Back in late May, I visited Cincinnati for a couple of days as part of my May road trip for The Ballpark Guide, and caught two Reds/Cubs games, which you can read about here and here. As I mentioned at the time, I’d walked past the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, and pledged to make time for a visit.
That visit came on the morning of May 25, several hours before the Reds were set to host the Cubs in an afternoon game. The HOF is attached to the Reds team shop and directly outside Great American Ball Park’s main gate, so it’s a must-see place any time you’re in town for a ball game:
Part of the reason for my enthusiasm to visit — other than my love of baseball history — was to check out the special autograph exhibit. I understand this exhibit isn’t a permanent fixture of the museum, which made it more exciting to see. The Reds have a long, storied history, and the exhibit featured autographs of nearly every single player to ever suit up for the Reds.
This picture isn’t that great, but gives you an idea of how many of the autographs were displayed:
As an autograph collector myself, I was in awe as I browsed through the artifacts. Some autographs were on index cards, while others were on baseball cards, but they were all beautifully framed with each player’s name and years of service. I got a kick out of seeing how players from bygone decades took the time to actually sign their name — not just draw their first initial and add a squiggle. Some autographs featured just the player’s name, while others included greetings like “Your Truly,” and so on. One of the best such notations I saw was from pitcher Cy Morgan, who had a 10-year career between 1903 and 1913. He wrote:
Pleased to know you are so interested in base ball, for it is a grand, good, American game. Keep it up, little girl. Good luck to you.
Harry R. Morgan
Although the lion’s share of the autographs were on index cards and baseball cards, there was a sizable signed baseball display, part of which looked like this:
There were also hundreds of signatures from various elements of life, including other sports:
The autograph exhibit filled the downstairs portion of the hall, but there was still more to see upstairs. On the way, though, I stopped to sign a giant wall that was reserved for visitors to leave their “autographs”:
The walk up to the second floor was mesmerizing. Along the way, there were thousands of baseballs — 4,256, to be exact — that represented every hit of Pete Rose’s career. You won’t find much recognition of Rose in Great American Ball Park itself, but the Reds HOF was loaded with Rose displays. Here’s a partial look at the 4,256 balls:
(Of course, they’re not the actual balls he hit — just regular balls representative of each hit.)
One of the first displays on the second floor recognized the Reds’ farm system. As a big Minor League Baseball fan, I got a kick out of seeing the jerseys of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Bakersfield Blaze, Billings Mustangs, Louisville Bats and Dayton Dragons — the latter two teams I saw on this same road trip:
There were a ton of displays featuring artifacts from throughout the team’s history, and several exhibits specifically focusing on players. The Joe Morgan one, for example, included several of his baseball rings:
The top two are World Series rings, the next two are National League Championship rings and the remainder are All-Star Game rings.
Baseball-related items weren’t the only things that caught my eye as I moved around the floor. Here’s the pocket pistol of Garry Herrmann, who served as the Reds’ president between 1903 and 1927 — he also was one of the people instrumental in the development of the World Series:
Other unexpected things? How about the enormous dog collar for Schottzie, the St. Bernard of former team owner Marge Schott?
The team’s 1976 payroll ledger:
Perhaps the sport’s most uncomfortable uniform:
An an original turnstile from Crosley Field, home of the Reds between 1912 and 1970:
The first interactive display I checked out looked like this:
I took this photo as I stood on the mound, and then put my camera and backpack aside and tested out my arm. This wasn’t a speed pitch game; it was designed to see if you could throw a strike from 60 feet, six inches away. It’s hard to see in the picture, but there’s a strike zone painted on the wall next to the batter. The game was pretty simple — hit that box and you’ll hear an umpire yell “Steeerike!” Miss and, well, you know the deal.
It’d been a long time since I’d thrown off a mound, and given that my arm was completely cold, I didn’t know what to expect. Instead of rearing back and ripping an errant pitch toward the zone, I decided to test out a curveball, which I’m always working on when I play catch. I figured the solid-colored background would allow me to see how much the ball broke, if at all.
I found a ball with decent seams, wound up and “pulled the string.” The ball sailed through the air and hit the top inside corner for a strike. Hmmm. I figured lightning couldn’t strike twice, so I threw another curve — this one miraculously plunked against the wall in the center of the zone. I was beaming like a fool and looked around to see that no one was sharing in my glory. Undeterred, I grabbed a third ball, threw a third straight hook and this one dotted the inside edge of the strike zone. “Strike three — batter’s out!” yelled the umpire.
