Best Of 2020

Bat-licker Yasiel Puig didn’t have as big of an impact on the Cincinnati Reds as many fans had hoped, ultimately getting traded to the Cleveland Indians before the end of the 2019 season. But the slugger did leave Reds fans with a few memorable moments — including a pair that involved fighting with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Early in the season, when the benches cleared after a Pirates pitcher threw behind batter Derek Dietrich, Puig rushed out of the dugout and began throwing hands. An image posted by Fox Sports of a solo Puig lurching toward a wall of angry Pirate players (with other Reds players rushing in to assist) was so artful, many declared it museum-worthy, comparing it to a great Renaissance masterpiece. Puig was also beefing with the Pirates later in the season — on the day news surfaced that he’d been traded, during Puig’s final game as a Red, the Pirates again appeared to try to hit Dietrich during an at bat, which caused both teams to empty on to the field once again. Despite it being his last game as a Red, Puig was again in the middle of the action and standing up for his teammates. Fortunately, no one was hurt; unfortunately, no one got a good meme out of the second fight. Cincinnati Reds, reds.com.

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden welcomed a new baby bearcat in October. Born at the Nashville Zoo, the super cute binturong arrived in Cincinnati nameless and destined to be the University of Cincinnati’s next living bearcat mascot. The school’s beloved former bearcat Lucy retired from public life last August. So leading up to UC’s bicentennial homecoming celebration, the zoo asked the public to name the new baby. And the zoo narrowed the recommendations down to two: “Lucille” or “UCelia” (get it?), asking fans to pick their favorite. In the end, the 42,000 people who voted opted for the non-punny choice — Lucille — by 70 percent. We’re sure Lucille appreciates that. Binturongs are native to Asia and can grow to be between 20 and 30 pounds. They’re also rumored to smell like buttered popcorn. But why is this little civet the UC mascot? The origin of the program’s nickname dates back to 1914, when UC newspaper editor and cheerleader Norman Lyon deemed football captain Leonard Baehr a “Baehr cat” during a face-off against the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Shortly after the UC victory, a cartoon in the school paper depicted their team as a quadruped bear-cat hybrid chasing a scrawny kitten. The name stuck. The Bearcat’s first on-field mascot — a person in a bearcat costume — suited up in 1950. And Lucille will be the school’s fourth living bearcat mascot. University of Cincinnati, 2600 Clifton Ave., Clifton Heights, uc.edu.

With remarkably consistent play over the past few seasons, running back Michael Warren II earned himself a place in the hearts of UC fans and the Bearcats football record books. So it was disappointing when he announced at the beginning of 2020 that he would forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft, becoming the first player in the history of UC’s football program to leave early for the opportunity. Still, fans — more hyped about UC football than anyone has been in quite some time — had plenty of reasons to be hopeful for the coming season, after two bowl-winning years with a combined 22-5 record. That excitement was replaced with anxiety when news surfaced in February that Michigan State was interested in poaching UC head coach Luke Fickell, just as they’d done in 2006 when they stole away Mark Dantonio (whose abrupt retirement from Michigan State put the job up for grabs again). After a few nervous days, fans let out a massive sigh of relief when it was clear the coach who has led the team through their major turnaround had decided to stay put. You lose some, you win some. UC Bearcats, gobearcats.com.

After going winless in its first eight games of the 2019 season, the Cincinnati Bengals sought to shake things up at the quarterback position for the first time in nine years. Veteran Andy Dalton was benched in favor of rookie Ryan Finley when the team played the Ravens in November. It was hard to blame the Bengals for wanting to see what they had in Finley, but the timing was a bit awkward (and typically Bengalian). The news of the benching came out on Oct. 20 — Dalton’s 32nd birthday. Suffice to say, Finley didn’t play well enough for him to keep the starting job — Dalton was back under center to help the team win its first game of the year, one of only two wins all season. Cincinnati Bengals, bengals.com.

