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03/23/07 7:10 PM ET

Cincinnati eager for Opening Day

Davis named grand marshal for Findlay Market Parade

SARASOTA, Fla. --- No city does Opening Day like Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati Reds were baseball's first professional franchise, founded in 1869. Baseball is woven deeply into the city's culture and identity. There's no better evidence of its meaning locally than the annual Findlay Market Parade, which has been an Opening Day staple for nearly a century.

"It's known around the country that Opening Day in Cincinnati is different than anywhere else," said Neil Luken, the parade's chairman. "Opening Day in Cincinnati has become an event that's more than just the game."

The 88th edition of the Findlay Market Parade is slated for Opening Day, April 2, at 11 a.m. ET. The route begins at the market's location on Race and Elder Streets in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, heads downtown towards Fountain Square and ends at Fifth Street and Broadway.

Former Reds great Eric Davis is this year's honorary grand marshal. Former players Tom Browning and George Foster also will be taking part. The Reds are one of the Findlay Market Parade's sponsors.

Following the parade, many fans will head to Great American Ball Park to watch the Reds play the Cubs at 2:10 p.m.

"It's a tradition that is the first rite of spring," Luken said. "It's an event that is more than a game or a parade -- it's all about Cincinnati and our history."

Findlay Market, Ohio's oldest continuously operating public market, was founded in 1852 and features an eclectic mix of produce, meats, flowers and exotic foods for sale. The first Findlay Market Parade was held in 1920 to celebrate the Reds' 1919 World Series championship that came against the White Sox.

"Back then, it was more like a pub crawl," said Luken, who runs a butcher shop at Findlay Market and has been involved with the parade for 25 years. "The players also participated. Everyone walked down the street to old Crosley Field. The players lived in Cincinnati and were part of the community."

For most of the 20th century, the Reds' first-team status earned them the honor of playing the first National League game of each season. During recent seasons, other teams have played the first game, but the Reds still get to open at home each year.

Therefore, everyone in Cincinnati has a perpetual date to count on -- the first Monday of April every year is reserved for baseball and the parade.

Once during the players' strike of 1994-95, they didn't even need the game. The start of the 1995 season was delayed, but organizers held the parade anyway and still had a good turnout.

The 2007 Findlay Market Parade will have 178 entrants totaling hundreds of people taking part, including 18 marching bands and 25 floats. There also will be drill teams, classic cars and local dignitaries. Thousands of locals are expected to line the route to watch.

The event is entirely non-profit and relies on volunteers. The parade committee is formed by 10 people who organize and prepare year-round. About 100 volunteers will work on the day of the event. Financially, the expectation is to cover all costs and break even.

Luken, who is not related to former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken, said the parade is the longest running yearly event open to the public in the city's history.

"It's a Cincinnati thing," Luken said. "New England has Patriots' Day. Our local, so-called holiday is Opening Day and the Findlay Market Parade."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.