Then, in a baseball version of a freestyle rapper dropping the mic, I flipped my last ball to the ground and walked out of the cage, thoroughly delighted with myself.
Sparky Anderson, who’d been watching from a few yards away, didn’t seem as impressed:
Next up was a visit to the building’s actual “hall of fame.” Everything I’d seen so far, I believe, was part of the museum, but the hall was filled with plaques for each member:
After spending a good chunk of time browsing the plaques, I doubled back to another room that featured the team’s World Series trophies and a bunch of bronze statues depicting the Big Red Machine era:
The best testament I can give to the Reds Hall of Fame and museum is this: When I finished checking everything out, I exited … and started again on the ground floor. Everything was that good, and I didn’t want to miss a single thing. (Another perk of the place is your ticket is good for re-entry as many times as you’d like throughout the day.)
An hour later, I made it to the building’s last room in time to get a spot near the head of the line for an autograph signing. Reds HOF member Leo Cardenas, who played for the team between 1960 and 1968, earning a Gold Glove Award and four All-Star Game nominations during the span, was signing for visitors:
He’s 74 years old, but was full of energy and happy to share stories with the scores of fans who filtered past his table. I got his autograph on a ticket stub that I’ll share at a later date. And speaking of things to share, admission to the museum also netted me a small statue of former Reds catcher and HOFer Ernie Lombardi. I’ll unpack and photograph the statue sometime over the off-season and share it a blog post about some of the cool souvenirs I picked up this summer.
Thanks for reading!
Did you read my last blog post about my visit to Great American Ball Park and my meeting with a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame? I sure hope so, but if not, you can check it out here.
I was scheduled to catch a second game in Cincinnati on May 25 on this road trip, and unlike the previous day’s evening game, this one started at 4 p.m. I’m not usually a huge fan of the 4 p.m. start time, but on this day, it worked out well. I blogged in my hotel until around 11 a.m., and then checked out, loaded my car and drove about a block to find parking for the day. Fortunately, I was able to score a $10 parking lot, which seems pretty impressive given that it was a block from the ballpark. How many other cities can boast this? Boston, I’m sending a somewhat evil eye your way.
Because I was essentially at Great American Ball Park more than four hours before it opened, I decided to check out a couple other sports-related things in the area. My first stop was a largely deserted Paul Brown Stadium, home of the NFL’s Bengals:
Before my next stop, I stopped at a Jimmy John’s a couple blocks from the ballpark and bought a sub, which I ate right next to the re-entry gate, which is the gate I referenced in my previous post:
After eating, I took the very short walk to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, which is connected to the team shop. I’d read about the HOF during the previous day’s visit, and decided to hit it before I left town. The hall had a special autograph exhibit, in which it had featured all but 15 players from the Reds history. Think about that for a second. The team’s history dates back more than a century, and in that time, thousands of players have suited up for the Reds. This was the single most impressive autograph collection I’ve ever encountered. I’m going to write a separate blog post about it, but in the meantime, here’s a photo that shows how many of the autographs were displayed:
I spent more than an hour in the museum before buying another standing room ticket …
… and heading over to the long lineup at the front gate. The day’s giveaway was an MLB Network drawstring bag, and as is typically the case when there’s a good giveaway, there were lots of people eagerly waiting:
Upon getting through the gate and getting my bag, I headed straight for the left field seats to watch batting practice. This was my view during the 20 or so minutes I watched the Cubs hitting:
Yes, I’m sitting down with my feet up on the seat in front of me. Why? Because in those 20 minutes, not one ball entered the left field seats. Perhaps this is part of the reason the Cubbies are 14 games out of first place. Given that this BP session was much like watching paint dry, I decided to go down to the field level seats on the third base side. I wasn’t sure what security would be like, and when I sauntered past a guard and descended toward the field, I heard him say something behind me. Ugh. I turned around, expecting to be asked to leave or show my ticket, and said, “Pardon?” He responded with, “How’s it going?” WOW! I’ve apparently put up with too many years of Rogers Centre ushers. Imagine an usher asking how you’re doing, rather than trying to pull a heavy on you? Unbelievable.
Anyway, it was good to get down to field level, especially when Alfonso Soriano walked past less than a minute later:
It’s hard to see it in the photo above, but instead of having his name stitched into his glove, Soriano has “El Monstruo.” Now, I didn’t take Spanish in high school, but I’m guessing that means “The Monster.” One more note on Soriano — last year, I toured the Sam Bat factory, which is the company that makes bats for “El Monstruo” and many other MLBers. You can read about that awesome tour here.
