Baseball vacation fitting for sports family

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Several weeks ago my family and I began planning our summer vacation. I had covered Little League baseball all summer, my eldest son had umpired Little League games, while my 15-year-old son had played Senior Babe Ruth and his twin sister had played softball. By this time we were ready for a trip to get away from it all.

We considered Florida, Virginia, and several other destinations. But after much consideration, what did we do? We decided on baseball. Sounds crazy, but that is what we all elected to do, so we packed our bags and off to Cincinnati we went. Why Cincinnati, when we lived in Cardinal Country? First of all, I have been a life-long Reds fan, as has Ryan, my 16-year old . Secondly, Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants were to be the opponent, which pleased Tyler, my younger son. Diane, my wife, is a sports fan in general, while Tiffany only needed to hear the word go.

Before we even got started, Reds Superstar Ken Griffey Jr.'s season ended with an ankle injury. Still, we were going to be able to see the Reds' new ballpark, appropriately named The Great American Ballpark.

In addition, the Reds had several other sluggers we wanted to watch. Unfortunately, one by one, before we could get to the park, things began to unravel. First, slugging outfielder Austin Kearns went on the disabled list. Then, the Reds top hitter Jose Guillen was traded to Oakland. To top it all off, the day before we arrived, all-star Aaron Boone was traded to the New York Yankees. We began to wonder if we would have been better off to have watched a minor league game in Memphis, since the Reds had reduced themselves to a shell of their former self.

Undeterred, we were determined to have a good time, and that we did. The ballpark was beautiful. The inside was entirely red, which was an awesome sight in itself. Beyond the bleachers in right field were two huge replicas emulating river boat smokestacks, which were set off with fireworks after each Reds home run.

Cincinnati, being the major league's oldest franchise, modeled their stadium in historic fashion. Everywhere you turned, there were pictures and statues of former Reds Hall of Famer's and their accomplishments. The Big Red Machine Grill served not only great food but also lent itself to more nostalgia of the great Reds teams of the past.

Starting with the Reds first world championship in 1919, and the infamous Black Sox scandal, history abounded throughout the stadium. Old timers could reminisce the Johnny Van DeMeer's consecutive no-hitters, still the only pitcher to have accomplished the feat. Then there is Ted Kluszewski and his pop-eye forearms from the 50s, swimming for the fences. The 60s featured National League Most Valuable Player Frank Robinson and later in the decade the foundation for the Big Red Machine was born with the arrival of Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Johnny Bench. As one might guess, a huge part of the stadium was devoted to this era, which included back to back world championships in 1975 and 1976 in what many consider the greatest team of all time.

In more recent times, there were pictures of the 1990 world champions led by current Reds shortstop Barry Larkin and the famed nasty boys, Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton. Anything you wanted to know about the Reds, including Hall of Fame announcers Marty Brenneman and Joe Nuxall, could be found inside and out of this exquisite new ballpark.

Oh yeah, we did watch two ball games, both won by the Reds, which pleased everyone in the family but one, but in the second game, happiness came his way when Barry Bonds launched a towering home run into the right field bleachers.

Most sports fans these days feel like baseball has fallen from its perch as America's pastime, and maybe to some extent it has. But as famous Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Carey always said, "nothing beats fun at the old ball park" and fun is what the five of us had.

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