Before heading to Cincinnati, we stopped in Louisville, Kentucky to visit the Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum, where pretty much all of MLB’s bats come from. They didn’t let us take pictures in the actual factory to prevent us from stealing their secrets, but we learned about the extensive process involved in creating the hundreds of thousands of bats they’ve been providing to big leaguers every year (the average player will order between 80 and 120 bats a season) since 1890. Their machines must be distinctively calibrated according to each player’s specifications, and everyone who has a contract with the Louisville Slugger company has these exact measurements stored in the factory’s computer system so it’s easy to adjust. Different types of trees, including ash and maple, are cut into long cylindrical “billets” and shipped here, where they are transformed into bats of all shapes, sizes, weights, and even colors.
The museum part of the factory was awesome, with so many different exhibits and items on display. My favorite was one of the actual bats Babe Ruth used during the 1927 season where he hit a then-record 60 home runs, and carved a little notch around the “Louisville Slugger” logo on the barrel every time he hit a homer. This one has 21 notches in it.
When we got to Cincinnati we walked over to Great American Ball Park, which sits right on the bank of the Ohio River with Kentucky just on the opposite side. It reminded me a bit of AT&T Park because of this waterside view, but I’d have to say San Francisco provides much more beautiful scenery. Opened in 2003, this modern-looking stadium doesn’t have one bit of brick showing in the main structure, unlike the majority of places we’ve seen so far. White steel trusses are complimented with large glass windows, and the backside of the middle deck seats are painted red to show the team’s colors.
Once inside the concourse, two huge tile murals depict some very historic teams in not just Reds’ history, but all of major league baseball. One is called “The First Nine,” representing the very first professional baseball team known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings, making this franchise the oldest in the game (and they never moved cities, which is something else pretty amazing). This particular team was something special, going undefeated in its entire first season of 57 games (winning its first game 45-9), and not losing a game until 25 games into the next season. The other painting is called “The Great Eight,” showing the 1975 team known as “The Big Red Machine.” Many baseball fans consider this the best team to ever play the game, fielding players like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez. The World Series between these Reds and the Red Sox is also considered by many to be the greatest October Classic ever played, with a Game 7 resulting in a 3-run deficit erased and a 9th-inning single winning it for Cincinnati.
Beyond the center field fence is huge replica riverboat, paying tribute to the busy trade and transportation history of the city. Through the dark tinted windows of the boat, which act as the batter’s eye, is a big private party room which can hold up to 150 people, giving them an awesome view of the game from center field. To the right of the boat is a pair of 64-foot-tall smokestacks which shoot flames and fireworks with home-team strikeouts, homers, and victories. Again, much cooler than Citi Field.. sorry Mets fans.
Another unique part of the park is a trio of vertical video screens over the right-field bleachers that show various statistics during the game, including standings throughout the league, batter/pitcher stats, team records, etc. It was just great to look up and be reminded of the NL East standings (that was sarcasm for those of you who don’t know the standings).
Along with the usual Great American burgers and dogs, Great American Ball Park offers a bunch of different types of sausage, including brats, Italians, and something called the “Big Red Smokey.” We tried Big Red, which lived up to its name. It was a big, skinless sausage with a smokey, spicy bite to it. So tasty we each got seconds.
Our 3rd deck seats down the left field line seemed a lot lower and closer to the field than 3rd level seats in other ballparks, and gave us a sweet view of the river over the bleachers in right, and the entire field without having to turn our heads.
Unfortunately for the Reds (and my fantasy team), one of the best hitters in baseball, Joey Votto, has been out of the game for a couple weeks because of surgery on his knee. But the runs still came, starting in the 1st when the Reds scored 2 on a single by ex-Phillie Scott Rolen. After 2 more runs by the Reds in the 3rd, and the NL Central rival Pirates scoring a run in each of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th innings, the game was tied at 4. But Scott Rolen triples to lead off the bottom of the 8th (only his 2nd this year) and scores on a ground out, bringing in Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman in the 9th, who holds the MLB-record for fastest recorded pitch: 105.1 mph. But I guess he wasn’t bringing his “A” game tonight, because he only threw 101.
And for the first time all summer, there was somebody even cooler than me at the game… yes, Charlie Sheen.
Next stop: 8/6 – Pittsburgh Pirates (vs. D’backs )