- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

CINCINNATI Sparky Anderson was awe-struck when he stepped onto the bristly field at Riverfront Stadium for the first time in 1970.
The first-year Cincinnati Reds manager couldn't believe how futuristic everything looked.
The wall-to-wall artificial turf. The sliding pits around the bases. The rings of colorful seats, stacked one on top of another. The feel of a modern, multipurpose stadium. Even the modest clubhouse made him giddy.
"When I first saw the place, I thought, 'I want to live here,'" Anderson said. "I'd never dreamed I'd be in a place like that. It looked like a palace to me."
It was a glimpse of baseball's next era.
With its all-artificial turf field, the "cookie-cutter" circular stadium along the Ohio River was cutting edge. Soon, others like it would dot baseball's map Three Rivers in Pittsburgh a few months later, the Vet in Philadelphia in 1971.
A generation later, they're classified as dinosaurs, ripe for the wrecking ball. Three Rivers is gone, and Riverfront Stadium now known as Cinergy Field will follow after this season, replaced by a baseball-only park with a grass field. In Philadelphia, they're contemplating the Vet's demise.
It wasn't that way in 1970, when Pete Rose became the Reds' first $100,000 player, box seats went for $4 and car dealer Marge Schott later the Reds' owner was selling a new Kadett for $1,799.
Riverfront's design was considered a cost-effective way of housing baseball and the NFL in one stadium. Its playing surface would change the game itself, putting an emphasis on speed and defense. It allowed Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion to perfect his one-hop throw to first on plays deep in the hole, a technique that others would copy.
Riverfront was revolutionary.
Artificial turf was introduced out of necessity at the Astrodome but became the dominant feature at Riverfront. The infield was completely covered with the stuff, except for sliding pits and the mound.
The players' union objected. Baseball's leaders had concerns.
Why use artificial turf in an outdoor stadium? And why so much of it?
"I remember how hard we had to work to get them to approve us to have Astroturf," said Bob Howsam, the general manager who presided over the move to Riverfront. "They gave us a year's permission, then we might have to take it out."
Artificial turf was necessary so the Bengals could share the field, which was reconfigured for football by moving the lowest level of stands. Still, commissioner Bowie Kuhn wondered whether Riverfront was taking it too far.
He showed up before the opening game on June 30, 1970, went up into the stands and saw for himself.
"I was worried about how it would look," Kuhn told reporters, "but when I went up and looked at it from above, it looked fine."
The players were wary, too. Riverfront was much nicer than Crosley Field, but the field was a little too futuristic for some of them.
"It was something a lot of people weren't used to playing on artificial turf," said Reds pitching coach Don Gullett, who was a rookie in 1970. "It was exciting, but we weren't entirely sure how it was going to play or how we were going to adapt to it."
In another Riverfront oddity, the outfield wall later included metric measurements, along with the distance in feet, informing fans that a drive to dead center would have to carry 123.13 meters.
From the day it opened, Riverfront served as one of baseball's best stages.
Hank Aaron hit the first homer in the opener, an 8-2 Braves win that immediately gave the stadium a big-league profile. Two weeks later, Rose bowled over Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse at home plate for one of the most replayed finishes in All-Star game history.
The big moments kept coming:
Baltimore's Brooks Robinson stole away one hit after another in the 1970 World Series.
Aaron tied Babe Ruth's home run record with No. 714 on opening day 1974.
With speedy second baseman Joe Morgan having MVP years on the turf, the Reds won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976.
Rose got hit No. 3,000 and Tom Seaver pitched his only no-hitter in 1978.
Johnny Bench homered in his final home game before retiring in 1983.
Rose broke Ty Cobb's hit record with No. 4,192 in 1985.
Tom Browning pitched a perfect game in 1988.
Home plate umpire John McSherry collapsed and died on opening day 1996.
Ken Griffey Jr. returned to his hometown in 2000.
The final highlight will come on Sept. 22, when the Reds play the last game there against Philadelphia. Soon, it will become parking space for Great American Ball Park, which is under construction just beyond the outfield wall.
Great American will honor Riverfront's memory a rose garden will bloom at the spot where No. 4,192 landed while trying to evoke the age before the lookalike stadiums got a grip on the game.
Although Cinergy is considered one of the majors' least-endearing stadiums today, it still has its fans.
"I know that type of stadium has been getting kicked around a little," Howsam said. "But I'll tell you what: I like the cookie-cutter. I've seen the fields in Cleveland and Baltimore, but give me Riverfront Stadium because of how you could use it."


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