium, parked close to the exit and walked about 10 minutes to the ballpark. It was easy to get in and out of and was far more convenient that I anticipated. Great job Cincy! (However, something tells me that during a playoff game, opening day, etc. parking is a disaster and it might be worth parking on the Kentucky side of the river if you’re coming in from the south.)

The Game

Attending last night’s game presented me with a unique opportunity, one that hasn’t presented itself yet during my little experiment. For the first time in my travels, I rooted for the away team, rather than my typical “root for the home team” concept. My home team–the Atlanta Braves–were in town finishing up a four game series with the Reds and it would be impossible for me to “root for the home team” over my home team, so I became the stereotypical obnoxious away fan. When the Braves were up to bat, I would loudly cheer, as a few Reds fans grimaced at my love for their current adversary. As the game wore on, it proved to be an interesting change of pace, and one that showed me just how challenging it is to not only root for the away team, but watch them lose and get swept.

Unlike the typical high scoring games seen at Cincinnati, last night’s game stayed tight, at least until the later innings. The Braves’ Randall Delgado was backed by some good defense who kept finding ways to get him out of trouble. The Reds put up a single run on the sixth, after they were finally able to get some extra base hits, including a big RBI double from Todd Frazier that gave the Reds the lead until Michael Bourn came to the plate in the top of the fifth.

Bourn is not known as a power hitter, I mean at all. Prior to this season, he’d hit a whopping 14 home runs during the entirety of his career. He hit three in the series against Cincinnati, including a two run shot last night that gave the Braves a 2-1 lead. He’s just about the last of the Braves starters you’d expect to show some sudden power, but it works. However, the 2-1 lead would be short lived,  as would my obnoxious “out-of-town fan” cheering. Randall Delgado suddenly had problems finding the strike zone in the sixth inning. After he loaded the bases, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez pulled Delgado, and brought in Kris Medlen from the pen.

“Oh good,” I thought. “Medlen’s awesome, he’ll get us out of this.”

Ha! I wish.

Sadly, the Reds won, but it was still a great time in Cincinnati!

Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco was a man on a mission when he came to the plate to face Medlen. When he hit the ball, it wasn’t whether Mesoraco had hit a grand slam, but it was how far will it travel and far will I sink in my seat. As Reds fans started lifting from their seats, in absolute pandaemonium, I slunk down even further, pulling my Braves cap over my eyes. With one swing of the bat, I knew my home team was doomed and it appeared very likely the Braves were about to be swept by the Reds and lose their fourth game in a row. The Braves did try to make it interesting, as Juan Francisco–a former Reds castoff–hit a solo shot to make it 5-3, but after Drew Stubbs crushed a solo shot off the Braves’ Jonny Venters, I knew we were done. We tried to make it interesting in the ninth, with the tying run up to bat, and Chipper Jones on deck, but naturally, Juan Francisco hit into a game ending double play.

Reds win 6-3 and sweep the series. Ouch.

Final Thoughts & Overall Experience

Despite the loss, it was great to see my home team in the friendly confines of Great American Ballpark. The fans were friendly, courteous, and willing to strike up a conversation. The Reds did a great job honoring Chipper Jones to start the game, presenting him one of the commemorative bases they used for the series. Cincinnati has done a marvelous job with their new park and have helped rejuvenate the riverfront, making a must-see destination for not just baseball fans, but all tourists alike. It was a far cry from the experiences I had as a kid in Cincinnati, and is an incredible place to see a game. Everything about the experience (aside from the loss) was fantastic and if you’re in the area, you cannot miss Great American Ballpark. It’s one-of-a-kind and is a fitting tribute to America’s first baseball town, and for one of the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball.

If you can make the trip, go. Granted, I have limited experience with MLB parks, but I was blown away by what Cincinnati is offering nowadays. I couldn’t root for the home team last night, but if I were from here, I would love the Reds as passionately as I love the Braves. If you love baseball, you will love Great American Ballpark and they’ll love you back.

Overall grade: A

A last minute snapshot of me at Great American Ballpark. (I really have to get better about getting pictures of myself during games.)

What’s Next?

On Sunday I’ll be heading to Louisville Slugger Field to check out the Reds’ AAA club, the Louisville Bats. It’ll be the first AAA experience for RFTHT and I can’t wait! Also, if you want to see more pictures or keep up with me on a more regular basis, please check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

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