THE TRIP 2003 -- CINCHED UP FOR CINCY
Other Players of Note
Great Am. Ballpark
As the Hot Stove Leaguers got their first taste of the Great
American Ballpark one day after their historic tour of the
Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat factory, not to mention the
wrecking-ball remains of Churchill Downs. In B.T.’s words, we saw
Louisville like the Romans. Back at the ballpark, the visiting
Astros took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second on Jeff Kent’s
solo shot, added a second run in the top of the third, and then
put the game away in the fifth with Lance Berkman’s three-run
Yardball. The impotent Reds could only manage five hits and two
runs, with the hitting star being the late, great Darnell Stenson,
who went three-for-four with two doubles. A moment of silence for
Darnell, please. Wade Miller pitched six terrific innings of
one-hit, one-run ball, walking four and striking out four.
Great Am. Ballpark
Jeff Bagwell jacked a solo shot in the top of the first to give
the Astros an early 1-0 lead, but the always-tough Reds came back
with a solo shot in the bottom of the second by the late, great
Darnell Stenson to tie the contest. After the ’Stros notched a
second run in the top of the fourth, lightly-regarded Juan Castro
hit a three-run dinger in the bottom of the fourth to give the
Reds a lead which they would never relinquish. Paul Wilson
pitched six innings of five-hit, three-earned-run ball for the
Reds, while Tim Redding gave up all four Reds runs in his six
innings of work.
THE TRIP 2003:
CINCHED UP FOR CINCY
By all accounts, the 2003 Trip was a rip-roaring success, with a
best-ever participation by ten league members. Thanks to Mouse for
securing our accommodations across the river in Kentucky, and for scoring
the absolutely excellent seats in Sections 128 and 133 of the Great
By default I have ended up as the official chronicler of the
2003 Trip accomplishments, occurrences, events, monkeyshines and
tomfoolery. Let’s begin with the facts: By visiting the Great American
Ballpark in Cincinnati to watch Saturday’s and Sunday’s games between the
hometown Reds and the visiting Astros, we have now expanded the list of
cities attended and ballparks visited on sanctioned HSL Trips to 19
cities and 22 ballparks, where we have attended as a body
corporate a total of 47 major league games. Wow. Big doings by
anyone’s measure. Congratulations on improving upon this fine
achievement. To view the now-current list of HSL Trips and stadiums
visited, click on the link for HSL Trips.
This year the Trip included a one-day side junket to Louisville,
Kentucky (pronounced LOUAHVUL), for a visit to the world famous
Louisville Slugger baseball factory and museum. After arriving at the
Greater Cincinnati area airport in Covington, Kentucky (figure that one
out) early Friday afternoon last, we picked up our twelve-passenger rental
van at Thrifty and headed south on I-71 for Louisville, a journey of about
100 miles through some of the prettiest country you’ll see anywhere. We
crossed over the wide, wide Ohio River and into Louisville with just
enough time to make it over to the Slugger museum for the last factory
tour of the day. The always perceptive Stretch McBlunder spotted the
120-foot high baseball bat (picture) in
front of a big red brick building, and quickly surmised that we were at
our intended destination. Once inside we were soon regaled with the
heartwarming story of how white ash trees from the northeast are felled
and then transformed into billets for shipment to Louisville, where they
are turned into baseball bats for play and show at the clip of a million
bats a year.
The rest of the details escape me, but forever engrained in my
memory bank is the primitive scroll of current major leaguer Wily Mo Pena,
currently under contract with Hillrock & Bradley, no doubt because of his
unique non-cursive signature which appears to have been formed by Wily Mo
while using a Flintstone-esque carving chisel and stone tablet.
Our tour of the Louisville Slugger factory and museum complete,
we were shortly back in our luxury rental van and on the road in search of
historic Churchill Downs, but only after B.T. offended a local passing
lass by implying that her Southern “accent” was so short on diction and
elocution as to make it entirely unintelligible. Pleased, she wasn’t. So
much for being ambassadors of good will from Nebraska.
We found the route to Churchill Downs to be a challenging one,
but after a bit of help from a jogging octogenarian whom we enlisted for
help with directions, we finally managed to zero in on our target after
driving around and around the racetrack area in ever smaller concentric
circles, finally tightening the noose on Churchill Downs. As B.T. put it
in one of his infamous mixed-up metaphors, “We saw it like the Romans.”
After laying our eyes on the fabled spires of Churchill Downs
amidst the rubble of the destruction and drinking in a swig of history or
two, we made our way back to the Hotel Seelbach in time for free hors
d’oeuvres, discount cocktails and some helpful advice from Ben Gay, our
concierge room attendant. Ignoring Ben’s advice, we then made our way
down to Kunz’ Steakhouse where we were luckily able to find a table so
that some of the Louisville Five could join the $50-dollar steak club and
others could experience the delightful Surprise Seafood Buffet. Next time
we’ll listen to Ben.
