On the Road with Eli(zondo) and Adric at Great American Ballpark
So you’ve decided to heed the call to adventure. Good for you. If you need to refer back to what the Guide actually is or who I actually am, please refer to the included links.
A study of frustration on the banks of the Ohio River
The Guide says the following about Great American Ballpark (“GABP”):
They put cinnamon and cloves in their chili here! Madness...madness... [That phrase was literally all that was written.]
On the banks of the Ohio River, there sits a stadium. If you are lucky, the climate will allow you to enjoy the site of this gem on the Ohio River. If you are unlucky, it will feel as oppressive and hot as being trapped under a pile of wet, hot clothes. Either way, you are still likely there to go to a Dodgers/Reds game.
Or you walked too far down the street from where the Bengals play, but this site isn’t an American football blog, so I doubt I will be of much help to you. If you have never been to a Dodgers/Reds game in Cincinnati, I will say that going is an interesting experience.
The Five Questions of the Guide
1. Is it worth going here?
A qualified yes, but there are places you should visit first.
Great American Ballpark is an interesting ballpark. As I literally visited all of the ballparks in the NL Central, I feel uniquely qualified to subjectively judge their home stadiums. In my mind, there is a very clear pecking order, which required a lot of thought:
Ballpark / My Subjective Rank
1. PNC Park, Pittsburgh / S
2. Busch Stadium, 3.0, St. Louis / A
3. Wrigley Field, Chicago / A
4. American Family Field, Milwaukee / B
5. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati / C
Now, there is a large gap between one and two - think the 2017 Dodgers and whoever finished in second that year in the division. Was it the Giants - no, that doesn’t sound right. Ah, it was the 93-win Arizona Diamondbacks. Two and three are basically a coin flip - I just asked myself which would I teleport to instantly if there was a game today. There is a gap between the third-ranked Wrigley Field and the bottom of the division. However, American Family Field and GABP are not bad ballparks; they are flawed ballparks in my view.
I would say American Family Field probably has the weakest ballpark experience in this division, which I will go into in more detail during its entry in the Guide (two words: office chairs). However, I will see if my opinion improves after a second visit. Ultimately, in the first draft of this essay, American Family Field was tied with GABP, but then I realized that conclusion was in error. I am in no rush to return to Cincinnati whereas I visited Milwaukee again in 2022 - that hesitation has to serve as the tiebreaker.
If you want to go to a Dodgers/Reds game in Cincinnati, you will have to be mindful that GABP has the largest logistical headaches to overcome in this division. Moreover, it is worth noting that if you are unfortunate enough to visit when it is muggy, it can feel downright oppressive (much like Atlanta).
Oddly enough, the customer service at GABP was quite poor compared to the other stadiums within the division with staff either being rude or not being knowledgeable about basic questions. “Where can I collect this giveaway?” was apparently a very difficult question to answer, as I was sent on a wild, goose chase throughout a quite muggy park trying to find the promotional item that came with my ticket. No one was able to answer whether the park did anything for someone’s first visit. Based on everything that has come out about the Castellini family, I am not surprised at this point in hindsight, but when one adopts the “kindly brontosaurus” pose, that usually works when interacting with customer service.
I have yet to do a tour at GABP because they were only being offered on off days during 2021. Moreover, you can request a First Game Certificate from Guest Services, even after you leave the area if you forget to pick one up after you leave the ballpark. Their front-end staff left something to be desired but the back-end staff was quite pleasant and helpful to interact with.
2. How should I get there?
I cannot imagine that one would get to Cincinnati by any other means except flight unless one lived in the vicinity. How you actually get to the ballpark largely depends on where you are able to secure a hotel. Therefore, it’s time to bring out some maps and ask a single question: is it Oktoberfest? If the answer is no - by all means, stay at the hotel across the street from GABP.
The costs for this hotel can vary wildly and be quite prohibitive, approaching that of San Francisco. For planning trips to non-major cities, the more time you have to plan, the better off you will be. If you are on the Ohio side of the Ohio River and you have access to a nearby hotel, which would be to the north of the below map, you can probably walk to the ballpark. As of publication, there are now public transit options that were on hiatus when I visited GABP in September 2021.
