August 18, 2021
Great American Ball Park (Capacity: 42,319)
Cincinnati Reds vs Chicago Cubs
Final Score: 1-7
The second portion of our Midwest trip involved some time in the Queen City. Cincinnati is located along the Ohio River in the southwest corner of the state. The population of 300,000 is misleading as the much larger metro area is the 30th most populous in the U.S. Cincy may not have the most robust attractions, but it is a surprisingly attractive place thanks to a waterfront, surrounding hills and varied architecture. It is also a baseball town as every Opening Day, Cincinnati pretty much shuts down for the Reds. Born in the 1800s, the team is part of only a handful that have been in one city for over a century of MLB play. The Reds have won 5 World Series titles and 9 NL Pennants. The 1970s were the most prosperous period for the club as the likes of Rose, Bench, Perez and Morgan made up the Big Red Machine and some of the greatest teams in league history. Since then, the Reds have struggled as winning seasons have been few and far between. Their last playoff win came in 1995 (though there is hope this season). Built in 2003, Great American Ball Park is their home field and I found it to be an underrated, excellent place.
Prestige Ranking: 3.5 out of 5
GABP is in a section of the city called “The Banks”, which is along the river, a short distance down the hill from downtown. Between the ballpark and football stadium is the relatively new Smale Riverfront Park. We took the kids here before and after the game and it’s a cute park with nice little touches. There is also a small fountain play area and being a day game, they changed into bathing suits and cooled off after we left from the first base gate. If you’re looking for something else to do before the game, check out the National Underground Railroad Center, a very poignant and well-done museum. Just outside the main gate is a mixed-use development that includes a handful of restaurants with outdoor seating. I’d recommend Taste of Belgium, which is a block away from the main cluster of eateries.
Location Ranking: 8 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
With the ballpark near the football stadium, there is a good amount of parking, though it is not clear as to where to go if you just drive in to a game without some research. Supposedly, the only non-pass lot is where the Belk Building is. Patrons then cross Charles Blvd (with police help) to reach the ballpark. With various areas in this section to park, it didn’t get full, but in case it does, I suppose you could leave your car at the expansive lot to the left of the arena and then take a lengthy, roundabout walk. As for getting to Greenville, it’s a little off the beaten path as it takes some time to reach from I-95 (and it is even more awkward and time consuming from Norfolk / VA Beach). However, four-lane highways do reach the area via US-64, US-264 or US-13. In town, finding Charles Blvd is easy.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 6.5 out of 8
Sitting next to a hockey arena, GABP features two brick buildings which are related but separate from the structure. This means you never get any real straight-forward looks at the ballpark. On one of the brick buildings is “The Spirit of Baseball”, a huge mural carved into the structure. Where you can see the stadium, it’s nothing special as an average white color is on the various materials which make up the exterior.
Exterior Ranking: 4.5 out of 10
After using the main entrance, Crosley Terrace is a plaza that is spacious and sprinkled with team colors, logos and mascots, not to mention the striped grassy areas that look like the old stadium as statues recreate days gone by. Further down, there’s a stage in this area, along with a replica diamond that kids can play on. This leads to a covered concourse that has a bit of a shopping mall feel. Even though it gets crowded, it’s still fine for a concourse as you can view the field or sit at a couple cool spots that have been turned into bars. This area wraps around to the open-air outfield walkways, which offers a first look at the Ohio River (though there is not a good place to hang out here and see the game, plus it’s a disjointed walk around). The upper-level concourse that goes behind the entire infield seating area is very good. Overhead cover exists in some areas and the outside views of the city and the river are best from up here. Plus, the right corner has an impressive kids’ area and large swings if you want a peaceful look at the water before the game or between innings.
Concourse Ranking: 4 out of 5
Food has a distinctive Cincinnati flavor and that begins with Skyline Chili. In addition to serving Coneys, you can get a 3-way, the ubiquitous city dish that features spaghetti, chili and cheese. In the words of Mets announcer Gary Cohen: “Try it once and you’ll never try it again”. A much better local choice is Graeter’s Ice Cream, specifically the Black Raspberry Chip flavor. Back to regular food, you can also try a burger from Frisch’s Big Boy or BBQ from Montgomery Inn. Pizza from LaRosa was actually respectable (I say actually because any pizza outside of NJ/NYC is meh to me). More local favorites include a Hot Mett (type of sausage) and a Goetta Burger. The rest of the choices had enough variety, not as diverse as other MLB ballparks, however the local variety makes up for it. Perhaps the most intriguing choice was the Smokehouse Parfait, a bread cone stuffed with Pulled Pork, Mac & Cheese and Coleslaw. Beer has an embarrassment of riches at the ballpark as any craft beer fan will be in their glory. Local favorites Rhinegeist, Taft’s and Mad Tree are among those offered.
