Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Day 4 Baseball Trip - Arizona vs. Cincinnati

Day four of the baseball trip was a jaunt to Cincinnati to see the Reds take on the Arizona Diamondbacks. This was the longest leg of our trip. Cleveland is basically on the shores of Lake Erie, in northeastern Ohio, while Cincinnati was western Ohio, basically on the border of Kentucky. We had split the trip up by going from Cleveland to Columbus late Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. We got into our hotel about 2:00 am, which was the second time we had done that (having done that from Baltimore to Pittsburgh).

Our late arrival resulted in us waking up late Wednesday morning. We woke up so late that we missed the continental breakfast at our third consecutive Comfort Inn (Tieff became a Comfort Inn member and got enough points for an eventual free night..but not on this trip). So we again went to a Waffle House (which there seems to be one of every mile - not a bad thing mind you). Then it was off to Cincinnati and the Great American Ballpark.

Now what was clearly evident on our trip was that the weather temperature was below normal for this time of year with lots of rain, similar to New York weather. In fact, Tuesday night in Cleveland was downright cold. The forecast was the same for Wednesday night in Cincinnati, as the temperature was to dip into the 50's. Thus, we decided to stop at an outlet mall in Jeffersonville, Ohio to get sweatshirts (since neither of us packed any long sleeve shirts). But beforehand, we tailgated again with some Mike's Lemonades (hopefully we are starting a trend). After picking up a sweatshirt and an Indians hat for my oldest son Matthew, we headed off to Cincinnati.

As we were traveling to Cincinnati, I looked at our road map that we brought. We used it only as a guide because Tieff's Dodge Durango has a built in navigation system. But as I looked at the map I realized for the first time perhaps how close Cincinnati was to Kentucky. I was about to find out how close. When we got to Cincinnati somewhat early for the game, we decided to go to the Bicentennial Commons Park at Sawyer Point, which is right on the Ohio River. For $5 we were able to park there for the baseball game and it's a ten minute walk to Great American Ballpark. It's a very nice park with a great view of the river and a nearby town across the river. They were also setting up for a free party in the park with live music, food and yes, tasty beverages.

We noticed that there was a bridge where you could walk across to an area called Newport and noticed an aquarium right there. Well that was Newport, Kentucky. That's how close we were to Kentucky, a bridge walk away. So wanting to be able to say we were in Kentucky on the trip, we walked across the bridge to Kentucky. Little did we know that we were about to find a jewel of an attraction in the Newport Aquarium.

Someone in Kentucky smartly realized that with Cincinnati and the Great American Ballpark only a short bridge walk away, perhaps if we built an aquarium with a nice mall area with a food court and say a Barnes and Noble, lots of people who traveled into Cinci for the baseball game might go there for an afternoon. Well, if you build it, they will come. As you can see from the picture above, the Newport mall is lined with a central area and shops and they have converted an old mill into a large mall area including a large Barnes and Noble.

The centerpiece is a one million gallon aquarium, the Newport Aquarium. The tour guide said you would need an hour and a half to tour it, but if you speed walk it like we did, you can get it done in 50 minutes. It's a really nice aquarium and it has sharks, penguins, a really nice jellyfish exhibit and tropical fish exhibits. I also got to see some of the most unusual turtles and fish you will ever see in an aquarium. Oh and don't forget the gator exhibit! Lots of Louisiana gators waiting to make your acquaintance. The aquarium is open until 7:00 PM during the week. Click on the link in the first sentence in this paragraph for coupons, tours, information etc. It's truly worth the trip.

So after a fun time at the aquarium, it was off the Great American Ballpark for the Reds vs. the Diamondbacks. The Great American Ballpark was opened in 2003 and is right next to the U.S. Bank Arena. It seats about 42, 000, so its about the size of Progressive Field. It's a very charming ballpark with a nice open area concourse, a picnic area in right field, some impressive murals of Reds teams of the past, a playground for kids and some nice views of the Ohio river.

Now what it also has is a $1 concession area, which is basically four foods for $1 - kids hot dogs, kids peanuts, kids popcorn and kids soda. Well guess what? A lot of adults are kids at heart and we don't pass up on $1 concessions at a major league ballpark. So there was a decent line when we got there, but it moved fast (and got larger after us). So we each had two hot dogs, Tieff had peanuts, I had popcorn and a soda each. Total cost - eight dollars! YES! We did have some more expensive ice cream later, but hey it was worth it.

As for the game itself, as you can see, we had seats along the third base line. Again, a good view of the action. The Cincinnati Reds are in the tightly packed NL Central, and are as of this moment, 40-41, 3.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the Central. In fact five teams are within 3.5 games of the first place Brewers (only the fading Pirates are farther out).

The Reds were starting ace Johnny Cueto on the mound against Jon Garland, who I have in one of my fantasy leagues. Cueto struggled with his control early on, walking a batter and getting behind in the count on a few others in the first inning. It almost burned him when Mark Reynolds hit what looked like was going to be a home run down the left field line, but it hooked foul. Cueto made it out of the first inning unscathed. Garland would retire the Reds in order in the first and the stage was set for the entire game.

