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Ballpark Profile: Great American Ball Park

Ballpark Profile: Great American Ball Park
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Name: Great American Ball Park

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Opened: 31 March 2003

Architect: HOK Sport (now Populous)

Cost: $290 Million

Surface: Perennial Ryegrass

Like several of the ballparks on this list, Great American Ball Park was once my home park-- in fact, I was living in Cincinnati while it was being built and watched it develop from the very beginning -- when they took out about 1/5 of the donut of Riverfront Stadium to make way for it:

Like many of the ballparks on this list, the stadium it was replacing was so bad that the new park -- despite its failings -- was bound to be a great improvement. The old place -- Riverfront Stadium -- was, like Three Rivers and the other cookie-cutters, groundbreaking in its day, and still missed by fans of the Big Red Machine who watched their team dominate in the mid-70s. But it was a concrete bowl, with a thin layer of green carpet over a concrete floor, and there was nothing beautiful about it. 

(That being said, for those seasons -- 1999 through 2002 -- when Great American was being built, they had pulled out the turf and Riverfront Stadium had a grass playing field and an open bowl with a view of the river, there were many of us who thought, "This is so much better already, let's just pocket the $300 million and call it a day.")

As we've seen, the parks that came after Camden Yards went down one of two paths: they either embraced the retro, jewelbox, golden-age-of-ballpark-architecture (PNC Park, AT&T Park, Coors Field, Citi Field), or put a modern spin on it (Target Field, Petco Park, Progressive, Nationals Park). Great American Ball Park went the modernist route with -- what has become the trademark of that style -- a white steel facade. 

Inside, you get about what you get with all of the parks of this era: nice wide concourses, decent sightlines throughout, and several different "neighborhoods" of seating, all with pretty good amenities and food. Including Skyline Chili, which -- if you've had it, you know. 

Oh, how I miss Skyline

GABP is a very good ballpark, but they unfortunately seemed to get several things just a little bit wrong. On the third base side there is "The Gap" or "The Notch":

This was ostensibly to give fans inside the park a view of downtown, and people in town a view into the park. 

But it's too high to really give anyone outside a view of the park, and it's so narrow that any view they would have is pointless. And, with nothing really behind the gap to see, the views from inside the park are of . . . nothing. Couple this with the awkwardness of having a bridge to get from one section to another and it just seems like a good idea that wasn't really thought through.

Likewise, they built the park close to the Ohio River, but not really close enough to be exciting. A 1980 court case had determined that the Kentucky State line extended not to the middle of the river, but all the way to the northern (Ohio) shore, so a ball hit out of the park into the river would technically be hit into another state. From the research I found, only one ball has done so (at least as of 2015) a bomb by slugger Adam Dunn reached a piece of driftwood on the beach, but even that was only after it bounced on the street dividing the ballpark from the river.

I'm sure there were logistical reasons for not putting the outfield wall right on the riverbank, but surely they could have -- should have -- been overcome, if only for the publicity of hitting a ball into another state. Another opportunity lost.

All that being said, it's a nice enough ballpark to see a game, and the Reds Hall of Fame is more than worth the price of admission. The Reds have a tremendous history, and it is done justice by their hall of fame. (There is also a rose garden planted out in the courtyard in front of the main entrance, marking the landing spot of Pete Rose's record-breaking 4,192nd hit.)

Fun note: It's possible (and, from our perspective, recommended) to park in Kentucky and walk across the river to go to the game. You walk across the Roebling suspension bridge, which dates from 1866. This bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when built, and was basically a proof-of-concept model with John Roebling used to build a much bigger and more famous -- but very similar -- Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. 

Fun Additional Bonus Fact: This is the bridge Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman drove across in the movie Rain Man.

As with pretty much every park on this list, if you find yourself in Cincinnati (another underrated town), try to catch a game. And pick up some Skyline while you're there.

Thoughts/feelings/impressions? Leave a comment below for a chance to win a FREE PRINT from Ballpark Blueprints!

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  • Gerard Doolan: September 24, 2020

    Looks like a gorgeous stadium. Fantastic atmosphere. Would love to win a blueprint!

  • Jonny: September 23, 2020

    Went to Riverfront Stadium in the 80’s as a kid. Got a miniature baseball bat and sat in the upper deck. About 10 years ago, I made the journey to see a game at GABP. Sat on the first baseline and a foul ball hit my hand. Good memory and your recap was terrific! Thanks for sharing.

  • Michael Wallace: September 23, 2020

    Love the write-up. I was for the Broadway Commons site when it was being discussed, but I grew to love GABP because it became the place I went to see games as a father for first time.

  • Pete: September 23, 2020

    Solid take, although I’m not sure that putting the ballpark on the River was in the city’s best, long-term interest. Smale Park that has been built on the riverfront is a much bigger asset to more people than GABP is in a year, and it compliments the stadium and Banks so so well. That trade off is well worth it.

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