Exercise can be lonely if you don’t have friends or family who share your desire to get into better shape. Why not surround yourself with some of the city’s finest folks in a gorgeous environment? Bonus: they’ll keep quiet, being six feet under and all. Spring Grove Cemetery is not only a massive sprawling expanse of immaculately manicured grounds, but it also has been a beautiful final destination for Cincinnati families for 175 years. Spanning 733 acres, the cemetery/arboretum is recognized as a U.S. National Historic Landmark and rightly so. If you’ve never visited, do yourself a favor and take a stroll through Spring Grove Cemetery, but leave your doggos at home. (They do allow furry pals inside one day a year for their annual Dog Day of Summer, with 2020’s planned for June 28.) Also, while you visit, be respectful of those in mourning: no loud music, keep your voices down and maintain a respectful distance from any processions that may be taking place. Remember why the cemetery was established (hint: not specifically for joggers) and be appreciative that our city is home to these beautiful grounds. If you don’t want to walk alone, Spring Grove offers frequent docent-led tours including Twilight Tours, early morning bird walks, native plant identification tours and the ever-popular An Afternoon with the Beer Barons event (beer + guided tours of historic brewery figure graves). Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, 4521 Spring Grove Ave., Spring Grove Village, springgrove.org.

In 2019, hundreds of people gathered in Las Vegas at the American Cornhole Organization’s World Championships to watch Matt Guy compete for the world champion and “King of Cornhole” title. The 40-something janitorial supply salesman from Alexandria, Kentucky is the most dominant player the sport has seen. Of the 14 ACO World Championships held, Guy has claimed eight titles, including last year’s. Fun fact: The ACO — the “governing body for the sport of cornhole” — is a Milford-based organization launched by Frank “The Cornhole Dude” Geers. Geers opened Harris Hawk, a promotional products company, in 2002 with zero intentions of starting a professional cornhole organization. With his background in marketing, he was always a good promoter and while tailgating at a Bengals game in 2004, he noticed people playing cornhole and saw an opportunity to add company logos to the cornhole boards. It was then he decided to launch a new company around the game and came up with the name “American Cornhole.” After discussing it with his partner at Harris Hawk, they decided to start a products company that would manufacture boards and bags with company logos on them. From there, the ACO started organizing tournaments and creating a ranking system for the sport. The ACO hosted its first major tournament in partnership with former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer for the Carson Palmer Cornhole Classic in June 2006. The winner of the classic was none other than Guy. It was his first ACO cornhole tournament he had ever entered. Guy started off pitching horseshoes before cornhole. A similar game and throwing motion, he claims that cornhole just came naturally — at one point he was ranked sixth in the world at horseshoes. And success in cornhole runs in the family: his son Bret has been a pro since he was 12 years old and was the World Singles Champion in 2013. He also won a doubles championship in 2014 with his father. Guy says his proudest moments were watching Bret win his singles championship and sharing the doubles title together. The cornhole king contributes his own success to three main things: “competitiveness, mental toughness and Bud Light.” The ACO 2020 World Championships take place in Columbia, South Carolina in July. American Cornhole Organization, americancornhole.com.

Galaxie Skateshop owner Gary Collins and Newport Mayor Jerry Peluso are the driving forces behind Newport’s DIY Skatepark, a collaborative spot hand-crafted beneath the I-471 bridge. “The idea (for the park) was conceived by the previous owner of Galaxie, my friend Andrew Martin,” said Collins in an interview with CityBeat. “He just started building under the bridge, like, renegade, with a box, and then a quarter pipe. When I bought the shop, I reached out to the city a little bit more about letting us push it.” In 2008, Martin approached Peluso about clearing the area of mud and debris in exchange for creative control beneath the overpass. Peluso, who also happens to be Galaxie’s landlord, was enthusiastic about the idea — the city had long considered building a park, and the DIY spot’s remote location would provide a space for skaters to ride without being chased off by cops. When Collins bought Galaxie in 2009, he made it his mission to further expand the park with Peluso’s approval. What was originally a few parking blocks and wooden ramps has now become an urban oasis. A former pro skater and founder of the Instrument skate brand, Collins used his vast network to raise funds for the project. Thanks to a $1,000 grant from Citigroup, $14,000 donated by local nonprofit Newport Foundations and contributions from regular customers, the park now boasts an empty pool and an impressive array of ramps — all designed and built by skaters. Even the concrete was hand-mixed. “You can’t even measure the impact it’s had on the skateboarding scene out here,” Collins said. One of just a few fully fledged DIY parks in the country, the spot brings in a steady stream of pros and road-trippers. “Now, every time a pro crew comes through, they want to go to the bridge,” Collins said. “You’ll be down there, and you never know who you’ll see. The most mind-blowing person I’ve seen come through there is (former Thrasher Skater of the Year) Grant Taylor. But the local guys who skate there, they’re fucking ridiculous, too.”  Newport DIY Skatepark, I-471 Bridge, Newport.

