Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Red-letter day for fans, Reds

Dramatic win caps final Opening Day at Cinergy Field

By Howard Wilkinson hwilkinson@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What better way to remember the 32nd and final Opening Day in Cinergy Field than with a Reds win? On a day of nostalgia for the not-so-ancient ghosts of the concrete bowl known as Riverfront Stadium and Cinergy Field, and a day when all you had to do was look over the outfield wall to peer into the Reds' future, 41,913 Reds fans gloried in a ninth-innning 5-4 win over the Chicago Cubs.

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Sean Casey and teammates celebrate their dramatic Opening Day victory .
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        “It doesn't get any better than this,” said 23-year-old Evan Terhar of Hyde Park, perched in the front row of the red box seats along the first base line. “This truly is my favorite day of the year.”

        He and thousands of young Cincinnatians like him know no other ballpark than the often-criticized structure that opened on the riverfront 32 summers ago.

        For them, Monday was not just the return of baseball after a long winter's wait. Instead, it was a celebration of a ball yard that, after this season, will be reduced to rubble and replaced by a brand-new Great American Ball Park, right next door.

        “It'll be a sad day when this places comes down,” Mr. Terhar said. “Every Reds game I've ever seen has been here.”

The GameCelebrationPeopleStadiumParade
        Monday, the atmosphere in the ballpark and on downtown's streets where the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade unfolded was as festive as it has ever been. Tens of thousands of people from all over the Tristate and beyond donned red hats, shirts and jackets, celebrating as if it were a Midwestern Mardi Gras.

With Great American Ball Park as a backdrop, the Reds and Cubs line up on the baselines before the final Opening Day at Cinergy Field.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        There was the traditional hoopla that has accompanied Reds' Opening Days for nearly a century now — the crazy-quilt combination of politicians, businesses and entertainers found in the 83rd annual Findlay Market Parade. Teams lined up along the baselines, and a Findlay Market vendor presented the annual fruit basket to the Reds team.

        As Reds fans filed into the stadium Monday, ticket-takers carefully punched their tickets instead of the usual ripping in half so fans could keep an intact memento of Cinergy Field's final Opening Day.

        But the nostalgia for the place where the Big Red Machine played in the 1970s and where an underrated team won a world championship 12 years ago was tempered by the first thing fans saw as they filed into their seats.

        Beyond the left and center field walls, steel girders loomed over Cinergy, looking unmistakably like a ballpark in progress.

        “That is pretty impressive,” said James Dalton of Dayton, Ohio, as he looked from his green seat behind home plate out to the Great American Ball Park.

        “It's hard to get choked up about this place when you see that,” Mr. Dalton said.

Barry Larkin beats the throw to score the winning run.
(AP photo)
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        The parade snaked its way down Race Street in Over-the-Rhine, across Fifth Street and past Fountain Square.

        But it did so without one of the anticipated stars of the show — Cinci Freedom — the cow that escaped a slaughterhouse, eluded her captors for 10 days last month and will soon rest easy at an upstate New York farm.

        Pop artist Peter Max, the cow's new owner, decided at the last minute to pull the cow out of the parade, after she became spooked by the noise of marching bands.

        “She's a sweet little girl,” Mr. Max said. “She's already upset, I don't want anything to upset her more.”

        Along the parade route, nearly 25,000 people gathered for an event that is as much a part of Opening Day as the game itself.

        Back at Cinergy, Noah Mathias, 73, of Delhi Township has been a ticket taker at Reds games since 1965.

        “I've enjoyed them both,” he says of his experiences at Crosley Field and Cinergy Field.

        He doesn't have a favorite. “They're both equal,” said the retired letter carrier. “They're both beautiful. I just enjoy baseball.”

        Mr. Mathias is looking forward to working in the Great American Ball Park next year if his union signs a new contract for next season.

        “I would just love to work in that new ballpark,” he said.

        Inside were plenty of Cubs fans mingling with the Reds partisans. And there was much talk of the soon-to-be demolished stadium.

        “I've been coming here since the Big Red Machine days,” said Kent Bevins, 38, of Dayton, Ohio. “It's no Wrigley Field, but it has memories for me.”
        William A. Weathers contributed to this report.<


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