Sunday, October 20, 2002

Early birds catch Cinergy Field memorabilia

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There was no such thing as being too early Saturday for O'Rourke Wrecking Co.'s sale of Cinergy Field seats outside the company headquarters on Lunken Park Drive in Linwood.

        By the advertised 8 a.m. opening, at least 3,000 early arrivers - some of whom had camped out all night along Wilmer Avenue across from Lunken Airport - were queued up in a line four city blocks long for the chance to take home a set of red or green seats from the soon-to-be-demolished home of the Cincinnati Reds.

        Thousands of others - memorabilia collectors and Reds fans who had assumed that an 8 a.m. arrival would put them at the head of the line - were turned away and told to come back next Saturday, when another 10,000 seats from the 40,000-seat ballpark would be available.

        “You might as well go home,” O'Rourke employee David Long shouted at the hundreds gathered at the Wilmer Avenue gate at 8 a.m. “There's no way there's going to be anything left by the time you get to the front of that line.”

        O'Rourke is the company hired by Hamilton County to tear down the 32-year-old stadium. A standard part of a demolition contract makes everything in the building the property of the wrecking company - thus, the sale of Cinergy seats, sod, signs and other memorabilia to the public.

        But, Saturday, the first public sale after one limited to Reds season ticket-holders only, saw many would-be customers go away not only empty-handed but unhappy.

        “This is disgusting,” said Kim Hansen of Colerain Township, who arrived at 8 a.m. in hopes of getting four Cinergy Field seats.

        “I'm a fifth-generation Reds fan; I don't know how many hundreds of times I've sat in those seats,” she said. “That ought to count for something.”

        Bruce Plettner hopped in the car at 5:30 a.m. Saturday to make the 130-mile trip from his home in Bloomington, Ind., in hopes of going home with some seats. Arriving shortly before 8 a.m., he was told to go home because he had no chance of getting any seats.

        “I don't care; I've come a long way so I'm going to stand in that line,” Mr. Plettner said, making his way up Lunken Park Drive toward the end of the long line.

        Mr. Long's advice to those who were turned away Saturday was simple - show up very early for next Saturday's sale.

        “It's like a concert,” Mr. Long told one person reluctant to leave. “If it was a concert I really wanted to see, I'd stand in line all night. Just come real early next week.”

        A half-hour before the scheduled 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. sale was to begin, hundreds of cars crawled along Wilmer Avenue in the rain and early-morning darkness. Would-be customers parked in the mud along both sides of the road from the airport terminal to the Lunken playfields.

        But Saturday, it was only early birds like Kevin Kroeger and his brother-in-law, Bob Vonhagel, both of Deer Park, who made it through the line and went home happy.

        About 8:15 a.m., as Mr. Long and a Cincinnati police officer pleaded with dozens at the O'Rourke gate to go home and try again next week, Mr. Kroeger and Mr. Vonhagel walked by carrying sets of red seats and hoisted them into Mr. Kroeger's pick-up truck.

        “I had a feeling it was going to be like this,” Mr. Kroeger said. “So I woke up at a quarter to five, hopped straight into the truck and was here in 10 minutes.”

        The wait, Mr. Kroeger said, “was cold and dark and wet, but it wasn't all that bad. I just feel bad for all these people out here who thought they could show up at eight.”

        Jill Cummins of West Chester showed up early as well; she bought four red seats for her son and also came away with some of the broken bats that were piled up in the empty lot next to O'Rourke's company headquarters.

        “I came in just to get the seats, but you get soaked up in all this stuff so I had to buy something else,” Ms. Cummins said. “What a great sale.”

        O'Rourke Wrecking let Rick Block of Indian Hill set up a booth next to the memorabilia stand and the rows of red and green seats to sell copies of his Riverfront Stadium poster, a collage of 175 photographs from around the ballpark that he took during the last six games played there in September.

        “I kind of had mixed feelings about seeing the ballpark go,” Mr. Block said. “The new ballpark will be great. But there are so many memories wrapped up in that place.”

        Of those fortunate enough to buy seats, possibly none came farther than Craig Corbin, who drove 500 miles from his home in Atlanta.

        Mr. Corbin, wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates warm-up jacket, loaded his Cinergy seats onto the back of his truck for the long ride home.

        “I just wanted a piece of it,” Mr. Corbin said. “Don't ask me why. I'm just a baseball nut.”



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