On the morning of October 20, 1990, then Reds owner Marge Schott addressed a large crowd gathered at Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati. "We won this for the fans, God love ya," she said. Marge and the rest of the 1990 team were greeted by thousands of Reds fans after returning home from sweeping the Oakland Atheltics to win the 1990 World Series. That World Series would be the last time the Reds brought home the trophy to the Queen City. While there had been a one game playoff for the wild card spot in 1999 (which the Reds would lose to the Mets), the last true playoff game for the team hadn't been since 1995. Twenty years after Marge, the Nasty Boys, Barry, Jose and Eric D. thanked the fans at Fountain Square, the Reds would return to be cheered on before they embarked on a trip to Philadelphia, where they would play the team's first playoff game in fifteen years. (The above photo was taken by Dick Swain of the Cincinnati Enquirer.)
I overslept and left my apartment late. My plans to bike down to the rally got shelved when I realized I only had 15 minutes to get there. I hurriedly parked my car on Broadway and walked along with a father and his two kids who were also heading to the square. I got a position at the side of the stage amongst a crowd that would later be estimated at around 4,000 people strong. Just as I got there, Hall-Of-Fame Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman appeared on stage questioning the fans: "Is this Reds country!?"
After some more banter by Marty and a goose bump creating highlight video set to the song "All I Do is Win," a charter bus pulled up as an anxious crowd readied their cameras.
The Reds took the stage to thunderous applause and cheering. The team was very well dressed, some players more flamboyantly than others.
Marty went around interviewing a few of the players including Jay Bruce who had hit "The shot heard round the Nati," when the Reds clinched the division. Jonny Gomes spoke about how much he loved the city, the team and was proud to be a part of such a historic franchise. Brandon Phillips talked about how he would be hitting lead off during the first playoff game and Joey Votto gave a somewhat shy, humble speech about how he couldn't wait to return home to a playoff atmosphere at Great American Ballpark.
At the end of it all, before the players departed, Dusty Baker said a few words. He thanked the fans for their support and poked fun at the way some of his players were dressed, referring to Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto as "Bob Marley and his brother," respectively. I don't understand why people are still so hard on Dusty. I'll admit, even I was still somewhat skeptical at the beginning of this season with some of his decisions. Even still, some of the substitutions during games baffle me, but I'm just a photographer, not a baseball manager. Regardless, this was his first year to really have a Cincinnati team he helped recruit and put together. In only his third year as manager, he got the Reds back to playoff baseball. Dusty deserves time and Dusty deserves to stay.
On Wednesday night I sat at a suburban bar with some friends from work as I watched Roy Halladay decimate the Reds. It was a pretty depressing loss, but that wouldn't compare to the disappointment of game two that Friday. I was heading up to Columbus that night with some friends. When I left my apartment, the Reds were up 4-0, Roy Oswalt was choking and the game seemed in the bag. By the time I was driving past Kings Island on I-71, the Reds were hitting batters and making errors. My hand was sore the rest of that night from slamming it into my steering wheel. The Reds were down two games to none in a five game series, they'd have to win out in order to advance to the NLCS. It was a long shot, but there was hope. Thanks to my awesome uncle and family, I had the opportunity to go to Sunday night's game; the very first playoff game at Great American Ballpark.
The first half of the day had been marred by The Bengals losing in horrible fashion. Downtown parking was $20 anywhere near the stadiums, while it was $5 in Newport. Walking across the Purple People Bridge with my family, I was extremely excited looking across the river at the stadium lights lit up against the setting sun.
The riverfront was packed. Little girls dressed with tiaras and pink ballet skirts crowded the sidewalks along Pete Rose Way as families departed the Disney on Ice show that had just ended at US Bank Arena.
We bought some outside Peanuts, got the tickets scanned, were each given a Reds Rally Towel and took our seats in section 107. The stadium was packed, the most crowded I had seen it since the night Pete Rose was honored. Sporadic packs of Phillies fans awkwardly roamed the concourse, greatly outnumbered by Rose, Concepcion, Sabo, Larkin, Votto and Phillips jerseys - and a few fans who were still wearing Freel, Griffey and Dunn jerseys (why?).
After the Yankees had swept the Twins in the ALDS, the Reds-Phillies game got pushed back to 8:00, to make it the prime time game on Fox. As soon as the Giants-Braves game ended, the announcer came over the P.A. system saying: "Ladies and Gentleman, your attention please. At this time, please welcome the national TV audience to Reds Country!" The stadium erupted and Rally Towels spun around like crazy. The line up announcements began and as expected, the Phillies were booed, especially Chase Utley, who had pretended to be hit by a pitch in the last game.
