Now that the planning and booking is done, it’s time to go. We start off at Ontario Airport, about 30 miles east of Los Angeles. It’s a 6:55am departure meaning we wake up at 4am and rush to get going. We arrive at the airport at 5:30am.
After check in (at the curb) and security, we head to the gate. I ask the gate agent if there are any better seats available on the plane, we’re in row 19 of the Continental 737, and none are available. Waiting at the gate to pre-board, the crew that would have to take Tim to his seat balk at having to transport him to row 19 and says they will load the plane first, then us.
Really? Row 19 is that bad? I’ve had airlines sit us in the back of the plane with no complaints, but…
This gets us bulkhead seats when they kick the people assigned there out (not my idea, theirs) but in this day and age of paying for every piece of luggage, being last means the overheads are full and everyone seethes as it takes time for us to get seated. A friendly flight attendant puts our bag up in first class…it’s important to have on the plane because it has medication and bathrooming gear we’ll need on the flight…and off we go.
We change planes in Houston and have no problems pre-boarding on the second flight to Cincinnati. The flights themselves are fine, comfortable, and on time but I did not care for the minor boarding fiasco at Ontario. Note to self: do not use Continental (soon to be part of United) out of Ontario anymore.
We arrive at the Cincinnati airport, which is actually in Kentucky, at 5pm local time, pick up our rental car (Ford Escape), and head to our hotel, the Comfort Suites in Newport, Kentucky…just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.
The room at the hotel is a “studio” suite, which means a larger room but not really a suite. There’s a king-size bed, sofa bed, and accessible restroom with bathtub and portable shower chair provided by the hotel. A hot breakfast (waffles, biscuits and gravy) is provided but it’s just adequate. In fact that word describes the hotel…adequate. Not great but not bad. It’s a bit expensive for that at around $150 per night.
After settling in, we walk to the nearby area of shops and restaurants known as the Levee at Newport. It’s a very lively area and we find a real gem, a branch of Munich’s Hofbrauhaus with a real German beer garden out back.
It’s small by Munich standards and the sausages are good but not quite on par with Germany, but here we go…an honest-to-goodness German beer garden three blocks from our hotel with its own brewery producing real Hofbrau beer, served in the liter sized glasses just like in Munich.
This is the perfect way to end a long day of travelling so we walk over to the riverfront and head back to the hotel.
It’s a Saturday and our tickets to the ball game are for Sunday so we take a drive to Louisville to see the Louisville Slugger Museum and take the factory tour. A 90 minute drive, we pass the Kentucky Speedway and a mysterious sign that states “site of fatal bus crash. May 14, 1988.”
It turns out that on that date, the worst bus accident in the country’s history took place when a drunk driver hit a church school bus. 27 people were killed, 24 injured, and several of the victims banded together and eventually formed Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
Once in Louisville, we pass a minor league stadium for the Louisville Bats, an affiliate of the Reds. You’d think they’d be called the Sluggers, but no. The stadium is named Louisville Slugger Stadium, however.
Not hard to find, just head to the riverfront, turn left, and look for a giant bat sticking up over the skyline. Park in the structure in the back and head into the Hillerich and Bradsby Company, better known as the makers of that necessary piece of sporting wood, the Louisville Slugger.
Inside is paradise for baseball fans. A long, narrow lobby from the front to the back of the building includes a room for special exhibits, the bat vault (where every major leaguer has a template bat locked up…the “Fort Knox” of baseball), sample bats made to major league player specifications that you can test swing, a batting cage (10 pitches for a dollar) where you can try out a major league players bat, a current league standings board, a gift shop, and that giant bat out front.
All very interesting but the main attraction is what you actually have to pay for, the museum and factory tour. It’s ten dollars for adults and you get to enter the museum and take an informative and entertaining tour of the factory (no cameras allowed on the factory floor).
Entering the museum, the first thing to see is one of the very first bats made by Bud Hillerich for Pete Browning, one of baseball’s first professional players, in 1884. Browing quickly got three hits with it in the next game and christened it the “Louisville Slugger.” Next is an area where you can hold a game-used bat. Gloves are mandatory. Tim held David Ortiz’s bat. Me? I went with Mickey Mantle.
