Last week, I had the chance to visit Great American Ball Park for the first time since 2013. (I realize that’s nothing unusual for most of you, but for yours truly, the commute from Los Angeles is a real pain.) Prior to that year, when I caught two of the Reds’ season-ending losses en route to their Wild Card defeat in Pittsburgh, I’d seen just one game at GABP – a 2004 midsummer drubbing by the Cardinals that, according to Baseball Reference, featured multiple Cincinnati players of whom I have absolutely no memory (Tim Hummel, anyone?).
As much as I enjoy watching the Reds play in person, it’s hard to justify spending hundreds of dollars to fly across the country just for baseball, so most years, I see the team five or six times – first during my annual pilgrimage to Spring Training, and then again when they visit the Dodgers. Occasionally, I’ll take a day trip to catch them in San Diego as well, but unless it’s one of the rare years where they also hit Anaheim, that’s typically the extent to which I see the Reds in the flesh each season.
Being a fan of a team you get to see so sparingly is a bit like being in a long-distance relationship. You enjoy the time you spend together while cursing the fact that it passes so quickly; you regret having to say goodbye; and you eagerly anticipate your next meeting, anxiously counting the days until the magical moment finally arrives.
From the second I left Goodyear this spring, I began counting the days until I’d get to visit Cincinnati on a trip that bookended my high school reunion in Nashville. The plan was to fly into Northern Kentucky last Wednesday to see Amir Garrett pitch his home debut, head south the following morning, visit with some family and old friends for a few days, and then drive back up to Cincy to catch a Sunday matinee against the Cubs.
We arrived at GABP about 30 minutes before the first pitch on Wednesday night. As was the case during my 2013 trip, I was immediately struck by the simple fact that I wouldn’t be the only person wearing red that night, as is often the case when I see the team play at Dodger Stadium. It might seem silly to take so much comfort in that fact, but after having to cheer on the Reds from behind enemy lines for two decades, it’s incredibly reassuring to know that 2,000 miles east lies a spot where I’ll always have plenty of backup.
Our seats were in the second row of the left field bleachers, as I wanted my 8-year-old son to be close to the field for his first game in Cincinnati and also have a chance – however slim – to end up with a souvenir. Unfortunately, a day after they pounded 11 hits in a 9-3 victory over the Orioles, the team’s bats fell silent, managing just two hits in a 2-0 loss. Garrett, however, was outstanding, tying a Reds LHP rookie record by striking out 12 in seven impressive innings (and, in the process, earning us the legendary LaRosa’s freebies I’d read so much about). And even though we didn’t catch a home run ball, Adam Duvall lobbed a warm-up ball toward my son near the end of the game, only to have it comically intercepted by a quick-gloved Orioles fan in the row in front of us. (To his credit, after he realized he played Scrooge, he gave my son the ball.) While I wish my son’s first GABP experience would have ended in a Reds win, it was hard to feel upset as we left the stadium – especially knowing that we’d return in another few days.
On our way back to Cincinnati on Sunday morning, we stopped at LaRosa’s in Covington to cash in our pizza freebies and then walked across the Roebling Bridge toward the ballpark, arriving just after the National Anthem ended. Although our seats were in the nosebleeds, I decided to take my own advice and snagged some open field-level seats along the first base line, where we settled in to watch Bronson Arroyo – whose first name my wife and I liked enough to bestow on our son – continue his improbable comeback.
During the drive north, I had a fleeting “wouldn’t it be great if?” thought about Arroyo throwing a no-hitter, and when he mowed down the first 10 Cubs batters in order, I considered buying an Ohio Lottery ticket on my way out of town. Unfortunately, the fourth inning saw a one-out Chicago single followed by a two-run homer, but the fantasy was fun while it lasted. From there, however, Arroyo was impeccable, yielding just one additional single while striking out six. Meanwhile, the Reds offense was humming, thanks in part to some #LOLCubs defense that contributed to a four-run Cincinnati sixth.
After Arroyo exited, however, things got tense. First, Blake Wood gave up hits to the first two batters he faced in the seventh, one of whom subsequently scored on a Wandy Peralta-induced groundout. Then in the ninth, Raisel Iglesias appeared to wilt before our eyes as he yielded a double and an RBI single before airmailing a pickoff throw for a two-base error. After that runner scored on yet another RBI single, the tying run came to the plate with no outs as the healthy portion of Chicago fans in attendance began to brazenly chant “Let’s go Cubbies!” (So much for home field advantage.)
Mercifully, those cries were quieted two pitches later via a rally-killing double play. Another two pitches later, the game was over. Reds 7, Cubs 5. It wasn’t exactly pretty, but I was thrilled to finally witness a Cincinnati victory at GABP. More importantly, I was glad my son had the chance to watch his namesake score the win.
Afterwards, my son had the chance to run the bases along with dozens of other Reds Heads Kids Club members, and it was surreal to follow him as he took a lap on the hallowed ground I’ve watched from afar for so many years. As we reached home plate, I did my best to slow down the moment and took a quick glance around the stadium. While it was sad to say farewell to GABP and not know when we’d return, it was hard to imagine a more perfect ending to a more perfect day. And even though the Reds lost on Wednesday, I’m guessing I won’t be able to recall the score a few months from now, but I’ll never forget my son’s smile as he admired his souvenir ball. (Thanks, Adam.)
I realize most of you reading this rival or exceed my Reds fandom and don’t need any arm-twisting to attend a game yourselves, but against the Orioles, the announced attendance was just 15,083, and that felt generous. Meanwhile, the game against the Cubs featured just as many fans wearing blue, and although I begrudgingly admired Chicago supporters for not leaving early when it appeared all hope was lost, it was difficult to explain to my son why their 9th inning cheers weren’t being drowned out by fans of the home team, especially after telling him for years that we need to root quietly at Dodger Stadium. That said, while I might not know when my next trip to GABP will take place, I hope yours will come soon, and that you’ll bring a friend or 10 to fill in at least some of the empty seats. Take it from me – seeing red can be a wonderful experience.