At the Baseball on Broadway rally on March 30, they served hot dogs, fresh popcorn, stale speeches and shattered nerves.
'''We're going to fire this very large Civil War cannon,'' they warned several times. ''It will be VERY LOUD.''
We knew it was coming. But when it went off like a watermelon-size cherry bomb, the crowd levitated like disciples of the Maharishi Whatwasdat. I jumped out of my tube socks.
The same thing is about to happen in the Great Stadium Debate. Everyone is standing around yakking about it, while the big guns are all pointed at the riverfront. And when they say ''bang,'' Cincinnati will jump on cue.
The fuse will be lit soon, before Broadway picks up more public support and voters get the crazy notion that they have a choice. My prediction:
First, we will be told there's not enough money to build two stadiums at once (don't believe it). The Reds will have to wait. (Bengals owner Mike Brown said so Tuesday: football first, Reds later.)
The Reds will protest - just enough to get millions from the county, like the $3.4 million a year that persuaded the Bengals to wait for a stadium.
And while taxpayers cover the Reds' losses - about $16 million a year - Fort Washington Way can be rebuilt to put a ballpark on the riverfront in five years or so. The Reds get millions to sit tight, then get tossed into the riverfront briar patch they wanted all along.
There may be protests about paying off Marge Schott, who has stiffed taxpayers for stadium rent and is locked in a lease until 2010. People might object to using stadium taxes to stack the deck for the riverfront.
But unless city council blocks the riverfront Reds, Broadway Commons will soon be ''what mighta been.''
This is just my opinion - not our editorial board position. But I started out sold on two riverfront stadiums. It was the ''postcard'' pitch. Glamour shots of Cincinnati always show the skyline, so the stadiums belong in that picture.
But after looking closer, I decided it's smarter to make new postcards of the Reds on Broadway than to shoehorn them into the riverfront.
ZHA, a consultant hired to rate alternatives: ''Unquestionably, this (Broadway) option will tend to enhance existing and potential new investments in the Over-the-Rhine area and could signal the beginning of a vast new initiative by the city to refurbish this remarkable area (of) many architecturally attractive structures. The process, while complicated, is achievable within a relatively short time span and would represent a worthy endeavor for the city.''
ZHA said Broadway would bring more economic development, faster than riverfront sites ($3.6 million annually vs. $3.3 million); and keep money in Hamilton County, not Northern Kentucky, which gets 30 percent of riverfront spending.
ZHA predicts ''immediate success'' at Broadway.
The Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission chose Broadway, for good parking, easy traffic access and less disruption to the teams. (Riverfront wedge sites require partial demolition of Cinergy Field during construction.)
County planners liked the way Broadway ''returns the waterfront to the people'' and ''alleviates the need for two monolithic stadium structures on the riverfront.'' And a neighborhood ballpark gets people out of their cars. Riverfront is a drive-up window for fast-food fans who hardly leave their minivans to watch a game, then hit the highways before they get any downtown on their loafers.
Broadway ''will immediately look like it belongs there,'' the planners said.
The Cincinnati City Planning Department chose Broadway for ''the potential for positive redevelopment in the northeastern corner of the Central Business District and in Over-the-Rhine ... ''
A riverfront site is no disaster. But I have another reason to back Broadway: Some Wedgies are pretty annoying.
Broadway backers believe the Riverfront is being pushed by the downtown crowd whose ''community interests'' often seem to overlap with self-interests.
''Let's put it this way,'' said Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin, who supports Broadway. ''They don't own real estate around Broadway Commons in Over-the-Rhine.''
Downtown Cincinnati Inc. said more parking and a stadium closer to Fourth Street means ''property values in office core will benefit with world-class facilities across the street.''
And the chairman of DCI is John Barrett, CEO of Western Southern Life Insurance - ''across the street'' from the riverfront wedge sites.
But I think that conspiracy theory is as overrated as the dwindling clout of the downtown crowd. It really comes down to the whiney Reds.
They could beat the Bengals with a new stadium on Broadway by year 2000, immediately replace losses with millions in profits, lead a ''worthy endeavor'' to revitalize a neglected neighborhood and play ball against the post-card perfect, emerald backdrop of Mount Adams.
Instead, they're primed to explode if they don't get the riverfront.
And we will jump to give it to them.
Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. Call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.