In March, they protested outside the stadium.
In early April, they funded a billboard.
This past weekend, unhappy Cincinnati Reds fans brought their message into Great American Ball Park, wearing T-shirts, holding signs, dropping grocery bags over their heads and even flying a banner over the stadium calling for owner Bob Castellini to sell the team.
In at least three cases, the Reds gave fans a choice: drop your signage or leave the stadium.
On Monday, the team stood down.
“This was a mistake on our part,” said Tim O’Connell, vice president of facilities and operations. “We have taken corrective action.”
O’Connell said team management is now instructing staff that fan messaging, “even if it is to express displeasure,” is OK.
“We understand people want to express themselves in the ballpark,” he said. “We don’t think we’ll have another problem with that.”
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With that pivot, Cole Murray will have to decide whether to make another trip to the Kroger store in his Independence, Kentucky, neighborhood.
That’s where he pit-stopped en route to Friday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He and two friends grabbed paper bags from the self-checkout lane when they bought soft drinks.
Murray and one friend decorated their bags with what’s become a trending hashtag on social media: Sell the team, Bob.
They put on the bags – after cutting out eye holes — at the top of the fourth inning. A local TV reporter soon arrived for an interview. “A spokesperson from the Reds came down in the middle of the interview and said we had to take the bags off and they couldn’t cover our faces,” said Murray.
He and one friend complied. The third kept his bag on, with the eye holes ripped open to reveal his full face. (O’Connell confirmed that Reds’ policy prohibits full-face masking in the interest of safety.)
Murray said he donned his bag to make a point. “I’m 24 and I’ve never seen the Reds win a playoff series,” the industrial engineer said. “It was a gut punch when our favorite players got traded away or not re-signed.”
The next night, Logan Wolf traveled 40 miles from Blanchester, Ohio, to catch the second game in the weekend series. Given the pandemic, he had not been to the stadium in a year and a half.
His message for Reds ownership, penned on a poster board, didn’t make it past the bag check staff.
“They told me I could throw it away or I would not be permitted to enter the stadium,” the 28-year-old Spectrum contractor said.
He followed the directive so he could catch the game with family members.
But he thinks the team suppressed his right to free speech.
“We can go to the games and have fun at the ballpark but we should still be able to show that we aren’t happy with the team they’re putting out there,” he said.
Overhead, before the Saturday game began, fans captured photos of a plane trailing a banner that read “Where You Gonna Go? Already Gone. Thx Phil.” The message references Reds CEO Phil Castellini’s opening day remarks about fans’ options.
Inside the stadium, a fan with a choice seat behind home plate waited until the ninth inning to bag his head. The front of his bag said “Sell the team, Bob,” while the back read “9,696 days since Reds won last playoff series.” Like Murray and Wolf, he was asked to remove the bag or leave the ballpark.
Cincinnati fan Taylor Lowe, 22, did not carry a sign, wear a bag or otherwise face the threat of expulsion this weekend. But he’s not pleased with the Reds’ 3-13 start to the season or their play in recent years.
“For the last 10 years, we’ve been an afterthought,” said Lowe, who has owned weekend season tickets since 2019. “I wish everyone would be wearing brown paper bags. What are they going to do? Kick us all out?”
No, they aren’t. Not anymore.
“We fully understand our fans’ frustration right now,” O’Connell said. “Our entire organization — players, coaches and the front office — is committed to playing in a way that makes our fans proud.”
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