Monday, September 23, 2002
Reds, fans bid fond farewell to stadium
By Howard Wilkinson firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cincinnati Enquirer
On a bittersweet afternooon of baseball and memory, the last at the oft-maligned Cinergy Field, who better than the plain-spoken and much-loved Sparky Anderson to sum it all up?
"They can tear it down," said the manager who led the Big Red Machine of the 1970s to four World Series and two World Championships, "but they can't take it away from me. I'll never forget."
Nor will the 40,964 who filled the circular bowl Sunday afternoon to see the Reds drop a game to the Phillies 4-3. Nor the 65 million who preceded them through the turnstiles through 2,572 games, for 32 seasons.
Sunday's ball game itself - with Aaron Boone hitting the last home run in Riverfront/Cinergy and second baseman Todd Walker taking the last swing, a routine ground-out to second - was mostly a footnote to the day-long pageant designed to celebrate the past and greet the future.
The future stood only a few feet away in the form of Great American Ball Park, the Reds' new $280 million home, which rose up next to the former Riverfront Stadium all year long, so close by that it seemed to be pushing the old ball yard aside.
I'm going to remember everything I ever saw in this place, said Jim Traynor, a Reds fan from Dayton, Ohio, who has known no other home for the Reds in his 36 years.
But to tell you the truth, I can't wait to get into that place, he said, pointing to the white upper deck of the new ballpark.
Reds fans' day of baseball nostalgia ended late Sunday afternoon when three members of the Reds grounds crew - dressed in tuxedos and wielding pick-axes and shovels - dug up home plate as 52 former Reds greats who had been called out onto the field watched.
The plate was loaded onto The Big Red Machine - the huge Zamboni that used to sweep the Astroturf when that was the playing surface at Riverfront Stadium - and was driven, with Cincinnati police escort, across the way and installed at Great American Ball Park.
And, through it all, one unseen but universally felt presence hung over the ballpark on its last day - Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader, banned from baseball and unable to take part in the Reds' official celebration, on the order of baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
The thousands of fans who chanted Pete, Pete, Pete throughout the hour-long post-game ceremony were a day early - Rose was nowhere to be found at Cinergy Sunday, but will be there today as the featured attraction at an old-timers softball game with his teammates from the Big Red Machine.
But that did not stop him from being a headline act in Cinergy's grand finale.
A single red rose was placed on the red wishbone C behind home plate before the game by coach Ray Knight. During the post-game ceremony on the field, former Reds pitcher Tom Browning - he of Riverfront Stadium's only perfect game 14 years ago this month - raced around the tunnel leading out to the field looking for a can of red spray paint. Somehow, he found one, and ran out to the field, where he spray-painted Rose's number 14 on the pitcher's mound.
The crowded roared.
When they knock this place down Dec. 29, those memories we have will stay right here, Joe Nuxhall, the Ol' Left-hander who pitched 15 seasons in Crosley Field and broadcast games from the Riverfront/Cinergy radio booth for its entire history, told the crowd.
If this place turns out to be a parking lot, we'll point at it and remember, "that was where Pete got his big hit,' Nuxhall said. Pete Rose belongs right here.
But with or without Rose, the day was destined to be one of joy, tinged with sadness.
From the time the first fans filed through the turnstiles at 11:15 a.m. and were handed their souvenir lanyards, to the early evening hours, when fans in Reds shirts walked down Second Street to their cars, casting a last look at the ballpark, it was a day to relive memories - and be part of something that will be remembered as long as there is baseball in Cincinnati.
It will be a never-to-be-forgotten day for a fan like Thomas Cushard from Western Hills, who brought his ball glove to the park hoping to catch a foul ball, only to find his seat was three rows from the top, under the giant TV screen.
I don't care, Mr. Cushard said. It's the history of the day and just being part of the game.
Nearly everyone at the ballpark Sunday had been there many times before and nearly all had special memories of what they saw there.
For James Wood Sr. of Delhi Township, it was Sept. 17, 1983 - the night when the Reds honored Johnny Bench on the eve of his retirement - and he saw Bench deposit a pitch over the left field wall for his 389th and final home run.
Man, that was some night; the place went nuts, said Mr. Wood, sitting in row 17 of aisle 333 with his sons, James and John and Steve Holland Jr.
There were no problems after Sunday's game with fans trying to take seats out of the ballpark or running on the field ripping up turf. But there were long lines at the concession stands as fans tried to get one last Cinergy souvenir.
Jeanne Icenogle of Deer Park was smiling before the game because she had bought the last Cinergy Field T-shirt from a vendor on the field level.
I'll wear it next year in the new ballpark, she said.
For Marge Schott, the former Reds owner, the day was certainly bittersweet. In the pre-game ceremony, as the rival Phillies and the Reds lined up along the baselines for the national anthem, Mrs. Schott went up and down both lines, hugging and kissing the players.
I am going to miss this place, she said later. It's kind of a sad day, don't you think?
Thousands of kids roamed the ballpark Sunday afternoon with parents and grandparents, cementing memories that will last a lifetime.
One of them, 10-year-old Eric Merman of Eastgate, was busy during the sixth inning at the video-batting booth behind the first-base yellow seats as his dad, Chip Merman, shouted encouragement. Eric popped two of eight pitches out of the video ballpark for home runs.
He's pretty much into hot dogs right now, his dad said. But I do hope he remembers this day a long time.
For the 52 former players, managers and club executives who gathered here this weekend, it was a chance to see old friends, tell old stories and relive old times.
Davey Concepcion, the Big Red Machine's shortstop, showed up at the ballpark Sunday afternoon with former Reds reliever Pedro Borbon carrying a box of Cuban cigars and dressed in a Hawaiian shirt.
At noon in the Crosley Room on the Reds' office level of the stadium, four of the most memorable Reds who won fame at the circular stadium - Anderson, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and the present Reds shortstop, Barry Larkin - gathered for a press conference that was broadcast live in the stadium.
A reporter asked Larkin how it felt to be the Red who scored the most runs in Riverfront-Cinergy history; Larkin said he didn't know he held that record.
That's cool, he said.
Maybe you should be taking home plate home with you, Perez said.
Enquirer reporters Tom O'Neill and Michael D. Clark contributed.
Falcons 30, Bengals 3
Bengals Notebook: Forget playoffs at 0-3
Falcons happy with first victory
Monday Night NFL Preview
UC drops Midnight Madness for breakfast
UC coach won't forget 'near upset'
Ohio State 23, UC 19
College Football Review: Luck of the Irish is holding
Miami 27, Kent State 20
Mighty Ducks tickets on sale today
Prep football scores & game reports
How Enquirer poll teams fared
High school week preview
Today's high school schedule
Girls volleyball results
Return to Reds front page...