Otherwise, you will likely be staying on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, and you will need to either drive yourself or hail a rideshare. There was some transit infrastructure prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the disparity in mask guidelines killed it, at least temporarily. At publication, there are restored bus options from Covington to Great American Ballpark. You can attempt to walk the bridges (see Section 3), but if the weather does not cooperate, the experience will generally be miserable.
3. Where should I stay?
As you can see in Section 2, there’s an option literally across the street from GABP. However, if that hotel is too expensive for your tastes, you can broaden your search, but you will likely need to rely on rideshare / renting a car / braving the elements if you are staying on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. The highlighted portion of the map is where I stayed during my visit.
You might be tempted to think that since you are by a nearby bridge to GABP, you should have an easy go getting to the ballpark on foot. That statement is not necessarily true, for reasons I discuss below and for the fact that if the weather is not cooperating, it will feel as if you are making this walk in a sauna.
Again, do not make the mistake I did - do not go during Oktoberfest as the prices for hotels will be considerably more expensive and you will have far fewer options to work with. When I planned my original trip, I could not figure out why everything was so expensive, hotel-wise. Moreover, I figured, okay, I can just walk across the bridges to get to and from GABP, easy peasy. That plan did not work at all, if you do not know the way, it is not inherently obvious where to get on the bridge on the Kentucky side.
For all intents and purposes, I might as well have been miles away and whatever savings I was counting on did not occur as I had to call rideshare while various families watched me with puzzlement from their townhouses outside Covington, Kentucky. The walk back across the bridge, after the game, once the sun went down was actually quite lovely as you can see below.
So either plan to pay a premium to be a few feet from the ballpark or plan to either drive yourself or rideshare there and walk/take public transportation back.
4. Where should I sit?
From what I recall, Dodgers/Reds tickets were not super expensive nor do I recall getting an amazing deal. I suppose I paid what I expected. I paid less than $100 for club seating and I paid around $40-50 for seats near the Dodgers bullpen. I suppose my biggest gripe with GABP is the literal design of the ballpark. While humans prefer symmetry, and the field itself is symmetrical, the ballpark serves as an example of a cautionary tale of how not to try and squeeze as much luxury seating as possible at the cost of ease of access.
The food at GABP is fine. “Sweet and savory” appears to be the motto of the region, adding cinnamon and chocolate (among other flavors) to chili, adding chocolate sauce, and marshmallows to french fries (see below). Skyline Chili is the infamous culprit, with its spaghetti-topped chili. Traditionally, Cincinnati chili has a thinner consistency and is prepared with an unusual blend of spices that includes cinnamon, chocolate or cocoa, allspice, and Worcestershire.
I recall that these dogs “tasted strange” but were otherwise edible. Maybe, it is a flavor palette you have to grow up with. It was an experience and I am glad that I tried it. I acknowledge its value, but I do not feel the need to ever have it again. I had the other major brand in the region, Gold Star - the same thing, it was fine, but not my thing. If you want to venture afield from the normal ballpark fare, eat at Porkopolis or Frybox.
I was not kidding about the dessert fries, though. Sometimes a picture tells the tale...
The following are my recommendations for where to sit at Great American Ballpark.
- If you’re on a budget:
I would recommend sitting in the 400 section, specifically 420 to 426, unless it was a day game, then I would sit in the cheapest seat I could find that had ample shade. Seats in the identified section are about $30 in 2022.
Seats in the upper deck (500 sections) can usually be had for a song for a Dodgers/Reds game. The problem is that you are so far removed from the action, you are arguably better off watching the game at home, especially if the weather is not cooperating.
As such, if you are truly on a budget when going to GABP, sitting in the 400 section is an affordable option for watching a Dodgers/Reds game. However, I would not recommend these seats during day games as the sun can be quite unforgiving at GABP, which I discuss below.
- If you want to sit somewhere fun:
I would recommend sitting in either Section 138 or 139, which is in the right-field corner. In this section for other parks, I have recommended sitting by the Dodgers bullpen, most notably in St. Louis and San Francisco, because my view is that if you just want to drink and hang out with people, there is a place for that: a bar. Cincinnati is not part of this list as the bullpen is in its own separate enclosure and the only opportunity for player interaction occurs when someone is warming up, which is less than ideal.
