By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Two weeks and a day to go. Opening Day looms. Everybody wants to know: Will Great American Ball Park be ready in time?
The new home of the Cincinnati Reds as seen from Riverboat Row in Newport.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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"It'll be ready," Cincinnati Reds Chief Operating Officer John Allen declared this week.
"But that doesn't mean the last person sweeping the seats won't be walking out the back door while the fans are walking in the front."
The timing won't be anywhere near that tight, insists Arnie Rosenberg.
He's the project director for building the ballpark, imploding Cinergy Field, removing the rubble and constructing the Reds' Hall of Fame.
"There is nothing that is not operational right now in this facility," Rosenberg noted while guiding a one-man tour of the ballpark Wednesday.
"Everything," he said emphatically, "relative to phase one - construction of the ballpark - will be complete, ready and operational, not only for Opening Day on March 31 but also the two exhibition games with the Cleveland Indians (March 28-29), and most likely for the open house on March 22 and 23."
Rosenberg admitted lots of work remains between now and then.
"But it's all in the cleanup, fix-up, paint-up stage," he said as he walked through the front gates.
That translates into unpacking furniture, painting a few doors and railings, nailing down some woodwork and fixing drywall dings.
It also includes moving Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall's chairs and their souvenir bedecked "Wall of Shame" into the broadcasting booth with the sign designating it as the Marty and Joe suite.
"The big jobs are done," Rosenberg said.
Only the little ones remain.
"Let's take a look," he said, speaking over the roar of a pressure washer.
A construction worker carefully cleaned the concrete floor of the concourse on the ballpark's first-base side. Mist rose from the nozzle of the pressure-washer's hose. Once clean, the floor would be sealed to keep it from being stained by mustard and other food spills common to ballparks.
The worker stood under a concession stand's neon sign marked Doggy's Dogs.
"Doggie" is the nickname of Tony Perez, the Hall of Fame first baseman on the World Champion Big Red Machine teams of 1975 and 1976. Many of the concession stands play off the names of players on those famed teams. Including a pizza place named Pete's.
An intensely humble man, Rosenberg refuses to take direct credit for the progress of work on the ballpark.
"I'm just an orchestra leader," he said.
Only his orchestra has had 5,000-plus players.
"I just make sure everybody's using the same sheet music and that the right people are doing the right things at the right time."
As he spoke, every fire alarm in the ballpark sounded and every emergency exit sign flashed.
Workers use steam to clean the concourse at the Great American Ball Park.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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"We're testing that system over and over," he said. "It must be perfect."
So far, so good.
He remembered another test. And another perfect score.
"Last Friday we had 'Super Flush Day,' " he said. "Hundreds of people came in. At a given signal, every toilet was flushed and every sink turned on in the restrooms, in the kitchens, in the suites, in the offices, everywhere.
"We had no problems."
Rosenberg's tour route paused on a stairway in the far right-field corner of the ballpark, just above the Reds' bullpen.
He stood next to a pile of debris.
Drink cans. Bits of wire. Concrete dust. Discarded horseshoe-shaped plastic shims in red and black whose brothers and sisters rest under the ballpark's seats to keep them from wobbling.
"This will be gone soon," he said, kicking a can. "The ballpark can be cleaned overnight."
Other high-profile items still on the ballpark's to-do list:
Crosley Terrace. Finish landscaping the ballpark's grand entrance. Install the first of four larger-than-life statues. First up, the bronze likeness of Ted Kluszewski, the Reds slugger whose bulging biceps and huge heart earned him the well-deserved nickname, Big Klu.
Scoreboard clock. Attach the face to the frame of the twice-as-big replica of the Longines clock that kept time at Crosley Field, the site of Reds home games from 1884 to 1970, when the team moved to Riverfront Stadium.
Reds mosaics. Put up two tile works of art - in the style of Union Terminal's murals - just inside the main entrance. One mosaic honors the original Reds of 1869, the first professional baseball team. The other pays tribute to the Big Red Machine's lineup.
Ballpark lights. Finish aiming the bulbs in the giant, toothbrush-shaped light fixtures looking down on the playing field. Once this job is complete, Major League Baseball can officially certify the site and it will be ready for a ballgame.
Home-run feature. Put the tall stacks-themed, fireworks-spewing special effect through all of its paces.
Mustard. Select a signature condiment to be served and sold at the ballpark.
Rosenberg expects these jobs to be done this week. "From then on," he said, "it's just a matter of tweaking things and cleaning up the place."
