Sunday, December 29, 2002

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Well, at an obscenely early hour this morning, they tore down Cinergy Field.

My first Major League baseball game was in the newly opened Riverfront Stadium, which is what it was called in the beginning. I went with my dad, my best friend at the time Kevin, Kevin's dad Buddy (who is a subject worthy of a whole column) and his little brother Chris. The Reds were playing the Philadelphia Phillies, and it was ball day. There was another thing to look forward to- we were going to meet Cave City, KY (a town just five miles away from Horse Cave) native and Caverna High School (my alma mater, you may remember) product Dennis Doyle, who was a rookie second baseman for the Phils at the time and knew my friend's Dad, who was a Little League coach for many years. You may remember that he went on to play in a World Series, against the Reds, in 1975 and his younger brother Brian starred for the Yankees in the Series in 1978. Anyway, we met him, got to talk to several players and got a couple of autographs...including one of a reserve outfielder named Ron Stone. Reds pitcher Tony Cloninger hit a grand slam in that game, and the Reds won. I'll always remember many things about my first Major League ballgame, none more than Phillies outfielder Oscar Gamble's immense 'Fro.

We went back the next year, to a dismally wet and cold game in May in which they took on the San Fransisco Giants. Got to see Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Bobby Bonds (Barry's dad, of course), in addition to the great Reds stars like Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and others. The Giants won in extra innings on a McCovey homer.

We tried every year for several years to go see at least one game, making a 300 mile, 3 1/2 hour drive. In 1975, My friend Dwayne Gardner and I went up with Dwayne's brother to see the Reds play the Cubs. We were watching batting practice, and I was looking in another direction when someone shouted "heads up!"...I looked up to see a ball coming right at me! I stuck up my hand in self defense more than anything, and it deflected off my hand, landing in the aisle behind my friend, who scooped it up. We looked to see who the player was. It was none other than Ron Stone, then with the Cubbies! I've looked up Stone's career on the internet, though, and all the sources say that he ended it in 1972 with the Phillies. I don't believe it for a minute, though. I'm absolutely certain it was him! Maybe he never batted for them. This will make me insane if I think about it much more.

I've got these and many, many more memories of seeing both baseball and football games in Riverfront (I will never intentionally refer to it as Cinergy Field) Stadium, including the last game I ever got to see with my father, who died in 1990...we brought my then 6 year old son to a 1988 game with (here's a coincidence) the Phillies, the only time the three of us ever went to see a ballgame together. There were many drunken games when my friends and I turned 21 (No, we didn't drive home. We took a shuttle to our hotel), some intensely hot Summertime games in which we couldn't sit in our seats because the sun was so bad (and we were so hung over!)...and I also remember well a 1988 Prince concert at adjacent Riverfront Colisseum, when I got there too early and occupied myself wandering around outside the stadium, reminiscing about games and such.

Yeah, I know it was another of those cookie cutter, donut-like, flying-saucer shaped, Astroturf field multi-purpose mostrosities that were built back in the Seventies. But even though it wasn't as aesthetically pleasing as Wrigley or Fenway it was where I got to see baseball. I've been to several other stadiums, in the course of my life since, but Riverfront will always occupy a special place in my heart. There may have been better looking ladies out there, but I had the most fun with her. So here's to you, Riverfront Stadium nee Cinergy Field. At least one person will miss ya.