As I continue to chronicle Major League Baseball’s ballparks, I made a smart decision to visit Great American Ballpark in Cincinnatti, the host venue to tonight’s All-Star Game. I wrote about it here:
Having visited a couple of different Major League Baseball parks years ago, I decided that I wanted to see them all, or at least as many as possible before I get too old to do it. Last year, it was PNC Park in Pittsburgh, to see the Pirates. The 4.5-hour drive was easy, so I’m using that distance as a benchmark for trips in the immediate future, at least for now.
Cincinnati seemed like an obvious choice. It, too, was roughly 4.5 hours from my suburban Detroit driveway. I knew very little of the Queen City. I booked an $80 room for a night through priceline, less than a mile walk from the park, spent a few weeks doing some critical research (locating quality dive bars and fleshing out the most realistic expectations for burrito specialists), got up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday and headed south.
It bears mentioning here that I am married to the most fabulous woman in the free world. And in non-free worlds, she would continue to shine. She encourages adventures like this, where I can get away from the house, the toddler, the dog and the same four walls I stare at daily, to traipse around all day and half of the night in a new-to-me city and explore its ballpark. Some guys don’t have it this good. Some guys, coincidentally, are also selfish and out of touch, and couldn’t be trusted with a night away from home. I continually bust ass to keep a tight house. Sometimes I need to step away from it.
In my research, I discovered a certain amount of history in Cincinnati and had outlined a handful of areas I wanted to discover. This included the old neighborhood of Over The Rhine, which is reportedly part ghetto/part history lesson. The historical Ninth Street neighborhood was also on my list, as was the city’s Music Hall and the Mount Adams neighborhood. The very moment I hit town, it started to rain. My check-in time at the Millennium Hotel was 4 p.m. so, naturally, I showed up at the front desk at 11 a.m. Luckily, my room was available. I checked in, unloaded my gear, charged my phone and headed out in the rain. The inclement weather made picture-taking impossible, as it turned from showers to a downpour. I drove through Mount Adams, which turned out to be this glorious, elevated neighborhood, with historic homes clustered together tightly, narrow streets, an array of smart-looking retailers and a seemingly unrivaled view of the city. But I was really in this charming neighborhood for one thing: Lunch at City View Tavern.
This bar is known not only as a choice neighborhood bar in Mount Adams and its finer hamburger products, but for its deck with a nice view of the city.
I met the bartender and later, the owner, Silas. I asked to take photos inside. Silas said it would not be a concern for him. Finally, an owner who didn’t give a shit about some amateur hack snapping away in his bar. I watched part of the 2012 NFL Draft while making quick work of the Teddy Burger, and a couple of pints of Hop Bomber from the Rivertown Brewing Co. My day could’ve started and ended with just this moment and the trip would’ve felt very complete.
The rain continued, so I just chilled and had another beer before making my way back downtown. Music Hall, Over The Rhine and any sightseeing would be truncated not only by the weather, but by the 4:10 p.m. start time to the game. It was already 2:30 and that seemed like a good time to park the car for good. The hotel charged $25 for overnight valet. The parking structure kitty corner from the hotel charged $8 for overnight. I hit the room, changed clothes, beamed up, took a coupla pulls of Crown and walked to the home of the Cincinnati Reds, the Great American Ballpark.
I would do a couple of laps around the park before the game started, sitting nowhere near my $4 bleacher seat. The concourses were roomy, save for in the outfield, where a huge overhang made it feel like you were in a crowded room with a low ceiling. The stadium holds 42,271 and many of them were there for this cloudy, mild Saturday afternoon to see their beloved Reds take on the Houston Astros.
They were not disappointed. Regional icon and All-Star Joey Votto blasted a double, before scoring on a Brandon Phillips triple in the first inning. The place went absolutely bananas. The Reds would hang two more runs on Houston in the third inning and then again in the fifth, en route to a 6-0 shutout. Johnny Cueto, the rotation’s cornerstone, went seven innings, allowing only five hits and striking out three. Cueto improved his record to 3-0. And while I had never before heard of Reds’ right fielder Jay Bruce, I’ll be paying attention to him in the box scores this year. His fifth-inning homer was a huge blast and every time he came to the plate or touched the ball, the crowd grew louder.
I spent much of the game walking around the park, through the back side of the venue, behind the outfield, where the higher-end concessions were located; through the upper level where the double-decked bleachers live in left field; back through the main concourses, where I would settle down in the outfield, near the left-field wall that sits 328 feet from home plate (it’s 404 to center and 325 to left).
The game wound down and so did I. As I headed out, I again passed these statues at the main entrance of Great American Ballpark.
The pitcher is Joe Nuxhall – the legendary Reds broadcaster who called games for nearly 40 years, following an MLB career where he was not only an All-Star but set the league record for youngest player to ever start a game, doing so at age 15. The batter is Hall of Fame legend Frank Robinson and the catcher statue is that of his Cooperstown-enshrined teammate, Ernie Lombardi. The pitcher’s mound is built to MLB dimensions of that time and the terrace is sloped at the same incline as Crosley Field’s, where the Reds played their home games from 1912 to 1970. I found it to be a compelling touch.
The game ended at 7 p.m. and I sought out O’Malley’s, one of the only real dive bars anywhere near my hotel. After walking for another mile or two with no luck, I drank in some of the downtown’s retailers on Main Street, many of whom looked like they’ve been around for a while.
Also, not the type of shop you see a lot of around town.
And this hotel is glorious in its old-girl style, but I definitely do not like the way the math adds up.
I cabbed it back to the room, where I would finally get horizontal for a few minutes – I had walked a better part of the day and my legs were like rubber –before taking a long shower, blasting some Crown and then heading back out into the rain.
I would eventually find O’Malley’s and it was quite perfect – a little bar hidden in an alley, full of regulars and blue-collared drinkers. I knew I would feel right at home. Well, that didn’t last long. Every seat at the bar was taken and the sound system was blasting Poison. I left. I stopped at Local 127 for a couple of pints, but it was painfully upscale. When I quietly apologized to the bartender for being woefully underdressed in my hoodie and cap, he looked both ways before saying to me, “Don’t sweat it. I wish we had more people like you in here.” By now it was 10 p.m. and I was shot. I walked slowly back to the hotel, through a sea of high school prom goers (when Jason texted me and advised that I “hang your nuts out of your zipper and walk around, bro”), stopping at the hotel bar for a series of bourbons before retiring for the night. I was up early the next day and on the road by 8 a.m.
I liked Cincinnati. The downtown is fresh and clean, and perfectly condensed. It’s like a small, quaint town suffering from gigantism. It’s just the right size to navigate in a day and have a rich, cultural, urban experience without being overwhelmed. Great American Ballpark is a great place to see a game. It had a smooth layout with perfect views, but by the time the game ended, I was growing bored and restless. I don’t follow the Reds, so it was hard for me to get truly excited about the action on the field. My only regret was that I didn’t get to some of the areas of town I had hoped, and it’s doubtful I’ll be going back any time soon, if ever. No knock on the city, but I have more ballparks to see. Next up? U.S. Cellular Field on Chicago’s South Side. I called this shot years ago and have yet to follow up. Tony B., I plan to make good.