A beloved Reds Twitter topic of our own Chad Dotson involves not one single player on one single Reds team:

Every time this topic arises, the replies are awash in praise and fond remembrance of the rubber strips, wide and chunky at Riverfront and still present, albeit in a more disappointing fashion, at Great American. As I child, I never thought much of why these were in place, or what they were; they simply existed, and they were to be stomped upon.

This ignorance continued until I became an employee of the Reds Hall of Fame and trailed after one of my new colleagues as he escorted an unruly flock of third-graders around the horn. He told them to stand on this 21st century form of the rubber gap–which, to be honest, I hadn’t really noticed until that moment. The children lined up, bouncing slightly but otherwise singularly unimpressed.

“These are expansion joints,” he said. “They are all around the ball park. When it’s very hot or very cold, these give room for the concrete in the stadium become a little bit bigger in the summer and a little bit smaller when in the winter. It helps to avoid cracks.”

I stared at him, then back at the children pressing their toes into the rubber, then up at the skyline, two childhood memories suddenly joining hands. The first– one which I am sure many Cincinnatians Of a Certain Age share– was of standing in Riverfront’s thicker, wider cracks, treading little sneakers into the sudden vacation from the gray walls and corridors.

This was necessary for each joint I encountered, and I suddenly acquired a renewed appreciation for my father’s patience while escorting me and a neighborhood buddy up the ramps. He never tried to hurry us along or point out that  we were absorbed with mashing our feet into the rubber while Dave Concepción was batting with two on.

And I remembered, too, looking up at the endlessly high CN Tower in Toronto, immeasurably impressed and also squicked out by a fact just revealed in the guidebook: The building grew and shrank a difference of three inches a year. (I saw a picture of the CN Tower recently; it seems to have concentrated all its energies upon shrinking.) How was this? Towers were not living. They could not grow up or shrivel down. What strange powers were stirring in Canada?

The answer– and no doubt it never occurred to me until well into my adulthood because, at its core, it involves math– revealed nothing more than the natural fluctuations of the seasons. The expansion joints in the stadium allowed for organic change, inviting concrete to become flexible. Instead of trusting a gaping hole that we would have tripped over or straight fallen through, they bridged the space between the two. Such fluidity honored both the necessary rigidity of the building material while still allowing space for the incremental progress of the Earth around the Sun.

A possible reply to Chad’s question is contained there: We loved the expansion joints because they provided a moment of inviting liveliness in the soulless progression of 70’s architecture. It was a rest. It was a moment for children to slip through expectations of Behaving Amongst Other People and bounce about on a non-threatening, thick and forgiving surface. That is why seven-year-old Beth danced on the lines at Riverfront but grown-up employee Mary Beth walked right past the technologically advanced version in its successor.

Expansion joints are baseball’s Santa Claus and at least as culturally important. They invite both preservation and play. They unite a certain age band beyond all other barriers.

They are how we avoid cracks.

15 Responses

  1. SOQ

    We took our family to Toronto 1 year for vacation many years ago. We planned a visit to the CN tower and wanted to get there early before the crowds arrived. I recall having to walk through a mall to get to the tower and the Mall was pretty much empty due to the early hour. My wife had to take the two youngest to the bathroom, so I waited in the concourse with my 6 year old son (wearing his Michael Jordan jersey). Soon, I noticed an entourage of well dressed black gentlemen walking towards us with a rather tall man in the middle. As they got closer, I realized that it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I pointed his direction to tell my son who this giant of a man was. At the same instant, his eyes met mine and his brow began to crease some concern. I realized his concern that I might be a rabid fan or something so I simply smiled and nodded my head. He nodded his head back and continued on. Kareem knows me now. 🙂

    • Mark Moore

      Love that story! Such a vivid memory.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That’s outstanding. I hope your son remembers!

  2. LDS

    Maybe the current Reds need to bring back some of that old rubber in the form of corked bats. They need all the help they can get. Any day now, Phil C. should give you a wealth of new subject matter.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I’m sure the MLB will enjoy that! (Use them only against the Astros, though.)

  3. Melvin

    Another good article. The way you think of things to write about with your skill level is amazing. 🙂 By the way I do remember the rubber expansion joints at Riverfront. It really wasn’t that long ago.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Oh thank you! But most of all thank you for thinking that it wasn’t too long ago for me to be 7 🙂

  4. Daytonnati

    Entering or exiting, talking to your friends about the expectations or the results of the game, totally unaware of where you were walking THEN stepping on the expansion joints was the ultimate experience. There was always that first instinctive reaction: “dog poop.” With Schottzie around, that was not that far-fetched.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I had never thought “dog poop.” But that’s certainly a useful take for those who are a dog’s person. I enjoy hearing everyone’s different memories!

  5. greenmtred

    I don’t remember the expansion joints: I only went to Riverfront once, and consumed enough beer to obscure some of my powers of observation and, besides, I’m too old to remember much. I seriously doubt, Mary Beth, that AI could write this article as engagingly as you did.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well, thanks. I missed the beer consumption at Riverfront but I assume it would enhance the expansion joint experience (assuming you noticed it!)

  6. Mark Moore

    Aside from BobPhil’s rigidity in their ham-fisted management of our beloved Queen City Redlegs, few things in our world are exempt from fluctuation such as you describe. We just don’t observe the act or the buffers that allow the act to happen without damaging the “main thing”. Change is a constant … we can only hope that ultimately means a change in ownership before things collapse further and sink into the abyss beneath the Ohio River.

    Good stuff as always, MBE!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well said (and thank you.) And now I want a tee shirt that says “Queen City Redlegs”.

  7. Tservo

    The thing I remember most about Riverfront and Cinergy field was walking down from Fountain Square and crossing the bridge over Merhing/Pete Rose Way. If you stood still when semi trucks went under the bridge, you could feel it bounce up and down slightly. The same effect would happen when enough people were walking in step; the vibrations from all the individual footsteps would set up a resonance that matched that of the bridge and you’d all be moving up and down in sequence. I can’t say that those sort of things are why I became and engineer, but they still remind me of how simultaneously weird and wonderful the world is.
    And I’ve been to the CN tower as well; it is well worth the vertigo on the way up. Another great article Mary Beth!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That’s a beautiful memory! The ones we remember with all our senses tend to be the best 🙂 (And I like to hear the Suspension Bridge “sing.”)