Itinerary: U.S. Cellular Field

Having already touted the greatness of the temple on the North Side, I’ll bring you a review of the White Sox’s home, which in many ways is the antithesis of Wrigley Field and I think Jerry Reinsdorf likes it that way. We ventured to the South Side on the Fourth of July, the day after we watched the pale-hosers drop the finale of a three-game set at Wrigley. This being our second of three days in Chicago we took in some sights at the Navy Pier (awesome, especially on the holiday) and the Museum of Science and Industry (underwhelming – go to the aquarium and Soldier Field instead) before setting out once again on the El for U.S. Cellular Field.

(Note: When asking locals for directions to this venue, don’t refer to it as Comiskey Park. You’ll be met with blank stares, or told to refer to it as “The Cell.” Pop abhors corporate naming rights and thought he’d be clever when we were trying to find our way from the Museum of Science and Industry to the park only to have no one know what the hell these two Californians were talking about.)

The approach

“The Cell” is much closer to where we stayed than Addison and Clark, so a short 15-minute ride had us there quickly (would have been quicker if not for a nice climb the train has to make on its way approaching from the north). You wouldn’t be able to tell from looking at photos (in fact, the only reason I know how old the place is, is because I’m a huge fan of the Major League film franchise and it was featured in the sequel … in 1994), but New Comiskey Park is already in its 20th year and looks like it has at least twice as much life left in it. Part of the reason may be a renovation that took place right after they ended an 88-year title drought in 2005, but the design and aesthetics remain intact. On the way to the game we encountered one of the structural engineers assigned to the job, who was taking his 6-year old son to his first baseball game ever.

There is ample on-site parking and that seems to be the way most of the crowd gets there as the lots were pretty much full by the time we arrived, about 90 minutes before first pitch. Parking is $23 onsite, so the El for $2.25 is your best bet. The Sox-35th Station has an extensive bike lockup too, so if you’re so inclined as to pedal, they’ve got you covered.

US Cellular Field was built on the same site as old Comiskey Park, I would say in the shadow of, but the original is long gone and the monstrosity that sits there now can only be described as “freaking huge” and casts its own. A nice touch is that the original location of the plate and batters’ boxes are restored in the parking lot, a mere 100 yards or so from the main gate (which underscores just how tiny old Comiskey truly was).

The ambiance

Heads-up Sox fans, this next part’s gonna sting. Your customer service sucks. Plain and simple. Pop purchased seats in the 500 level but was not notified (a) that 500 level seat holders cannot access any other concourse (this is a sort of gray area in that some parks allow nosebleed seat holders to mill around) and (b) that our seats, though on the aisle, were obstructed big time. A rail at the top of the tunnel blocked our view of the area from the mound to the right side of the infield. As fast as Mark Buehrle works, I still like to be able to see the wind-up, not to mention changes in defensive positioning.

OK, with that out of the way, back to Praise Mode. The prevailing attitude in building this place had to have been “Bigger is better,” and in many respects, it is. The concourses are humongous (we got to see the 100 level, but not access it, despite a haggling session between Pop and an usher who kept repeating the rule like a broken record (it was actually pretty funny), and the ramps leading to the higher concourses – all eight switchbacks – were at least 40 feet wide. Once on a concourse you can’t walk more than about 10 feet without a souvenir stand, beer stand, concession or restroom. Most of the stands near both foul poles on the upper concourse were closed, but once you got toward the infield we encountered stands for Comiskey Dogs, other assorted sausages, nachos, pizza, BBQ, cheese curds, chicken tenders, etc. Basically anything you can get at a Sonic drive-in or Dairy Queen, you can get at US Cellular, plus a lot more.

Pop was delighted to find a Comiskey Dog before the game and purchased his customary three souvenir sodas (not a huge fan of the carbonated drink, he collects the cups and promised a few to friends back home) before the game while I was overjoyed to find a stand that mixed varietals of Leinenkugel’s (a Wisconsin-based micro-brew).

The best way to describe The Cell’s architecture is that it’s caught in a timewarp. It came a year before Baltimore’s Camden Yards set the stadium architecture world on its ear with its retro design, spawning about half a dozen spinoffs. In terms of shape, the seating bowl is actually quite reminiscent of old and New Yankee Stadiums in a rounded “V.” There is a deck all along the outfield rimming the top of the bleachers foul pole to foul pole with another bar/party deck above the batters eye in centerfield. As previously mentioned, the place is big, the footprint has to be the biggest in the league, save for the big box parks like Chase Field and Minute Maid Park. Another odd quirk is the sections in the lower bowl are tiny – about 10 seats across, each. Seems like a lot of money is being lost by having concrete steps every 10 seats rather than every 30.

Pretty much the only area we could visit with our Proletariat Level seats – or hey, maybe we weren’t but that usher was totally looking the other way – was the Bullpen Bar in right field, just beyond the visitor’s bullpen. Seems a heckler could really do some damage if he or she had the special tickets that allow one to pass through the bar into the outdoor area. Adorning the walls in the bar are pieces of Old Comiskey memorabilia, including a row of old seats and a portion of Bill Veeck‘s original famed “exploding scoreboard.”

We got to the seats right at first pitch and save for a grub/beer run in the sixth (this trip got me addicted to cheese curds) we were there for the duration. Being that it was a Mark Buehrle start, the game went by quick, despite featuring nine runs, a reviewed homer and several pitching changes for the visiting Royals. It was fun watching the Chicago faithful lustily boo Adam Dunn (who had been in a slump) his first two at-bats then hail him as a hero after a two-run homer in the eighth to give the South Side the lead. The crowd around us was ½ interested in the goings on down on the field and about ½ interested in the post-game fireworks show that seemed imminent. Then the dastardly Royals threatened to prolong the game to end under actual darkness by tying the game in the top of the ninth, much to the chagrin of those paying attention. Then, one of the highlights of the trip: The Sox scored a 5-4 balk-off victory after Kansas City All-Star reliever Aaron Crow began his motion out of the stretch then stepped off, which plated A.J. Pierzynski, who had pinch-hit to start the inning.

When Pierzynski was announced I nudged Pop and said, “Look, look! Your favorite former Giant! They’re pinch-hitting him just for you!” … I’m certain Mr. Fan can’t print his response. (Editor’s note: Sure I can!)

For more on Chicago venues and things to do, check out our Chicago city guide.

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