Food Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
Many do not like this ballpark and it often comes up in the lower half of MLB ballpark rankings. I did not have as much of a problem with it and actually quite liked it. The biggest advantage to the stadium location is the Ohio River and you do get a fairly good look at it from the upper deck, along with connecting bridges that lead to the hills of Northern Kentucky. The gripe though is the right field stands and scoreboard, which block what could be a better view. There’s also controversy in centerfield, in the form of the Power Stacks and the Riverboat Deck (private party area). Designed with an attractive look that is reminiscent of steamboats in the river during an older era, some find them to be kitschy distractions, but I love the execution and local touch. There’s also a paddlewheel visible in the distance, which is right on the river. The rest of the outfield contains a double-decker seating area in left, which does unfortunately have bleachers on the second deck. No notable view is blocked by these seats as Heritage Bank Arena is on the outside. The city skyline is limited to only a few skyscrapers that can be seen at a time over the seating bowl, which is a shame. Designers even created “The Gap” between the upper deck on the third base side so that those in the city can peer in to the stadium. This feature comes off as awkward and disjointed inside.
GAPB is very red and I’m totally ok with that, given that we are watching, you know, The Reds. Each red chair features a cupholder and an adequate amount of space. I much prefer the upper-deck thanks to a fairly decent height between each row. The lower-deck isn’t as fortunate as the slope is typical, but not at all steep. I did find some spots where concourse entries provided an obstruction to seeing the field. Proximity to play is fine, although parts of the stadium (especially the third base side upper-deck) feel pushed further back than you would expect for a post-2000 ballpark. Looking at the design of the stadium around the infield, it is curved (which I like) and there are three levels, with that middle one containing the bulk of the specialty/luxury seating. There is very little shade in the stadium as only a small overhang covers 5-10 rows on the main decks. That’s not a good thing for a city that is hot for much of the summer.
Interior Ranking: 10.5 out of 14
Cincinnati is the first MLB team to have a High Dynamic Range format for their scoreboard and it is incredible. Hard to believe that video technology can get any better, but the impressive display is noticeable here. It’s also huge (40 feet by 215 feet), though still in a natural spot above the left-field stands. The in-game display is very good despite ads on it as there is still plenty of room. All the stats you want to see are on there and then when it is used for replays, it is excellent. At the top, is the ballpark name and logo. The smaller scoreboard in right-field is more than adequate as well.
Scoreboard Ranking: 4 out of 4
The runaway for the best feature at Great American Ball Park is the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. Though it is a separate cost ($12), the brick building between the ballpark grounds and Freedom Way contains the best team HOF I have seen thus far. Two floors of displays, memorabilia and remarkable exhibits are a must-do when coming to a Reds game. Around the stadium, you’ll still see plenty dedicated to the team, including a Pavilion on the outside that honors the 1869 Red Stockings team with a commemorative gazebo. There are also numerous statues of past players around the entrance that depict the men in typical poses seen while they were playing. Red C’s can be seen through the ballpark and on the inside, the façade between decks includes retired numbers and pennant displays of World Series Championship years.
Displays Ranking: 6 out of 6
The Reds’ $10 – $17 parking charge isn’t too bad at all, especially considering that I had to pay $20 a few nights ago in AAA Indianapolis. Ticket prices are decent and I even compared our Wednesday afternoon game with a Saturday night event and found that much of the 500 sections were going between $12 and $23. The outfield and 400s were around $40, however the main infield seats were relatively expensive at $60 for the weekday day game and $80 for at night. Still, when you compare this to the rest of MLB, it’s pretty good as the Reds average some of the cheaper tickets in the league. The team is 22nd in the latest Fan Cost Index. Concessions feature a $5.75 Hot Dog, a $10 burger/fries combo, $5 bottled water and around $10 for a beer.
Cost Ranking: 7 out of 8
Cincinnati may be a baseball town, but attendance has never been great at the ballpark. Much of that can be attributed to the team being bad, but even during the division winning season of 2012, the Reds were 16th in attendance. A Wednesday 12:30 PM game is never a good bench mark for fan support. With that being said, it was jarring to see that many empty seats at a major league game as I would estimate maybe 5,000 people on hand. Even a few days later, Friday Night featured mostly empty sections, despite the Reds being in a wild card race. Saturday Night was better as the park was a little more than half full, which is respectable in this day and age.
Fan Support Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
Since I watched live a bad Reds loss with a tiny crowd, there was no atmosphere for me to judge off. I watched the weekend series to get a better gauge and found it to be an average crowd in terms of noise, but one that responded well when the team did well.
Atmosphere Ranking: 9 out of 14
Former homes includes Crosley Field and Riverfront Stadium, which was a multi-purpose circular stadium in roughly the same location as the current ballpark…..If someone can tell me why it is “Ball Park” here instead of “Ballpark”, I would be very appreciative. Google hasn’t helped me solve that question yet…..As for the “Great American” part of the name, I never realized it was a sponsor, but indeed it is the name of a local insurance company…..The mascot is Mr. Red, a pillbox-hat wearing man with a baseball for his head and a twin in New York. There is also the similar looking mustached Mr. Redleg…..Rosie Reds fan club helped save the club from moving in the 1960s and they still exist today…..After a home run and a team win, fireworks shoot out of each Power Stack…..The interesting toothbrush-like light poles are a nod to what existed at Crosley Field…..During the 7th inning stretch, a folksy song called “Cincinnati, Ohio” is played.
This was ugly, especially since the Cubs came in with just two wins in their last 15 games. It started with a home run in their 3rd at bat of the game, then the 2nd inning featured four hits and four runs as they jumped out to a 5-0 lead. The Reds never came close to threatening and it was a blowout through and through. Tyler Naquin had 2 hits for Cincinnati.