Again Cueto struggled with his control in the second inning, walking three batters. Fortunately, Ramon Hernandez threw out Gerardo Parra attempting to steal second base early on in the inning. A team with a better lineup would have taken advantage of Cueto's wildness (and in his next start, the Phillies did, scoring nine runs off Cueto in the first without making an out en route to a 22-1 win). However, the Diamondbacks lineup is very weak at the bottom of the order. So again Cueto made it out of the inning unscathed. It was really the last time the Diamondbacks would threaten during the game.

The Reds had a rally in the third inning as third baseman Danny Richar singled and Curtis Dickerson followed later with a double to right field. But a perfect relay gunned Richar down at home plate and the game remained scoreless. By this time, Cueto was dealing. He retired the last 12 batters he would face in the game, five by strikeout as he lowered his ERA to 2. 62. Had he not thrown so many pitches in the first two innings, he might have worked well into the eighth.

During this time, the Reds managed to scratch out a run. In the bottom of the sixth, Dickerson singled and was moved on a hit run by Jerry Hairston. Then the Reds best hitter, Joey Votto, hit a single to left, scoring the speedy Dickerson. The Reds led 1-0 and the lead would stand up for Cueto.

But not without a little excitement in the seventh. If you are an avid baseball fan, one of the things you learn over time is that left handed relief pitchers who throw reasonably hard and get the ball over the plate for the most part will always have a job in the majors. Enter one Arthur Rhodes. Rhodes has pitched in the majors for 17 years. He still throws in the mid 90's and features a fastball and slider. However, Rhodes has been considered a journeyman for quite some time, as he is now pitching for his seventh team (that includes two stints with Seattle). Often Rhodes can look unhittable as he came into the game with a 1.69 ERA.

However, just as often, Rhodes can be downright horrible and prone to wildness, as his career 4 walks per nine innings average can attest to. Thus, Rhodes' career ERA of 4.17 is a testament of his inability to be consistent. But yet, Rhodes lifetime of 1055 strikeouts in 1078 innings shows that he can get batters out. And like I said, lefties who throw hard and can strike people out will always have teams as suitors (see Jesse Orosco for further proof). Thus why Arthur Rhodes is on the Reds.

Well, Rhodes was on the wild side this night. After a bunt single by Parra to lead off the seventh inning, Rhodes threw a wild pitch (that wasn't even close) and Parra took second. Then Rhodes then walked outfielder Chris Young, which is a mean feat in itself. Young came into the game hitting .197 with now 70 strikeouts in only 242 at bats. Miguel Montero then sacrificed, putting Parra to third and Young to second. The DBacks had an excellent chance to score with one out. Arizona sent up the feeble Ryan Roberts to pinch hit for Chad Tracy and Roberts promptly struck out. Then Rhodes walked Tony Clark, who was pinch hitting for Garland. Rhodes got to 3-2 on Felipe Lopez before Lopez flied to right. The Diamondbacks failed to score and the Reds fans who all probably lost a year on their lives during the inning could now breathe easier. David Weathers pitched a scoreless eighth and Francisco Cordero a scoreless ninth. Reds win 1-0.

It was a shame that more people weren't out at the game that night, even if it was a little cool. It's a really nice stadium with some nice touches like the restaurant pictured here that overlooks centerfield. It looks like a giant riverboat (Tieff and I wish it had a wheel though to make it complete). The Reds Hall of Fame is right here at the ballpark and there are some great murals inside the ballpark as well. The standings boards, which you will see in the next paragraph are really cool too. However, only 20, 494 were at the game, which was only a slight improvement in over the first two games of the trip in attendance.

At first, I had a hard time understanding that the stadium was not even half full. We were talking about the Reds, a storied franchise that has won several World Series, mostly recently in 1990. They have won many division titles and National League Pennants over the years. They were only a few games out of first with a good young team featuring Votto, Cueto, Dickerosn, Edison Volquez, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips. The tickets for field level seats along the first base line were very reasonable by New York standards at $34.00 a piece, so lesser seats are even more reasonably priced. You had a $1 food court, you had the wonderful Newport Aquarium literally across the river and a wonderful Bicentennial Commons Area that you could have a picnic at (and cheap parking for $5). Why not take the family out midweek?

Well part of the reason was that the Reds have not been competitive since 2000 when they finished second in the NL Central at 85-77 and have not made the playoffs since 1995. But the more important reason was apparent earlier in the day on our trip to Cincinnati. Along the interstate, we drove by a large, closed GM plant. It was a stark reminder of how hard the economy has hit the Ohio area. What seems reasonably priced to me, isn't going to be reasonably priced to someone who has lost their job due to a plant closing. Thus many families are shut out right now of even a night out at a wonderful ballpark such as the Great American Ballpark.

So the game ended and as Hawk Harrelson might say "The good guys won!" We exited out of the ballpark via the centerfield stands and walked back to the Bicentennial Commons along the river. We hung out in the parking lot talking about the game and the area until the parking lot emptied out. Then Tieff and I drove on to Cambridge, Ohio in the middle of the night to another Comfort Inn as our halfway point overnight stay. It was back to Pittsburgh for day five of our baseball trip for the Mets vs. the Pirates.

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