Watching BP is fun, but I always get a kick out of infield practice. And from my vantage point next to the Cubs dugout, I had a great view of the action. Here’s third baseman Luis Valbuena making a throw:
I hung out there until BP wrapped up, and then went all the way up to the upper deck, where I’d also explored a day earlier. As the grounds crew worked to get the field ready, I took the photos to make up this huge panorama:
Next, I stopped to see the Machine Room bar and the Power Alley Patio, the latter of which is pictured below. It’s a group picnic area, but what a spot to watch a ballgame!
When the game began, I found a standing room spot on the first base side of home plate and just hung out and watched the action. From here, I had a pretty clear view of the plate, which allowed me to get shots like this one of Starlin Castro fouling off a pitch:
Reds manager Dusty Baker:
And Soriano — you’ll notice he’s holding his Sam Bat:
Turns out that very photo of Soriano and his Sam Bat might’ve been the last photo taken of the bat. On the next pitch, here’s what happened:
A quick note about Reds fans — they’re extremely passionate and both games I attended in Cincinnati had huge crowds. I took this photo to show just how packed the ballpark was:
(The photo sort of reminds me of the heavy crowd I captured last season at Fenway Park. I took a similar photo in this post.)
Next, I took a walk around the concourse where I ran into a good exchange between three drunken fans and a quickly growing contingent of the Cincinnati Police Department. Here’s the abridged version:
Drunken woman mouths off at other fans. Fans mouth back. Back-and-forth arguing ensues. Security and cops are summoned. Friend #1 of drunken woman tries to get between her and cops. Bad idea. He gets told to back off. He ignores request. He gets taken to the ground and handcuffed. Friend #2 whips out his cellphone camera in attempt to be a hero and document the “police brutality.” Cop doesn’t like Friend #2’s fast movement and draws and points his Tazer. Cop says, “Reach into your pocket again and see what happens.” Friend #2 tries to gain sympathy from the crowd that has gathered. No one is impressed. Friend #1 gets taken to jail. Drunken woman and Friend #2 get kicked out of ballpark. I continue on my walk.
One of the features about Great American Ball Park that continuously caught my eye was the view. Don’t get me wrong — the view inside the park is great, but the view outside the park is spectacular. I love being up high in a ballpark and being able to look out over the city. Because the park is next to the Ohio River, the view is impressive:
Did you click on the above panorama? It looks better when it’s big. Back to the game: In the sixth inning, I got this cool picture of Todd Frazier. On this hit, he drove in Votto to tie the game 2-2:
That sixth inning proved to be the difference for the Reds, who scored four runs in the frame and won 5-2. Aroldis Chapman closed out the game once again, fanning two batters in the process.
Once things had wrapped up, I made the very quick walk back to my car and after getting caught in the traffic jams caused by the Taste of Cincinnati event, which was taking place downtown that weekend, made the short drive to my hotel for the night.
This time, I was staying a little outside the city, but still just an eight-minute drive from Great American Ball Park. My hotel was the Kingsgate Marriott Conference Center at the University of Cincinnati which, as you might guess, is on the university’s campus. Despite being so close to the city, the campus is very green, which was cool to see. In fact, here’s the view out my window:
The staff members I dealt with at this hotel were hugely helpful and friendly, and even offered me a complimentary drink from the cooler in the snack area. As far as the room, I had a nice, big room with lots of natural light, as it had windows on two sides. The room amenities were up to the usual standards of the Marriott chain — comfy bed, desk, big TV, large bathroom, and so on. This hotel currently ranks seventh among Cincinnati hotels on Tripadvisor. Here’s a look at the room from the front hallway:
And the desk and TV:
If you’re a baseball fan visiting Cincy for a Reds game, I definitely recommend this hotel, especially if you enjoy staying slightly outside the city but not overly far away from all the attractions. The hotel is just a few minutes from two cool University of Cincinnati stadiums — Nippert Stadium, home of the Bearcats football team and Marge Schott Stadium, home of the baseball team. I didn’t make time to visit both stadiums, but wish I had. Nearby sports facilities aside, the Marriott Conference Center at the University of Cincinnati is close to a long list of eateries; there’s a Papa John’s less than a mile away and after getting settled into my room, I ordered a pizza while I blogged and watched a ballgame on TV to round out a perfect day. If you aren’t into fast food, the hotel has a pair of eateries — an upscale restaurant called Caminetto and a casual bar called the Bearcat Lounge.
The next morning, I got up early and punched Bowling Green, KY, into my GPS. The adventure continues!
