Monday, June 19, 2006
A GREAT GAME
I attended my second Reds game of the year on Friday, June 16th. The Reds played the reigning world champion Chicago White Sox, and got summarily beaten down, losing 12 to 4.
Despite the hometown team losing, it was a very enjoyable game, as I was able to watch from the 4th row right behind the Reds’ dugout. It was my Father’s Day gift to myself, and cost me 60 dollars.
GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN
I arrived in northern Kentucky about 6:40, parking on a little neighborhood street that runs along the Ohio River and dead-ends right before the Roebling Bridge. By parking there, I parked for free, had no serious game traffic to contend with, and had easy access to get across the river and to the park. The Roebling Bridge – a Victorian monstrosity built in 1865 by the same architect who built the Brooklyn Bridge – has a walking path outside the roadway, and deposits you about a block from the stadium.
It was a beautiful afternoon, sunny and warm but not uncomfortable, a cool breeze blowing in off the river. A perfect evening for baseball.
Walking along the Roebling Bridge, I felt the vibration of the walkway under my feet every time a car zoomed past. The walkway is outside the superstructure of the bridge, but is basically shielded from the traffic only by the struts and wires of the superstructure. So you feel drawn to walking on the outside of the walkway, to get as far away from the cars as possible. However, the fence along the walkway is only about 4 feet high, and the drop to the water is a good 100 feet. So you don’t feel comfortable too close to the fence either. You end up attempting to stay right in the middle, until such a time as you come up on slow-pokes waddling along and have to pass them.
I got into the stadium about 7 minutes before game time. Finding my section (131, Row I, Seat 9), I started down the steps toward the field. Since I was in Row I, I was expecting to be in the 9th row. However, as I continued down the steps, it became apparent that Row I was much closer than that. Turns out, there are no Rows A-E in that section, because the dugout is in the spot where those rows would be. So Row I is the 4th row. I was seated directly behind the camera pit, which sits at the end of the dugout. I could see what was on the camera’s screen throughout the game. First base was directly in front of me.
Needless to say, the view was excellent, and each time the Reds came into the dugout after the inning, I got a very close-up view of them. It’s amazing to see them so close and see how BIG some of them are. Adam Dunn seems to just dwarf Ken Griffey Jr., and Griffey is no small guy!
At 7:10, the Reds take the field. Brandon Claussen, who I had seen just a week earlier pitch a decent game against the Cubs but still get the loss, is on the mound again for the Reds.
Scott Podsednik leads the game off for the White Sox, flying out to center. Not bad, first batter down.
The next batter singles to center, and Griffey bobbles the ball, allowing the runner to advance to second. Grrrr. Frustration, but things are still in order. No reason to panic.
Next batter walks.
Then the next batter walks again.
Suddenly the bases are loaded and there’s only one out. The fans are beginning to get restless. No one wants to see the bases loaded in the first inning.
Joe Crede steps up to the plate. Claussen pitches him a fastball, which he watches for strike one. Claussen then hurls the second pitch. Crede swings and promptly deposits the ball into the left field stands, about 15 rows high.
It’s now 4-0, there’s still only 1 out, and only 5 batters have come to the plate!
It can’t be every day that you see a grand slam with the 5th batter of a game. That’s only one batter away from the quickest grand slam possible. Makes you wonder if the 4th batter of any game has ever hit a grand slam. I’ve attempted to look such a statistic up on the Internet, but with no luck.
THE FUN BEGINS
After Crede’s grand slam, the crowd was getting quite upset. In one of the funnier moments of the night, an old man, about 65, sitting in the next aisle, began screaming at the top of his lungs, complaining and hurling insults at the White Sox. He yelled for Claussen to give the next batter as brush-back pitch. His voice was strained to the point of being screechy and gravelly. As Claussen prepared to pitch to the next batter, the old man screamed, “Put it in his ear! PUT IT. IN. HIS EAR!!!!!”
In the bottom of the first, the Reds put some runs of their own on the board, with Rich Aurilia hitting a three-run homer, making it 4-3. Unfortunately, the White Sox kept on scoring but the Reds didn’t. It was 10-3 by the 4th inning, and ultimately ended 12-4.
About the 7th inning, another man began calling out. He was roughly 45 or 50, and sitting behind me and by himself. I don’t know if he had moved down from a higher spot, and that’s why it took so long for his antics to start, or if it just took 7 innings of beer, but either way, he seemed to have dubbed himself the Official Cincinnati Reds Cheerleader. Standing up, he would begin chanting, “Cincinnati Reds! Cincinnati Reds!” enunciating each syllable crisply and distinctly, and very fast. “Cincinnatireds! Cincinnatireds!” Then he started into the familiar, Let’s Go Reh-ehds, clap clap, clap-clap-clap. Let’s go Reh-ehds, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. A few fans would follow him, but most just sort of laughed and stared. He called out to the White Sox first base coach, who actually turned and glared at him for a few seconds, and informed the coach that he was standing in Beautiful Cincinnati Ohio, Home of the Cincinnatireds.