I don't need to recap the entire game, any true Reds fan knows how it went. A lot of standing and hoping the "come back kids" would pull through. I left my seat only once, during the sixth inning, to use the restroom. I was extremely disappointed to see "fans" already leaving the ballpark. While I love this city and love the Reds, there were plenty of people who would've loved to have been there for that game and never left early. The team was down by two runs, its the first playoff game a decade and a half, anything could've happened.
Things dragged on for awhile. Cueto pitched well, but unfortunately so did Hamels. At one point, the most exciting thing to watch was seeing a Phillies fan get ejected from the ballpark. A chant of "throw him out" arose from the left field section next to us. I looked up to see a stadium usher arguing with an away team fan in enemy territory.
I'm not exactly sure what happened, apparently this dude was just being a drunken ass. Philadelphia fans aren't exactly known for their sportsmanship. They once booed Santa and even had a jail in Veteran's Stadium due to so much unruly behavior.
The guy got tossed and an argument with the police ensued up on the concourse. The only person who seemed to defend this guy was some moron wearing a Cubs t-shirt and Cubs hat (at a Reds playoff game?). The police and ushers handled themselves well though, hats off to them. It's not fair to let this guy represent all Phillies fans though. Earlier in the year I went to two games against the Phils when they were in town. Both games I talked with a group of fans from Philly who made the trip down. Couldn't have been a nicer group of folks to have a beer and watch a game with. In fact, the only visiting fans I've ever had a problem with at the ballpark was a group of Cubs fans (imagine that).
Inning after inning, fly out after fly out, strike out after strike out. Towards the end of the game things were looking bleak, but there was still hope. The announced attendance of 44,599 was the biggest in Great American Ballpark's seven year history. Bottom of the ninth, still down by two. This was it, the Reds had to make something happen here if they wanted to live to die another day. The whole stadium was on it's feet and the strongest part of the lineup was due up. Brandon Phillips smacked a single between shortstop and third base. Then, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana began to play as Reds first baseman Joey Votto was announced. A chant of "M - V - P, M - V - P" arose from the crowd. Votto swung at a few and fouled them up into the seats running his strike count to two, but you could tell he was swinging for a home run. A ball popped over the outfield wall would tie the game, forcing it into extra innings.
Then came the final pitch. Votto made contact, but it wasn't enough. He hit straight into a double play. Only one out stood between the Phillies advancement to the NLCS and the Reds elimination from the playoffs. Scott Rolen was due up. Scott Rolen struck out. Not only was it hard to watch the Reds get swept, but it was hard to watch Rolen end the season on that note. The worst part about the end of that game wasn't Votto's hit or Rolen's strike out, but the fact that no one stood an applauded the hometown team on their best season in years. No standing ovation, nothing. Very few remained standing, putting their hands together and a mass exodus from the park began.
Walking out of the game I was disappointed, but I wasn't as upset as I had been the Friday before when I was punching my steering wheel. It was rough after seeing 34 games this season and countless others on television and radio to watch the Reds go down like that, but looking back on it, that was one of the best Reds seasons in years. This team is young, with great veteran leadership and a manger who has proven he's got plans for the future.
I remember the optimism felt at the opening day parade and the subsequent disappointment when Aaron Harang blew the game later in the day.
Skipping class and watching Jonny Gomes hit a walk off home run against the Cardinals to get the first victory of the season.
A chance meeting with Drew Stubbs and Mike Leake that got me a baseball card signed by each.
Celebrating my 21st birthday when Scott Rolen hit a triple to beat the Dodgers and not remembering much of the night after that.
Watching a DVR version of Ramon Hernandez make the play at home plate to beat the Cardinals in the Civil Rights game and being there the next day when the Reds took first place in the division.
Listening to Marty when the Reds were up by 10 runs in Atlanta, Votto had his first career grand slam and they found a way to lose.
Watching four Reds make the all star team and hardly get any respect.
Come back win after come back win.
Jeff Brantley's numerous radio discussions about food.
A Cubs fan heckling my dad about how Carlos Zambrano would "rock our world." Then watching the nutcase Cubs reliever give up 8 runs and said Cubs fan leave the game early.
Taking a new friend to her first Reds game.
Ryan Hannigan's inside the park home run against Atlanta.
Eating countless $1 hot dogs with good friends.
Watching the bench clearing brawl against the Cardinals with my best friend who had come from Oklahoma for every game of that series, only to see the Reds get swept.
Watching the Reds come back to beat Cleveland in the eighth inning and forcing my Cleveland friends to walk to Fountain Square and buy Graeters for the victorious Reds fans in our group.
Sitting in the Diamond seats, thirty feet behind Jay Bruce when he hit the home run that won the game and clinched the division all thanks to the generosity of my great friend Greg.
Having beer sprayed at me by Jonny Gomes as he celebrated on the field.
Three games in Pittsburgh.
Watching the first playoff game in 15 years with my sisters, cousins and uncle.
