1. New Jersey to Cincinnati
Our second baseball trip of 2004 took us to Cincinnati, Ohio to see the Great American Ballpark, the new home of the Reds. From central New Jersey, the drive to Cincinnati was deemed to too long for a two day visit, so we decided to fly. The flight was just two hours, so flying out of the Newark-Liberty Airport in the early afternoon brought us to Cincinnati a couple of hours before the first pitch, scheduled for 710 pm EDT.
After landing at the airport, we picked up our rental car and headed to the hotel to drop off our bags. Since the Cincinnati airport is actually in Covington, Kentucky, we stayed at a hotel near by, rather than in Cincinnati itself. Following a 15 minute drive, which took us across the Ohio River from Kentucky into Ohio, we arrived at the ballpark. Great American Ballpark is located along the banks of the Ohio River, part of a larger complex which includes Paul Brown Stadium (home of the NFL’s Bengals) and the Heritage Bank Center. Not surprisingly, parking was ample throughout the complex, and after securing parking, we walked up the stadium.
2. Great American Ballpark
Having arrived about an hour or so before game time, we skipped out normal walk around the outside of the stadium and entered the ballpark (as we would have a better opportunity to explore the area the next afternoon). Soon after walking into the stadium from the centerfield gate, we discovered the best feature of the new ballpark (which opened just the year before): the view of the Ohio River.
Located adjacent to the river, the park was constructed to take full advantage of the spectacular view of the river, as well as the structures across the river in Covington and Newport. Since the game time was about 30 minutes before sunset, the encroaching darkness diminished the view to some degree, but we would get a much better look during the afternoon contest the next day.
The opponent for the hometown Reds this evening was the Chicago Cubs. With the St Louis Cardinals running away with the NL Central in 2004, the Cubs were still in contention for the wild card spot, but the Reds were limping toward the end of a disappointing campaign. Starting for the visiting Cubs was future Fall of Famer Greg Maddux. The three-time Cy Young award winner was not quite the pitcher he was just a few years earlier, but was still effective and an important part of the Cubs rotation as they pushed for a playoff spot.
Aaron Harang took the ball for the hometown Reds. For the 6 foot 7 inch right hander, 2004 was his first full year in the Reds rotation. With both pitchers having mediocre seasons (especially Maddux), we were prepared for an offensive display from both teams.
Clear skies, light winds and comfortable temperatures greeted us as afternoon faded into evening. After picking up a baseball dinner, we went in search of our seats. Though the Reds had been out of playoff contention for some time, there was a sizable crowd for the Saturday evening contest. Consequently, our seats for the game were located down the right field line in the middle deck. Further from the action that I would have liked, but the great weather made up for the distance.
Despite my expectations of an offensively dominated contest, starting pitching dominated the first half of the game, which each team scoring just a single run in the first five innings. However, as often happens in MLB games, both pitchers struggled as they made their way through the lineup for the third time. The Cubs scored three runs in the top half of the sixth inning, including a home run by LF Moises Alou. Not to be outdone, the Red erupted on Greg Maddux in the bottom half of the inning, with C Willy Mo Pena hitting his second home run of the game, giving the Reds a 6-4 lead.
A solo home run by the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa in the top of the eighth inning brought Chicago within a run. Not quite the slugger he was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he was hitting 60+ home runs a year, Sosa was still a force to be reckoned with, exuding the same enthusiasm for the game as always.
Sosa’s home run ended the scoring, as the Reds bullpen shut down the vaunted Cubs offense to secure a 6-5 Reds victory. Despite the scoring, the game was completed in two hours and 45 minutes. My initial impression of the Great American Ballpark was positive, but we would get a better chance to see the ballpark with the mighty Ohio River as a backdrop during an afternoon contest the next day.