Welcome to the first installment of Ninety Feet From Home, where I review each MLB ballpark.
Six categories will be evaluated with a low score of 1 to a high score of 10 based on my experience, relative to overall quality and not any other ballpark. They will then be weighted accordingly to produce a score with respect to 100.
Why the weighting? Because something like food is not as important as architecture or fan relations in my opinion.
For the mathematically inclined, my equation:
where L is location, P is Parking, Ar is architecture, Am is amenities, F is food, and FR is fan relations.
U.S. Cellular Field
Home of the Chicago White Sox, U.S. Cellular Field opened in 1991 (as Comiskey Park) at 35th street and Shields with a loss to the Detroit Tigers 16-0. The last stadium built before Oriole Park at Camden Yards (by the same firm, HOK), it has undergone extensive renovations to make it less “sterile.” It has since hosted the 2003 All-Star Game and Games 1 and 2 of the 2005 World Series.
Location – 3/10
Located on the south side of Chicago right off the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94), U.S. Cellular Field is surround by parking lots and Chicago Housing Projects. You are allowed to tailgate when the lots open, and that’s really your best bet to do something before entering the ballpark.
Recently, the White Sox have opened Bacardi at the Park, a two-story bar that is near Gate 5 on the north side of the park (north of 35th street). Entering it during the game, however, is not allowed as it is technically not connected to the park.
Parking – 2/10
As stated above, lots basically surround the immediate vicinity of the park. Parking is ample but expensive at $23 (which, as far as I know, is the second highest in baseball). Your best bet is to take the Red Line to the 35th Street stop and walk to the stadium. Street parking around the park is basically not available (unless you have a parking permit).
Architecture – 5/10
Much improved since opening in 1991. Rows were cut from the upper deck and a frieze was added, giving the stadium a nice “retro” look. The field can be seen from anywhere around the lower concourse, but naturally it is blocked off while walking the upper.
A fundamentals deck for the kids was added above the left field concourse in the outfield, as was a fan deck above the batter’s eye in dead center field (which can obscure the clock and Jumbotron if you decide to sit in the outfield). The view is of the “beautiful” I-90/94 expressway, so if you enjoy trucks and cars moving, you’ll love it; otherwise, it’s not much to look at.
“The Cell” does not make you feel like you’re near the players; the first row in the upper deck is reported further from home plate than the last row of the Old Comiskey Park. All views are unobstructed, with exceptions to those sitting near the fair poles.
Amenities – 5/10
For a franchise with as much history as the White Sox (dating to 1901 as a charter franchise of the American League), any history before the 1919 Black Sox is virtually non-existent. Banners celebrating the 1906 and 1917 Championships and the 1919 AL Championship are hanging on the rafters.
There is a Hall of Fame, but it’s a glorified Mitchell and Ness store and is connected to the main team shop on the main concourse.
The Fundamentals Deck in the outfield is nice for the kids, but it’s only for kids, as they won’t even allow you up there without one.
The Bullpen Sports Bar in right field features ephemera from White Sox history and a full service bar. It’s a great bar – except you remove yourself from the stadium experience entirely while there; however, it is recommended if it’s really cold or really hot (it’s climate controlled).
You can sit right behind the warning track, but that requires being in a prepaid party. I’ve done this and it’s a mixed bag; the perspective is definitely unique (you’re standing field level, if not below), but you are cloistered in the area and not getting that ambiance.
Another option is to get there early and pay an additional fee to sit outside and above the bar itself in the front rows of right field – probably your best bet if you can swing it.
There are four statues in the outfield in dead center featuring Frank Thomas, Charles Comiskey, Billy Pierce, and Carlton Fisk, which is a nice nod to past White Sox greats. To commemorate the two home runs hit in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, the White Sox left the seats where each landed blue (all other seats were changed to green). Konerko’s is in left field in section 159 (next to the bullpen), while Podsednik’s is in Section 101.
Outside of the stadium, near Gate 3, there is an area dedicated to the 2005 World Championship. This is one of the nicer World Series recognitions featured in any ballpark; however, you can miss it if you park in the southern lots. Some artifacts are located right behind home plate – in the Scout Seats that cost about $200 a game. Needless to say, I’ve never been there.
Food – 5/10
Run of the mill stuff. Typical ballpark offerings of hot dogs and beer. Connie’s pizza is available around the park. It’s decent and intrinsic to the area, but there are better pizza places in the city to feature. I personally would recommend having a churro, as only here and the west coast parks (Petco and Dodgers) seem to feature it.
Fan Relations – 1/10
I’d give it a zero, but there is some flexibility if you know the (really unfair) rules. Back in 2003 two people in the stands ran out on the field and attacked Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. The White Sox reaction to this was to increase security around the field (smart) and keep anyone not having a lower level ticket (a 100 number) out of the main concourse (stupid).
For the rest of 2003, that’s fine. It’s 2012 and they’re still doing it. That, for someone only going to the stadium once, is inexcusable. The lower concourse has more food options and better shops (including a better team shop). Within this paradigm, getting a better seat is fairly easy. As long as it’s not packed (which it usually isn’t), you can move about the upper deck freely.
The lower deck is a bit trickier, but still within reason. When the usher walk down to the front of the section in between innings, follow them and take a seat in the section. I’ve done this before and been fine.
Forget about going to the 200 (club) level, as they will check your ticket. (This is common practice in almost all ballparks). Unfortunately, this is where the World Series Championship trophy is located. Ushers seem to vary between geriatrics and teenagers, with one not being able to understand your questions and the other not caring to answer them, respectively.
Overall – 37/100
It was an average stadium to start, but with all the new stadiums being built, it has consistently slipped. Facing downtown Chicago would’ve helped, but that can’t be changed now. However, it would be nice if they added some additional Chicago-centric food options, a local brewery (3 Floyds?) and a dedicated Hall of Fame area somewhere would do greatly to help this stadium.
As always, comments and feedback are welcome!