From June 28 through July 7, Commissioner Emeritus James Overstreet and his son, Whit, embarked on a baseball trip. I asked James to chronicle the trip because I thought it would be fun to read. He wrote so much and sent so many pictures that I’m going to break this up into multiple blog posts over the next few days. TODAY: Leaving Bristol, headed for history:
Whit kept the scorebook for every game on the trip. This one was especially significant.
Between Innings: From Bristol, we drove 228 miles through the Bluegrass State for Lexington.
The Lexington Hustlers
Historical Stop: Lexington can lay claim to fielding the first integrated baseball team in the South when in 1947 — just weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier — the Negro League Lexington Hustlers signed Bobby Flynn, a white ball player. By 1949, one-third of the team was white.
Fourth Inning: 7:05 p.m., Monday (July 1), LEXINGTON, Ky., South Atlantic League (A)
Lexington Legends (Royals) vs. Greenville Drive (Red Sox)
Seats: 103, 3, 1 & 2 ($25)
Ballpark: Whitaker Bank Ballpark
Cost: $13.5 million
There are always things to do at the ballpark, even during a rainout.
Warm-ups: We arrived at beautiful, 12-year-old Whitaker Bank Ballpark 30 minutes before the gates opened and hit the team store — they have done a great job with the team logo. The marketing motto is “Believe in the Stache!” in a reference to the team mascot, Big League. Big L is an old-time ballplayer with a Rollie Fingers mustache. Great hats, shirts and other gear featuring the Stache. The ballpark itself is a gem that honors the horse-racing traditions of the region with a racetrack theme, an exterior reminiscent of a Churchill Downs and iconic racing images throughout the ballpark. Whether it’s the spires on the grandstand roof or Budweiser Stables — an area for group parties down the right-field line, festooned with racing memorabilia and a large statue of a thoroughbred — you’re always reminded of horse racing. Concessions are well done with Gold Star Chili from Cincinnati and a Kentucky Proud stand serving local fare in addition to the standard hot dogs and beer.
Game: (ppd due to rain) We settled in for a disappointing on-again-off-again game between the Legends and Drive. After three hours, they called the game. Not to be deterred, we immediately exchanged our tickets for Wednesday night’s game — which, for us, was supposed to be a travel day from Cincinnati to Chicago.
Between Innings: After enjoying room service at the Hyatt Regency and taking a peek at the Rupp Arena (home of the University of Kentucky Wildcats), we left for Cincinnati on Tuesday morning, the easiest leg of the trip: 85 miles.
Historical Stop: Cincy is full of baseball history as it is arguably the birthplace of the modern game, having fielded the first true professional team in 1869 (prior to that, the game was staunchly amateur with the thought of paying men to play a child’s game being disdainful). Cincinnati was also a founding member of the American Association in 1881, when the Reds joined the St. Louis Browns (later renamed the Cardinals) to challenge the puritanical National League by allowing beer sales at games and playing on Sundays. The NL owners referred to the upstart 10-team league derisively as the “Beer & Whiskey League.” In 1891, after 10 seasons of successfully going head-to-head with the National League (even winning the forerunner of the World Series several times), the NL owners gave up the fight and took in the Browns/Cardinals, Reds and Dodgers, effectively killing the AA. But our primary historical target was the site of Crosley Field, which is now nothing more than an industrial site without any marker to note the significance of the area. Still, we drove around the site, which was the home of the Reds from 1912 to 1970. Honestly, I’m very disappointed that the city leaders have not done more to highlight the historical significance of Crosley Field. How about a simple historical marker? Or even just a sign indicating you are now at the site of the former Crosley Field? Something.
Fourth Inning: 7:10 p.m., Tuesday (July 2), CINCINNATI
Cincinnati Reds vs. San Francisco Giants
W: 80 degrees, partly cloudy
Seats: 133, FF. 16 & 17 ($106)
Ballpark: Great American Ballpark
Cost: $290 million
Warm-ups: We arrived at Great American Ballpark at about 10 a.m. by walking over the bridge from Covington, Ky., where we stayed in the Embassy Suites. It’s the perfect location for either a Reds or Bengals game as the walk from the hotel to both stadiums is less than 10 minutes. We walked around the park, which is loaded with statues of famous Reds and other historical markers, then we hit the team store to load up on Reds gear, media guides, yearbooks, etc. Then we took the official ballpark tour.
After walking back to the hotel for a couple of hours of R&R, we were back at the gates at 5 p.m. to catch BP. (Note: Aroldis Chapman is a jerk. While Whit and several other kids hung over the RF wall, desperately seeking a BP ball, Chapman was shagging balls and taunting the kids by fake tossing balls to them and then tossing them back into the infield. Thankfully, Jack Hannahan was stretching in the OF and tossed five or six balls to the kids before heading to the cage.)
You can’t do a trip like this without proper sustenance. The famous Skyline Chili in Cincinnati provided it.
Fantastic ballpark. Crosley Terrace. The plaza with statues of Joe Nuxhall, Frank Robinson and Ernie Lombardi as well as Ted Kluszewski. The Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. Walk around the entire park while seeing the game and downtown, including Paul Brown Stadium, the Ohio River, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge and the Cincinnati skyline. The scoreboard is more than 200 feet wide.
When you think of Cincinnati, you think Skyline Chili. Get a chili cheese coney. Along the right field foul pole you can find Mr. Red’s Smokehouse serving beef ribs, Kobe beef sliders, smoked turkey legs and pulled pork sandwiches. And they also offer famous fare from the opposing team’s ballpark — in our case, we were treated to San Francisco crab cakes with Parmesan-garlic fries. And I found the Farmers Market fascinating — everything from fruit to sun screen.
