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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“cookie cutterÃ¢â‚¬Â 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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“big leagueÃ¢â‚¬Â.
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.
RiverfrontÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Cinergy Field.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.