After dinner it was back to the Hotel Seelbach and a nightcap or
two at the Old Seelbach, who someone, somewhere wrote up as being
one of the top fifty bars in the world. Guess somebody forgot to let the
rest of Louisville know about this, but nevertheless the watering hole
served our needs and closed out our first leg of the trip.
THE ROAD TO
The Louisville Five arose early (okay, not that early) and
packed their belongings, said their goodbyes to the Hotel Seelbach, and
headed north for Cincinnati to hook up with the rest of the party. B.T.
took over the driving duties in the van, and gave everyone involved a good
ride for their money.
As B.T. approached the airport exit near Covington and learned
that a portion of the interstate was closed due to an accident, he quickly
took to the shoulder to expedite our van onto an alternate route to the
airport. This deft maneuver conjured up memories of a certain
heartstopping van ride which occurred in upper New York State on the 1992
Trip, when the fearless B.T. took to the shoulders and medians to pass
hundreds, perhaps thousands, of standing-still vehicles in one of the
greatest construction traffic jams of all time. Our excitable friend
Stretch — who nearly had to be tranquilized for the 1992 B.T. Bypass —
managed to keep from blurting out another panic alert during this year’s
award-winning van maneuver by B.T., but only by biting on his left wrist,
covering his eyes and thinking of his 1998 Championship Blues team.
After a slight bit of navigator malfeasance, B.T. was able to
set the van compass on Highway 8 West along the Ohio River, and adroitly
piloted our craft up, down, around and through rural Kentucky — where one
could almost hear Dueling Banjos in the background and picture a
shirtless Ned Beatty in the woods — as we watched closely for
dentition-challenged natives bearing shotguns and silly ideas. We
eventually emerged from the backwoods and found our way to the airport,
where we picked up our five impatient and thirsty colleagues, after which
it was on to the Great American Ballpark.
After parking our van, our ten Trip attendees made our way over
to the Great American Ballpark, situated smack dab on the Ohio River, just
a few blocks east of where old Riverfront Stadium previously housed the
Reds. Before entering, we admired the statue of Klu (Ted Kluszewski) on
the outside while Mouse obtained our remaining tickets from the Will Call
window before heading inside to see the Reds take on the visiting Astros.
Owing to his charismatic persona and his masterful influence over the
national trucking community, Mouse scored premium tickets for the game and
had the boys sitting in splendid seats along the first base line, some
shady, some sunny, all good. Although the 5-2 Reds loss to the Astros may
have lacked a little bit of luster because of a dearth of star power on
the mound and in the Reds’ dugout, the beer was cold, the bräts spicy, the
peanuts salty, and the company and conversation unsurpassable. Another
great day at the ballpark with a great bunch of guys.
SIZING UP THE GAB
Okay, perhaps we’re spoiled, but the clear consensus among the
boys was that the Great American Ballpark is an okay place to watch a
game, certainly an improvement over Riverfront, but not a star in the same
constellation as Camden Yards, Pac Bell, PNC Park, Coors Field, Wrigley
Field or Fenway. Fair enough. The bar can only be raised so high. Not
every artist can be Picasso or Dali.
Perhaps U-Bob summed it up best when he coined the term
forgettable for the GAB. As our league sage and seer observed, when
ranking the major league ballparks in the future, the GAB will be
overlooked. It won’t make it into the top ten, but neither will it be at
the very bottom with the Baggydome, those piles of crap up in Montreal and
down in Tampa, or the other bottom-dwellers. It will be one of those
ballparks that won’t easily come to mind and which will force you to read
down a list of all of the teams in both leagues in order to come up with
its name to finish out the rankings.
Too bad, too. As U-Bob pointed out, if only Carl Lindner had
flipped the stadium around the other way (possibly easier said than
done?), the fans in the stands could have been facing the impressive
Cincinnati skyline, à la PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Or if somebody hadn’t
changed their mind and put stands in right field where a greenbelt area
was supposed to be (as demonstrated by the drawing
in the program), the fan in the stand would have had a jaw-dropping view
of the Ohio River and the Kentucky bluffs on the other side. A darned
shame. I put it at Number 15, just ahead of new Comiskey.
Having worked up a powerful thirst watching the Reds-Astros game
and evaluating the GAB, the HSL Boys of Summer proceeded after the game to
the Montgomery Inn Boathouse on the Ohio River for cocktails and grub.
Not even remotely concerned about the 1½ to 2 hour wait for a table —
owing to the ready availability of spirits and appetizers — the crew was
soon seated for dinner and enjoyed the finest ribs and fixins’ that
Cincinnati has to offer. The festivities began with Magpie nominating
league driving legend B.T. for the Parallel Parking Hall of Fame, based on
his heroic park job just outside of our dinner venue. Buoyed by his new
status, B.T. ordered up a round of shots of his favorite Hispanic liquor,
which all delighted in quickly consuming, proving that we may all be
growing older, but at least we’re not growing up.
