Sunday, April 6, 1997
Kentucky deserves Reds, too

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ninth inning, wild pitch. Cincinnati base runner Hal Morris heads south toward home.

He keeps going, he's in Kentucky. For almost 30 years, all that's stood between the Reds and the Bluegrass State is the Ohio River and a scowling catcher. Now the catcher has company: Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls and a whole band of Hamilton County commissioners.

The mayor's trying to convince the commissioners to build a new ballpark several blocks to the north, in Cincinnati's Broadway Commons.

That would put it out of earshot of Kentucky, out of view.

It's time to step out of the batter's box and rethink this one.

Powerful snub

The Reds are Cincinnati's team first. But second, they're Kentucky's. Make that a close second. Fans in Florence and Williamstown and Lexington and Pikeville stream north on game days. They buy Reds shirts. They wave Reds pennants.

Riverfront Stadium - uh, sorry, Cinergy Field - is like Madrid Bend, that little, round patch of land at the extreme western tip of the state: separated from the commonwealth by a river, but part of Kentucky, nonetheless.

Moving the stadium north wouldn't keep Kentuckians from attending games. But symbolically, at least, it would seem a powerful snub.

Kentucky deserves better. This isn't simply a Cincinnati issue. Money's just as green south of the river, and much of it is spent on the Reds.

Kentucky residents sink more than their share into the team and, consequently, into the city of Cincinnati. They should be able to continue walking to the stadium. And, like Mr. Morris, to turn for home on foot.

Bluegrass ties

Cinergy Field's just a Suspension Bridge away. Its proximity to the commonwealth pads the coffers of Northern Kentucky cities - especially Covington, where many fans park for games, then eat afterward.

It's only fair that Kentucky's economy should reap at least some benefit from the games her residents attend so faithfully. The state's heavy hitters should go to bat for her on this one.

Though it never has had a major-league team of its own, the Bluegrass State has strong ties to the Reds and to the game of baseball.

There's pitching coach Don Gullett, the former Reds ace who was a high school phenom growing up in Greenup County, Ky. The folks at Denver Munn's barber shop still talk about the way nobody but his brother wanted to catch him.

There's Tom Browning, the Northern Kentuckian who threw a perfect game for the Reds.

There's Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher who now plays hardball with Democrats. He lives in Southgate.

There are the Louisville Redbirds, farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals, and their Boston Red Sox-affiliated forerunners, the old Louisville Colonels.

There's the late Gov. A.B. ''Happy'' Chandler, whose grandson is Kentucky's attorney general. He was baseball commissioner from 1945 to 1951. Happy made sure his office, which was in Cincinnati, faced south so he could keep an eye on Kentucky.

And, last but not least, there's a boy named Andy.

'The Kentucky Reds'

That's my boy. He's 7. When we go to a Reds game, he asks me: ''Daddy, which team are we for?''

The Reds, I tell him. He's getting the hang of that concept. But he still calls them the Kentucky Reds. Someday I'll correct him. Someday.

Understand: This is nothing against Cincinnati. Nothing at all. Cincinnati's a fine city, one of my favorites. I never grow tired of rounding the bend at Mile Marker 191 and seeing that skyline rise against the night. It's one of the best I've seen.

But Cincinnati can be a condescending city, too. Too often it thumbs its nose at Kentucky, or simply ignores it. Remember the great aquarium controversy? After a developer decided on a site in Newport, some Queen City officials left the table in a huff. We'll build our own, they said. Our fish can kill your fish any day.

I think of this as I watch Mr. Morris cross the plate, the only Reds run of the day. The crowd cheers, but it's too little too late. The Rockies win, 7-1. I walk out of the stadium and climb the stairs to the Suspension Bridge, headed toward Kentucky and the little boy who waits for me there.

Rob Kaiser is The Enquirer's Kentucky columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Thursdays in The Kentucky Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5584.