By Joe Kay
The Associated Press
SARASOTA, Fla. - More than 200,000 fans toured the Cincinnati Reds' new ballpark over the weekend, getting a peak at the cushy clubhouse, the spacious batting cages and the state-of-the art training facilities.
The players are jealous.
It'll be a few more days before they can tote their gear into Great American Ball Park and plop it down in front of their new lockers - the ones individually wired for Internet access.
"I've heard that it's just unbelievable," second baseman Aaron Boone said.
Most players have only heard about the amenities. Some got to tour the ballpark when it was a construction zone over the winter, giving them a general idea of what to expect.
When Boone went through the place, the clubhouse was a work in progress. In its unadorned form, it was still impressive.
"The finishing touches hadn't been done, but I remember walking through there and just having this giddy feeling of, 'Whoa, this is really happening,'" Boone said.
There hasn't been much talk about the new place during spring training so far, mainly because the players don't know what to expect. All pitcher Danny Graves knows about Great American is what he's heard from the few teammates who got to see it over the winter.
The Reds will head to Cincinnati on Thursday evening, returning early so they can play exhibitions in the new ballpark on Friday and Saturday against the Cleveland Indians.
"You're always excited about the season finally getting started," Graves said. "This is like moving into a new house. It's great. I'm definitely looking forward to this one more than any other year."
Shortstop Barry Larkin was amazed that an estimated 100,000 people went through the ballpark on Saturday, the first of a two-day open house. More than 100,000 went through again on Sunday, leaving the two-day total at 212,000.
Larkin, who grew up in Cincinnati and has played his entire career with the Reds, understands the feeling.
"I'm very excited," Larkin said Sunday. "I'm looking forward to opening it up and filling it every night and hopefully giving them a reason to come back."
In addition to finding their way around the new place, the Reds are going to have to learn how it plays. There aren't many quirks to the field itself, but there's a unique batter's eye - a black-shaded party room that serves as the backdrop in center.
Also, every grass infield plays a little differently.
"Everybody has to learn the different nuances of the park," Larkin said. "You have to see how the infield plays, how the ball caroms off the wall. The hitting eye's important. There's a lot of things we'll have to learn."
The most important chore will be figuring out how to turn Great American into a great home field. In their last two seasons at Cinergy Field, the Reds were one of the worst home teams in the majors.
They set a franchise record for home futility by going 27-54 in 2001, the first year at Cinergy after it was reconfigured to make room for Great American. They went 38-43 last season and got swept by Philadelphia in their final home series.
"I just hope it will be a home-field advantage for us," Larkin said. "I think that's a matter of playing well there, and a matter of how the fans show up and react.
"I remember during the World Series in 1990, the buzz even before we got out onto the field. Hopefully that's what we'll have in this new ballpark - a buzz, an anticipation and excitement that good things will happen."
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