Opening Day in Cincinnati unmatched

Opening Day in Cincy unmatched

CINCINNATI -- Blue sky, bright sunshine and temperatures in the mid-70s provided the perfect backdrop Monday for one of baseball's most historic and celebrated traditions -- Opening Day in Cincinnati.

Thousands of fans lined 14 city blocks for the 88th annual Findlay Market Opening Day Parade. By early afternoon, offices were virtually vacant and establishments in and around downtown were quickly enveloped in a sea of red.

Like many bars and restaurants in the Queen City, GameDay Café opened its doors just before dawn and was jam-packed with patrons soon after.

Mark Wedgemore, 42, of Mason, Ohio, was among the early arrivals at GameDay, which is appropriately located on Pete Rose Way a short walk from Great American Ball Park.

Wedgemore, who says he's attended at least 20 Opening Day games, will be keeping a watchful eye on Reds rookie outfielder Josh Hamilton.

"I think Hamilton's the real deal," said Wedgemore. "I'm a big fan of his."

Despite the addition of Hamilton and long-term deals for top starters Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, Reds fans remain cautiously optimistic about the season.

"I think they'll be .500 or a little above," said Shawn Doebereiner of Amelia, Ohio. "I think signing Harang was really good, but they just don't have the depth of pitching."

From the vantage point of GameDay's outdoor patio, hundreds of fans could be seen streaming into downtown to catch the Findlay Market Parade.

Findlay Market, which opened in 1855, is the only surviving municipal market house among the public markets operating in the 19th and early 20th century. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

This year's Findlay Market Parade featured former Reds outfielder Eric Davis as its grand marshal. Davis, a member of the Reds Hall of Fame, played nine seasons in Cincinnati and was a member of the World Series-winning club in 1990.

But, the real star of this year's parade was Coco, a 25-year-old Amazon parrot famous for being able to sing the first few words of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Coco rode in the Cincinnati Zoo float.

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"The fan excitement here on Opening Day is incredible," said Reds manager Jerry Narron. "I don't know of any other city that has a parade [on Opening Day]. I've been to Opening Day in a lot of places, but in Cincinnati it's unparalleled. Everybody's talking about the Reds today."

Prior to the Reds-Cubs game, the red carpet was rolled out for various celebrities and dignitaries who participated in on-field ceremonies.

Atlanta Records recording artist Gia Farrell, whose hit song "Hit Me Up" was featured in the animated film "Happy Feet," performed the national anthem highlighted by a flyover of four F-16 jets from the 178th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard based in Springfield, Ohio. Also during the national anthem, an American flag was unfurled by 85 members of the United States Air Force.

The list of elected officials who've tossed out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day in Cincinnati is impressive.

The past four seasons, the Reds have welcomed President George W. Bush, U.S. Representative Rob Portman, Vice President Dick Cheney and former President George H.W. Bush.

This year, the Reds turned to a local leader to do the honors -- Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory.

According to Greg Rhodes, executive director of the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, the tradition of having the mayor toss the first pitch dates back to the 1940s and '50s.

"The last few years, we've had higher-profile people," said Rhodes. "But involving local and state politicians has been very common over the years."

Mallory became the first Cincinnati mayor to throw out the ceremonial pitch on Opening Day since 1972.

The Reds' newest mascot, Mr. Redlegs, delivered the ceremonial baseball to Mallory.

There was also a moment of silence to honor former Reds pitching coach Vern Ruhle, former Reds pitcher Corey Lidle, former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn and former Reds catcher Ed Bailey who died during the past year, and for the victims of a fatal bus crash involving the Bluffton (Ohio) University baseball team.

Cincinnati firefighter John Winfrey was scheduled to sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.

Monday's game was the 131st Opening Day in Reds history, and fifth at Great American Ball Park.

On Opening Day in Cincinnati, every fan's a prognosticator.

"We'll be better defensively," said Chris Heine of Mason, Ohio. "With Ken Griffey Jr. in right field and [Ryan] Freel up the middle, we'll be better in the outfield. The offense will be strong. I predict the team will be six games better than last year."

Jeff Wallner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.