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Aug. 16


Great Am. Ballpark




Wade Miller

Seth Etherton

Billy Wagner

Jeff Kent

Lance Berkman


Jeff Bagwell

Craig Biggio

Jeff Kent

Lance Berkman

Sean Casey

Highlights:  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.



Aug. 17


Great Am. Ballpark




Paul Wilson

Tim Redding

Chris Reitsma

Jeff Bagwell

Darnell Stenson


Jeff Bagwell

Richard Hidalgo

Sean Casey

Highlights:  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. 





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 American Ballpark. 


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 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.




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’sOh, 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.


Ø        Tricko’s 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.


Ø        Screech’s 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.


Ø        Shamu’s* 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 three-quarters empty.




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 2003 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.”