One of the best MLB parks, period. And the area around the park is clean, safe and beautiful.
A game to remember
Game: Bailey overwhelms Giants for second no-hitter
All of you are familiar with this game by now — Homer Bailey silenced San Francisco’s bats by pitching his second career no-hitter in a 3-0 win. Only Gregor Blanco’s seventh-inning leadoff walk separated Bailey from a perfect game — Whit insists the 2-2 pitch to Blanco was a strike; I think the pitch was a tad high. But that was Bailey’s plan: he struck out nine, getting many swings-and-misses with fastballs that grazed the upper portion of the strike zone. As Giant SS Brandon Crawford said: “That fastball that he throws ‘up,’ it looks good out of his hand and stays up there. Ninety-five, 97 at the end of the game, that’s tough to hit.”
Between Innings: Wednesday, July 3, was supposed to be a day at King’s Island amusement park in Mason, Ohio, about 30 minutes north of Cincinnati and then a two-hour drive to Lafayette, Ind., which is itself about two hours from Chicago. But we were determined to make up our Lexington Legends game, so we left King’s Island (roller coaster heaven!) at 4 p.m. and navigated Cincinnati rush-hour traffic to get back to Lexington to see the Legends and Drive.
Fifth Inning: 7:05 p.m., Wednesday (July 3), LEXINGTON, Ky., South Atlantic League (A)
Lexington Legends (Royals) vs. Greenville Drive (Red Sox)
W: 76 degrees, overcast
Seats: 103, 5, 1 & 2 ($25)
Ballpark: Whitaker Bank Ballpark
Cost: $13.5 million
Warm-ups: Since we had toured every inch of the ballpark two nights before, we were all business this time around. One thing that was very helpful for the serious scorekeeping fan is the white board at the main entrance, outside the stadium bar & grill, that has the starting lineups posted. Additionally, there is a board listing the 10 longest home runs hit at the ballpark — Hunter Pence still holds four of the top 10 spots.
Game: Starling’s two-run bomb leads to series sweep
One of the prospects Whit was most eager to see was Bubba Starling, and he did not disappoint as he crushed a two-run homer in the sixth inning to break a 1-1 tie and lead the Legends to a 4-2 win over the Drive. Coincidentally, the rain-out from Monday was supposed to feature another Royal prospect, lefty Daniel Stumpf, pitching. The game was rescheduled as the first game of a doubleheader on Tuesday and Stumpf hurled a no-no as we watched Bailey throw his no-no.
Between Innings: The rain-out-induced route change required us to leave Lexington at about 10 p.m. and make the 255-mile, four-hour drive to Lafayette, Ind., where a Holiday Inn Express awaited us for a quick few hours of shut-eye. We skipped the fireworks at the Legends game but we hit Louisville just after the Bats completed their game and were treated to a nice firework display over the river as we sped through the city. We reached the hotel in Lafayette right at 1:30 a.m., crashed hard until 6 a.m. and hit the road by 7 a.m. Whit wanted to be the first in line at the gates to Comiskey on the South Side of Chicago.
Historical Stop: No time for a history lesson; the boy was on a mission for a BP home run ball.
Batting practice provides chances for souvenirs.
Sixth Inning: 1:10 p.m., Thursday (July 4), CHICAGO
Chicago White Sox vs. Baltimore Orioles
W: 82 degrees, partly cloudy
Seats: 147, 17, 10 & 11 ($98)
Ballpark: U.S. Cellular Field at Comiskey Park
Cost: $165 million
Warm-ups: The mission for a BP ball resulted in the only tears of the trip. Whit was parked on the LF wall during BP when a ball was crushed right to him. He reached for the ball with his glove when suddenly a teenage South Sider shoved him out of the way and caught the ball. Whit held it together for a few minutes before joining me in the seats halfway up the bleachers. And then the tears began. I busted out the baseball quote that I haven’t had to use in a couple of years: “Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball!” So I took him on a stroll around the ballpark, found him a fitted-hat with the old-school SOX logo (circa 1980) and regained the big toothy smile. The Cell is clearly among the first of the new retro-parks built, evidenced by some noticeable flaws. But it’s still a great place to watch a game. Definitely walk around the concourse and stop by all of the statues: Fisk, Baines, Fox, Thomas, Aparicio, Comiskey, Pierce, and Minoso. As with most newer ballparks, you don’t miss any of the game while visiting the concession stands. And Chicago ballpark food is just plain good. Main targets: Chicago dogs, deep-dish pizza and Italian beef.
Game: Quintana K’s 11 in seven shutout innings before Dunn crushes walk-off bomb
Jose Quintana struck out a career-best 11, including eight of the final 13 hitters that he retired consecutively, and scattered two hits before leaving after the seventh with a 2-0 lead. Alas, the pen coughed up the lead as the Orioles tied the game 2-2. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Adam “The Big Donkey” Dunn lumbered to the plate, carrying a .193 average. The slugger smacked his 23rd bomb of the year over the left-field wall, taking Baltimore reliever Tommy Hunter’s full-count breaking ball to the opposite field, redeeming himself for an eighth-inning error that forced another half inning in the first place. The Comiskey kranks went full-on nuts as the players mobbed Dunn at the dish. After the park settled down and Whit finalized the totals in his scorebook, he looked up at me and said: “I’m sorry for crying earlier; I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” No worries, son, we’re headed to a cathedral now: Wrigley Field.
NEXT: The final three games