In the last year, Cincinnati has edged into the fast-growing market of electronic sports, aka esports. According to Forbes, its global revenue exceeded $1 billion in 2019 with audiences surpassing 443 million. That’s more viewership than IRL American football and rugby combined. A glance at the Queen City’s local esports scene reflects this development. Here are a few highlights: In late 2018, FC Cincinnati signed Cincinnati-native Gordon “Fiddle” Thornsberry in FIFA — a soccer simulation game created by EA Sports — to compete for them as part of the eMLS. Last year also marked their first season not only competing in the MLS but also the virtual arena, too, and in January, Thornsberry took home FCC’s first eMLS title. The inaugural PiviP esports tournament and gaming conference also arrived in the Queen City in 2019. Held at Kings Island, it was the first event of its kind locally and was co-founded by Bill Donabedian (founder of the Bunbury Music Festival, MidPoint Music Festival and Bellwether Music Festival) and Cincy-based esports event organizer AllMid. Newport’s GameWorks unveiled a new fully stocked esports lounge in March 2019 to provide space for more tournaments and events while competitive teams have sprouted locally on both a collegiate and high school level. As stated in Forbes, audiences for such entertainment are predicted to number 645 million in 2020. The esports arena, it seems, is only getting bigger. Let’s see if Cincy can keep up.

OK, so FC Cincinnati’s first season as an MLS team didn’t go so great. But it was definitely the best first major-league season for a Cincinnati soccer team — there’s never been another quite like it (or at all). After building up one of the most dedicated and loyal fanbases in all of Cincinnati sports, hopes were high as the team entered the majors just three years after debuting in the United Soccer League. As those fans would soon learn, that sort of rapid ascent comes with some growing pains. The team hasn’t had great luck with head coaches. Just two months into the 2019 season, Alan Koch was fired due to the team’s bad record. It didn’t get any better, even after new coach Ron Jans was hired — FCC’s first MLS season ended with a 6–22–6 record, the worst in the league. They also set an MLS record for most goals given up in a season (75). Going into the 2020 season, Jans resigned after he was embroiled in controversy for allegedly using racially insensitive language. Still, the FCC fanbase remains ride-or-die and lots of optimism and excitement is on the horizon — in 2021, the team moves into its new state-of-the-art stadium in the West End. FC Cincinnati, fccincinnati.com.

Few things are as synonymous with Reds baseball as the voice of Marty Brennaman. After a long and lauded career of calling games for the Reds that began in 1974, Brennaman said goodbye to the broadcast booth at the end of the 2019 season. Although the Reds didn’t secure a win against the Milwaukee Brewers during Brennaman’s last game, the legendary broadcaster took time during the broadcast to say his farewells to the Reds organization and the city of Cincinnati. In a tearful goodbye at Great American Ball Park, he said, “I’m proud to say I’m a Cincinnatian. And for those who are here today, and for those listening, wherever they might be, just know that you’re loved, and how much you’re appreciated.” Brennaman’s voice was a staple in Cincinnati for over 40 years, and with his retirement, the city and the team bid farewell to the man who called historic games across multiple eras of Reds’ baseball — from Pete Rose’s record breaking 4,192nd career hit in 1985 to Tom Browning’s perfect game in 1988 to Ken Griffey Jr.’s 500th home run in 2004. At the end of one of sports broadcasting’s most notable careers, it’s safe to say that, when it comes to Marty Brennaman, “This one belongs to the Reds!” Cincinnati Reds, reds.com.

