Friday, April 6, 2012

My Opening Day: The road less traveled

Reds fans at Fountain Square awaiting the parade
Thousands of writers and millions of words have been printed to prelude, analyze, and summarize the 2012 Cincinnati Reds Opening Day; Official Major League Baseball journalists to homestead bloggers. There is certainly no shortage of literature on the topic. One can’t get a drink of water from the office break room without getting caught up some baseball talk. Friday morning has come and the blur that was Opening Day has set in, finally coming to a halt; like a top fuel dragster deploying its chute. My Opening Day experience was much like any other fan in Cincinnati, but I can be sure that it was better than any one of the 29 other teams. Cincinnati celebrates Opening Day like none other; official parades, block parties, and a tradition that runs deeper than all. Most Reds fans cram into the Holy Grail outside of the Reds Baseball Hall of Fame Museum; enjoying 700 WLW broadcasting, burgers and sausage off the grill, cold beers, and gorgeous woman. Many patrons enjoyed local brews at Christian Moerlein’s new brewery on the banks. Between the two establishments was Budweiser’s Block Party where a mixture poured into the streets. Most of the fans lined Race Street and Fountain Square awaiting Aaron Boone, Grand Marshal of the Reds 93rd Findlay Market Opening Day Parade. The rest sat at home or at work, tuning into Marty and the Cowboy on the radio. The long history of Cincinnati Reds Opening Day was enjoyed by thousands, each in our own way.

Great American Ballpark (seen from Kentucky side)

As for me; on that chilly Thursday morning, April 5th 2012, I had to get up earlier than one would like. A 6:00 am alarm got my brain working well enough to remember that today was the greatest day of the year in Cincinnati. Once realized, my noggin’ was firing on all cylinders. Pre-packed beer coolers, snack bags, a camera case, and baseball glove was quickly shuffled to the car. I got my daughter up, brushed her teeth, and snapped her into the car seat, milk in hand. We were looking at the City of Dayton in the rear view mirror and headed south on I-75 with intent and purpose; only stopping in my small hometown of Liberty Township to drop Abbie off with grandma and grandpa. I glided over the rolling hills of the old farm lands to Monroe, another small town and home of another frequent Great American Ball Park patron, life-long Reds fan, co-worker, and friend. I had transferred the fore mentioned beer, snacks, and necessities to his car and back on I-75 south we were. Traffic was light getting into the Queen City, most people were at work and other Opening Day goers were en route. This is the point in which my Opening Day experience differed than the average Reds fan. Once in Cincinnati, we didn’t head to the east side of town towards the ball park; instead, our day began on the west side. I had wanted to pay my respects to the Reds of the past and most importantly Pete Rose. Pete Rose grew up in Anderson Ferry, a small west side neighborhood on the Ohio River. Pete told stories of his father and him being dropped off at Frisch’s and walking to Crosley Field to watch the Reds play. Pete learned everything he knew about baseball from his dad, along with his winning work ethic. After watching Reds greats play Pete joined the ranks in 1963 came his debut at Crosley field.

Freeman Ave exit off I75 South

Frisch's Big Boy on Freeman (1st Frisch's) Pete Rose ate here.

