Friday, March 21, 2003

How to customize your ballpark tour


Little touches make park special

By John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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The Cincinnati Reds dedicated the flag pole in centerfield Thursday afternoon. Inviting veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf War, a present day armed services member and an ROTC cadet, Reds COO John Allen, a twice decorated Vietnam vet, raised the US flag. The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office bagpipers offered musical salutes.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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Every barroom discussion of the Cincinnati Reds usually comes to a head when someone says, "If the Reds were smart, they would ..." followed by some comment about left-handed closers or diced onions for the hot dogs.

Beginning Saturday morning, the fans can leave those arguments behind and actually touch, taste, smell and see how smart the Reds might be. The team's new $280 million home, Great American Ball Park, kicks off a two-day open house, revealing details of the ballpark just as the Reds dictated them to the architects.

To show off their brilliance, the Reds have mapped out an 18-stop tour for fans. The route will lead fans past the mosaics of the 1869 Reds and the 1975 world champions, along the four-lane concourses, through the Reds' clubhouse, into the cushy $175 Diamond seats, over the warning track, across the gap in the upper deck, and through a few party areas.

Fans will see a pretty good ballpark. As least that's what Lou Cataldo thinks. The Cleveland ironworker has helped build three ballparks - this one, Jacobs Field in Cleveland and PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

"I think it's a beautiful ballpark," he said Thursday. "It fits the area." He said fans should definitely see the Crosley Terrace at the park's main entrance and wander through the three-story third-base concourse.

Is this one better than Jacobs in Cleveland? Cataldo stepped back and threw down his palms as if some had tossed a firecracker at his feet. No sir, he wasn't going to touch that.

After some pressing, he gave in. He picked Jacobs. "You gotta go with your hometown," he said.

He's wrong, of course. Great American is better. With its green seats and ironwork, Jacobs is more classically retro. But that also means it has a lot of bad seats, and fans who head to the concourses for a hot dog can no longer see the game. Also, it's in Cleveland.

Great American is wide open, with more good seats and river views.

The Reds will show you all that Saturday and Sunday. Here are eight things that aren't on the tour.

The real Crosley Terrace: Crosley Terrace is the name of the big plaza that greets fans as they enter from Main and Second streets. But hang a right as you come across the brick walkway at the entrance, and head for the grassy knoll on the south edge of the plaza. That's a replica of the terrace that tripped left fielders for decades at old Crosley Field. There will be a "keep off the grass" sign there this weekend, but that will come down after the sod takes hold.

Sprinklers?: On the north edge of the ballpark are two sets of ramps that will carry fans between the main concourse and the upper deck. The eastern-most one, toward US Bank Arena, has a sprinkler system.

Bricks and concrete don't burn, so why are there sprinklers? That's a post-9/11 design change, according to ballpark security officials. If terrorists launch a chemical attack, fans will be routed through the sprinklers for decontamination. Basins beneath the ramps will catch the contaminated water.

The best place for a cigarette: You don't have to smoke, but persecuted smokers tend to find places in ballparks that are open, tranquil and even beautiful. Great American will have two of the great smoking lounges in baseball, and both are on the river's edge of the ballpark. The first is behind sections 138 and 139 on the main concourse. It has great views of both the ballpark and the river. Go up two levels, behind section 537, to a point where the railing becomes acute and points at Riverside Drive in Covington. You'll feel suspended in air, over Mehring Way, over the water, as if on the bow of the Titanic.

Maybe the best cheap seats in baseball: As long as you're near section 537, go in, climb a few rows and take a seat. You'll be on top of the ballpark, opposite the scoreboard, with a great view of the river to your right. And they're only $5.

The absolute worst seats in the house: Like every ball club that gets a new home, the Reds brag "there's not a bad seat in the house." That's almost never true, and it's especially not true at Great American. Head for the Sun/Moon Deck in right field, section 144, right next to the huge Pepsi Power Stacks, smoke stacks that will shoot sparks after home runs. Starting in row Q, the monster machine cuts off your view of left field and much of center. It obstructs views of seats up through row X of that section, maybe 150 seats. What should be some of the coolest seats in the park have been ruined by the Pepsi Power Stacks.

A Pete secret. On the back of the scoreboard, facing US Bank Arena, is a huge poster of a bat and ball - the ones Pete Rose used to break Ty Cobb's all-time hit record in 1985. The Reds haven't labeled it that way, but that's what it is.

The Big C: The Reds put their "C" logo all over the ballpark. The biggest are in the clubhouse. Look up where the TVs are mounted, then look underneath. The soffit is in the shape of the Reds' "C", and it mirrors one in the carpet directly beneath.

The condiment stands: All the cute-named concession stands (like "Fowl Pole" and "High 5 Grille") will be open for business during the tours. Buy a hot dog and dress it up. The condiment stands feature ketchup, two kinds of mustard, and - for the first time in decades - chopped onions.

Smart.

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E-mail johnb@enquirer.com




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