Several other artifacts are on display. Honus Wagner’s jersey and bat; Joe Dimaggio’s bat; Babe Ruth’s bat; and on and on. The factory tour shows each step of the process, from lathing the wood, burning in the insignia to lacquering the bat. We are informed that players are very particular about their bats. For example, Ted Williams had one person make his bats and they had to have eight lines of grain per inch. With the highest batting average on record, Williams must have known what he was talking about.
At the end of the tour, everybody gets a small wooden bat to take home as a souvenir. One of the best 10 bucks I’ve ever spent.
On our way out of Louisville, we go by Churchill Downs…a week to the day after the Kentucky Derby…but couldn’t find any parking so we left town and went back home.
For dinner, we head down the river to the Beer Sellar. We thought it was a restaurant, but it’s just a bar so we have a two dollar, pre-game beer special and chat with some of the fans getting ready to go to tonight’s game. We’re not going until tomorrow, but we have some fun talking and then watching them depart by boat from the adjacent dock to go to the stadium across the river.
Actual food is found at Bulldogs, just around the corner, where we have some delicious fish and chips while watching the game going on across the river on TV. It’s interesting when someone hits a home run, you can hear the fireworks coming in through the windows and on the television. You can also hear the cheers coming from all the numerous bars in the area and from the stadium across the water.
Sunday…Game Day. This trip is all about baseball and the main attraction is the game. It’s Mother’s Day and we’re going to see the Reds host the Chicago Cubs. It’s about a mile walk to the game. Over the bridge to Ohio, then along the riverfront to the stadium.
Behind the stadium is an art installation of a giant paddle wheel, along with a couple dozen posts that vent steam on a random basis. There are also speakers in the posts where you can hear people on river boats.
We are behind the stadium in center field and there is no accessible entrance here. We have to walk around, 2 blocks, to home plate to go to the Will Call booth, pick up our tickets, and enter.
Great American Ball Park is a smallish feeling stadium (42,000 capacity) overlooking the Ohio River towards Covington, Kentucky. As you would expect, Red is the dominant color scheme. There is a faux river boat in the outfield and fireworks shoot out of its smoke stacks at the beginning of the game, when a Reds player hits a home run, and upon a Reds victory. Steam comes out when the home team pitcher strikes out an opponent.
The food choices here are basic and mediocre. Hot dogs, pizza, and burgers are mostly it, with ice cream and candy for dessert. There is pre-made sushi at a little convenience store by home plate, but we don’t want any sushi that’s not made in front of us. The tap beer selection is vast and reasonably priced. Since we’re walking home, we take full advantage of it.
Our seats are at the top of the field level deck, about 2/3 the way from home plate to first base. There is a slight overhang from the club deck above but it does not block our view in any meaningful way. The price for this seat is $47 for this premium game against the Cubs. If you go to see a less meaningful opponent, say the Marlins, it would be five dollars less. There is accessible seating throughout the stadium, from the bleachers to the nosebleeds, along with the more premium seating on the field and club levels. The lowest price is $5 going up to $235 for the first five rows behind home plate. We had no problems getting more than one companion seat.
Ryan Dempster steps on the mound for the Cubs to start the game. There’s no score until the second inning when Dempster gives up an RBI double to Johnny Gomes. The Reds, led by pitcher Mike Leake, have the game in hand until Leake goes wild in the 7th inning, giving up a run on an errant pitch. The Cubs will go on to take the lead by one but the Reds take it back in the bottom of the inning on a Joey Votto 3-run homer. The Reds win the game 5 to 3.
We decide to walk around the area of the stadium to see what festive activities we can find. The answer? None. It’s dead quiet in downtown Cincinnati so we head back across the bridge to Newport to find a lively atmosphere and settle in at an Irish Pub for dinner.
And that’s a wrap for Cincy. The highlights were the baseball game, of course; the fascinating and fun Louisville Slugger museum and tour; and the Kentucky side of the river across from Cincinnati is a lively and fun entertainment district. This leg of the tour left me with a strong desire to visit Kentucky again and explore it a little more fully.
Stay tuned as we head out to leg two of this Midwest Baseball Tour…St. Louis, Missouri.
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick