As the Reds caravan kicks off, a look back at a bygone visit to Akron

Firestone Stadium, home of softball state tournament, is a baseball time capsule

AKRON — Decades before the Cincinnati Reds Caravan began visiting cities around the region, the Reds traveled to Akron for a special exhibition game.

This year’s caravan kicks off Monday in Hamilton with scheduled visits around the Tri-State and West Virginia. Lima is the northernmost Ohio city on the tour, which started in 1960.

Akron hasn’t been a stop on the caravan. But during a bygone era, the Reds made a trip to Firestone Stadium for an in-season exhibition game nearly 100 years ago.

As one of Ohio’s oldest sporting venues prepares this spring to host its 16th consecutive high school softball state tournament, Firestone Stadium is most known for softball, including the Summit County Hall of Fame.

The stadium, built near the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company plant in 1925, is also a baseball time capsule for a brief moment in Reds’ history.

The nine signature arched openings of what was “Firestone Field” or “Firestone Bowl” in 1925 greeted the Reds less than a week after tire magnate Harvey Firestone dedicated the industrial field that July. The 1,800-seat grandstand was completed two months earlier.

The Reds arrived by train from New York to play the Firestone Non-Skids on July 23, 1925 — the same week as Akron’s centennial celebration.

“Akron fans always like to see Cincinnati play,” the Beacon Journal wrote July 22. “They can go to Cleveland to see Ohio’s American League entry whenever they want to, but few get the opportunity to see the Buckeye state’s National League representative in action unless they are brought here for an exhibition game.”

Cincinnati was on a journey from the Polo Grounds to Chicago for a series at Cubs Park, later known as Wrigley Field.

The exhibition game against the Non-Skids, a semi-pro team, wasn’t uncommon. The Reds played many exhibition or barnstorming games from the turn of the century until the 1940s, according to Cincinnati sports historian Cam Miller.

In fact, the visiting National League pennant winners defeated a Firestone team 3-0 in front of 6,000 fans at Akron’s Liberty Park in late September 1919. That was just a week before the infamous World Series opener against Chicago at Redland Field.

And just like six years earlier, there was plenty of anticipation in 1925 to see Cincinnati’s roster. It included National Baseball Hall of Famers — center fielder and captain Edd Roush and pitcher Eppa Rixey.

“The Reds stayed over at New York Wednesday hoping to play a postponed game with the Giants but were rained out again,” the Beacon Journal reported July 23. “They came on to Akron last night so as not to disappoint local fans.”

Members of the Firestone company met the Reds at the train the morning of the game. Some of the players competed in a round of golf at what was likely Portage Country Club.

Shortstop Sammy Bohne and catcher Ernie Krueuger “played the closest match and were the nearest to championship form” on the links, the Enquirer reported.

The Reds enjoyed lunch at the Firestone plant, a short walk to the stadium.

The temperature in Akron warmed to a comfortable 73 degrees by 2 p.m., two hours before the first pitch. The late afternoon start allowed the greatest amount of first-shift factory workers to attend the game.

About 2,500 fans were in attendance at the stadium. But the crowd didn’t see much drama. The Reds defeated the Non-Skids 12-0.

The Reds had 19 hits in a game that took one hour and 37 minutes. Cincinnati could’ve earned more runs due to minimal opposition, the Cincinnati Post observed.

“Most of the tire boys appeared to be a bit nervous at facing the team from the main line,” the Enquirer reported.

Roush, who played in the 1919 exhibition game in Akron, went 3-for-4 with two doubles, two stolen bases and three runs.

Reds pitcher Neal Brady — a Northern Kentucky sandlot legend and later a Ludlow police officer — struck out six batters.

Newspaper reports didn’t offer many details of how the crowd reacted during the game.

Brady made a one-handed catch off a strong liner in the second inning that had the fans “cheering for several minutes.” There was another time in which Bohne singled to left and carried his bat to first base. He stole second carrying the bat and jokingly threatened to hit the ball if any fielder tried to get him out.

The victorious one-day trip to Akron concluded with the Reds’ departure at 10:30 p.m. Thursday to Chicago in order to open a three-game series Friday afternoon against the Cubs.

Reds pitcher Dolf Luque worked out in Akron and pitched a complete game in a 3-1 victory in Chicago. The Reds won 12 of their next 13 games after the visit to Akron.

Cincinnati completed the 1925 season in third place in the National League with an 80-73 record.

The Reds returned to Firestone Stadium for another exhibition game in 1926 and defeated the Firestone team, 10-2, in front of 2,100 fans. Roush was the captain, again.

However, nearly 100 years later, the exhibition games at Firestone Stadium are merely minor footnotes in the team’s history.

Roush, named the greatest Reds player in franchise history in 1969, was inducted into Cooperstown in 1962 with a class that included Jackie Robinson and Bob Feller. Rixey was inducted posthumously in 1963.

Roush was the oldest living hall of famer in the late 1980s and shared baseball stories from yesteryear.

“Two-thirds of them playing today, if they had played back in my day, we’d have killed every one of them,” Roush told Cincinnati Post reporter Bill Koch in 1987. “They threw at you in those days, and they didn’t throw over the top of your head, either.”

Roush died at the age of 94 on March 21, 1988. His death occurred 19 days after the Firestone company donated Firestone Stadium to the City of Akron.

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