There was a very close play at first base about this time, and the umpire called the play in favor of the White Sox. This was the third or fourth close call that had gone against the Reds by this same umpire. The Official Reds Cheerleader stood up and began heckling the umpire with a string of abuse that could only be described as an art form. There was no profanity in the tirade; instead it was just classic baseball heckling, like a throwback to the 1930’s. I don’t remember word for word everything he said, but one particular line stood out among the others, and I transcribed it on my phone’s notepad for posterity: Hey Blue! You must be in bad need of some good eyeglasses cuz’ you haven’t made a call all night, ya cotton candy eater!!
JUST FEEDIN' THE FISH
All in all, it was a good experience. I was amused, as I have been in the past, at how much baseball players are like royalty and the fans are like the rabble begging at their feet. After every inning, the Reds players would trot off the field and enter the dugout right in the vicinity where I was sitting. Whoever had made the last out would either toss the ball into the stands, or throw it to the Reds’ first base coach, Billy Hatcher, who would then throw it into the stands. So when the end of the inning became imminent, the fish would begin schooling at the end of the aisleway right above the dugout, squirming and pushing and holding up their fins. They’d wave their gloves and call out for the ball. When the ball was thrown, they would jump and dive and fight over it like it was a diamond. And the players, particularly Billy Hatcher, seemed so completely disinterested. He'd toss the ball up there out of habit, like throwing crumbs to fish, and wouldn’t even watch to see who caught it. Toss and turn away, with never an expression on the face. Just feedin’ the fish.
IF IT'S FREE, I WANT IT!!
Likewise, in between innings, staffers dressed in outrageous and silly costumes would run along the tops of the dugouts, shooting cheap cotton T-shirts into the crowd out of high-powered air guns. If you’ve been to a baseball game anywhere, you’ve probably seen this sort of thing. People stand up and cheer and scream and wave their arms, and then dive and jump and fight and kick and punch and murder each other to get that shirt once it comes near them. You’d think these idiots in grass skirts and coconut bras were shooting wads of cash out of their air guns. It always makes me want to get on the stadium’s microphone and say, “What are you people doing? It’s a 3-dollar T-shirt that you’ll probably end up using to paint or mow the grass in, and you’re jumping around and yelling to get one, as if they’re made of gold!” If it’s free, and only a few people get it, then it doesn’t matter WHAT it is...people will kill to have it. I think that’s a curious commentary on our culture.
THE BODY OF FANS
The crowd at any sporting event is amusing, and it’s interesting how each team’s body of fans seems to develop a personality of its own. If there was any one thing that marred my experience at this game, it was the fans. On the way home, I was thinking about my various experiences at ballparks over the years, and I have come to decide (based purely on my own experiences – which I acknowledge may not be the same as everyone) that Reds fans don’t have much class.
At Friday’s game, there were a number of people who were making general asses of themselves. There is the aforementioned Official Cincinnati Reds Cheerleader, but he’s not even really who I’m talking about. He was entertaining, and a certain amount of friendly heckling, particularly at the umpires, is as much a part of baseball tradition as the home run. But most of the heckling I heard was just unclassy and rude.
For instance, there was a group of guys sitting in front of me, dressed more for an evening of clubbing in Cancun than for a baseball game – Abercrombie clothes, Sunset Beach tans, steroid-inflated biceps with the tribal tattoo, clothes and accessories arranged in very specific and intentional ways, arrogant and cocky attitudes. They reminded me of the sort of people you’d see on MTV’s Spring Break telecasts. They continually heckled the White Sox first base coach, Harold Baines. Baines is a former major leaguer himself and had a solid career with the White Sox, one which may eventually get him into the Hall of Fame. I actually saw him as a player at a White Sox/Angels game in 1987 at Comisky Park in Chicago. These MTV Spring Break wannabe’s heckled Baines all night, patronizing him by calling him by his first name, making fun of him when he held the base runners’ shin guards, patronizing his own playing ability with various comments, etc. They got several other groups of people sitting in the vicinity heckling Baines too. They also heckled the Cincinnati first baseman (presumably their OWN team’s player), after he failed to scoop a throw in the dirt, which led to a run. They were basically just rude and showed no class all night long. Their shenanigans didn’t end until (thankfully) they left in the 7th inning (presumably to go hit the clubs downtown).