This was the highlight of my day:
Despite having visited Cleveland’s Progressive Field a couple times over the last few summers, I’ve never continued on to Cincinnati. I’ve really wanted to get to Cincy, though — Great American Ball Park looks awesome on TV and I’m a big fan of Joey Votto. I passed through Cincinnati on the way to Dayton and Louisville, and now heading back toward the city, it was exciting to finally see it approaching and know that’s where I’d be stopping for a couple days:
By the way, visiting Cincinnati has been the only thing that’s made me able to spell the city’s name without auto-correct. I’ve been a very good speller since I was a kid, but whenever I’ve needed to write the city’s name, I’ve always gone with “Cincinatti” or “Cincinnatti” before figuring it out.
As I pulled into the city, I was excited about checking in to my hotel, too. For the first night of my stay, which was a Friday, I picked the Residence Inn Cincinnati Downtown. Why? Well, I liked the fact that it’s a couple blocks from Great American Ball Park and if you look on Tripadvisor’s list of Cincy hotels, you won’t have to look far to find the Residence Inn — it’s ranked number one in the entire city. If those aren’t reason enough to stay here when you take a trip to see the Reds, here’s something else neat to consider: The hotel is in the historic Phelps Building, which dates back nearly a century and looks cool from the outside:
Of course, as soon as you enter the hotel, you’re greeted with modern amenities and, as I quickly found, exceptionally friendly and helpful staff. When I got up to my room, I was shocked at how huge the suite was. I love staying in suites on my trips, and this one was huge — a kitchen, living room, office, bedroom and a huge bathroom. Here’s the office area:
And the bedroom:
The next picture isn’t great, given the reflection in the glass, but this was the view out my window. It’s the hotel’s courtyard that features a fountain and fire pit. Pretty nice, huh?
It was nice, given all the driving I’ve done on this trip, to be able to park my car and forget about it for a couple days. The traffic around Great American Ball Park is extremely heavy before and after games, and I was happy to be able to get to the stadium quickly by foot. The stadium isn’t the only local attraction you can reach with ease from the Residence Inn Cincinnati Downtown; because you’re right smack downtown, a ton of attractions, including museums and a casino, are a short walk or taxi ride away. If you’re the type of road tripper who enjoys getting to a city and experiencing it all without sitting stuck in traffic, this is the hotel for you.
After relaxing in my room for a couple hours, I packed up to make the quick walk over to Great American Ball Park. There’s a big park in front of the hotel, and from here, check out what I could see:
That’s right — the stadium lights were well within sight! I-71 runs past the stadium, but I had no trouble finding a road that cut beneath the highway and soon enough, I knew I was on the right path when I saw this:
I walked up the north side of the stadium and rounded a corner to reach the main pavilion area, which was already super crowded:
There are several statues of former players in the area, and I snapped this one of Johnny Bench, which had special significance because I saw him a week earlier at the Field of Dreams game in Rochester:
I spent the next little while walking around the outside of the stadium. As I’d be here for two games, it was nice not to feel rushed and know that I had plenty of time to document all the sights. From the outside of the park, I could see the kids’ play area, and while I can’t comment on whether it’s better than other play areas, I can definitely say it’s got the best way to get there:
From the back of the stadium, which is close to the Ohio River, I took the shots to make this panorama …
… and captured the National Steamboat Monument, which I’ve often seen on Reds telecasts:
With the gates soon to open, I bought my standing room ticket …
… and started out with a visit to the enormous team shop, which you can access from outside the park:
Interestingly enough, the Reds allow you to leave the park to visit the team shop, as they’re not connected — you just get your hand and ticket stamped and have to enter and exit through a specific gate. Most MLB teams don’t allow re-entry, so this is neat. After I look the above photo, I heard a familiar — and heart-sinking — “beep-beep-beep” sound. That’s the sound my camera makes when the memory card is full, and I quickly realized that while I typically transfer all my photos to my laptop every couple days, I hadn’t done so in a while. Just a short while into my Great American Ball Park visit, I needed to be creative. I quickly found a quiet spot and started going through my photos, deleting those from Dayton and Louisville that I knew I wouldn’t need. Normally, I shoot hundreds of photos at each ballpark and edit them on my computer. I was able to delete several dozen and soon enough, I was back in business. A few minutes later, however, I heard the same noise — and realized it wasn’t my camera at all. It was the security noise that beeped when the team shop door opened. The egg was directly on my face, but no harm, no foul.
