Monday, August 20, 2012

Ballpark Thoughts

My apologies to anyone who reads the title of this post and expects to read a discussion of some arcane aspect of estimating park factors. On Saturday I visited Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati for the first time for the Cubs/Reds doubleheader. I am by no means a well-traveled fan when it comes to attending MLB stadiums--GABP raises my lifetime count to five (Jacobs Field, Municipal Stadium, PNC Park, Tropicana Field). What follows are some random thoughts (and snark at the expense of my southern neighbors):

* I expected to be underwhelmed by the ballpark. I can’t point to any particular influence, but I thought that the general consensus on GABP was that it was not on par with the best of the new parks.

Having only been to four of the current parks, I can’t place GABP on a grand continuum, but given my lowered expectations, I was quite impressed. For the day game, I purposefully bought a ticket in the very last row of the stadium behind home plate. My main motivation was shade, but it offered a great opportunity to take in the park from the bird’s eye view. For the second game, I sat in the right field moon deck, which was useful because it provided the opposite orientation.

The Ohio River and the hills of Kentucky provide nice scenery for those facing the outfield. While the park is not situated close enough to the field to allow for splash hits, the river is certainly quite prominent in the view past right field, and the lack of a second or third deck in right field leaves the scenery largely unimpeded.

Those looking towards left field have a much less interesting view--the left field bleachers and the basketball arena block any view. The impediment of the arena validates the decision to leave right field open, as otherwise you wouldn't be able to see much beyond the park from any perspective.

From the outfield perspective, you mostly just have a view of the stadium. Most of the skyline is obscured, with the top of the (surprise) Great American building the highlight. The PNC “power stacks” are a bit of an annoyance from these seats--not because they block the view (they’re behind you) but because you can feel the heat from the napalm or whatever exactly it is that they shoot off. This would be a plus at a cold April game, but is annoying otherwise.

Of course, all this talk about the view misses the primary point of visiting a stadium, which is to watch the ballgame and not the scenery.

* The silliness of the attempt to manufacture a “game day experience” is by no means unique to GABP nor to MLB, but in my limited experience Cincinnati takes the cake. One of the most annoying features added at Jacobs Field over the last few seasons are way too cheery “hosts” who appear on the scoreboard, going around the park and telling you about all the exciting and fun things to do at the park. GABP has these as well, so I was edified about the pre-game concert featuring a band doing a particularly bland cover of the Black Crowes’ version of “Hard to Handle”, about the Big Red Machine exhibit at the Reds Hall of Fame (the Reds “dominated baseball in the 70s”...I’m sure the A’s really felt dominated), and various other distractions.

The Reds also feature an extraordinary number of mascots. There are four. One is Gapper, the generic fuzzy monster that almost every team has a version of. The next is Mr. Red, a giant baseball head who manages to look much more menacing than Mr. Met. Then there is Mr. Redlegs, the old time giant baseball head (you can tell by his taste in mustaches) who appears to cheat at the mascot race (only conducted on the scoreboard, which is a plus). Finally, there is Rosie the Red, easily the most creepy mascot in history.

Prior to the day game (the night game was not as bloated), there were three first pitches (a logical conundrum), a kid yelling “play ball”, an honorary captain, and a delivery of the official game ball to the mound. Many traditional religious services have less ceremony.

Again, none of this is unique to Cincinnati, but I’ve previously been fortunate to not encounter so much of it at once.

* For the night game, the first 20,000 fans received a 1995 replica hat with Barry Larkin’s #11 on the side. The good people of Cincinnati really wanted to ensure that they received their hats. The lines to get into the ballpark before the gate opened were very long. I wasn’t quite ready to go into the park yet (I like getting there early, but ninety minutes is a little much for me), but I bowed to the inevitable and got in line to ensure that I too would receive a 1995 Reds hat.

* Two things struck me about the area surrounding the ballpark. The first was the pandhandlers. Now maybe I don’t go to the right (wrong) places, but in the two cities I am most familiar with (Cleveland and Columbus), the panhandlers are not nearly as sophisticated. All of the Cincinnati pandhandlers stand there with cardboard signs displaying their sob stories.

The other is scalpers, or more precisely, the lack thereof. Apparently, Cincinnati has fairly strict (and thus asinine) laws against selling tickets above face value. Surely this is still happening, but it is clearly done more discretely than it is around Jacobs Field or Nationwide Arena.

* Along the river, there are a set of columns which have plaques on each side. These comprise the Steamboat Hall of Fame. Spoiler alert: Many of the steamboats in the Steamboat Hall of Fame met unpleasant demises.

* Charging admission to your team’s Hall of Fame is almost as pretentious as pretending that your team was established in 1869 when it was actually established in 1882.

1 comment:

  1. I've been trying to go to more ball parks lately (recently was at Nationals ballpark - very nice). I don't think I ever saw as many first pitches as I did at Wrigley a few years ago (a must for any fan IMO). I'm not sure which was the "official" one: the Blue Man Group using a giant slingshot or Goose Gossage after he was voted in to the hall (he was signing for fans before the game in front of the Jiffy Lube).

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