Friday, June 28, 1996
Little details add up to make the fans happy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Over the weekend, I thought I was dreaming. I saw thousands of people streaming into a ballpark. In Ohio of all places.

Nine out of every 10 fans wore something with the home team's mascot printed on it. Their garb included caps, T-shirts, jerseys, shorts, socks, miniskirts, even a baby's bib.

They came to see some baseball and have a good time. They did both.

Everything about the place was nice. Even the ticket takers and the ushers were pleasant.

Ushers smiled, said ''Hi'' and showed fans to their seats. Tip or no tip, they left you with the three magic words: ''Enjoy the game.''

This was no dream. This was Cleveland's Jacobs Field.

The stadium makes it easy to develop a serious case of Cleveland envy. All it takes is a day game under a cloud-free sky on a hot Saturday afternoon.

Mix in a record, regular-season crowd of 42,461 and the longest nine-inning game in Indians' history. Add rock 'n' roll sound bites before every at-bat and after every play - the manager confers on the mound with his pitcher and the Beatles sing ''We Can Work it out.'' Do all that and the green-eyed monster rules.

Cleveland has what we want: A new, fan-friendly ballpark.

It also has what we need: A new attitude. We need to start thinking: Cincinnati has a new toy - the Reds. Have fun with them.

For the fans

In Cleveland, happiness is a pampered fan. Making them happy requires a total attention to detail. It starts before game time and goes beyond the last out.

Hours before the first pitch, greeters stand in front of each ticket window. They don't wait for someone to ask for help. They approach fans and ask ''Can I help you?'' After you get your ticket, they call out, ''Enjoy the game.''

This mood lasts through the post-game traffic jam. Unlike Cincinnati, blinking red lights do not greet expressway-bound drivers. In Cleveland, cops direct traffic until the streets are clear.

Getting better

The Reds have made some recent progress in attitude adjustment. Wednesday night's bargain basement sale was a step in the right direction.

For the team that just escaped from the National League's Central Division cellar, reserved red and green seats were priced at $3. Three bucks also bought some close-out souvenirs, a Reds T-shirt or a cap from the 1988 All-Star Game.

The $3 tickets had 12,575 takers. Total attendance was 32,286. That's 13,000 more fans' fannies than usually occupy seats for an average Wednesday night game at Riverfront.

Souvenir sales were up, too. They were not as brisk as they are at Jacobs Field where Tribe fans wait in line to get into the Indians' superstore. But people were buying.

''We started with 7,000 of these,'' says vendor Carroll Belcher as he straightens a pile of $3 All-Star Game caps at a souvenir stand on Riverfront's plaza. ''We went through 5,000 in the first hour.''

Picking up a $3 cap, he puts it on a young customer's head. ''There you go pardner,'' he says and pats the boy on the back while his mom pays up.

That friendly spirit followed the crowd into the stadium. Rock music - tunes by Jimmy Buffett and Marty Brennaman's favorite heavy hitter, Elvis - played between innings.

Now, Riverfront must take the next step. The stadium's speakers may sound worse than the sound system at a burger joint's drive-through window. But they still need to blare a player's hand-picked theme song when he comes to bat. That pumps up the crowd and the team at Jacobs Field. It could do the same here.

Who knows, it might even sweeten the disposition of Riverfront's ticket takers. These Grumpy Old Men lookalikes still need to work on their people skills.

They could learn something from Bob Ballman. For 20 seasons, he's hawked peanuts ''salted in the shell'' on Third Street ''cheaper here than in the stadium.''

After every sale, he says something you still need to hear when the Reds play at the new! improved! Riverfront Stadium:

''Enjoy the game.''

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.