In a Bengals season without many ups to complement the downs, fans would be excused for thinking all hope was lost when it comes to other teams taking the Bengals seriously. But in Week 14 of the 2019 NFL season, the New England Patriots, one of the most successful franchises in the NFL, were caught filming the Bengals’ sideline in their match-up with the Browns. The footage was taken by a Patriots production employee a week before the Pats and Bengals were set to face off. This caused a disturbance throughout the league, as any casual fan of the game need not be reminded about the 2007 “Spygate” scandal, when the Patriots were disciplined for filming the New York Jets’ sideline signals. And while the NFL and the media were in a frenzy over whether the Patriots were cheating again, Bengals fans were quietly and half-seriously rejoicing at the prospect of a dynastic team like the Patriots feeling the need to cheat in order to beat them. The Patriots quickly assured the NFL that the filming of the Bengals was merely accidental. In the end, the Patriots didn’t seem to need any kind of footage — they went on to beat the Bengals 34-13. Cincinnati Bengals, bengals.com.

Since being founded in 2012 by four Queen City residents, the Cincinnati Curling Club’s ranks now number over 100. And 2019 saw them get an official home of their own in West Chester, where they now offer a variety of programming related to the sport. Similar to shuffleboard, the game consists of competitors — in two teams of four players — guiding “stones” (large, weighted pucks with handles on top) with sticks called “brooms” toward the target, all on a rectangular sheet of ice. Between learn-to-curl classes and multiple leagues, Cincinnati Curling Club aims, above all, to spread their love for the niche sport. Cincinnati Curling Club, 5150 Duff Drive, West Chester, cincinnaticurlingclub.org. 

Want to get healthy? You’ve got to put in the work, regardless of your goal. Sure, you could get a decent gym membership for a fair price, but that comes with some baggage not everyone wants to lug (looking at you, gym bros — nobody cares about your gains). If you want to start to get into shape without having to fork over your hard-earned cash, check out Jacob Hoffner Park in Northside. Cincinnati Parks recently joined forces with the AARP for its 60th anniversary to install a FitLot Fitness Park, complete with a self-powered cardio stepper, elliptical, pull-up bars, chest and back press, parallel bars, a knee raise, hand cycle and more. It’s all free to use and open to the public. The Cincinnati FitLot was one of 15 installed across America in 2019 and the AARP’s goal is to place FitLots in communities in every state, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. If you don’t want to use the provided equipment, you can always run endless laps around the park’s playground, as long as you don’t run over any Northside kiddos — the neighborhood is groovy and open minded, but only to an extent. After your exercise session comes to an end, why not hit up Northside Tavern for a few pints to undo all your hard work? Jacob Hoffner Park, 4101 Hamilton Ave., Northside, cincinnatiparks.com.

Just outside of the Queen City in Clermont County is the Cincinnati Nature Center, over 1,700 acres of enchanting woodland, ponds and streams. Seriously, it’s like our own real-life Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, sans evil forces. Perhaps best known for their beautifully kept trails — which number nearly 20 combined miles — this peaceful gem is an ideal location to reconnect with the environment, bird-watch or learn more about local natural history and conservation efforts. If you’re tuckered out, or just want to laze the day away (no shame!), there is also a group of already-strung hammocks to cocoon yourself in. Or, if you fancy hanging your own, there are also designated stands in which do so. Either way, let the relaxation commence. Cincinnati Nature Center, 4949 Tealtown Road, Milford, cincynature.org. 

The Fowling Warehouse stretches over 46,000 square feet and boasts 30 total lanes of fowling, which is a unique combination of bowling and football. Here’s the deal: two teams set up bowling pins across from one another and take turns knocking each other’s pins down with a football. The Michigan-based franchise opened the Cincinnati location in 2019, making it the first spot not in the Great Lake State. Now Atlanta and Indianapolis also have their own warehouses. Guests can either reserve a lane, which costs $120 for two hours with up to 10 maximum players per lane, or they can enjoy “open play,” which requires no reservation and costs $10 per person. During “open play,” fowlers can play all night long — the winner remains on the lane and the loser must to get in line for another challenge. Fowling Warehouse Cincinnati, 2940 Highland Ave., Pleasant Ridge, fowlingwarehouse.com.

