I am going to a ball game next week. That may not sound like any big deal, I go to a lot of games.
But this time I'm paying to get in. I'm going to Cincinnati to see the Reds play Milwaukee. It's an afternoon game and we will be sitting in the upper deck behind home plate at the aptly named "Great American Ball Park".
It's hard to believe, but in my lifetime I have attended baseball games in 3 different ball parks in Cincinnati, 2 different ball parks in Pittsburgh, and 2 different ball parks in Cleveland. And I'm not THAT old.
My first ball park experience was a magical one from start to finish. I was six years old and my father, 2 brothers and myself took a special Elks Club train from downtown Parkersburg to Cincinnati.
The train ride in itself was an experience of a lifetime, but the day only got better.
I had seen Crosley Field on TV...but it was in black and white. Nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience.
It was a bright Sunday afternoon. I walked through the turn styles and through an entrance way. There it was. The greenest expanse of green I'd ever seen. The grass was glowing in the brilliant sun light. The infield grass was separated from the outfield by a perfectly symmetrical diamond adorned with 3 bases and home plate. It was sensory overload, and I may have gasped in reaction to the baseball beauty before me.
Both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh (Forbes Field) outgrew their quaint ball parks and built ultra modern multipurpose stadiums.: Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.
They were part of the "cookie cutter" trend of baseball architecture. You could have put 3 Rivers in Cincinnati, and Riverfront in Cincinnati and nobody would have been the wiser.
Both were perfectly round, had AstroTurf, and could seat between 50 and 60 thousand spectators. That type of stadium has since been maligned, but they were perfect facilities for their times.
The Reds and Pirates were arguably the 2 best teams in the National League in the 70's. They were both contenders every year in their divisions and each went on to win a pair of World Series in the decade. Both teams would regularly pack in 50 thousand fans for a game.
The stadiums were also needed for the rapid growth of NFL popularity, Both Riverfront and Three Rivers could be reconfigured from baseball to football.
I can't wax nostalgically about Cleveland Municipal Stadium. It was a dump. It was a cavernous 80 thousand seat facility, which was okay for the Browns, but a mausoleum for the Indians. It was famous for 2 things in baseball in my lifetime, hosting an All Star game in the 80's and the "Nickel Beer Night riot" in the 70's.
But in he 90's baseball went retro. What's old, suddenly became new. It started in Baltimore. It's Municipal Stadium had fallen on hard times. So the Orioles went for a revolutionary design. They wanted a ball park with the look and feel of grandpa's ball park, but with all the comfort and amenities of a trendy bistro. Thus Camden Yards was born.
It was an immediate overnight sensation, and it inspired imitators. Cleveland finally got a long overdue new ball park. Jacobs Field was built with the same philosophy. It was a jewel. There wasn't a bad seat in the house, and with all the extras, it made going to the ball park a special event. It was so special that the Indians set a Major League record for consecutive sellouts that has since been broken.
The stadiums in both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh fell into disfavor (and in some cases disrepair). Both cities, and their tax payers, decided it was time for a change.
And they both went went "old school" new parks.
Thus PNC Park and the Great American Ball Park were born. They don't seat as many as the old stadiums, but they give the patrons a great up close view of the action that "baseball only" parks can deliver. And if you're not happy with the action on the field, there are various entertainment options inside the stadium to keep you amused.
Of the 3 new ball parks, I think I like PNC Park the best. You get a dazzling view of the Pittsburgh skyline and the river.
But the first time you walk into any of the ball parks in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, it's a jaw dropping experience....just like when you were six years old.