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Wineka column: Cincinnati treated those who traveled from Salisbury just right

CINCINNATI ó Neal Wilkinson, the Salisbury man who sang the national anthem at the Cincinnati Reds game Monday night, wanted time to scope things out.
So he and his wife, Sandra, her sister Joyce Compton of Salisbury and her sister-in-law Linda Thomas of China Grove arrived in Cincinnati last Friday.
They were joined Saturday by Salisbury friends Gary and Jo Earnhardt and Sunday night by Bob and Diane Heffern of Corbin, Ky. Bob used to be a principal and administrator with Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
All together, seven familiar faces were on hand Monday night for Wilkinson’s singing of the anthem and the Reds-Astros game that followed.
The group had eight seats along the third-base side of Great American Ball Park.
The Reds paid for the tickets and a parking pass. The rest of the trip for the Wilkinsons and the others was their responsibility.
The Rowan County group did what you might expect in Cincinnati.
Neal declared the Montgomery Inn at the Boathouse along the Ohio River as the best place for ribs in the country, and he dined there three times.
On the third trip, Ron the waiter told Wilkinson he should buy stock in the company and open a restaurant in Charlotte.
Several in the group bought the restaurant’s barbecue sauce for themselves or as gifts for people back home.
The Cincinnati tourists also took a riverboat ride, dined on the city’s famous three-way chili, visited the aquarium and had Graeter’s hand-churned ice cream twice in Newport, Ky., which is right across the river from the ballpark.
Sandra Wilkinson had heard about Graeter’s ice cream on The Food Channel.
Cincinnati has a tremendously rich baseball history. It takes credit for having the first professional baseball team in 1869, a squad that went 57-0 against all comers, good and bad.
Baseball purists know the Cincinnati club has played in nine World Series through its long history, winning five. The Reds may have one of the best team hall of fames, which sits just outside the ballpark.
The most famous Reds team ó one still spoken about with reverence here ó was “The Big Red Machine,” which won back-to-back world championships in 1975-76.
The names from that team are legend: Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, to name a few. Streets near the ballpark are named for some of these men, and the “Rose Garden,” located outside of the Reds Hall of Fame, includes one white rose bush signifying where Rose’s 4,192nd hit landed and set the all-time record.
The Rose Garden exists where Riverfront Stadium once stood. It was at Riverfront where Rose set the record and where the Big Red Machine built its legacy.
Things have not been going well for the Reds of late. The team was foundering at 64-79 going into Monday’s game, and attendance is flagging, on a pace to be its lowest since 1998.
But the recent trials of the ballclub failed to diminish what the Rowan County group saw on their close-up, late-morning tour Monday of Great American Ball Park, which opened seven years ago.
Baseball fans from California and New York joined them on the tour.
Ken and Nancy Foertsch took the group through the $330 million stadium, stopping in the luxury suites, high-priced clubs, the press box, Crosley Terrace, on the field behind home plate and in the Reds dugout.
Neil Wilkinson found himself perched in the Reds dugout beside the red telephone to the bullpen and the black telephone to the pressbox.
The 43,000-seat ballpark still offers some $5 seats and $7 bleacher seats, but it also has a five-section area behind home plate where the tickets are $230 each. The price includes access to the Diamond Club and an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The tour group learned everything about the ballpark, such as the five varieties of rye grass on the field, the two miles of drainage pipe under it and how the riverboat deck and pilot house in center field rest on top of a business center, the Cincinnati Bell Technology Pavilion.
The light standards are equipped with an “electronic lightning arresting system,” similar to what is used on the shuttle launching pads.
Fireworks are shot from two smokestacks in right-center after a Reds home run and victory.
Hit a sign between the smokestacks and you win a Toyota Tundra truck, which somehow is suspended high above the stands in left field.
In the Reds dugout, the bench area is heated for those cold games in April. Nancy Foertsch said the river seems to make things about 20 degrees cooler at field level sometimes.
Adam Dunn hit the longest home run in (actually out of) Great American Ball Park ó 535 feet. The Foertsches said the ball went out of the ballpark and would have rolled into the river had it not been stopped by a piece of driftwood.
Dunn doesn’t play for the Reds anymore. But Wilkinson hopes he can visit Cincinnati and sing for the Reds again.
It’s a good idea to get there early.

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