Saturday, January 27, 2001

New Cinergy Field has views, grass, character

Taking out 14,000 seats adds a lot

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It may be love at first sight for Reds fans visiting renovated Cinergy Field this spring. “When fans see it, they're going to say, "Why do we need a new ballpark?' said Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman.

Look at the changes
        “Well, a new stadium's needed, because there are only 39,000 seats (in renovated Cinergy) and no luxury boxes, but that isn't going to stop fans from asking the question.”

        It's hard to predict which of Cinergy's major renovations will hit fans on Opening Day:

        • The vibrant expanse of natural green grass that replaces the old Astroturf.

        • The outfield fence with three different heights (including a hulking, 30-foot-tall center-field wall, only 7 feet shorter than Boston's famed “Green Monster”).

        • The surprising new view of the Ohio River and Mt. Adams.

        • The action on the field — now much closer to fans.

        The outfield edge of the Cinergy bowl was removed to make room for construction of Great American Ballpark, scheduled to open in 2003. Fans will see steel rising out of the ground beyond center field on Opening Day.

        “I don't think there's a team in baseball that's had the privilege of playing in a ballpark this nice for two years while they waited for their new ballpark to open,” Brennaman said.

        Of all the amenities, the view alone may have the greatest impact.

        “When you bring people down here to show them around and they first see the view, the conversation stops,” said Declan Mullin, Reds director of stadium operations.

        The Ohio River isn't the San Francisco Bay, of course. But for 30 years, there hasn't been anything to look at from the seats: just more seats. Now, it's as if somebody poked a hole in a wall and put in a window. The light alone is refreshing.

        No longer valid is the criticism that when you're seated inside Cinergy Field, you don't know whether you're in Cincinnati or Atlanta or Pittsburgh (other cities that had similar cereal-bowl stadiums).

        It would be one thing if the stadium had always looked like this. But its renovations are enhanced by history: 31 seasons' worth of memories, including five World Series, a half dozen Hall of Fame players and some of the greatest plays and dramatic hits the game has seen.

It's now a ballpark

        Necessity was the mother of these renovations.

        Not only did the left- and center-field seating bowls have to be removed, the center-field fence had to be moved in 21 feet.

        Moving home plate 10 feet closer to the fans helped offset some of that difference, but it still means the center-field fence will be only 393 feet from home plate, compared to the 404 it has been since the stadium opened in June 1970.

        Removing the bowl also meant there was no longer anything on which to drape a dark background for hitters, known as a “batter's eye”. So the “eye” had to be added to the top of the fence; hence, the 30-foot-high center-field wall.

        When home plate was moved in, the new foul lines would have dug into the right- and left-field corner seats, so about 500 seats had to be removed. Helping to offset that loss are 343 new blue seats at the back of the section behind home plate. Temporary seats had been set up there for special games, including Opening Day, but now they are permanent.

        The foul territory has also been shortened.

        Some foul pops that players once caught will now reach the seats.

        Fans should also see more doubles and triples. Besides the effect of the higher wall, there will be funny bounces in the corners. Some of the rubberized warning track in foul territory is now in fair territory.

        Brennaman hopes the Reds don't “make the mistake” of painting a home-run line on the 30-foot center-field fence, which is an option. More than 80 percent of the 1,000-plus fans who responded to an Enquirer question on the subject said they want the entire wall to be in play.

        “We don't want to make it difficult for the umpires to know what is a home run and what isn't,” said John Allen, the Reds chief operating officer. “ ... But, from their perspective, if we do (draw a line), they need to remember it's only for two years.”

Impact on Griffey?

        The Reds figure to come out ahead of most visiting teams in regard to the way the 30-foot monster gets played, because their center fielder, Ken Griffey Jr., is so good. But the 14-foot height on either side of the monster will mean fewer spectacular Griffey catches above what used to be an 8-foot fence.

        Yet it shouldn't affect his home-run output.

        Griffey doesn't hit many bombs to dead center, and those he does hit tend to be high-arcing shots that won't be stopped by a 14-foot wall.

        The home and visitors' bullpens in right- and left-field foul territory have been moved to beyond the right-field fence. They will be back-to-back, separated by a wall, and visible to the fans above.

        Pitchers who aren't warming up can view the game from an elevated bench just above the right-field wall. Bullpen activities won't be visible from field level, so there will be video hookups in each team's dugout.

        And because 14,000 seats have been lost in the removal of the left- and center-field bowl, the Reds are adding seats wherever they can. One casualty: the kids'-zone playground in right-center field on the yellow level. This will now be a group-sales area. The lower tiers of the press dining room will also be turned into group sales.

        The installation of natural grass claimed some other victims.

        Farmer's Night is a thing of the past. And neither elephants — nor anyone else in the Findlay Market parade — will be allowed to march around the field before the Opening Day game.

        The grass just can't take it.

        Also, fans will be invited to run the bases after fewer games this year. Last year, fans could run the bases after any Sunday home game — and usually 3,000 to 5,000 did — but now they will be restricted to about once a month, when the team is out-of-town the next day or at least has an off day.

        “I wouldn't feel good about taking it away completely,” Allen said. “For some people, it's a religion.”


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