Most locals consider Cincinnati to be a “baseball town.” Everyone hears family members and coworkers go on about just how great the Big Red Machine was or how exciting 1990 was when the Reds went wire-to-wire in first place and swept the Oakland A’s to win the World Series.
Though it’s still relatively early, this year’s Reds are an exciting team that shows signs of being able to contend for a playoff spot, at least late into the regular season. But a glance at the sections of empty seats at many home games would suggest otherwise.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the Reds aren’t drawing more fans. It seems that when divisional rivals Chicago and St. Louis come to town Great American Ball Park is almost a home away from home for them and their fans. For some reason (perhaps the long string of seasons without a playoff berth), Cincinnati’s image as a baseball town has receded into the past, becoming a vague, distant memory.
When thinking about passionate Reds fans and routinely packed games one must think all the way back to the days of Riverfront Stadium and its color-coded-seat glory.
It’s hard to imagine a team that was founded four years after the end of the Civil War could have fair-weather fans, but Cincinnati has that — or something quite similar to it. Baseball is as integral an aspect of summertime as cold lemonade, apple pie and all the other American stuff over which old people fondly reminisce. But somehow many locals have developed a convoluted grasp of what being a fan is.
It is not calling off work to drink 11 beers at Opening Day, then not come back to the park again all season unless someone has free tickets. The Opening Day Parade and game have turned into a horse racing-like spectacle.
Aaron Harang. Jay Bruce. Joey Votto. Brandon Phillips. Edinson Volquez. Johnny Cueto. This year’s Reds team isn’t centered around aging malcontents or projected All Stars from Triple-A who can’t stay in the majors for five years. These guys are legitimate talents, and they might be able to make the playoffs.
It seems that there are three primary complaints voiced by those who watch Reds games somewhat often, yet never go to them: parking, ticket prices and scary people downtown. With a few minutes of planning and consideration, one would realize that the first two problems are myths and that the third is really a personal fear that should be overcome.
Since the dawn of professional baseball, part of the allure of going to a game has been the experience — being thrust into an environment different from that of the individual’s living room. In any city there will be homeless people, and Cincinnati is no exception.
For whatever reason, people here seem way more threatened by the presence of street musicians, the homeless and people not wearing North Face pullovers. It is the same sense of uneasiness around others that keeps many suburban Reds fans from taking the Metro to and from the game. Riding the bus eliminates the cost of parking and is a great option when traveling with a large number of people.
If the Metro is for one reason or another not an option, making a list of cheap parking options will help tremendously. The Westin Hotel’s lot is ridiculously cheap if there are spots available in it. Fountain Square ($4-$7) is a decent option as well. If those two don’t work, there are still many other garages to use that are relatively close to the stadium without costing more than a beer does inside.
It seems every time one strolls toward GABP he can count on seeing some rube attempting to buy tickets from a scalper. Scalpers earned that title by ripping off customers. If you buy anything other than $5 or $14 tickets for below face value from them, you are most certainly getting ripped off. There are ticket kiosks located in Fountain Square and other convenient locations downtown. This can save people from waiting in really long lines when the demand for walk-up tickets at the park is high.
More often than not, those of us resourceful and adventurous enough to go downtown for a Reds game pay less than $20 for a ticket and parking combined. And regardless of whether your party includes minors or adults there are also plentiful dining options for pre- and post-game enjoyment. Getting $4 margaritas and buy-one-get-one pizzas at Palomino during Happy Hour before games is a good idea for eating like a king on a wage slave’s budget.
The upcoming home games versus the Cubs will prove little regarding Reds fans’ attendance. But later this month when the Braves and White Sox come to town we’ll have a more reliable bellwether for how much local support is being garnered — and scanned at the gate.
Whether it be a Friday Fireworks night or a Thursday afternoon Businessman’s Special, going to a game should be a time-honored part of being a Cincinnatian. One can idly bark about how steroids and the strike ruined the game, but if you get down to the park you will see it is alive and well, as it has been here for nearly 150 years.