Friday August 8th, 2014

The Gap isn't just a clever name at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. There actually is a gap in the stadium, a 35-foot-wide reprieve in the second and third decks between home plate and third base that frames a view from downtown Cincinnati through the park toward the Ohio River.

"We were thinking of creating a gap so people from downtown Cincinnati can see in, see the ballpark and catch a glimpse of the river," said Joe Spear, stadium architect with Populous. "We created a slot through the ballpark that framed the view."

Part of the desire for the break in the stadium’s façade was tied to the decision to orient the open side of the park toward the river and away from the downtown skyline. "I think we kind of surprised people,” Spear said. "Typically you orient a ballpark to look at the skyline, but we kind of wanted to give them a view of the rivers [Licking River empties into the Ohio in view of the park]. Cincinnati is the original River City, and we thought that was important."

Of course, having the stadium nestled against the Ohio River meant fans would mainly enter from one side, the same side that carries with it a hefty noise factor from highway interchanges and Interstate 71 right outside. Nobody wants tons of traffic noise filtering through and disrupting a skyline view. But Spear didn’t want that side fully closed off, so he slotted the stadium.

The lower bowl of the 42,000-seat park wraps the entire venue, but the stacked second and third decks offer up that intriguing break, which aligns perfectly with Sycamore Street, running into downtown. Walkways still connect the two decks, giving visitors in the park a high-vantage point look either toward the river or Sycamore.

When it came time to replace the old concrete Riverfront Stadium with Great American Ball Park in 2003, there wasn’t much need to transfer nostalgia — the centerfield distance of 404 feet does match the former home, though — but tying the new park to historic Crosley Field was a must. The main scoreboard in Great American Ball Park features a replica of the Longines analog clock that Crosley Field made famous, and a Crosley Terrace outside of the main entrance to the current stadium includes grass sloped to match Crosley’s outfield incline.

Back inside the park — whether looking from Sycamore Street or in the park — the views onto the Ohio and the orientation dominate the esthetic. Two smokestacks in right-centerfield, each made from seven baseball bats to symbolize Pete Rose’s No. 14 jersey, tie to the steamboat heritage while entertaining crowds with shooting fireworks, adding to the river-friendly motif.

When the All-Star Game comes to Cincinnati in 2015, even if you don’t have tickets to see the contest, take a walk along Sycamore Street. At least Spear slotted you The Gap.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

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