After eating our fill at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse, it was
back in the van for a trip across the river to Newport Landing, where we
landed in an Irish pub and settled in for a long night of drinking and
talking baseball and telling tall tales. And of course, more grain
alcohol by the shot. Not that the boys can’t be trusted when they finally
get a kitchen pass and get out on their own, or anything. After closing
down the pub, it was back to our hotel where a few league members wimped
out and called it a night, while the more hale and hearty night-lifers
headed over to Joe’s Crab Shack to further the imbibement and continue the
revelry. The line of the night may have been when the lovely young
(20-ish) waitress at Joe’s was asked about her level of interest in having
carnal knowledge with a 40+ year-old-man (he was just asking), and her
response was, “That is the wrongest thing I have heard all night.”
Well, there’s your answer.
When Joe’s Crab Shack closed down, there was still a trio of
league members who had not yet had their fill of fun, and they
commandeered the van for a frantic search for a Lenny’s restaurant
to fill their hungering pie holes. Can’t name names, but the paper the
following morning mentioned a disturbance at a local breakfast eatery
wherein a Middle-Eastern-looking fellow with a Styrofoam beer cooler top
for a hat was trying to pass himself off as the inimitable Kenny
Jenkins. Now, I might expect such antics from a 19-year-old college
student, but probably not from his 45-year-old father. Hey, it’s a life.
The churches of Newport, Kentucky, were quiet on Sunday morning,
and curiously devoid of any visiting Hot Stove Leaguers. Eventually the
troops rallied (most of them) and made it back to the GAB for the Sunday
afternoon ballgame, where we saw the Reds return the favor and beat the Astros by a score of 4-3, backed in part by the first-ever major league
home run by now Tribesman Dernell Stenson, who was robbed of a homer one
day earlier by a bad call from the umpire on a ground-rule double. We
also saw Dernell Stenson’s first major league hit on Saturday, in his
starting debut for the Reds.
After the game, it was back to the hotel to watch the end of the PGA golf tournament, and the shuttling of the first crew of travelers to
the airport. As our swan song to the Greater Cincinnati area, we then
ventured down to the Hooters on the river for a bite to eat before flights
home to Nebraska and Missouri. Other than the fact that our waitress did
not even know what a steak sandwich was, couldn’t find any silverware or
plates and didn’t give a rat’s tail about our business, it was some of the
finest dining service we have ever had.
As usual, I realized here at the end that I have omitted a few
of the important details of the Trip. Rather than to offend someone by
leaving off a favorite event, occurrence or comment, a few of the other
Trip highlights were:
Ø The spirited debate
over the pros and cons of Viagra.
Ø U-Bob’s “Oh,
no, they know” facial expression when confronted with his nom de plume
Jenna. (Stay away from the poker table, boy.)
Ø The soothing comfort
of seeing Shamu* dressed in mesh black for Saturday’s ballgame.
Ø The appearance of
Possum on the Trip after a brief 16-year hiatus.
fantastic (as in “fantasy”) stories of bedding down media superstars and
hobnobbing with the likes of John Travolta and other Hollywood types.
Ø B.T.’s shrill
soliloquy about the disintegration of the service sector as a direct and
proximate result of Roe v. Wade, and McBlunder’s puzzlement
at B.T.’s dogmatic assertion of same.
Ø The sight of Shamu*
hovering near Mouse at our dinner at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse,
looking for changes in color in Mouse’s pallor as a precursor to a
possible second helping of ribs.
admirable calm during his first taste of his brother-in-law’s off-road van
racing, even as the potentially lethal protruding metal from a “Road
Closed” sign passed within millimeters of his face.
right-on observation that: “I didn’t realize that B.T. was so
eccentric.” (That’s one word for it.)
Ø The cheerful mien of
Brother Stretch, whose glass is never half full, but always
Click on the link for an updated summary of
HSL Trips, for Cincinnati and Louisville
facts to daze and amaze
you, and for another crack at the
Trip quiz. (Oops, I didn’t get this passed out to everyone on the
Trip — sorry.) When Screech gets me the pictures from the Trip, we’ll get
those up on the picture link as well.
You may recall that nobody in our merry band, and seemingly
nobody in the entire City of Cincinnati, knew why Cincinnati is called
The Queen City. As such, our Research Department (Linda) has learned
that one of Itchie’s favorite poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, coined
the name Queen City of the West for Cincinnati in a poem which he
wrote in 1854, giving a much more tourism-friendly sobriquet to the
western outpost which was once known as “Porkolopolis.” Perhaps it was no
coincidence that we landed on the Montgomery Inn Boathouse and its famous
pork ribs as our dining place of choice on Saturday night. In any event,
now you all know the legend behind Cincinnati’s nickname, and Itchie, you
can once again say with confidence, “There’s nothing I don’t know.”