This is a continuation of my series on cookie-cutter stadiums. Read Part 1 here. In that installment I stated that Busch Memorial Stadium would be next, but for certain reasons that one had to be shelved for a few weeks. Instead we’re traveling to the Queen City and Riverfront Stadium. Scroll to the bottom to hear thoughts and memories from frequent attendees Barry Gilpin, who writes here at Banished to the Pen; and Jamie Ramsey, the Assistant Director of Media Relations and Digital content for the Cincinnati Reds, as well as former groundskeeper at Riverfront Stadium.
Riverfront Stadium (later known as Cinergy Field)
Notable tenants: Cincinnati Reds – MLB (1970-2002); Cincinnati Bengals – NFL (1970-2000)
Date opened and first baseball game: June 30, 1970; Atlanta Braves 8, Cincinnati Reds 2. Hank Aaron christened the stadium with its first home run.
Last baseball game: September 22, 2002; Philadelphia Phillies 4, Cincinnati Reds 3
All-Star Games: July 14, 1970; NL 5, AL 4, and July 12, 1988; AL 2, NL 1. The 1970 All-Star Game is best known for Pete Rose barreling into catcher Ray Fosse on the final play of the game, injuring Fosee and forever altering his career.
Longest home run: May 5, 2000; Mark McGwire hit a 473-foot home run to left-center field. Ken Griffey, Jr. would respond a few innings later with a home run of his own helping the Reds to a 3-2 victory.
Demolished: December 29, 2002
On the banks of the mighty Ohio River and in the shadows of Cincinnati’s impressive skyline sat Riverfront Stadium. Built in 1970, Riverfront replaced legendary Crosley Field, which had been the Reds home for the previous 58 years. If you ever have to explain the concept of cookie-cutter stadiums to the unaware, you might as well show them a picture of Riverfront. It was so plain and efficient it was actually built on TOP of an ugly parking garage.
While the stadium may have been nothing special, you can’t say the same about a lot of teams and players who used to roam this Astroturf. The Big Red Machine, arguably the toast of baseball in the 1970s, won two World Series titles and four pennants. On September 11, 1985, Pete Rose became the all-time hit king during a night game at Riverfront. The 1990 Reds spent the entire season in first place and capped it off with a four game sweep of the Oakland A’s in the World Series. And most importantly, in 1992, deep in the bowels of this stadium, Manager Lou Pinella decided he had had just about enough of Rob Dibble. (Who hasn’t?)
The terrified look on Bip Roberts’s face near the end of this clip will always be funny. This was his first season with the Reds after being traded from San Diego, Jack McKeon probably wasn’t brawling with Craig Lefferts in the clubhouse all that often.
In 1996, energy company Cinergy purchased the naming rights for Riverfront and it was branded with the slightly-objectionable Cinergy Field until its demise in 2002. (For the purpose of this column, we’re sticking with “Riverfront.”) During Riverfront’s final two years, to make room for construction of Great American Ball Park, several large sections of the outfield stands were demolished.
I was living down the road in Louisville, Kentucky, at the time and attended my lone game at Riverfront when the outfield stands were missing and cranes were just beyond the centerfield fence as shown above. The Reds were hosting the Cubs. Sammy Sosa hit a home run; parking was a breeze. That’s pretty much what I remember about Riverfront.
Riverfront serviced the Reds for a total of 32 years before making way for Great American Ball Park in 2003. Now, I understand that cookie-cutter stadiums became dated and obsolete nearly overnight, but in a perfect world if you can’t get more than 32 years out of a stadium, you owe the citizens of your city a giant apology way more than they owe you more tax dollars and a new stadium. Perfect this world ain’t, and neither was Riverfront. But ask a Reds fan who grew up watching the Big Red Machine or Eric Davis in the 1980s and I’ll bet that they don’t give a damn.
A few more notes:
Pardon me, Reds, but it’s never too late to update your website:
It’s not just the Reds, the local government of Cincinnati doesn’t want to let go of Riverfront either. As recently as October 2014, citizens in Cincinnati were rightfully complaining to the local paper because there are STILL downtown signs directing people to Cinergy Field.
