Friday, July 4, 2008

Deathtour~!: Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati

5:10pm – The gates to Great American Ballpark open and I’m the first one through the turnstile. I’m like Charlie in Wonka’s factory. I’ve got the whole place to myself (almost). And batting practice has just started.

5:20pm – I’ve got front row seats! the upper deck. I’ve never had the pleasure of sitting in the front front row but I justify it by choosing to believe the view is better from up here. I take a look around and I’m completely alone. I’ve got the entire top level to myself. At least for the next 30 minutes or so.

5:25pm – This Reds team has a few things in common with the Giants. Both are teams with a wealth of history behind them. Both built fabulous new parks on a waterfront. And both feature bad teams led by one of the best players of their generation. In this case, their future Hall of Famer is still playing and continues to achieve milestone after milestone. Centerfield features a Ken Griffey home run counter, stuck on 603, six four-baggers away from Sammy Sosa.

5:27pm – Just to the left of the Griffey counter is the centerfield hitter’s eye which incorporates Cincinnati’s steamboats into the design. Neat!

5:32pm – As I’m sitting alone in the second deck watching BP a thought occurs. Why aren’t I sitting in the bleachers for this?!

5:40pm – Much better. The right field bleachers are separated into two decks. The second level is the only one that features actual bleacher style seating. I position myself a few feet from the left field foul pole. Again, I find myself alone. Everyone else has chosen to shag home runs in the lower level of the outfield seats. If anything comes up here I can just walk to pick up the ball.

5:45pm – This close! *holds up fingers* One of the Pirate hitters smacked a ball that hit the front row of the bleachers 15 feet to my left. It clanged off the bench and ricocheted back down to the first level before I could get there. In all likelihood that is the closest I’ll come to catching a ball on the tour. But you never know…

6:00pm – Nothing else comes close to reaching the bleachers for the remainder of batting practice and I continue my walk around Great American Ballpark. By know my shoulders are feeling fatigued from lugging my backpack around all day. It’s hot and I’m thirsty, but not so much hungry despite not having a meal all day. Strange, considering my level of activity for the day.

6:05pm – A root beer float at a baseball game?! Awesome. Additionally I pick up a sausage on my way back to my seat.

6:15pm – The wait continues for game time. The grounds crew prepares the field and a few others have joined in the upper deck. It’s still an hour from game time but it’s looking like we’re going to have a small crowd tonight.

6:25pm – Waaaay to much Lenny Kravitz being played right now.

6:35pm – Cheerleaders in baseball?! There’s no cheerleaders in baseball! I’m so upset about this I couldn’t even be bothered to get pictures of them.

6:54pm – “They’ll come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom.” 20 minutes from game time and they play one of the greatest scenes from Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones’ monologue as the old ballplayers stand behind him. That scene gives me chills and I need to watch the whole film when I get back home.

7:10pm – And on the first pitch of the game Nate McLouth lines a double down the right field line.

7:16pm – 6 minutes in and we’ve got our first visit to the mound. It’s 2-0 with no outs in the top of the first.

7:20pm – Bases loaded now and still nobody out. There’s bullpen activity. Reds’ starter Daryl Thompson may not last an inning, or an out for that matter.

7:29pm – Somehow Thompson survived but it’s 4-0 Pirates before the Reds even come up. Do I need to mention that the visiting team is unbeaten on this road trip?

7:30pm – Who designs a scorecard with no place to put the inning totals?!

7:54pm – Neither pitcher wants to win this game. VanBenschoten, Pittsburgh’s starter, gives up 4 in the second and Cincy takes a 5-4 lead. Could they break the streak?

8:03pm – And the Pirates tie it right back up in the third. This has the feeling of a game determined by whose bullpen holds up.

8:09pm – Griffey flies out for the second time. I have not rooting interest in the game but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t rooting for Griffey to knock one into the right field seats.

8:12pm – Brandon Philips hits a one out double and we have our first pitching change. Van Benschoten’s line: 2.1 innings, 5 hits, 5 runs, 45 pitches. I’m sure Thompson won’t last much longer too.

8:40pm – Thompson and the game look to have settled down. After that rough first inning Thompson’s only giving up one hit, a homer by Xavier Nady. This is one of the quietest crowds I’ve been a part of.

8:42pm – Of course, just as I write that Doumit singles and Nady hits a second home run. There’s activity in the bullpen and I get the feeling we’re about to experience Dusty’s patented slowest pitching change in baseball.

8:45pm – Sure enough, Paul Bako walks out to the mound to chat with his pitcher. He spends the entire time looking at the dugout. Finally, after he’s asked Thompson what his plans are after the game, he walks back to the plate. He’s almost back in his crouch when Baker makes a move out of the dugout. Thompson’s line: 4.1 innings, 8 hits, 7 runs, 90 pitches. A very Barry Zitoesque performance.

8:55pm – Griffey raises his paltry .238 batting average with a single in the fifth. With all the injuries he’s suffered he’s become a shell of his hall of fame self. I’m thinking he hangs it up after this season. You’ve had a great career Ken, you have nothing left to prove.

8:58pm – Wow, this crowd is dead. They gave almost no response to the “Make Some Noise” prompt on the big screen.

9:15pm – Both ‘pens have performed well. Pittsburgh’s in line to make it 6-0 for the road teams.

9:28pm – Top of the seventh and we’ve got a second Dusty switch. I don’t know why he does it. Majewski’s completely warmed up in the bullpen.

10:00pm – Griffey, Philips and Dunn go quietly in the bottom of the eighth. The small crowd gets even smaller and a few idiots two sections to my right try to get a wave going. Thankfully, they are unsuccessful

10:02pm – I spoke to soon. The entire stadium is doing the wave. Can’t we ban this already? I’m writing my congressman when I get home.

10:14pm – Tyler Yates closes it in the bottom of the ninth. The road team is now 6-0. I have a feeling the White Sox have no shot tomorrow night, no matter how hard they try. Just a few hours left in Cincinnati before I take the train back to Chicago.

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