Game 24: Cincinnati Reds
As we were staying a little way out of the city itself we took the unusual step of driving to the ballpark today. It was only about a fifteen minute drive and we parked a mile from the ground, to avoid too much traffic and took a peaceful stroll over the Ohio River and into The Great American Ball Park. I had presumed that the park got its name because the Reds quite pompously believed that theirs was the best park going. However, Great American is actually an insurance company who bought naming rights to the park. Not quite such an interesting background story.
Cincinnati’s long and proud baseball history is proudly on display in the Red’s home on the banks of the Ohio. Banners around the exterior of the park celebrate great moments in franchise history and a large mosaic inside the main entrance depicts the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first professional team. The main 50,000 square foot entrance plaza displays more banners from eras at previous ball parks. The back of the left field scoreboard features a large photo, visible from the street outside, of the bat and ball used by Pete Rose to break Ty Cobb’s hitting record in 1985. There is also a great Hall of Fame and Museum just inside the entrance to the ground.
A particularly unique feature of the ballpark is the opening within the upper deck along the third base line. Known as “the Gap” this opening allows great views of down town Cincinnati while from higher up in the top tiers you get great panoramic views of Mount Adams, the Ohio River and Northern Kentucky. I sipped a reasonably priced Bud Light at seven dollars as I enjoyed a quiet pre-match walk around the amenities. The Great American Ball Park seemed to be built to suit its specific location. The brick exterior well reflects Cincinnati’s classic architecture and the cast stone base matches the adjacent Roebling Bridge spanning the Ohio River. Twin smoke stacks in centre field – which emit fireworks after a Reds home run, spectacular play or victory – are apparently reminiscent of the steamships that were once a common sight on the nearby river.
The Cincinnati Reds were currently leading the NL West by a handy six and a half games over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Chicago Cubs were trailing the Reds by a distant 26 games and had also lost the first two games of this series, so it would be fair to say that I anticipated something of a rout.
Chicago Cubs………001 002 010 – 4
Cincinnati Reds….100 300 001 – 5
Rout this most definitely was not. The Reds finally won in the bottom of the ninth innings but almost got there in spite of themselves. Xavier Raul led off that inning with a great pinch hit triple over first base and into the right field corner of the Great American Ball Park. Ryan Hanigan then hit the next pitch over the drawn in Chicago outfield to clinch the win.
Reds fielding errors had compounded to keep the Cubs in the game. They capitalized when first third baseman Wilson Valdez misplayed Darwin Barney’s potential double play ball with no outs in the sixth innings, leading to Alfonso Soriano’s sacrifice fly and Starlin Castro’s (yes – that really is his name) RBI single. Jay Bruce then dropped Luis Valbuena’s fly ball near the right field warning track with one out in the eighth inning, allowing David DeJesus (no, I’m not making the names up) to go from first to third. DeJesus scored on Soriano’s groundout.
Cincinnati began in the first innings on Bruce’s two out single. The Cubs tied it up in the third on Scott Clevenger’s leadoff walk, Chris Volstad’s sacrifice and DeJesus’ ground rule double. Consecutive singles by Bruce, Todd Frazier and Valdez to lead off the fourth produced the go ahead run for the Reds. Hanigan’s sacrifice fly and Mat Latos’ RBI single made it Reds four, Cubs one. Then the circus acts started until Paul’s heroics in the bottom of the ninth.
There was a very big crowd at this fixture, in excess of 46,000. It was the 13th sell-out of the season, which was a record for the ball park. The 46, 000 also got a chance to see yours truly on the big screen. I mentioned a couple of days ago about some of the promotions going on at Champion Window Field in Florence. The big league clubs of course run their own promotions, including “Fan of the Day”. So it was, that thanks to Ryan Flynn of Baseball New Zealand and Kathryn Braun and Melissa Hill at the Reds organisation my mug was there for all and sundry to view, being interviewed on Fan Cam.
The shenanigans of the Reds fielders, especially the hapless Valdez and Bruce should not really occur in baseball because they have such huge artificial aids in the form of their fielding gloves. It wasn’t always that easy though. In spite of what occurred today it is said that fielding in baseball has improved rapidly as the sport has progressed. In cricket the advent of the one day version of the game magnified the need to stop every run and so the importance of defence was intensified. So too in baseball, however, how much of the increase can be put down to the evolution of the fielding glove?
In the 1880’s about half the runs scored were unearned (i.e. scored on an error by the fielding team). In the 2000’s less than one seventh are unearned. The decline in the number of errors was due in part to better playing surfaces, but mainly as a result of the introduction and evolution of fielding gloves.
The first gloves were flesh coloured because the wearers were embarrassed about being soft enough to have to wear them. But they quickly became popular and it was a lot easier to do than catch it in your cap, as was the previous trend. The original gloves were similar to today’s batters gloves, with the fingers cut out, so was really only protecting the palm of the hand. It was now possible to catch the ball in one hand to free up your other hand for a quick throw. All fielders have worn gloves since the retirement of Jerry Denny of Louisville in 1894, the last real man to play the game. They were still only tiny padded gloves weighing about 10 ounces but by 1920, errors in the game declined from 6.66 to 2.83. 1920 saw the introduction of the glove that included webbing between the thumb and fingers.
By the end of the 1950’s the turf management had also improved dramatically and this combined with the technological advances of the gloves kept the error rate was low. This improvement in defence is the main reason that scoring had declined an average of .14 runs per decade for 11 decades until the 1970’s and the advent of the Designated Hitter. Until 1954 players were not even required to take their gloves back to the bench with them when it was their turn to bat, they just threw them on the grass.
Since then however the fielders have taken better care of their gloves and they have become an integral part of the game. Catchers mitts and general fielding gloves have improved so much that any “bare handed” catch or even pick up and throw is treated with awe by spectators and commentators alike. So those Reds fielders really had no excuse to make errors. They were just lucky that they were not playing “back in the day”.
After theorising on the advances in fielding throughout history, Kitty and I walked back down Cincinnati Main Street, took the I-75 south back to the Florence Super 8 and relaxed with a quiet drink poolside. Another good day out and a successful big screen debut.