And so many more memories from this season. I'm grateful for every moment spent sitting in the seats, for every dollar spent on tickets and for all 34 games I saw in person this season. Thank you Reds, I'm already counting down the days till spring training (by the way, re-sign Gomes and Rhodes). As for the rest of the playoffs... Go Yankees. Yes, Yankees.
Originally I was going to end this blog post there, but the day after the Reds were eliminated, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer by the name of Frank Fitzpatrick wrote an article about the city of Cincinnati, its team, its ballpark and its people. I couldn't resist writing a response. If you haven't read it, I highly suggest doing so here. So I present:
Dear Mr. Fitzpatrick, on October 11, 2010 you published a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding "some issues" you had with my hometown of Cincinnati. I'm not entirely certain if you were actually here visiting or if you just spent five minutes reading the Wikipedia article about our city, but I found the ignorant jabs and shots you took at this city pretty offensive. I highly respect your sarcastic, witty writing style and support of your team, I really do. However, in reading the comments on the online version of your column, even fellow Phillies fans feel your piece was sensationalist and poorly represented the citizens of Philadelphia.
Where to begin? You start off by criticizing goetta, a local culinary favorite amongst Cincinnatians. You preface your goetta hatred by mentioning a lack of "nutritional value" available at Great American Ballpark. From here, its hard to understand what you're getting at. You paint Reds fans as if they're constantly eating this stuff at the ballpark, you even point out how apparently folks from around here eat it on everything including hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza. You never make your point clear as to why goetta is apparently no good or if you're just criticizing it in general. Regardless, it's not even available at the ballpark, so why are you complaining about it anyways? If you don't mean to infer that it is available there, why do you have random sentences complaining about it in between your criticisms of the ballpark?
"So when Reds fan tire of chili that's flavored with cinnamon and plopped down atop innocent spaghetti, they can get goetta hot dogs, goetta hamburgers, even goetta pizza. Did we mention goetta Reubens?"Last time I checked, aside from the chili, none of those items can be found at our ballpark, did you even go?
Next, you take a shot at our riverfront,
"Far be it from a Philadelphian to criticize any other city's urban waterfront, but Cincinnati's appears to have been devised by the architect of Riverfront and Veterans Stadiums on a bad day.If you feel it's inadequate of you to criticize our riverfront, why do it? Surrounding the stadium on the East side is the 70's era US Bank Arena. It looks like crap, I'll give you that. It's the same design as your former Spectrum arena. However, if you had bothered to look, there's a gorgeous park right on the other side of it. On the other side of GABP, to the west, you have all those "unfinished buildings" you're complaining about. What would you rather have there? Parking lots? Maybe that's the Philly mentality, but our ballpark is being surrounded by development and destinations, as well as a beautiful new riverfront park. You're probably not used to such things though as your ballpark is surrounded by a sea of asphalt.
The Cincinnati shoreline is an endless ribbon of concrete - pavement, the foundations to unfinished buildings, the foundations to finished buildings."
You criticize GABP's concessions, complaining they're not themed like your "Philadelphia-themed" concessions at Citizens Bank. I'm not sure where you purchased your food from (again, did you even go to the ballpark?), but the concessions are, in fact, locally themed. Convenient how you missed the "Roebling Dogs," "Frank's Franks" and other Cincinnati themed stands, but who knows if you would've caught the local references, you've proved that you're pretty ignorant about this city.
You disliked our replica steamboat in center field, calling it "unimaginative." I'm not sure if you noticed (You really did come here right?), but there's steamboats all up and down the river. It's a reference to local history. I wouldn't say it's anymore "unimaginative" than a Liberty Bell that lights up in the Phillies outfield.
Before your article concludes with some anonymous quotes and one liners you made up (maybe you could be a writer for Leno if this journalism thing doesn't pan out, I hear he needs help), you criticize the fires you could see of homeless people camped out on the riverfront. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, I assume you are since you presumably work at the Inquirer offices on Broad St. in downtown, but large urban cities will often have homeless populations. In fact, your city has a big one. I'm sorry that our stadium isn't surrounded with acres of inhospitable parking lots to keep the homeless at bay.
In conclusion, I'd say its safe to say not all Philadelphians echo your sentiments. However, you do perpetuate the stereotype that fans from the city of brotherly love are all jackasses. Reading the comments to your article its clear that you not only offended Cincinnatians, but the citizens of your own city as well. Your article comes off as poorly researched, hastily written, shock journalism. I'm left to question if you truly believe the sentiments you write, if you were even here and if readership at the Inquirer is so bad that they really have to print articles like this. I hope one day you return to Cincinnati and actually take the time to see that it's not only one of the best Midwestern cities, but one of the nation's best. I'd be more than happy to buy you a beer and show you around.