Once I entered Great American Ball Park, the first sight that caught my eye was a healthy concession stand, and I couldn’t resist taking this photo:
Next, though, I wanted to get my first view of the field:
Because my next blog post will be all about Cincinnati, too, I’ll hold off overdoing it with photos right now. Instead, I’ll show you a picture I got of the ballpark’s most notable sights — the Riverboat Deck on the left and the Power Stacks on the right:
And here’s a little bit of interesting trivia. Each of the power stacks has seven bats atop it. As you might know, seven plus seven equals 14, and who wore number 14 for the Reds? Charlie Hustle himself. MLB doesn’t allow teams to display Pete Rose’s name or number, but this is the team’s quiet tribute to the man. I love subtle things like this — reminds me of the Yawkeys’ names spelled out in Morse Code on the Green Monster at Fenway.
Remember how I said the team shop was huge? It was hard to photograph to put into context from outside the ballpark, but from the upper deck, I could look out and present it from an angle that puts it in perspective:
Soon enough, the Cubs had wrapped up their batting practice, which meant the Long Haul Bombers were taking the field. Who are they? They’re a traveling softball home run-hitting derby. How do I describe it? Hmm. You know the stereotypical “softball guy?” The aggressive one with the chip on his shoulder because he didn’t play professional baseball? Multiply that guy by a few, and you’ve got the Long Haul Bombers. On one hand, it was somewhat impressive to see guys pound balls over the fence — albeit balls that were tossed underhand to them. On the other hand, I figured these guys would scatter pretty fast if I yelled I was there to administer a performance-enhancing drug test.
I watched the sideshow act for a few minutes and then decided to continue touring. After all, hitting a ballpark for the first time and knowing how much you get to explore is an exciting feeling. One of the first stops I made was the authentics kiosk on the concourse behind the third base side. Unlike the Indians, who use a portion of the team shop at Progressive Field to sell game-used and player-issued items, the Reds only have a stand. It would’ve been nice if it was larger, but I still got a kick out of seeing the items, like this Brandon Phillips helmet and bats from Jay Bruce and Joey Votto:
The park was quickly filling up, and as game time approached, I discovered the Reds’ bullpen. Unlike many parks, in which you can see the bullpen over the outfield fence or along foul territory, the pens in Cincy are mainly visible from the concourse and are protected by netting. For a few minutes, I watched Reds starter Bronson Arroyo get his tosses in:
Next, I went down to the lower concourse and checked out a bunch of signed items that the Reds Hall of Fame was selling. After talking briefly with a rep from the HOF, I decided that I needed to squeeze a HOF visit into my day tomorrow, as it sounded promising. As I turned to leave, I caught a glimpse of a familiar-looking face. There wasn’t much of a spectacle around him, but it didn’t take me long to realize I was looking at Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins. I recognized him easily because I’ve got a picture of him in my office. As the only Canadian-born Hall of Famer, he’s certainly someone Canadian baseball fans admire. Jenkins was sitting at a table with a couple staffers around him but there weren’t any people waiting in line, which was odd. I checked with a staff member to find out what was happening, and Jenkins was indeed signing autographs to raise funds for the Reds HOF. I got his signature on an 8×10 and then got the photo with him that you saw at the start of this entry. What an awesome surprise! (I’ll post the signed photo in an upcoming entry, alongside a couple cool game-used items I bought later on my trip.)
Feeling more than elated, I got down to the next order of business — getting dinner. I’d spied a Food Network concession stand a little bit earlier, and since I had luck with a similar stand at Progressive Field, I got in line and checked the menu. This is what I chose:
You’re looking at the Food Network’s Bacon Sloppy Joe with pepper jack cheese, crispy onions, Fritos and a pickle. It was absolutely delicious.
By now, the game had begun and after eating, I raced to the concourse behind home plate where I caught the early innings with this view:
I spent the game’s middle innings wandering around Great American Ball Park with one eye on the game and another on the sights. Once the sun had set, I captured another shot of the enormous team shop …
… before climbing to the right field side of the upper deck where I caught a couple innings with this view:
After Cubs starter Scott Feldman got his team on the board with a three-run home run in the second (the first of his career), Arroyo buckled down and pitched well. The Reds offense, meanwhile, was lifted by home runs from Joey Votto, Ryan Hanigan and Brandon Phillips and Cincy won 7-4. Aroldis Chapman, who I’d hoped to see on this road trip, struck out the side in the ninth to get his 11th save of the year.
Shortly before leaving the upper deck, I turned and got this shot of the moon over the Ohio River, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out:
I was back in my hotel room working on my blog as the post-game fireworks boomed in the not-so-far distance. In a little more than 12 hours, I’d be back at Great American Ball Park to do it all over again.