Opening day in Cincinnati is about much more than baseball.
It’s a holiday that dates to the late 19th century that’s
celebrated with a colorful, eclectic parade that winds through
downtown and elaborate pregame ceremonies on the field.
Bars open early. And tens of thousands of people – with or
without game tickets – flock to street parties, participate in
tailgating gatherings and line up in parks at sizzling grills for
blackened hot dogs with spicy brown mustard while local rock bands
Many downtown offices lay out buffets and turn the game on
big-screen TV’s for employees, and there’s usually an amnesty for
truant students and workers who make suspicious sick day
”Opening day in Cincinnati is completely unlike anything else
in baseball,” said Marty Brennaman, who on Monday will call his
40th consecutive opening day as the Reds’ radio play-by-play
broadcaster. ”That is an absolute, unequivocal fact.”
Contrary to popular local belief, the Reds’ season opener at
home every year didn’t start as an official baseball scheduling
rule because of Cincinnati’s history as home of the first
professional baseball team (the Red Stockings in 1869). Instead,
it’s because Cincinnati was one of the southernmost baseball cities
at the time and usually offered more favorable weather than
”It was a quirk of the schedule in the beginning, but the fans
embraced it and turned it into a community festival,” said
historian Greg Rhodes, who wrote the 2004 book, ”Opening Day:
Celebrating Cincinnati’s Baseball Holiday” with Cincinnati
Enquirer sportswriter John Erardi.
The team began in the 1880s greeting first-game fans with
pregame concerts, cages full of warbling canaries, and bunting and
banners hanging around the stadium. Rhodes credits a
promotion-minded Reds business manager, Frank Bancroft, with
developing opening day as an annual celebration in the 1890s.
By the turn of the century, Rhodes said, downtown shops began
closing and kids skipped school, and The Enquirer wrote
tongue-in-cheek laments about the onslaught of illnesses striking
the city’s grandmothers that forced so many people to leave work
Fans groups formed parades, eventually joining into the single
Findlay Market Parade that features politicians, local celebrities,
military heroes and Reds players past and present in a procession
of convertibles, horse-drawn carriages and floats. The parade also
features a city leader who dresses in top hat and tails in tribute
to a beloved peanut vendor who died decades ago.
At the stadium, there are giveaways, musical performances,
ceremonies that can be solemn or festive, patriotic flag
formations, and roaring military plane fly-overs.
During the game, the scoreboard will list the fans with the
longest consecutive number of opening days attended. It starts at
Fans are excited that baseball is back and look forward to a
spring and summer of watching games in the scenic riverfront Great
American Ball Park, following the team on TV, or sitting in the
backyard listening to Brennaman and his colleagues, who now include
his son Thom.
”More than anything else, it’s the start of spring; just the
excitement that baseball is back and summer is coming,” said Dan
Prickel, an accountant who will be at his 41st opening day game
Prickel’s personal tradition began like a scene from ”American
Graffiti,” with a group of Batesville, Ind., area childhood
friends – ready to scatter to colleges and jobs at summer’s end
after high school – making a pact to reunite each year for opening
day. About a dozen were there for the first one; there are three
who have returned every year.
There has been no shortage of memorable games – in Brennaman’s
first opener in 1974, he called Hank Aaron’s record-tying 714th
career home run in the first inning and a Reds rally for an
extra-inning victory. There’s also the 2011 game-ending, three-run
home run by Ramon Hernandez for a 7-6 Reds comeback.
The pregame activities are memorable, too. In 2006, President
George W. Bush, wearing a Reds jacket, showed impressive form with
a ceremonial first pitch he acknowledged he had been practicing
for. The next year, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory made an awkwardly
bad attempt, which became an Internet sensation and landed the
mayor on the ”Jimmy Kimmel Live!” TV show to relive it. Reds
outfielder Josh Hamilton got a prolonged ovation during pregame
introductions in 2007 to hail his battle back from substance
addictions; he returns Monday in a Los Angeles Angels uniform.
Rhodes said the late Reds owner Marge Schott was one of the most
ardent proponents of the opening day celebration, but had a run of
unfortunate events that included the 1996 collapse of home plate
umpire John McSherry seven pitches into the game. She vigorously
complained about the decision to postpone the game, despite
McSherry’s death that day.
In 1994, she belittled the Reds’ scheduled Sunday night opening
game, complaining that opening day games should be in daytime. She
declared the next afternoon’s game the real opening day, complete
with daylong festivities and two elephants and her St. Bernard dogs
on the field before the game.
It’s rare that opening day doesn’t bring some kind of surprise
to add to its lore.
”I just don’t think it is something that you could have mapped
out or planned,” Rhodes said. ”Now you’ve got generations and
generations of fans who have been part of it. It is just a
testament to this town’s love of its baseball team.”
Contact Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell
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