There were a bunch of kids sitting around me who were apparently there without adults. Or, the adults were sitting elsewhere, and the kids had come down to the good seats. Either way, they were totally un-supervised, and were generally rude and pushy. They didn’t bother to move their stuff when I tried to get out of the row to go get food, and when I knocked over one of their bottles of Mountain Dew (which had the cap on, thus not causing a spill), one of the kids huffed and puffed and acted offended. Late in the game, a bunch of people came and sat down in the seats that had been vacated by early leavers, and they just marched right in and sat down, taking up 7 seats next to me, right up to the seat where I was sitting. The lady who was leading them plopped down next to me with her enormous handbag, and proceeded to sit sideways, facing the people she was with, so that I had the flank of this not-so-small woman practically blocking my view. I finally had to move down a seat to give myself some space.
In past years, I have had similar experiences with fans at Reds games. In 1990, at a Reds/Pirates playoff game, the Pirates won. As we were walking out, I remember seeing a man, who was obviously drunk, yelling and screaming obscenities and decrying the Reds for losing. In a game in 2003 or so, a group of friends and I went to see a Reds/Cardinals game. One of the people with us was a big Cardinals fan. The Cardinals led most of the game, until Barry Larkin hit a pinch-hit, walk-off homerun in the bottom of the 9th to win the game in dramatic fashion. As we were walking out, someone heckled my friend (who was wearing a Cardinals hat) and attempted to knock the hat off his head. I remember at the time my friend saying something to the effect of, “I’ve never had something like that happen to me,” but I didn’t think too much of it at the time.
Furthermore, I’ve noticed over the years that Reds fans routinely boo their own team. I can understand booing your team after a particularly bad inning, or a series of errors. But Cincinnati routinely boos their own team, and even boos individual players. I’ve seen two games this season, and the Reds fans have booed their own team in both games, despite the fact that Cincinnati is having its best season in years, and was in first place as short a time as a week ago. In Friday’s game, Brandon Claussen did not pitch well, and gave up 8 runs in the first three innings before being taken out. As he came off the field, the crowd booed him. That is a terribly unclassy thing to do, in my opinion. It’s not like he was trying to give up 8 runs. He’s out there working hard, doing the best he can do. You don’t boo your own team, particularly not like that, singling out a player while he takes his walk of shame off the field.
Ken Griffey Jr., after coming to the Reds and experiencing a lot of trouble with injuries, was blasted numerous times in the local press, and booed on more than one occasion. This is a future Hall of Famer, someone unanimously considered the best player of the 1990’s, and a native Cincinnatian who took far less money than he was worth to come play for his hometown team in 2000. And that’s the treatment he got from the fans. Just no class at all.
Everyone gets frustrated with the team sometimes, and sometimes it’s appropriate to boo the team when the team has a particularly bad play or inning. But you don’t boo your team every time they do something you don’t like, and you definitely don't boo individuals.
REDS FANS vs. ASTROS FANS
When I take all these experiences, and compare them to the experiences I’ve had seeing Astros games in Houston, it paints a bleak picture. I’ve seen some two dozen games in Houston – far less than I’ve seen in Cincinnati, but still enough, I think, to make a fair comparison. The fans in Houston are much more classy, much more supportive, and not nearly as obnoxious and rowdy. Of course any stadium at any time can have people who get drunk and make fools of themselves. But as a group, Houston fans are very supportive, very friendly, and provide a nice, pleasant environment to watch baseball in.
I’ve never, not even one time, heard the Houston crowd boo their team. Not even after Aramis Ramirez of the Pirates hit three home runs against the Astros in a 2002 game that I saw there. My experiences in the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park are simply polar opposite from my experiences in Riverfront Stadium and Great American Ballpark. As I said before, the body of fans seems to take on a personality of its own, and Cincinnati’s fans seem to basically have no class, while Houston’s fans seem, to me, to be very classy.
I realize part of this may be due to the fact that Houston has had a winning organization for the last 15 years, whereas the Reds have struggled to stay above .500. So I realize that frustration plays a part in how the fans act. But I don’t think that explains everything, because even in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when the Reds were good (they won the World Series in 1990), the fans still tended to be fickle and hard to please. Eric Davis, the Reds’ premier player back in those days, was constantly criticized in the local press, and booed on the field from time to time.
So it seems that nothing ever changes in Cincinnati.
Still, I'll keep going to the games, and suffering the rude fans, because it is baseball, and it is baseball's oldest franchise - the great, storied Cincinnatireds.