Saturday, June 19, 2004

Fans feel right at home

Crowd lines up early as Freedom baseball team opens new stadium

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

Tom Browning, Florence Freedom manager, signs autographs for members of a Knothole baseball team
The Cincinnati Enquirer/PATRICK REDDY
Anthony Castellano (left), 10, of Elsmere, and Aaron Frank, 10, of Western Hills, cheer and bang together "cheer stix" handed out at the home opening game.
FLORENCE - Hundreds of Florence Freedom fans were lined up outside Champion Window Field at 6 p.m. Friday - an hour before the start of the team's first home game.

When the gates to the $8 million stadium opened 20 minutes later, Florence resident Jerry Cahill, 72, went right to his 11th-row seat behind home plate.

"I know we're 10 miles away from the major leagues, but I live five minutes from here," said Cahill. "I plan to spend a lot of my afternoons here this summer."

Other fans, like 24-year-old Steve Delaney of Bellevue, went straight to the concession stand for the $3 beer.

"It's a lot cheaper here than the Reds games," said Delaney. "And it will be fun to see these guys play and try to go somewhere."

The Freedom are part of the Frontier League, which has 12 teams in seven states. Friday night was the team's first home game after a 27-game road trip. The Washington Wild Things spoiled Florence's home opener with a 10-6 win.

There is still work to be done on the stadium. The upper-deck seats are not in. The lawn for fans to sit on is dirt. The lack of section numbers made it challenging for people to find their seats.

But the cheap prices and short wait at the concession stands, clowns making balloon animals for kids and the playground down the left field line kept fans happy and entertained.

"I don't care that it's not finished," said Amy Fredricks of Independence. "It will get there, and we'll be back."

Jim Warren of Walton brought his two sons, Cody, 9, and Brennan, 5.

"I came to see the game ... ," said Cody. "They're a good baseball team."

Shannon McGuire, 3, said she likes watching the team play. "They just play good," she said.

Her mom and dad, Becky and Keith McGuire, said they enjoyed the festive atmosphere, cheap prices and proximity to home.

"We finally have something we can call our own," said Keith.


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