Monday, May 01, 2000

Fan honors Crosley Field memories

        This has not been a good year for Crosley Field. But things should improve in June.

        That's when Reds' fan Les Hils brings a little piece of the old ballpark back to the West End.

        The Reds started the season by snubbing Crosley's memory. Preliminary drawings first unveiled in March showed the team's bland new stadium containing no features — no outfield terrace, no hand-operated scoreboard, no retro look — honoring the team's long history at Crosley Field.

        More architect's renderings appeared Friday. They included one nod to the old park. The new stadium's scoreboard will have a big clock with huge hands, similar to the timekeeper that recorded the minutes and hours at Crosley Field.

Time out
        A clock is not a sufficient tribute to a place where the Reds played 4,543 major-league baseball games.

        The team's first home on the West End site was League Park (1884-1901), then Palace of the Fans (1902-1911). Redland Park opened in 1912, then changed its name to Crosley Field in 1934. Crosley saw its final game on June 24, 1970. Two years later the ballpark was demolished.

        Crosley's statistics appear on a bronze plaque mounted to a chunk of granite. Donated by the Society of American Baseball Research, the monument originally stood at Findlay and Western. Now, the monument sits forlornly in a West End parking lot.

        The lot belongs to Hill Floral Products. The flower wholesaler does business on the former site of Crosley Field's bleachers.

        The monument's present location is not another example of Cincinnati dumping its heritage. Crosley's marker will soon be back where it belongs.

Fan to the rescue

        Les Hils is the general manager of Hill Floral Products. He told me the business is expanding and the monument had to be moved during construction.

        The project should be completed in June. Then, the monument returns to the corner of Western and Findlay — maybe in time for the 30th anniversary of Crosley's last game.

        Inside the floral business' new lobby, Les plans to install three seats from Crosley Field and hang prints of photos from the old ballpark, including one of the last pitch. He'll also set up a small library of Reds' books.

        “We're not open to the public,” he said. “But, anyone is welcome to come down and sit in the seats and read about Crosley Field.

        “We're proud to honor what stood here and what it meant to the city.”

        Crosley Field was “magical” to Les Hils. He remembers the trips he took there with his dad from their home in Fort Thomas. He can recite the Reds' lineup from 1964. Vada Pinson in center. Pete Rose at second. Les' idol, Frank Robinson, prowled right field.

        He fondly recalled “the old Reds photos above the concession stands when you came into the ballpark.”

        Those photos acted as sepia-toned links to the Reds' past. They beckoned fans to portals that opened onto a field of manicured grass. Memories merged with the day's game. Kids and grown-ups became hooked on a game played in a ballpark.

        For the Reds' new stadium, the architects need to rework their paltry plans. It's going to take more than a big clock on the scoreboard to turn back the hands of time and re-create the magic of Crosley Field.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at (513) 768-8379; fax 768-8340.