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As the Reds floundered for the rest of the decade, the trips to Crosley became more precious to Thompson, if only because they were now fewer and farther between. Not surprisingly, Thompson has seen many more games since the Reds moved into Riverfront Stadium, and he is a realist regarding Crosley's demise. "I think Riverfront is great," he says. "The Reds couldn't have survived in Crosley unless they expanded it. They needed a bigger ballpark, and they needed someplace for the [ NFL] Bengals. It made sense economically. They might have lost the team to another city. It's just unfortunate that Crosley couldn't have been kept as a premier field for college play or a top-notch knothole field. I don't personally think the land at that location was so valuable the stadium had to come down."
When Thompson speaks of property or land values, people listen. Since his arrival in Blue Ash in 1973, the residential population of the city has grown from 8,500 to 13,000 and 37% of its acreage is devoted to industrial parks and office-complexes. Blue Ash now can claim more than 70,000 daytime workers. "By expanding like that," Thompson says, "we have the money to do things other places only dream about."
In 1985, Blue Ash was planning a youth baseball and soccer complex, with two of the projected 10 ballfields to have big league dimensions. But in the back of Thompson's mind was a conversation he had heard about a private Softball complex that was planned to re-create a couple of major league ballparks. "We were thinking of doing something like that at the sports center," says Thompson. "Then we thought we would tie in Crosley and really try to re-create it." When pressed, Thompson drops the "we" and admits Crosley was his idea.
The people in Blue Ash were aware that, for the most part, old ballparks were simply demolished, not reverently dismantled. But if there was anything left of the original Crosley, Blue Ash wanted it, and a fund-raising committee was formed with a nest egg of $100,000 (eventually, the Blue Ash treasury would be called on for an additional $350,000). Mark Rohr, an intern in the city manager's department, was assigned the duty of finding whatever was left of the original park. "I felt like a private investigator," says Rohr. "We kept finding bits and pieces of memorabilia. Over time, we started getting publicity, and that fueled the fire."
And cleaned out the closets. Blue Ash would eventually recover more than 600 seats from the original Crosley; 350 were discovered stored underneath the Butler County Fairground's grandstand in Hamilton, Ohio, another 100 were found at a softball complex in northern Kentucky, and 100 more someone had bought for a suburban skating rink in Loveland, Ohio.
A field microphone, concession signs, pennants from the old stadium's rooftop and a ticket booth were either given or sold to Blue Ash. A more valuable find was the original architect's drawings of Crosley, which had been saved by former Reds groundskeeper Matty Schwab's grandson. Those sketches, combined with old photographs, aided Blue Ash in duplicating the unique terrace and odd angles of the outfield wall.
Some finds were more unusual. Blue Ash administrator Jenny Ramsey discovered that Marilyn Moore, a Cincinnati native, had saved a jar of dirt from the original Crosley (as well as from five other major league ballparks). But when asked to sprinkle some of her dirt on the new Crosley, Moore balked at the idea. "I wasn't sure it belonged there," she says. "I thought Crosley belonged in the city of Cincinnati." Finally, a trip to the new Crosley—and the sight of a particular ticket booth-was enough to persuade Moore to agree to perform a ceremonial sprinkling of dirt on the new Crosley's Opening Day. "I've come to terms with it," says Moore. "It took me a long while, but my hat is off to them." Unfortunately, she was late for the dedication, and the dirt is still in its jar in her home.
Rohr also discovered that Blue Ash was not the first community to attempt a re-creation of Crosley Field. Larry Luebbers of Union, Ky., had bought many of Crosley's salvageable parts (including the scoreboard and dugouts) for a ballpark that he, like Kinsella, had built on his farm (SI, Sept. 20, 1976). But under somewhat mysterious circumstances, the park disappeared in the late 1970s. In 1987, shortly before he retired and moved to Arizona, Luebbers told The Cincinnati Enquirer, "The property was sold when I was out of town...when I came back it was torn down." Though Rohr made several expeditions to Kentucky and heard rumors that parts of Crosley still existed under lock and key, all that Blue Ash got for his efforts was another ticket booth, sold to the town by Luebbers's mother.
With the project now mostly complete, Blue Ash plans to add new elements to Crosley whenever they—and the money to buy them—become available. For example, this year it will expand the seating and put up a flagpole to the right of the scoreboard like the one at the original park.
In 1991, Thompson would like the old-timers' game to be a re-creation of the 1961 World Series, in which the Yankees beat the Reds four games to one. He already has signed up Game 1 pitcher—and loser—O'Toole.