Saturday, January 16, 2016

Stadium #10: Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati, OH

Four states in four days.  A Chicago surprise! Notre Dame - Longhorns football game. Bourbon country. Louisville Slugger Museum.  Oh, and a ballgame at Great American Ballpark.  We packed in a ton over a long weekend and had a great day at the ballpark in Cincinnati so check it out after the jump!

Cam and I are alumni of The University of Texas at Austin. As soon as we started scheming about this great adventure we knew we wanted to eventually find a way to combine a late season baseball game with an early season Longhorn away game. A Dodgers or Angels game with a UCLA-Texas game, perhaps? Last season I pored over the Longhorns schedule and nothing worked. When the 2015 season was announced I knew that I had found a winner. Our season opener was set at Notre Dame and on a holiday weekend to boot. Perfect! Well, almost. I set my sights on us going to the ND game on Saturday and then driving a few hours to Cincinnati to cross the Reds off our list. Only one thing could make this truly perfect: if the White Sox happened to be at home too. Alas, the Sox were on the road. I got greedy. Chicago is the biggest city to fly into so we looked at flights on Friday evening but they were much cheaper on Thursday. Thus, our quick pit stop in Chicago for airport convenience turned into 2 days in Chicago. Obviously we decided to make the most of it.

When we did Wrigley last season and hung out with my best friend we met her good friend, J. I knew that J went to Notre Dame and was a Cubs fan so I reached out to let him know we'd bought plane tickets and were officially IN. J was immediately down and said hey let's go to the Cubs game on Friday afternoon. I named my dog after Wrigley Field so you don't have to convince me, J. 

Now we needed tickets to the football game. I exploited every UT connection I have and no dice. My friends' parents have been season ticket holders for 30 years but even they didn't get tickets in the lottery. I hate our new AD (who has since been fired!). We watched on Stubhub as tickets were astronomical in price so I asked J to keep his eye out for friends and family selling their tickets. Finally with three weeks to go and still no tickets J came through with face value tickets! HUGE.  He said he found two sets of two so he'd sit with his buddy and Cam and I could have tickets together.  Perfect!  Little did I know how amazing this weekend would turn out to be (Notre Dame outcome notwithstanding)...

Cam and I arrived in Chicago on a Thursday evening and checked into our Air BnB.  We continue to have great luck with Air BnBs!  This was a private guest house behind a nice immigrant woman's home and it was way better than the pictures and way cheaper than a hotel and an easy and great location!  It was pretty late but we hadn't eaten dinner so we headed out for some Chicago deep dish which we didn't have last year in Chicago.  We went to Art of Pizza and then walked a few blocks to a bar to sample some local beers.  It was sort of divey and everyone at the bar was a regular and we talked to the barflies and had a fun evening.  We were a short few blocks away from The Monkey's Paw, C (the best friend who hosted us in Chicago last year and moved to London)'s favorite place in Chicago.  I knew that if she knew I was so close and didn't go in I'd never hear the end of it.  So we went and had a nightcap before heading back to our hotel.  I sent C a few pictures even though it was 6 AM London time.  But she answered!  I told her I couldn't really text because we had to get up early for the Cubs game!  The next morning we were planning on going to the Cubs game and then meeting up with C's Chicago roommate, A.  C told me to FaceTime her when we were with her friends.  Noted.
we totally lucked out on this Air BnB.  It's a lot bigger than it looks and for an extremely convenient and great location in a city like Chicago is was CHEAP.  the lady who owned it was an immigrant I just don't think she knows what she has.

getting in late in the evening meant a late night dinner of deep dish za.  

C's infamous The Monkey's Paw.  I sent this pic to her to get her excited that we visited for a nightcap.  

We got up early and took an Uber to Lincoln Park.  We knew that the Lincoln Park Zoo was free and it's a pretty area with gardens so we thought it was a nice way to spend the morning.  We strolled around and saw plenty of burnt orange which was refreshing!  Hook 'Em! 

free zoo!

this lion wasn't feelin' the humidity that day

yall this was a HIGHLIGHT.  we were totally in the right place at the right time and got to see this newborn gorilla go for a ride on her mama's back up those logs to the next level.  I was loving every second of it!