Great American Ball Park is hosting the 2015 All-Star Game and the city wants the sign issue rectified by then. So the sensible thing would be to just have them removed, right? Nah. From the article:
This particular website has a series of facts about Riverfront that run the gamut from the interesting to the absurd. For instance:
First stadium to paint metric distances on outfield walls: 100.58 down the lines, 114.30 to the alleys, 123.13 to center.
Second base occupied the spot where the home of Roy Rogers, the singing cowboy, once stood.
Winds helped right-handed hitters.
Basepads [sic] were been [sic] filled with dirt from a local graveyard.
I don’t believe a word of that.
Testimony from Riverfront attendee, and Banished to the Pen author, Barry Gilpin:
Riverfront Stadium was, when compared to the stadia of today, honestly, kind of a dump. Everything was painted an ugly brown color, and no one likes Astroturf. The pizza was gross. But, the place was still special, and a little magical to me, and I guess it still is. You see, in January of 1990, my father died. He had been battling cancer for some time. I was 11 years old. I do not know much of what my family’s financial situation was at that time, due to my age, but my grieving mother did not go back to work until around late summer. As a lot of mothers do, she disliked sports, but always went out of her way to encourage my interests. As you can probably guess, my main interest during that time, and I guess my escape/coping mechanism, was the 1990 World Champion Cincinnati Reds, who as you know, played in the aforementioned Riverfront Stadium (it will always be Riverfront to me, none of that Cinergy Field crap).
Lots of memories come flowing back into my head from that time. I remember more things from that season than I remember from the last few seasons combined. I remember asking Mom if we could go to a doubleheader against the Mets, and apparently the term doubleheader either didn’t register with her or she just plain didn’t get it, but you can imagine her dismay when we got to the park and she realized, “wait, there’s TWO games? You little shit!” Kevin Elster, of all people, hit one of the longest home runs I’ve ever seen in person that day. I remember Lou Piniella, after a controversial play at home plate which would have led to a walk-off win, kicking his hat so hard it went 10 rows deep. I remember the next night when Norm Charlton said the hell with Mike Scioscia blocking the plate, and trucked him into next week. I remember Lou throwing first base into right field (unfortunately, the only video I can find of Piniella throwing bases happened in Seattle). I remember seeing Rob Dibble pitch in person for the first time, my jaw dropping, and thinking no human being should be able to throw a ball that fast. Of course, now every team has two guys who throw like that. I remember Barry Larkin being Barry Larkin, and I remember Eric Davis, and how awesome he would have been with good health. I remember Chris Sabo’s baserunning strategy of “run until they tag you.” I’m not sure I would have made it through that unfortunate life experience without baseball, and by extension, that particular Cincinnati Reds team, and Riverfront Stadium.
Testimony from the Reds’ Assistant Director of Media Relations and Digital Content, and former grounds crew member, Jamie Ramsey:
I began going to games at Riverfront Stadium as a youngster. I saw an All-Star Game and a World Series game at the “big ballpark by the river.” From 1997-1999, I worked on the Reds ground crew at Riverfront and then eventually moved up to the Reds front office where I worked for 2 years inside the ballpark. I knew all of the ins and outs of the place, warts and all.
One of the many memories I have of the place was all of the door jambs contained cigarette ashes/butts, thanks to Marge Schott.
I remember the front office interior had not changed since the building opened in 1970. Groovy red carpet, very loud paint choices and hilarious 1970s chairs highlighted the business quarters of Riverfront.
When the Bengals moved out of Riverfront in 2000, the Reds expanded their offices over to the Bengals side. I had an office where the Bengals had once conducted business. It wasn’t as “loud” as the Reds side, in terms of decorating choices.
When I was on the ground crew, our locker room was just inside the tunnel behind home plate. Chain link fences, dirty hand-me down couches and a worn out card table served as our “home away from home.”
The best thing about being on the ground crew was being able to watch the games in the “cut-out” right behind home plate. We were “those people” in the background you could see when the center field camera focused on the pitcher facing the batter.
One of my jobs was to climb on top of the ballpark to put up the MLB team flags on game days (according to standings). We kept the flags in a small little room that looked down Main Street.
The place became outdated pretty fast, but I still have a soft place in my heart for it. I even kind of miss it from time to time.
Jamie also writes about the Reds on the MLB blog Better Off Red and you can follow him on Twitter at @jamieblog.Next post: Boston Red Sox Team in a Box
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