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New Reds park is not home sweet home yet

CINCINNATI — Bunts hug the foul lines. Grounders flatten on the infield grass. Fly balls rhumba in the swirling winds.

Two exhibition games have provided the Cincinnati Reds with a pretty good idea of how to handle their new field. Unfortunately, a vital part of the owner's manual seems to be missing.

They can't figure out how to win at Great American Ball Park.

The first two tries were well off the mark. The Cleveland Indians swept their two-game dry-run over the weekend, leaving the Reds feeling a little lost in their new place.

It's not home-sweet-home without a win.

"Hopefully, when it counts, we'll be able to count one," shortstop Barry Larkin said.

The last time they opened a ballpark, they did just that.

The Reds beat the Pirates 8-2 in the coming-out party for Pittsburgh's PNC Park on April 9, 2001. Pittsburgh native Sean Casey hit the park's first homer and drove in five runs, carving a place in Pirates history.

Fittingly, the Pirates will open the Reds' new ballpark on Monday, getting a chance to spoil someone else's inaugural.

"I hope it's enjoyable," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "It's a part of history, so you certainly take a lot of pride in it. I hope it's special. The people of Cincinnati are proud of their new ballpark. I hope it's a nice night."

McClendon was referring not to the weather forecast, but to the Pirates' chances of following Cleveland's example and enjoying a stroll in the new park. Recent history suggests there's a good chance.

The Reds haven't been much in home openers recently, getting one win, three losses and a rain-forged tie in the last five years. They're already 0-2 at Great American, although those two practice-game losses were written in scorecard pencil rather than record-keeping ink.

After former President George Bush throws out a ceremonial first pitch at around 2 p.m. MST today, the pressure will be on the home team.

"This will be my sixth opening day, and we've only won one," said second baseman Aaron Boone, who hit the last homer at the old stadium. "There's always so much hype with opening day here in Cincinnati. It's such a crazy day, such a fun day, but we always end up losing."

They lost their first game at Riverfront Stadium on June 30, 1970, when Hank Aaron hit the first homer and the Braves won 8-2. A day later, Tommy Helms hit the Reds' first homer to get them their first win.

They've had more practice at opening ballparks in recent years, and gotten mixed results. Three days before they opened PNC Park with a victory, they played the first game at Miller Park in Milwaukee and lost to the Brewers 5-4.

Casey also got the first hit in Milwaukee's new park, and would love to make it a trilogy. He jammed his right wrist while diving for a ball on Friday, but dismissed thoughts that he might have to sit out the opener.

"Are you guys hurting for news stories?" he said, laughing.

Pirates reliever Scott Sauerbeck wouldn't mind if Casey got the first hit, as long as he got the first game ball. Sauerbeck grew up in Cincinnati, skipped school to attend many an opener, and can recite all of the historic moments at Riverfront Stadium.

He'd love to make one such moment in the new place.

"I'm sure I'll put some dirt from the mound in my pocket," Sauerbeck said. "If I get in, I'm going to ask for the ball when I leave the game.

"I'm going to try to treat it like any other game, but it's a childhood dream come true. I'm excited. It's a big day for me. I was a die-hard Reds fan. I just wish Pete Rose could be there."

Rose can't. His lifetime ban for gambling prevents him from participating in the opening, and he turned down offers to lead the annual downtown parade and sit in the stands with the mayor.

Instead of the past, the focus will be on the field. Who gets the first hit? Who hits the first homer? Who wins the first game that counts?

Who wouldn't love to play in a game like this?

"We're looking forward to the craziness," Boone said.