Next we hopped on a bus and went down to Wrigleyville!  J was waiting for us at a bar a few blocks from Wrigley.  It was a 1PM game so it wasn't too crazy in Wrigleyville.  We had a few beers and I tried to FaceTime C thinking she'd be off work but she didn't answer.  Probably on the tube.  We slammed a few beers and headed to heaven on earth aka Wrigley Field!  J has season tickets in the bleachers so he was easily able to get another ticket for us and we found some great seats.  There were so many Longhorn fans in Chicago for the Notre Dame that all were at the game that a "TEXAS! FIGHT!" chant was started.  I cannot tell you how much of a sports pinnacle moment that was for me in my life, I could have cried.  A few innings into the game we noticed that the front row had a wide space of empty seats so we headed down.  First row in the Wrigley Field bleachers, bucket list CHECK.  A Rizzo GRAND SLAM was hit just a couple rows behind us which would've been the icing on the cake to catch. 

is this a Cubs game or a UT football game?  unclear. 

I was very unsure about the stadium adding the video boards but I love the vintage feel to the fonts and graphics that they use.  I think they've done a great job of making everything still feel very Wrigley Field. 

oh, hey lady. 


The Cubs completely dominated and ran away with a 14-5 victory. Addison Russell hit two homeruns and Rizzo and Baez each went yard as well.  It was an offensive explosion that was so wonderful to see late in the season. We left in the 8th and headed to a bar nearby to meet up with A.  We had even more beers with J as A kept telling us she was on the way.  I used to time to FaceTime with C.  She kept not answering and I was so annoyed.  Don't tell me to FaceTime you and then not answer!  She texted that she was out at a work party and was going to have a late night so maybe we could FaceTime when she got home.  Ugh, best friend living in London problems.

A finally texted that she was almost there!  She arrived and we hugged and I immediately said, "ok, C wanted me to FaceTime when I saw you so this is my LAST TRY."  I was so annoyed at this point.  Lo and behold C finally answered, yes!  Now let me admit here that I was drunk.  Really drunk.  Yall midwesterners can DRINK and J was drinking with us drink for drink and he was pretty much sober meanwhile Cam and I were...not.  So when C answered and it was completely sunny outside I didn't think anything of it even though it should have been 1AM London time.  I was just so excited that she finally answered.  We chatted for a minute but it was really loud so I couldn't really hear her but then someone grabbed my shoulder AND IT WAS HER.  Y'all.  I made a SCENE.  C said she heard noises from me she's never heard me make.  I was intoxicated, sure, but I was so overcome with joy.  I had no notion that this was even a possibility.  Months and months ago I hounded her about trying to come but she said with coming for Christmas just a few months after it just wouldn't work out which I understood!  Then she started secretly planning with J.  J was totally egging me on all day every time I railed on C about how annoying she was for not answering my FaceTimes.  Oh she wasn't answering because she was ON A PLANE FROM LONDON.  J played it all off perfectly.  And A kept pushing us off because C's plane was late.  I have surprised other people and helped people surprise other people but no one has ever surprised me like this and I still feel SO special.  I cannot believe she pulled that off.  She keeps being astounded that I didn't notice the sunlight behind her despite what time it was in London but again I was drunk and just so happy she finally answered.


A funny part of the surprise is that C told J she might have to eventually tell Cameron in case I wasn't forthcoming with what our plans were and she needed intel from him.  But she lived in Chicago so I totally just casually mentioned where we were making reservations so she didn't have to ask Cam anything.  I unwittingly gave her all the info she needed!  But she never told J that she wasn't telling Cameron after all.  So about 15 minutes before C arrived I went to the bathroom and J said to Cameron, "So don't worry, Claire will be here soon!"  Cameron just blinked, "what?!"  He had no idea either! So he had to play it cool after I came out of the bathroom but I didn't notice anything! Later I asked him what he thought when J told him and he said it made him really emotional because he knew it was going to mean so much to me.  One of the sweetest things he's ever said to me.

