For two generations of Reds fans in the Nation, Riverfront Stadium was our home for baseball. It was our ballpark, our home away from home and it was the face of the Cincinnati Reds. More than that, for better or worse, it was the face of Cincinnati. Both politically and from a geographic sense, Cincinnati has always faced to the South. It was right on Cincinnati’s doorstep and reflected at night into the Ohio River.

For some, it was a typical “cookie cutter” stadium. It was just like Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Busch Stadium in St. Louis or Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Go inside any of those stadiums and you wouldn’t know what city you were in was the typical remark.

It was never that way for me. It was, in my mind, unique to Cincinnati.

Riverfront isn’t as beloved as Crosley Field, to those Reds fans fortunate enough to have seen games on the West Side. But the new stadium on the Ohio lured professional football to Cincinnati, brought baseball into the heart of the city and laid the groundwork for what Reds fans enjoy on The Banks today. In that regard, Riverfront Stadium is as symbolic as the John Roebling Bridge.

And while I’ve never seen a poll to gauge the reaction as to how Reds fans feel about Riverfront, there are several reasons to pay tribute to it.

Riverfront Stadium was special, in a sense. It was clean. It was more accessible than Crosley. It was bigger. It made us feel “big league”.

If you had a blue seat, you were good to go. Green seats were all right. Red seats were nose bleeders. The color of the seat said it all.

AstroTurf, created more out of necessity for the Astrodome in Houston, was Bob Howsam’s choice for Riverfront Stadium’s playing surface. Some liked it, others didn’t but it prevented many rainouts over the years, a big deal to those who drove a lot of miles to watch the Reds.

And for a stadium that lasted just 32 years, Riverfront’s historical legacy is rich. Two All-Star games were played there, it hosted five World Series and was the home of the Big Red Machine. It was where you witnessed Bench’s dramatic home run, Tom Browning’s perfect game and Pete’s record setter.

My first game there was in August 1972. Tom Hall was the starting pitcher for the Reds. Clay Carroll got the win in relief. Bobby Tolan smacked a home run. And the Reds defeated the Braves 6-5 in 10 innings.

I never liked Howsam’s idea of putting the distance on the outfield walls in meters — too European and nobody cared. And it’s easy to criticize the bland food menu and sterile music but this typified many stadiums of that era.

By the time I went to my final game at Riverfront in 2002, it was old and showing some wear and part of the left field wall was gone to make room for Great American Ball Park. The ‘Turf was ripped out and natural grass used starting in 2001. Riverfront didn’t age gracefully. Reds ownership never put a lot of money into it for maintenance.

Jose Rijo made the final start by a Reds pitcher at Riverfront on September 27, 2002. He took the loss in a 4-3 defeat to the Phillies. Reds second baseman Todd Walker made the final out of the game. Later that year, 1,400 pounds of explosives leveled Riverfront Stadium at a cost of $5.7 million.

Riverfront’s fate, in the end, was the same as the other stadiums it was compared to. Busch, the Vet and Three Rivers are all gone as well. The evolution of baseball parks going retro, being more fan friendly, bringing in local food to spice up the menu and the luxury suits to bring in more revenue was as natural as corporation sponsors getting naming rights.

Notice this— I never refer to Riverfront Stadium as “Cinergy Field.” I can’t do it. The local media were willing accomplices to it but the ordinary fans I spoke to always referred to the ballpark as ‘Riverfront’ not ‘Cinergy.” It didn’t fit. We didn’t like it.

Great American Ball Park? I love it. It’s our home now. The Reds Hall of Fame flanks it and there’s plenty of restaurants and bars built adjacent to the Reds home.

I miss Riverfront, but in the same way you would miss an old friend that’s gone. The memories of Johnny Bench, the Nasty Boys, Dave Concepcion and Don Gullett will always be there.

Riverfront was an upgrade. It was a bridge. It was our summer home for 32 years.

And it housed, for a few years, the best damn baseball team in our lifetime.

12 Responses

  1. Tom Gray

    I was there with my brother on Opening Night in 1970 (after attending the Last Night at Crosley Field with him earlier). I drove down from Chicago to see the stadium imploded.

    Many great things happened there. The Big Red Machine. Pete Rose’s record breaking hit # 4192 (and I saw # 4191 here in Chicago at Wrigley Field also). Tom Browning’s perfect game. And a whole bunch more.

    I can still remember walking into the blue seat concourse on Opening Night in awe of the field and stadium.

  2. cfd3000

    They’re red seats which I know wasn’t the fancy section, but somehow it seems right for the Reds. I have four seats from Riverfront in my Atlanta home to remind me of the first park I knew as a Cincinnati fan. An aisle seat, then seats 5, 11, and 14 to honor my favorite Reds. There was no row with a seat 44 or I’d have one for Eric the Red too. Great memories.

  3. sultanofswaff

    Nice post.

