By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The eighth inning had just been completed at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, home of the Reds. The home team trailed by a score of 7 to 5 – not an overwhelming deficit by baseball standards – but some of the fans had seen enough already. They headed for the exits.
The game had started at 7:10 on this Friday night, and it was already very close to 11 p.m. The Reds had made this “Fireworks Friday,” but it was quite clear that the last shell wouldn’t be fired until something close to midnight at the earliest. Four hours was a big enough investment on a Friday night, so many gave up and went home.
I should know, because I was one of them – and I was starting my vacation at the time.
Those premature departures tell you all you need to know about baseball’s “September problem.”
This was one of those games that appeared to be played in slow motion. The Diamondbacks were in the midst of a race for a wild-card spot on this early September evening, so they couldn’t be faulted for using every bit of strategy possible to pick up the win. The Reds appeared to be determined to not go down easily either, even though they had nothing at stake. So pitchers came and went throughout the night, sometimes as part of double-switches – which involves conversations with umpires about who goes where. Throw in what seemed like a ton of foul balls and plenty of baserunners, and you have a game that seems endless.
And if you brought kids to the game, and you were looking at getting them to home after 12:30 in the morning, well, you’d have to get a speech ready on why they couldn’t see the end of the game and the fireworks. Those talks are always difficult.
The Reds drew a bit more than 19,000 on this night – a few thousand below their average attendance for 2019. Certainly there were no-shows, though. The fans were scattered about the stadium in an almost random pattern, and there were plenty of good seats available. The team was trying hard and has some good young hitters on the roster, but tickets are a tough sell when the team is out of the pennant race.
The good news is that major league baseball has recognized the problem here, and has taken a step to improve the situation next year. In the past, teams have been able to use anyone on the 40-man roster after Sept. 1, which means they can use endless players during the course of a game. That doesn’t help the speed of the game. The Boston Red Sox, for example, have so many pitchers on their roster (21 at last count) that the bullpen doesn’t nearly have enough seats for them all.
In 2010, teams supposedly will be restricted to a 28-man playing roster in September. The details have yet to be fully announced yet. Perhaps managers will have a 32-man roster, but must designate 28 for each game. That’s still a lot, since four starting pitchers easily can be dropped from the active list when they aren’t scheduled to throw. But it figures to be an improvement.
That won’t solve all of the issues surrounding September baseball and the pace of play. But, at least it’s a step forward. It’s never made sense to have one set of rules for rosters from April 1 to August 31, and then another from September 1 on.
You’d better do something when your customers don’t want to hang around for the best part of the game.
As for the rest of the night …
*Great American Ballpark is tucked right into the Ohio River waterfront in downtown Cincinnati. It is right next to the major arena, and not far from the Bengals home. The views are nice, although it doesn’t leave a great deal of room for parking.
The Reds have responded to that issue with a bus/trolley system that couldn’t be easier. I hopped on a bus at 5:30 across the river in Newport, Kentucky, paid the $1 fee, and I was across the street from the main entrance in 10 minutes. That provided plenty of time to look at the statues near the entrance, including Pete Rose’s iconic slide into third base during the 1975 World Series. Speaking of Rose, the stadium is on Pete Rose Way.
*The Reds apparently have made a marketing decision to price the tickets quite reasonably in an attempt to get you in the door. For instance, we were in the fourth row from the bottom of the upper deck directly behind home plate. The cost was $32 per ticket, with the usual fees to raise that a few dollars each. It was perfect.
Once they have your email address, the Reds pound the customer with offers. I think I counted five deals from sponsors in my mailbox the next day, mostly in the “buy one/get one free” department. At least they are trying.
The catch is that the other prices inside the stadium are very high, even by ballpark standards. Care for a 20-ounce bottle of soda? It was $6.50 a pop for that – 25 cents higher than a large bag of popcorn. I would have liked a few more choices at the concession stands for dinner, even if it wasn’t just hot dogs and hamburgers that weren’t available.
How about a nice Reds’ golf shirt? Those can run close to three figures in the souvenir stands. Better to go for a t-shirt, which mostly is somewhere in the $30-$40 range depending on the style. When I was looking over the merchandise in a store, one man walked me and said emphatically, “It’s all overpriced!”
*As for the stadium itself, the team has done a fine job dressing it up. There are little touches all around, such as a giant glove that pays tribute to the team’s Gold Glove winners over the years. A Reds’ Hall of Fame and gift shop are just across the courtyard from the stadium itself, so that you can visit any time of the year.
As for the building itself, it was built almost in sections with plenty of odd shapes to make it interesting. Apparently no one misses the cookie-cutter symmetry that was such a part of the team’s old home at Riverfront Stadium.
Most baseball fans would like it a lot. It’s just a matter of finding a way to keep them in their seats.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)