Grand Slam Ballparks

By Bruce Adams and Margaret Engel
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 25, 2003

Cincinnati, Louisville and Lexington -- three of the latest entries in America's new golden era of baseball parks -- are ideally clustered for a three-bagger weekend. Our family did just that last month, driving to Cincinnati for a Saturday-afternoon Reds game, then heading 90 minutes southwest to Louisville the next morning to see the Louisville Bats, and finally going an hour east to Lexington, Ky., for a Monday-night game of the Lexington Legends. The eight-hour drive back to D.C. sped by as we thanked the baseball gods for grouping such fine ballparks into a triple play.

Cincinnati: Great American Ball Park

THE PARK: It's the premiere year for the Great American Ball Park, in the city that hosted baseball's first professional team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. The stadium name sounds as if it was created by patriotic ad men, but it's really the $75 million naming opportunity of Great American Insurance, which graciously dropped "Insurance" from the title. The remains of its predecessor, Riverfront Stadium (later Cinergy Field), a 1970 concrete doughnut with plastic grass, are in bulldozed tatters next door. The Big Red Machine won four National League pennants and a world championship there, but by the 1990s, the stadium was damned by fans for lacking the intimacy, genuineness and just plain quirkiness of traditional ballparks, like Cincinnati's beloved Crosley Field.

Any ballpark in Cincinnati has to deal with the big shadow of Crosley, a 1912 park (then called Redland Field) that was squeezed into the angled streets of the city's industrial West End. It hosted the major league's first night game in 1935, two All-Star games and four World Series.

Fans are hoping the new $330 million ballpark will build on that storied history. By August, the Reds' Hall of Fame and a team merchandise shop will be under construction. The Reds have even promised their fans a Rose Garden on the spot where Pete Rose's 4,192nd hit landed on Sept. 11, 1985.

The best feature of the new ballpark is Crosley Terrace, a nostalgic tribute at the main entrance with statues of such Crosley stars as 1950s slugger Ted Kluszewski. Handsome red banners recall Crosley's most historic moments. "Spirit of Baseball," a 50-foot-tall art deco limestone relief of a young fan and three ballplayers, greets fans as they enter the venue. Inside, marble mosaics portray the original nine Cincinnati Red Stockings and the 1975 World Champion Big Red Machine.

Beyond the right centerfield wall, 64-foot-high riverboat-inspired power stacks light up the sky to celebrate home runs, great plays and victories by the Reds. And red is the color throughout, with bright red seats contrasted against the white structural steel.

Great American Ball Park doesn't compete with Camden Yards or San Francisco's Pacific Bell Park, but it's a step forward, with its fine art and real grass.

THE FOOD: The ballpark food is pretty good. Our favorites were the spiced chicken poppins ($5.50), barbecue chicken and fries ($7), pork chop sandwich ($7) and kosher hot dogs ($4.50) at the Fowl Pole (okay, so it's a lame joke). You can get Skyline Chili at the park, but only on the customary tiny hotdogs.

WHERE TO STAY: Downtown hotel rooms are reasonably priced, and you can walk to the ballpark. We stayed at the Westin on Fountain Square (21 E. Fifth St., 888-625-5144,, which has a Reds team store on the first floor and bargain weekend self-parking for $1 per day. Very comfortable doubles, with luxury bed linens and amenities, start at $109. There's also baseball art in the lobby and in the square.

Also on the square is the Netherland Hilton (35 W. Fifth St., 800-HILTONS ,; doubles from $107), an art deco beauty that's on the National Register of Historic Places. Try the breakfast specialty -- pecan French toast with blueberries -- in the Palm Court Restaurant.

WHAT ELSE TO DO: Don't miss beautiful Eden Park, which houses the small, elegant Cincinnati Art Museum (953 Eden Park Dr., 513-721-ARTS,; free). "Out at Home!," an exhibit on the Negro Baseball League, runs till Sept. 21. The park also features a band shell, Playhouse in the Park and the Krohn Conservatory.

Carew Tower (441 Vine St.; $2), the city's original skyscraper, has an observation tower (not handicapped accessible) on the 49th floor. The building is now a downtown shopping mall.

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