Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Floats, bands and kids missing school?
Must be Opening Day

By Kevin Aldridge and John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In the city that celebrates the return of baseball like no other, marching bands, homemade floats and hand-shaking politicians crowded the streets of Cincinnati Monday as the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade kicked off a daylong celebration for the 84th straight year.

An estimated 30,000 fans - many clutching blankets and sporting parkas to combat the chilly weather- lined sidewalks as the parade snaked through Over-the-Rhine and past Fountain Square.


Game Parade
They spotted a Pete Rose look-alike, high-stepping horses and fire engines galore. But there also was a magical spirit in the crowd that shows itself just once a year: On Opening Day in Cincinnati.

"There is nothing like Opening Day," said Bill Maltbie of North Bend, who took a break from his job downtown to catch a glimpse of the parade. "People from out-of-town can't understand why we drop everything to come down for the parade. It's all about the spirit of the day for me."

Some onlookers arrived as early as 8:30 a.m. to stake out a first-rate location on Fountain Square to watch the parade. Many people took the day off of work to go to the game. Others didn't have a ticket to Great American Ball Park, but simply came to soak up the atmosphere with their children.

Instead of Pete Rose, the grand marshal for the parade was ex-Reds pitcher Tom Browning.

Though Rose did not attend, Mark Hubbs did. The West Carrolton resident and Findlay Market's Pete Rose look-alike contest winner was besieged with requests for autographs and photos from dozens of fans fooled by his dead-on resemblance to "Charlie Hustle."

Dressed in a red cap and jacket, the square-jawed Hubbs even tricked a few onlookers as he rode by, sitting in the back of a red Corvette.

Several floats created by artists of the Cincinnati ArtWorks program were made entirely out of Louisville Slugger baseball bats.

"This is really fun," said Tamara Harkavy, executive director of ArtWorks. "I have never done an Opening Day before. This is a great way for some of our new art works to be displayed."

About three blocks south of the parade's starting point, children playing basketball in the courtyard of Washington Park Elementary at 14th and Race streets pressed against a chain link fence, jumping and craning their necks to see the first signs of the parade's movement.

Looking around at all the children on the parade route, not in school, Rudy Tassani, of Hyde Park said, "This is like the beginning of deer season in Pennsylvania. So many children are out hunting the schools just shut down."

One of the parade's all-stars again this year featured at least a dozen boys in blue jump suits who were whacking drums fast and hard and making more noise than the 50-man band that came a block before them. A dozen girls in blue danced ahead of them, and walking with them were three dozen more people, adults and children. It was a parade within a parade.

Who was the group commanding this attention?

"The Bucket Boys, and the Buckettes," said Sabrina Godfrey of Walnut Hills, shouting to be heard over the beat.

"I have two daughters in there."

And in yet another indication that Cincinnati's love affair with its banished hometown star, Pete Rose, is far from over, the Contemporary Arts Center found 50 guys named Pete, gave them red jackets with "PETE" in big white letters across the front and marched them through downtown.

There was Pete Voss, Pete Ayers, Pete Fullbeck, Peter Anderson, Pete Kellum and Pete Hecktor Sr.

"And that's my son and my grandson," Hecktor Sr. said, pointing to the two guys to his right. "Three generations, all named Pete."

"I like it," said Tony, an Over-the-Rhine resident, who guessed this was about his 40th Opening Day.

"I was raised up on it. My mother brought me here every year."

E-mail kaldridge@enquirer.com

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