Friday, March 28, 2003

Players like new ballpark

Reds, Indians impressed at first glance

By Joe Kay
The Associated Press

The jet flew right over downtown on its approach to the airport, giving Reds players a spectacular view of their new ballpark. One by one, they pressed foreheads to the right-side windows and looked down in wide-eyed amazement.

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Aerial view of the first game at Great American Ball Park.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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The Reds take batting practice.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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Ken Griffey, Jr. gets his first hit in the new park.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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Ryan Dempster delivers the first pitch.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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Robb Stohlman of Cincinnati and Natalie Minnich of Dayton stand during the playing of God Bless America. The song was a tribute to troops in the Persian Gulf.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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Sean Casey is all smiles as he enters the dugout for the first time.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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View from home plate.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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Ken Griffey Jr. jokes with Adam Dunn while players run on the field.
(AP/Al Behrman photo)
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Jared McCarth, 6, of Reading carries a baseball as he and his dad, Charles McCarty, walk past a mosaic of The Big Red Machine.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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Tristan Lana, 6, from Milford (foreground) and Tyler Bertles, 9, from Centerville stand with other young fans along the railing.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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"Incredible," shortstop Barry Larkin said Friday. "The bird's-eye view we had last night on the plane - an absolute Field of Dreams. The ballpark was lit up. It sits up kind of by itself, right on the river. Pretty sweet."

Players acted more like fans when they walked into Great American Ball Park today and started getting accustomed to their new home - one the franchise has been dreaming about since 1995.

The Reds showed up early for a sold-out exhibition against the Cleveland Indians that amounted to a dry-run for the ballpark.

One after another quickly ran out of adjectives to describe the baseball-only park that replaced Cinergy Field, one of the cookie-cutter stadiums that was built for both football and baseball but suited neither.

Even for the visitors, the contrast was stunning.

"It's not like the other place - the cereal bowl," Indians pitcher Terry Mulholland said, swiveling his head from side. "Cincinnati has always been a baseball town. One of the things that kept people away was the stadium itself. This is an improvement."

Shortstop Omar Vizquel came out of the visitors' clubhouse early to look around the ballpark, which reminded him of an amusement park with its block of seats in right field, home-run celebration stacks and a blackened party room that serves as the batter's backdrop in center.

"This is awesome, man," Vizquel said. "It looks like an attraction park. In right field, those stands look like you're going to ride in a roller coaster or something. You go to straight center, it looks like one of those horse racing stands where people bet."

Vizquel sounded like one of the six architects that were brought in by The Cincinnati Enquirer to tour the ballpark and give their impressions. In a story published today, the architects agreed unanimously that so many design elements were blended together that the ballpark looked disjointed and had no discernible character.

Whether good or bad, the ballpark is distinct.

"Just the seat color - red - that alone separates it from most of the ballparks," Mulholland said. "They've got a lot of lighter colors to it. There's not the retro brick that you see in other ballparks."

Reds players were more interested in the spacious clubhouse, which has 20 television sets, and the maze of hallways leading to the trainer's rooms, weight rooms, batting cages and even a chapel.

"I might have trouble finding somebody," manager Bob Boone said. "If I wanted to find Reggie Taylor, I wouldn't know where to start looking. I'd have to send three guys out to look for him."

The players paid close attention to how grounders reacted during infield practice, how balls came off the padded walls and how the wind swirled in over the low outfield stands.

The only player reluctant to talk about the new place was Ken Griffey Jr., who got the Reds' first hit - a single - in the bottom of the first inning. The Reds made it only 325 feet down to the right-field foul pole, saying the close proximity should benefit their most accomplished home-run hitter.

To Griffey, it didn't matter.

"I don't hit very many balls down the line," Griffey said. "I would be tempting if it was 325 (feet) in right-center. That's what people forget about. They look at the dimensions and say its a home-run park."

Whether it's a home-run park or not will be discovered over time. From the first time they set eyes on it from a jet, the players were just delighted that they have their own park.

"I thought the plane was going to flip over because everyone moved to the right side of the plane," outfielder Adam Dunn said.

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