In honor of Pete Rose’s childhood and Cincinnati’s baseball heritage we pulled into Frisch’s for their famous breakfast bar; the bar included the traditional biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon, and hash browns. Cincinnati being a German grown city, the bar included my personal favorite Kielbasa, peppers, and onions; a cuisine that only a German gut can handle at 9:30 am. After breakfast, we set out on foot heading west on Gest Street and then making a right on Dalton Avenue. We walked under the grand Cincinnati Union Terminal which opened April 1st 1933; continuing up Dalton we emerged onto Findlay Street. I had compared archived maps depicting Crosley Field and it’s layout in the city against today’s topography maps. I made a quick sketch of the ball park on a map and we were off, looking for the Crosley Field home plate plaque, hidden somewhere in the industrial park. We searched for something obvious, as if a memorial would be large, and easily accessible. With no luck, I went inside the nearest building and ask the receptionist where Crosley’s home plate could be found. She was an older lady, who responded with cheerful directions, pointed us in the right direction. After a few more minutes we located the plaque. The plate was discovered between a small tree and the building that was standing directly on top a section of the field that probably stretched from the pitcher’s mound and as far left as the stands on the third base line. The building stretched out to nearly where a shortstop like Chico Cardenas would have played a little deep. Second base was somewhere in a fenced in parking lot and first was probably smack in the middle of Dalton Street. The outfield was engulfed in concrete and warehouses, as the right field fence probably wasn’t too far off from the highway. Factories flourish where the Seibler Suit billboard once stood. If you hit the sign with a home run ball you won a free suit. Reds Wally Post holds the record with 11 suits; Willie Mays holds the away team record with 7. Today Cincinnati Wholesale Florist, Joseph Berning Printing, Roy Tailors Uniform, Beech Acres, Professional Maintenance, and Phillips Supply Company stand in place of the greatest ballplayers in history. In this very spot the 1938 and 1953 All-Star Game was played. The Reds played in the 1919, 1939, 1940, and 1969 World Series in this piece of land. Joe Nuxhall had made his debut at the age of 15 on June 10th 1944 on the mound at Crosley. Hank Aaron, the greatest home run hitter in history reached 3,000 hits, later to break Babe Ruth’s home run record at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Frank Robinson was the 1961 MVP, and Ted Kluszewski hit 100 or more RBIs four straight years here between Findlay Street, York, and Bank Street.

Dalton tunnel under Union Terminal
Inside Union Terminal

Union Terminal (two black holes in courtyard are lighting ports for tunnel below)
Phillips Supply Company sets on Crosley Field
Walking towards Phillips Supply Company (homeplate is to the left)
Old Riverfront Stadium seats, heading towards Crosley. Walking from what would be the visitor dugout.

First glimpse of the plate.

Crosley Field in it's day
My map to Crosley Field

We paid respects to the backbone of the game, the start, the cradle of baseball civilization, now back to the present and the season ahead. We drove down to our regular parking lot between Theodore M. Berry Way and W. Mehring Way. The parking lot was full of Reds fans and tailgaters; we joined the festivities with a case of Coors and a round of tossing a baseball. We caught some sun, some baseballs, and a buzz and decided it was time to walk north to the 93rd Findlay Market Parade. The crowds were dense but we weaseled our way to Fountain Square in time to catch Grand Marshal Aaron Boone lead the parade followed by fire departments, marching bands, Miss Cincinnati, and a truck hauling Nick Massat and Matt Latos. Shortly after a fleet of 50’s-60’s pickup trucks rolled through we headed back down to Great American Ballpark. Once inside the park one couldn’t help notice how empty it was as everyone was still outside at the block party. We wandered the empty caverns of the stadium taking our time finding our seats. Enjoying the scenery as workers buzzed around the field setting up the Marlins batting practice. Stopping by the concessions stands to fill up on Hebrew Nationals and beer we then climbed the stairs to our seats. There we sat for the next two hours, drinking beer, eating peanuts and talking about the same baseball news we have been rumbling about all winter long, as if it was the latest news. Would Drew Stubbs cut down his strikes? Votto’s mammoth contract, Scott Rolen’s health, and the rotation potential were all topics of discussion.

Two hours and 46 minutes, a few more beers, and 4 runs later, the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Miami Marlins in this titanic Opening Day struggle. Johnny Cueto shutout the fish as Bruce, Heisey, Ludwick, Rolen, Votto, Phillips, Stubbs, and Hannigan all brought their bats and got some hits. A perfect start to a year that looks promising. Here’s to the 2012 Cincinnati Reds, the fans, and the over a hundred years of baseball heritage laying the foundation for success.
My Opening Day: By Nathan A. Hellweg- Dedicated to Brandon Phillips #4, in hopes of a contract getting worked out soon.

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