So we were actually about to leave the bar in order to go home and get ready for our dinner reservations at Balena.  We had eaten there with C the year before and loved it so I made reservations again.  And I had told her that.  So I said hey let me go outside and cancel my reservation but C thought of everything and had already called Balena and added herself to our reservation.  Of course she did.  We headed out to get dressed and try and sober up a little (so many beers, you guys) before rendezvousing back at Balena.  We had yet another wonderful pasta meal and then of course headed to The Monkey's Paw.  We wouldn't have gone the night before had we known that we'd be going with C!  Ahh!  After our nightcap we were exhausted and headed back to get some sleep before the big Notre Dame game the next day.  Oh and if you didn't already figure it out J's "buddy" that he got the 4th ticket for was C all along.  Those sneaky bastards!

The next AM J and C picked us up with J's fellow ND alum and Chicagoan J2 and we all headed towards South Bend.  It was a great road trip because everyone in the car was extremely sarcastic and we all just ragged on everyone (mainly C).  I was with my people!  After rain and traffic we finally arrived in South Bend.  J, J2, and C were only staying for the game and heading back to Chicago but since we were going to Cincy the next Am we needed to stay in South Bend.  We checked into our Air BnB which was an old retired couple who were empty nesters and just rented out their adult kids' old bedrooms during football season.  They couldn't have been sweeter!  We said hi and then headed out to Notre Dame to tailgate.  Tailgating was amazing!  99% of the people were so friendly.  Almost too friendly!  We would walk by ND tailgates and they would see our burnt orange, flash the hook 'em horns hand signal at us, and say, "Hook 'em!"  As nice as Longhorns fans are you're never going to hear any of us say the slogan of another team when they're visiting us!  J2's parents hosted a tailgate that we were totally welcome to and it was great.  Everyone was so friendly!  And then the Longhorns had an epic meltdown on national television.  But I'm so glad we went.  It was the first out of state away game for both of us (and I think C too) and the experience could only have been more fun if we would have won. 

tailgating at Notre Dame

paying our respects to Touchdown Jesus

look at all these Longhorns praying.  too bad we needed more than praying to help us on the field.

my favorite people

had an absolute blast with J and I can't wait to show him an equally friendly and fun time in Austin for next year's game

while I wasn't proud of literally a single thing the Longhorns did on the field I was very proud that the stadium was FULL of burnt orange.  we represented hard in South Bend even if our team didn't quite show up.

The next AM we got up way too early and headed southeast for Cincinnati and our 1PM ballgame that was the initial purpose of the trip.  We dropped our car and bags off at our Air BnB and got in an Uber and headed downtown.We weren't in Cincy for very long but our impressions were that it's kind of old and dirty.  Old isn't bad!  But old and dirty means kind of rundown.  Cam joked that it seemed like "the poor man's Pittsburgh" which we both felt has done a great job of reinventing itself.  It's not that we had a bad time in Cincy--we weren't there long enough to have a bad time--it just seems like it could be better?  The ballpark, however, was wonderful.

The Reds are the oldest baseball team in America and that certainly means something.  We knew they'd bring it.  They also hosted the All-Star Game this year so we knew the stadium would be in tip-top condition and it was!  It's right on the river so there are nice views all around the stadium, from downtown views to river/bridge views.  I don't know if any stadium on a river will ever top PNC for us but Great American is certainly in a great location.

Now that we're 10 stadiums in something that truly interests me is the variety of stadium entrances.  I know it seems trivial but now having been to 10 with Cameron we've seen the gambit.  Some have very modest gates and just want you to come into the stadium (e.g. Minute Maid, Wrigley Field).  Part of that might be being in a downtown space with not a lot of room?  Others have truly grand entrances.  I don't know if anything will top Comerica's gigantic Tigers and baseball bats that are a clear entrance.  And still others have an alleyway set-up where their team store and other little shops are (Camden Yards, Progressive) and that's kind of the set-up in Cincinnati.