I would still recommend sitting here, as you have access to decent food choices and can attempt to socialize. If you wanted to swing around to the Sun/Moon seats (across the way from the visiting bullpen on the right in the above photo), that is an option as well. Just try not to get a seat that is obstructed by the foul pole.
- You want the sit somewhere that has the best value* for your dollar:
*Value comes with a major asterisk at this ballpark.
Admittedly, this photo is a gorgeous view of GABP. And normally, you would think that I would recommend sitting in the 200 sections, which are behind home plate and below the lower deck. And if the Dodgers/Reds game you are going to is a night game, then I normally would recommend this spot for the view alone.
Another bit of value that I would normally, happily highlight is the additional benefit you get with seats in this section. You also get access to the Fox Sports Club, where you can get all-inclusive food and drink (with the exception of alcohol). The below animation is courtesy of the Cincinnati Reds.
If you are thinking about what is the catch, I am about to tell you and it is a rather large one. You will need that all-included food and drink and access to air conditioning on day games because you will not see one iota of shade. This direct sunlight will be even worse on muggy days, as I was drained to the point of heat exhaustion due to the elements at GABP on September 18, 2021.
But the worst part about seating that has access to the Fox Sports Club is the frankly idiotic way you have to get to the area from your seat. For this part, we’ll need a map so you can fully see what I am talking about and why GABP is so poorly designed.
Unlike other parks, for example, PNC Park, Truist Park, or Target Field, GABP has an awkward design where it is much harder than it needs to be to access the air-conditioned area. You can either go behind the luxury boxes and walk down an industrial corridor with no indication of what is currently going on in the game, or you can cross several sections of seating before climbing a staircase to access the Fox Sports Club. This route is incredibly awkward to navigate, especially during a game.
On top of everything I have just mentioned ticket prices for Dodgers/Reds games appear to have increased by 20-30% compared to what I paid in 2021 for the exact same seat. Considering the fire sale that is going on in Cincinnati, which I have discussed here and also here, I cannot in good conscience recommend enriching the Reds’ ownership for such a shoddy state of affairs. As such, while value is subjective unless you have to have a picturesque landscape of the game at GABP, save your money, especially during day games and more so, if the weather is muggy.
5. After your trip, is it worth going back?
In the disclaimer to the Guide, I described the informal range of subjective outcomes after visiting a location. So far, I have been to two games at GABP, of which the Dodgers lost one and won one. That said, I would give GABP the following ranking:
- Hey, that was fun, but I probably don’t need to do that again.
When you add it up, going to a GABP is enough of a headache and a hassle to discourage this Dodger fan from going back unless I had a very specific purpose. And that conclusion is genuinely a shame, because, by all accounts, Cincinnati should be one of the true destinations for the baseball purist. The level of frustration and annoyance I feel resulting from my memories is difficult to explain, but I hope that you appreciate my sentiments that going to GABP should be a premier Dodgers baseball destination. For the reasons that I describe above, it’s not.
But as I have documented elsewhere in the “It’s not my Money(ball)!” series, going to a Reds game would be supporting the Castellini ownership. To shift gears for a moment, I have raved about PNC Park in Pittsburgh and acknowledge that Bob Nutting is a terrible owner who is bad for Pittsburgh. However, PNC Park is still a delight to go to, unlike Great American Ballpark.
When I left PNC Park, I did not feel like I was perpetuating a bad situation. The thought of going back to the GABP makes me cringe because I do not want Bob Castellini to have any more of my money until he either wisens up or is visited by a series of ghosts around Christmas. However, I would not expect my feelings to change.
Before anyone asks, yes, it was quite muggy both days, but that factor has nothing to do with the enjoyment of the ballpark because I am not going to expect the team to control the weather in the area. In my view, it was annoyance on top of annoyance on top of annoyance, much like my past experiences with Citi Field in New York.
I can envision a single scenario, outside of an ownership change, that would bring me back: the Dodgers playing in Cincinnati on Opening Day. As I discussed elsewhere, Opening Day in Cincinnati is a de facto holiday and I would like to experience that. But as the Dodgers have not opened their season in Cincinnati since 1989, I am not anticipating going back to GABP anytime soon.