    First ML game in 1975, red seats. As a 5 year old, I thought I was on the moon I was so high up. My only memory is of Pete Rose hitting a double and losing his helmet between first and second as usual. No coincidence that I shattered my souvenir plastic Reds helmet a couple weeks later pretending I was Pete.

    I’ve been to about half of the current ballparks, and GABP is in my top 5.

  4. jessecuster44

    I loved Riverfront. Sat in section 155 for many, many games. I miss it.

  5. Rude Onederful

    Never lived in Cincinnati, but travelled there annually from Chicago, NYC or Boston since ’82 to catch games. Riverfront was my favorite place on earth & I’m one of those geeks that could tell you the differences between all the “cookie cutters” of that era. Haha. I also travelled there for the implosion & shed a few tears when it fell down in 2002. GABP is nice, but it bothers me that I’ll never see a TRUE “Red Seat” home run again or hear a Reds crowd as loud as they were during that 1 game playoff in ’99. Riverfront rocked!

  6. OhioStateRedsFan

    My dad has three of the Red seats in our basement in the house I grew up in. He has 13, 14, & 15. We already have the #15 signed by George Foster. His dream is to have #13 and #14 signed by Concepcion and Rose. Guess I better get to work on my next Fathers Day present…

    • mikemartz

      That would be a great gift! Please don’t put it off until it’s too late!

  7. lwblogger2

    Very nice… I wish I would remember my first game that well. I don’t even recall who we played. I know it was in 1974 and I was not quite 4 years old. I have virtually no memory of it unfortunately.

  8. Janet

    I loved Riverfront, and I, too, refused to call it by any other name. Riverfront was such a distinctive and appropriate name. We always sat in the red seats, which were $3 each, and one time we were in the very top row with a marvelous view of the river (although we moved to some empty seats lower down once the game started). My first game was in 1976 against the Montreal Expos. An Expo hit a line drive home run that barely cleared the wall in right field, and I remember thinking how boring home runs were. I was surprised because they always sounded so exciting when Marty and Joe called them.

  9. icee82

    Even though it was in existence for 32 years, a lifetime of great baseball memories came from that stadium. I believe those memories were the things that made this place so dear to so many Reds’ fans. The very first year, the All-Star game was held and the first memorable moment went into the books when Peter Edward Rose ran over Ray Fosse. Months later, the World Series was held and another great moment when Bernie Carbo raced home on an infield chop to be tagged by Orioles’ catcher Elrod Hendricks. However he was tagged with Hendricks’ glove but the ball was in his other hand. He was called out by former Red Ken Burkhart and this proved to be one of the more controversial calls in World Series history. Also Orioles’ third baseman Brooks Robinson put on a fielding clinic at Riverfront and the Reds’ lost in five games. The next year was just horrible but again in 1972 the Reds returned to the Fall Classic. Gene Tenace led off the World Series with two home runs in his first two at bats which was a historical moment. The following day, Joe Rudi climbed the wall in left field robbing Denis Menke of a run scoring hit and was one of the great catches in World Series history. The A’s edged the Reds 4-3 to take the world championship. Who can ever forget what happened the following two years? The Reds dominated baseball winning back to back world championships. Another classic World Series moment in Game 3 at Riverfront when Ed Armbrister attempted a bunt. Fisk and Armbrister got tied up and Fisk wildly threw to second base which allowed the winning run to scamper to third base. In 1978, Pete Rose made a strong run at Joe DiMaggio’s consecutive games with a hit but fell short at 44. Also during that season, Rose got hit #3000 at Riverfront off the Expos’ Steve Rogers. Eventually Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s record on September 11, 1985. The 1990 World Series was played at Riverfront. Eric Davis hit that first inning homer and in Game Two, Joe Oliver drilled a single down the left field line to score Billy Bates. A wild celebration ensued and several days later, the World Championship trophy returned to Cincinnati. In a stadium full of great memories, one of the worse memories happened on April 1, 1996 when plate umpire John McSherry suffered a heart attack on opening day and died on the turf at Riverfront. As great as the first six or seven years were, the last six or seven years at Riverfront were lean. The Reds’ were competitive but never in serious contention.

  10. cincykid65

    I agree wholeheartedly!! It will never be anything but Riverfront Stadium in my memory. We had season tickets on the first base line and I almost had a foul ball land in my lap! I was 7 years old; it was 1973, we were playing the Dodgers and it was my first time at a game. When the ball was hit I stood up with everyone else & it bounced on my seat but some big, drunk guy dumped his beer on me as he snatched it up. I cried when I watched the implosion from a riverboat just across the river.

  11. mike bedore

    does anyone remember an act following a game in the early 90’s that was called Mr, Bubble, or Mr. Balloon, I think? He came on the field to entertain while the Beach Boys were setting up for a concert. He climbed into a bubble or clear ball and rolled around on the field. My son thinks I’ve gone bonkers but I know I saw it. Help me regain my sanity, please?