Tweaking and cleaning continued above him even as he spoke.
The image of a huge bird flapped into view on the computer-driven screen of the scoreboard high above left field. A speeding computerized baseball parted the bird's head feathers. The words "Foul Ball!" shot across the big leagues' third-largest scoreboard
The outfield field-level scoreboard undergoes final touches.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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"Only Colorado and the Detroit Tigers' boards are bigger," Rosenberg said as he climbed the stairs to the scoreboard's nerve center.
Situated along the first-base line on the ballpark's press box level, scoreboard central consists of banks of video monitors, countless keyboards and scads of softly humming computer gear.
Software developer Rodney Hickman stood by one stack of equipment. He had the hood up and was working on what makes this huge gizmo tick.
From time to time, he looked out the window at the scoreboard. Two rectangular spaces remained unlit.
"We're fine-tuning the scoreboard's effect," Hickman explained.
The sections were unlit because one of his cohorts was inside the board. He was checking the circuits and did not want to get fried in the process.
Leaving the scoreboard's headquarters, Rosenberg routed the tour through the Riverfront Club, one of the ballpark's fine-dining restaurants.
John Pate stood on a ladder washing windows. A carpenter by trade, the West End man has worked in three Reds' homes. He sold beer as a teenager at Crosley and performed clean-up chores at Cinergy. Now, he's doing windows at Great American.
"You know a place is ready when they start having the windows washed," Pate said.
"It's like when you clean your car. Last thing you wash is the windows. Then, you're good to go."
The tour was winding down. Rosenberg left the Riverfront Room and headed for a section of seats on the stadium's terrace level, just above first base.
He stood by a row of widely spaced seats. These are reserved for the companions of fans in wheelchairs.
"My son, Andrew, is handicapped," Rosenberg said.
"He's 23 and had a stroke in May of 2002. We almost lost him."
Since then, Rosenberg has dedicated his work at the ballpark to his son.
"I wanted to make sure my lasting legacy here would be that this facility was more than 100 percent handicapped accessible," he said.
"That way, he would always be able to come here to enjoy a ballgame."
This attention to detail is just one of a multitude of fan-friendly features at the park.
Other new ballparks, Cleveland's Jacobs Field for instance, sport ornamental ironwork and distinctive hardware for the doors, windows and lights.
Great American Ball Park's ironwork and hardware are generic. No frills.
This park pays attention to the fans instead of costly design details. Money's spent angling seats toward home plate, adding extra scoreboard effects and honoring the Reds' history with statues, murals and mosaics.
"I traveled to lots of ballparks as part of this process," Rosenberg noted.
"I have not seen the level of artistic development in any ballpark in the United States the way that the Reds have focused on it here."
Chalk that up to hometown pride.
Rosenberg found that attribute in "the dedicated folks who have worked on this project.
"They know baseball is part of the culture in Cincinnati. Black, white yellow or brown, rich or poor, male or female, it's what unites us.
"It's what made it special for everyone on this project. They knew it was not just another office building.
"They knew they were building a field of dreams."
Soon, it will be time for the Reds and their fans to make those dreams come true.
By the numbers
Hours worked on the ballpark: 2,170,172
Seating capacity: 42,263
Pavers set in Crosley Terrace, the park's grand entrance: 40,000
Miles the ballpark's seats would extend if they were lined up in one continuous row: 9
Tons of structural steel in the ballpark's skeleton: 10,100
Free tours next weekend
The taxpayers of Hamilton County can take free tours of their $280 million investment, Great American Ball Park, during a two-day open house, March 22-23.
Attendees will receive free commemorative souvenirs from the Cincinnati Reds. Concession stands will be open both days throughout the ballpark. A limited menu of food and beverages will be for sale.
The formal dedication ceremony, which starts 9 a.m. March 22, will be the first event held on the ballpark's field. Gates open at 8:30 a.m.
The March 22 tours begin at 10 a.m. near the Crosley Terrace area, the ballpark's entrance. The tours are self-guided and follow two routes. Both routes take in the same sites and should last approximately 45 minutes. The last tour departs 6:30 p.m.
On March 23, gates open at 11:30 a.m. Tours start at noon. The final tour is set for 4:30 p.m.
Free parking for the open house is available in riverfront lots owned by Hamilton County. Handicapped parking is available in the ballpark's garage, as well as the East Garage.
For information, call 765-7000.
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