A lot of people think that Great American is one of the few non-corporate sponsored stadiums but they are wrong.  This is the Great American Insurance building right across from the stadium.  

Our never-ending #ticketsaga continued here at the Reds.  For whatever reason this season no team would allow us to choose will-call as our ticket delivery method.  It's either print-at-home or have them mail you physical tickets.  Since we want, at the end, to have 30 genuine ticket stubs we chose the mail option.  As I've mentioned before it's super annoying that some teams send you bright and shiny tickets printed on their team stationery and others send you generic "" tickets.  Who wants to hold onto that!?  Earlier this year I had awesome luck in emailing the Nats' guests services/fan experience manager and he sent me new tickets printed on team paper.  I found his counterpart at the Reds and she never emailed me back. I emailed her three times!  Memo to Jan Koshover: your counterpart in D.C. is doing a much better job than you!  We headed into the stadium and found guest services to get our passports stamped and to see what our options were.  They sent us to another window.  Hilariously the lady at the window acted like we were asking her for nuclear launch codes.  "I CAN'T DO THAT!" she exclaimed at us.  So we went with our backup: "are there any seats near our tickets that aren't sold that we can just upgrade to?"  Again she looked aghast.  Mind you this was an early September game in a season in which the Reds ended up losing 98 games so it's not like this game was going to be sold out.  She clicked on her computer for approximately 1 second and then handed us our exact same tickets but printed on Reds paper.  Why oh why do some stadiums make a federal case out of this?  We cannot possibly be the first people who want a legit souvenir and not a generic white piece of paper, come on.

As I've mentioned in every post our goal on these trips isn't just to see some baseball. We love the baseball but it's also about sampling all the local beers and culture that we can.  Some stadiums have great craft beer offerings and others leave a lot to be desired.  I had read before our trip that last season the Reds had installed an 85 foot bar with 60 taps, 23 of which were dedicated to craft beer and this year they added another great bar.  Sign us up.  With our fancy tickets in hand we headed into the stadium and Bootlegger's was pretty close to us so we headed over for a pint.

Home plate view 

Such a pretty bar for a stadium!


With beers in hand we walked around the back of the stadium.  Our seats were in the outfield so we strolled down the first base side and checked out the view of Kentucky.

I asked Cam how it looked after he took this and he said "perfect."  uhh my head isn't even fully in it.  facepalm.  

it ain't PNC but it's still awfully pretty!

Riverboat details

Most of the newer stadiums have those dark green seats so the RED explosion everywhere was a little jarring but I get it.

field view from our seats
we sat right by the Riverboat part

you can't beat spending a lazy summer afternoon doing this

This game was a lot of fun in large part due to the fact that we didn't really care.  I know that sounds cavalier but it's not how I mean it.  A lot of the games we have been to have either been competitive games, involved one of our teams, or in a stadium we were really excited to visit.  This one wasn't any of those.  No offense meant to the great people of Cincinnati but on the list of 27 cities that have baseball teams Cincinnati was near the bottom of the list for both of us and the stadium isn't like a Fenway or a Wrigley.  It was a late season game between at the time the worst and the second worst team in the division.  There were no stakes.  We were coming off of a monster good time in Chicago and a slightly less great time at Notre Dame (oh my god that game) so our spirits were high.  We had a few drinks and sweated in the empty bleachers and didn't pay full attention to the game.  But you know what?  That's how baseball should be sometimes.  That's why they play 162 games, so that sometimes you can just kick back, put your feet up on the seats in front of you because the stadium is half empty, and drink the hot afternoon away.  And that's exactly what we did.  It was HOT.  The second hottest game we've been to, actually.  The official box score has the temp at 87 but being right on the river meant that it was humid too.  There was a lot of sweating going on.  Conveniently near our seats was a big misting area that we visited more than once.  After a few innings of sweating we decided to cool our heels and go grab a second beer and check out the other side of the stadium.

We ducked into the team store to get Cam's baseball and were met with this creep.  

for once I didn't actually need this but why don't more stadiums offer charging stations like this?  free too. 

this area of the U.S. is very proud of its booze we learned. 

