Saturday, March 29, 2003

Players come home, and oh, is it sweet!

By Kevin Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The pitchers gathered on the dugout bench to chat about the old and the new.

Ken Griffey Jr. jokes with Adam Dunn while players run on the field.
(AP/Al Behrman photo)
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Manager Bob Boone (right) talks with coach Tim Foli on the field before the game.
(AP/Mark Duncan 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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Usher Ed Foertsch wipes seats as he waits for fans.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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View from home plate.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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Reds closer Scott Williamson and broadcaster Joe Nuxhall do that sometimes.

Friday's exhibition against the Indians, the first game at Great American Ball Park, led to an impromptu pregame meeting in which the two chatted about similarities between the new park and Crosley Field where Nuxhall once pitched.

"It's state-of-the-art," Nuxhall said about Great American Ball Park. "It's very nice, first-class."

That was the consensus from Reds players before and after Friday's 6-1 exhibition loss against the Indians.

"This is the best ballpark I've ever walked in," catcher Jason LaRue said. "I'm just kind of in awe."

A fixture at shortstop in the Reds' old home stadium, Barry Larkin spent several minutes before the game familiarizing himself with the club's new one.

"I was just trying to make some mental notes," Larkin said. "I do that any time I go to a new ballpark. I just try to see if there are any legitimate areas of concern like a lip or sprinkler heads, valves. You want to know where they all are so they don't come into play."

As Larkin investigated - toeing the grass, looking at the field from different angles and testing the padding along the third-baseline wall - several teammates were gawking and gasping over their new home field.

"This is a huge, gigantic step up," pitcher Danny Graves said. "It's totally different. I feel like I'm on the road coming here.

"Everything is perfect. You couldn't ask for anything better. The field looks beautiful. The clubhouse is great. The training room is huge. We have a little swimming pool in there. Maybe we'll bring our beach balls in there during the off days or something."

Manager Bob Boone had seen the ballpark last season and before spring training began in February, but he found himself envious Friday.

"It looks pretty special," he said. "It makes me wish I was still playing."

Third baseman Brandon Larson was impressed not only with the visual aspects of the ballpark but also with the playing surface.

"This is going to be some kind of park to play in," Larson said. "It's nice, real nice."

And though he had been in the ballpark only a few hours Friday, Graves already was feeling at home before the first pitch was thrown.

"I already feel like this place is ours," Graves said. "It doesn't take long to realize this is our ballpark.

"We've been waiting on this for a while now. Guys who've been on this team for the past few years knew it was coming, and now it's finally here. We definitely consider this ours."


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