Great American Ball Park rolls out Red carpet for All-Star Game
Cincinnati's field celebrates team's rich history
By RJ Smith
CINCINNATI -- Perhaps you saw him bouncing around the Red Carpet Parade leading up to this year's All-Star Game. Or maybe you spotted him all over town on the official 2015 All-Star Game logo. He's the guy with the baseball for a head and the 1880s pillbox cap. You know, the mascot with the mustache: Mr. Redlegs.
Follow him and this year's top players into Great American Ball Park and you'll come to understand that baseball in Cincinnati is distinctive and tradition-bound. The park is on the small end of modern venues, with seating for 42,319, and every seat faces the plate. It's often called a hitter's park because of the 328-foot and 325-foot corners and sparse foul territory.
Frequently a breeze blows through a notch in the wall behind home plate (it looks like the ballpark lost a tooth) and wafts out to the Ohio River. You can walk a full loop around the park without needing to seriously change direction.
The name is so all encompassing and fitting that you may not realize it wasn't bestowed out of pride, but instead refers to a local insurance company that was run by a former majority owner of the team. Great American Ball Park opened in 2003, replacing Riverfront Stadium (or Cinergy Field, as it was later dubbed), which inhabited a plot a few yards away from where Great American Ball Park sits today; that's a lot of baseball for a compact patch of property once referred to as "The Wedge."
The feature that most sets Great American Ball Park apart is the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.
"Other teams are studying it to learn how to [create] their own," says Reds historian and author Jack Heffron. "Next to Cooperstown, I think it's the best baseball Hall of Fame there is."
The three-story institution was built right into the ballpark in 2005. Where else are you going to find Norm Charlton's champagne-stained 1990 World Series jersey? Or 1920s-era club president Gary Herrmann's pocket pistol (although "there is no record of him ever firing it")? Or the championship collar bestowed upon Schottzie, former owner Marge Schott's beloved St. Bernard?
Great American's structure itself pays tribute to the ballparks of Cincinnati past, and nearly every era of Reds baseball is recognized. One entrance features a Romanesque framework of hand-carved wooden doorways, which evokes the fluted Corinthian columns from Palace of the Fans, where the Reds played over a century ago. Many notes from Crosley Field have been integrated into the current blueprint, too, like the Longines clock on the main scoreboard, whose arms told the time in the age before Apple watches, and the arms on the Ted Kluszewski statue outside the ballpark. Proving that even a concrete doughnut can be someone's comfort food, elements from Riverfront Stadium have also been integrated into the current park.
In its 12 years, Great American Ball Park has made some vivid memories of its own. The biggest may have been Jay Bruce's walk-off homer on Sept. 28, 2010, which clinched the NL Central title. There was Homer Bailey's July 2, 2013, no-hitter against the Giants, the first in the park's history. And there was any game Aroldis Chapman entered in 2014, when he became the first pitcher to average 100-plus mph on his fastball over a season.
Great American has undergone some changes to get ready for the All-Star Game. The biggest may be the installation of the Bootlegger's Bar, which picks up on a piece of local history. Another is the brand-new Handlebar, a gastropub with wooden thronelike seats and a curvilinear bar. As one might expect, a handlebar mustache motif decorates the bar's surface. After all, you can take the ballpark out of the 19th century, but you can't take the mustache out of the ballpark. In Cincinnati, that would just be wrong.
RJ Smith is a senior editor at Cincinnati Magazine. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.