I loved the little nods to the Reds' history.  For example here the very old school logo in bottom center of this sign. 

hate the street performer vibe but love the murals behind them. 

it really did feel like we were in a BAR

Once we got back to the bar and again laid eyes on the ridiculous amounts of liquor we felt we had to just man up and get whiskey drinks.  When in Rome and all that.  The pours on the whiskeys were extremely generous so we knew we were in for a tipsy afternoon.  I really can't recall seeing so much liquor available on the main concourse anywhere else.  Again, they are really proud of their boozy heritage in this region of the U.S.!

this was about 3/4 whiskey, 1/4 ginger ale 


As far as stadium views go this stadium ranks pretty highly in my book. 

tons of empty seats but a fun day at the ballpark regardless

this little area reminded me of the weird luxury boxes in Cleveland

After everything was said and done the Reds came away with a win 6-3.  For those of you keeping score at home out of the ten teams we've seen play at home 8 have won.  We remain mostly a good luck charm.  Sorry, Detroit and Arlington.  It's even more remarkable because a few of those teams have won despite being pretty terrible when we've seen them.  We saw a player, Ramon Cabrera, have his MLB debut so that's always exciting.

end of game fireworks

funny story: there were a pair of random seats in the outfield concourse area and I asked a young lady (around 18 years old) what the story was.  she said she had no idea and that she didn't think anyone knew.  I was skeptical.  later while walking around the park we saw another random pair against a wall.  this time I saw a stadium employee who looked to be in his 60s and I knew he was the guy to ask.  he explained that they were seats from the old ballpark scattered around as mementos.

while Coors Field will remain the gold standard of landscaping in your team's colors the Reds didn't do a bad job!

There is a brew pub right next door to the stadium so instead of paying an Uber surcharge right after the game we decided to head over there for some food and beverage.  I'm glad we did because it turned out that the location of the previous stadium's home plate was right in their lobby!  Y'all know I love history so that was some neat perspective.

classic Pete Rose

sorry this is so blurry :/

After this long and hot afternoon we headed back to our Air BnB for a little nap/rest.  That night we found a bar in a good area and had a few Yuengling's.  Labor Day is traditionally the end of the summer so it was a nice way to cap off a pretty fun summer for us.  We still had one more day in the trip but just a relaxing evening sitting outside in the cool evening was just what we needed.

I wish I could remember what this bar was called but suffice it to say it was in a very very old building which I loved

while the day was hot the evening was cool and I got to wear a sweater.  perfect summer night

The next morning we had yet another full day planned.  Yes we were completely exhausted after our exploits in Chicago, South Bend, and Cincinnati but we had whiskey to drink.  When everything started to fall into place with this trip we knew that we wanted to try and visit Louisville solely to visit the Louisville Slugger factory and museum.  Cam is a woodworker and I love museums so why not?  There weren't a lot of good flights from Cincy back to Houston anyway and Louisville had plenty so we figured it was a good hub to fly home from and we could do the museum.  Another thing we wanted to try and squeeze in was a trip to a bourbon distillery.  Again, when in Rome!  Through my research it seemed like Maker's Mark had one of the best tours and just an outstanding location.  I had my sights set!  But thankfully I research every damn detail and found out that most of the distilleries including Maker's Mark shut down production completely in the late summer.  They still give tours but what fun is that?  Cam and I love Woodford Reserve bourbon and they were open so we settled on them.  But now that we've been I can highly recommend it!  It wasn't really settling at all because it was really so beautiful.  The drive alone from Cincy to the distillery was just so beautiful.  Rolling hills in Kentucky horse country I mean what more could you ask for, really?

I mean seriously look at this drive. 

I had to stop and take some photos of these horses and horse barns.

if you look at the "woodfordreserve" hash tag on instagram you will see approx 300 versions of this photo. 