Loveland’s Mosaic Climbing is a multi-functional gym with modern touches and unique features that opened in the spring of 2019. The gym is the second business venture for owners Nicole Brown and Chris Shotwell, who also own Lexington’s LEF Climbing, the gym’s parent company. Mosaic is home to Ohio’s largest indoor climbing gym, with their tallest wall reaching over 50 feet. There’s a lot to love — the gym features geometric Walltopia walls for rope climbing and bouldering, advanced training amenities like a yoga studio, fitness room, co-working spaces and private event rooms. Mosaic offers day passes as well as membership plans with packages for youth, family and student options and fitness-only plans. Mosaic Climbing, 9501 Union Cemetery Road, Loveland, mosaicclimbing.com.

Sky Zone bills itself as the world’s first indoor trampoline park and Greater Cincinnati is home to two. Who says working up a sweat has to be boring? Bounce, flip and (hopefully) land in a pit filled with over 10,000 foam cubes. Or freestyle on their wall-to-wall trampolines. Make like Space Jam and score a slam dunk. Dodgeball? Check. Jousting? Also, check. It’s like recess — for kids and adults alike — but with extra-bouncy padding. Sky Zone, 7522 Beechmont Ave., Anderson Township; 11745 Commons Drive, Springdale, skyzone.com/cincinnati.

Dodgeball and archery may sound like a concept straight out of Hunger Games but hear us out: Archery Arena is all about a wholesome, family-friendly round of combat archery dodgeball. Never touched a bow and arrow in your life? No experience is necessary. The arrows are tipped with foam and players wear paintball masks and arm guards for protection, so you can rest assured your whole crew will walk away unscathed. Individual tickets start at $25 and several private/party packages are offered starting at $250 for up to 10 people. Archery Arena, 4950 Provident Drive, West Chester Township, archery-arena.com. 

Most years, the Bengals consistent losing is the source of endless consternation, but the 2019 season offered up something a little different — at a certain point, Who Dey Nation had to actually cheer for a loss in the hopes that the team would end the year with the league’s worst record and earn the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. But any Bengals fan with a heart had to do at least a little low-keep cheering for Jeff Lanham, owner of the Hog Rock Cafe in Milan, Indiana, who undertook the heroic (stupid? Heroically stupid?) mission of living on the roof of his bar and not coming down until the team won a game. One game. Lanham went up on the roof after the Bengals’ fifth straight loss of the season in early October, promising to remain there until their winless streak was broken. Even for the Bengals, of course, it was a losing season for the record books — Lanham spent Thanksgiving on the roof, but finally got to come down after the team beat the New York Jets in early December, mercifully ending their 11-game losing streak. Lanham’s 57-day stint wasn’t even the longest Bengals victory vigil. He just missed the record set when radio personality Dennis “Wildman” Walker similarly camped out on a billboard in 1991. Walker was on the billboard for 61 days after the team’s first loss that year until the Bengals finally won the ninth game of their season. Cincinnati Bengals, bengals.com.

Joey Votto remains the Reds most slyly funny player, but outfielder Derek Dietrich is the clear extroverted class clown. Dietrich became a fan favorite in 2019 in part due to his slugging ability, but also because of his playful antics. Last spring, a swarm of bees caused the start of a springtime afternoon game between the Reds and the San Francisco Giants to be delayed for 15 minutes as workers tried to remove the pests (yes, yes — they are very valuable creatures in our eco system but at baseball games they are pests). Dietrich did his part, running around the field dressed as an exterminator — or perhaps a Ghostbuster — and spraying… something (can’t imagine they’d give him actual poison). Once the bees were lured away by an actual beekeeper who just happened to be at the game, the Reds won handily — 12-4 was the final score. Surprisingly (given the popularity of superstitions in sports), the team didn’t attempt to bring back the bees for regular ceremonial game delays in an effort to recapture the magic. Cincinnati Reds, reds.com.