Tuesday, April 02, 2002

RADEL: Reds as unifier

Parade day shows city at its best

By Cliff Radel, cradel@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's all about balance. That's the essence of Opening Day.

        Monday's 83rd Annual Findlay Market Opening Day Parade and the Reds' first game of their last season at Cinergy Field connected the old with the new, the good with the bad, today's realities with tomorrow's promise.

        The day acted as a relief valve and a reality check.

        In the months since the riots of 2001, the city has been drowning in bad news. Deaths. The Boycott. Demands. Refusals.

        Boycotters taunt downtown diners with signs declaring: “Eat, Drink and Be Racist.” Boycott busters respond with profanities. The Grinch-like Rev. Damon Lynch III rallies boycotters by saying no day should be about “wine and dance and fun” until justice comes to town.

        Tell that to the thousands of Cincinnatians happily lining Monday's parade route from Findlay Market to Fountain Square.

        “Look around us,” Jeff Gibbs shouted over Roger Bacon's marching band. The Findlay Market merchant and former Opening Day Parade chairman stood at Elm and Elder streets and nodded toward the crowd.

        “There's every color, every race. Everyone's having fun.”

        It's all about balance.

Parade contrasts
               Monday's parade began in Over-the-Rhine, the city's poorest neighborhood. It ended amid the downtown towers of the city's wealthiest companies.

        The parade started in the neighborhood that was ground zero for last April's riots.

        This year's route wound past the federal courthouse. That's where a session to settle the lawsuit alleging racial profiling — a flash point of the riots — was slated to begin 14 minutes after the game's first pitch.

Play ball
               Opening Day 2002 marked the first game of Cinergy Field's final season.

        The nondescript structure with so much history will be replaced by the Great American Ball Park, a stadium with no history. The Reds' past will be honored by statues and a hall of fame.

        “It is all about balance,” said Mayor Charlie Luken as he got ready to march in the parade.

        “This is like the show, A River Runs Through It. We're all connected by the Reds.

        “I see everybody here, whether they're making $5,000 a year or $150,000, they're all dressed in red.”

        Wearing red, Ken Griffey Sr., former Reds' outfielder and this year's Opening Day Parade grand marshal, outlined his duties.

        “I'm to sit in the car, wave and smile,” he said.

        To anyone saying there should be no good times in Cincinnati until justice is served, the one-time star of the Big Red Machine said:

        “I look at it this way: I'm enjoying myself. That's what I've got to do.”

        Gov. Bob Taft, Cincinnati native and Reds fan, threw out Monday's ceremonial first pitch. A low lob.

        Before his date on the mound, he warmed up by marching down Race Street.

        “Opening Day,” he said, en route, “is something that unites everyone. It brings everybody together.”

        The governor waved to a group of children sitting on the curb. They waved the “Go Reds” pennants they made at nearby Christ Child Day Nursery.

        Their teacher, Aljeaner McPherson, watched and smiled.

        “This parade is a free day,” she said.

        “It's where everybody gets together and gets along for one day for a couple hours.”

        If only someone could bottle Opening Day's mood of togetherness. That elixir could be slipped into City Hall's water supply and the refreshments at boycotters' meetings. Then this out-of-kilter town could finally find its sense of balance.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.


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