The distillery tour was wonderful.  Our tour guide was this feisty old broad who was not having extraneous chatter or shenanigans.  But she knew absolutely everything there is to know about distilling bourbon so I wasn't mad about it.  It was a lot of information and I'm not going to bore you guys with it so here are just some wonderful photos!

filled barrels on the barrel run on their way to age 
this room smelled very funky.  in a great way!

you can pay an outrageous amount of money to have a barrel made for you

ready to hit the barrel run

now THIS room had a magnificent smell!

aging whiskey barrels

highly flammable room you guys

this is the main building that has the fireplace and wall of bourbon bottles from the photos above.

breakfast today consists of two whiskey tastings and a bourbon ball which are my new favorite sweet thing.

flavor chart

barrel chested horse--get it?

We have been to so many craft breweries and sampled so many local beers on these trips that it was fun to mix it up and sample local bourbon and visit this distillery.  This region is definitely proud of its heritage and that's evident everywhere you go.  The distillery grounds were gorgeous, the tour was informative and fun, and the tasting was also great.  I had never really done a proper bourbon tasting and our tour guide taught us to do it in three sips.  The first sip kind of acquaints your taste buds with the strong liquor taste so that by the time you're on the third and largest sip you're really tasting all of the flavor profile.  It worked and it was great!  After the tour and walking around the grounds a bit it was off to Louisville for one more stop before catching our flight home: The Louisville Slugger Museum. We loved this museum!  We go to walk through the factory and see bats actually being made which was very neat.  No photos in there though which was a bummer.  

Before the museum we grabbed a quick lunch down the street...and a lemonade julep. 

along the downtown streets in Louisville were these art installations--they were all horses but all very different.  I'm not sure if it was a limited thing or if they are permanent installations.  this was a prohibition themed horse

this GIGANTIC bat is an exact to scale replica of Babe Ruth's Louisville Slugger

holding Cal Ripken Jr.'s Slugger

kicking myself because I can't remember whose bat Cam chose to swing with

MLB players order 100-120 bats every season.  Every year 40,000 Northern white ash and maple trees supply the logs for Slugger bats but only 10% of logs are high enough quality to become billets for MLB bats.  The other 90% are used for bats you or I would buy from that and for minor league bats.

Honus Wagner was the first baseball player to sign a contract with the company and also the first professional athlete to endorse an athletic product.

Reds exhibit--from L-R: Pete Rose's model used to hit his 2,000th hit on June 19, 1973.  It's 35 inches long and weighs 35 ounces; Johnny Bench used a 35.5 inch model that weighs 32.5 ounces 1970-1971; Joe Morgan used a 34.5 inch and 31 ounce bat in 1976--it includes the liberty bell logo that was added to all Slugger bats made during the Bicentennial.  In 1976 Bench won a second straight NL MVP and the Reds won their second straight World Series. 

Wrigley Field seats

the Babe's bat

see next photo!

in their Reds exhibit they had this awesome Lego Great American Ballpark

loved the art installations!

1952 Mickey Mantle Topps card--one of the most coveted for collectors

sometimes when I make Cameron pose he does it with a smile!
 When you first walk into the museum you are greeted with a large rounded wall containing signatures of all of the major leaguers who have signed contracts with slugger.  It was neat to see some of our favorite players up there.  And of course the HOFers have their own section.

This trip was outrageously fun and exhausting.  So exhausting that it took me four months to go through all of these pictures and write this post.  I'm proud of the way that we have made the most of these trips to not only see a stadium and its city but to enjoy all that the surrounding region has to offer.  We went to a Cubs game, got surprised by my best friend, went to a disastrous Texas away game, crossed stadium #10 off of our list, toured a distillery, and visited the Slugger Museum all in four days.  It was a great way to send us into double digits!

Just yesterday we booked a campsite in Yosemite National Park for two days in May and soon we'll be booking flights so numbers 11 and 12 will be checked off the list in a few short months!

P.S. After the Cubs game I was on a mission to find a Cubs dog bandana.  The Cubs don't sell one online and other retailers seemed sketchy and/or ludicrously expensive.  We went to a huge Cubs store across from Wrigley Field and I found the perfect one and it was something like $6.  Wrigley was very proud to wear it during the Cubs' playoff run!

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