Saturday, August 29, 2009

Beisbol Pt VI: The Southside Sox

A beautiful day--but a hot one--for baseball at New Comiskey Park--US Cellular Field, aka "The Cell."
Sunday, August 9: The Chicago White Sox are meaner, dirtier, nastier, more in-your-face than their north-side rivals, the Cubs. That's the image that's cultivated, at least. The Cubs are the loveable losers--haven't won a World Series in 100 years. Hapless. Wait 'Til Next Year, over and over and over again.

Even when things go their way, the Cubs manage to drop the gold ring in the proverbial septic tank. The Sox don't seem to have any of that feeling of self-pity. Any year could be next year to them. They're a bunch of scrappers, led by manager Ozzie "Fuck 'em" Guillen, who demoted a pitcher to the minor leagues when he refused to follow his orders to throw at an opposing batter. Don't mess wit da Sox.

Trips to Cubbyland are full of warmth and giddiness and fellowship for the common cause of The Cubs. The neighborhood around Wrigley Field is packed with bars and restaurants with cute names like the Cubby Bear. A trip to see the Sox, if you listen to their detractors, is taking your life in your own hand. The South Side? That's filled with poor black people!

Wrigley Field, of course, has risen to near the top of the "must-visit" list for out-of-towners on summer vacation, right up there with the Museum of Science & Industry and the Sears Tower. You don't have to be a baseball fan to enjoy a game at Wrigley. . it's the experience of going there for a game in the sun that counts. Not so with the White Sox. US Cellular Field (aka "The Cell", another ironic appellation for a South Side venue) isn't likely to create warm, fuzzy feelings.

Opened in 1991, New Comiskey came just a few years too late to be part of the "retro Ballpark" era that has gripped stadium architecture for the past fifteen years. It's a nice park, mind you, functional and rather bare-bones. There's no fancy facade or notable feature to the playing field, no waterfall or zig-zagging outfield walls. It's been remodeled once already to improve its appearance and reduce seating, but it is rather sterile, one of its few concessions to its predecessor being a version of the famous "exploding scoreboard" from the days when owner Bill Veek tried everything--including Disco Demolition Night--to put butts in the seat. Even so, Veek's son Mike has said the new place has "everything but a soul." It is what it is. But, being baseball fans, how could we pass up a visit when the Sox were hosting the hapless Cleveland Indians?

Robert seems to be enjoying the packed ride on the Red Line more than Mary!

We met our former Fort Worth neighbors, Robert and Donna G., and their two kids near the Chicago River between Union and Northwestern stations. They'd moved to Crystal Lake, in the northwest suburbs, three years ago. Donna, a Texas native, misses the Lone Star State immensely. I think it has to do mainly with winter--as in, Texas doesn't have them, Chicago does. . and they last a helluva long time. Sharing sidewalk space with tons of teenagers and young adults headed for the Lollapalooza concert along the waterfront, we headed into the loop to catch the Red Line CTA subway south. (The Red line, incidentally, links both Wrigley and US Cellular ballparks--the only two major league parks connected by a common public transit route). By the time we reached our stop at 35th St, across the Dan Ryan Expressway from the stadium, the train had become packed. And outside, the temps were already climbing into the low 90s, the humidity making it damned near unbearable. Ah, the midwest in the summer! Nothing like it--even Texas.

Lots of invective hurled at Cubs fans on the Legacy Bricks lining the plaza at The Cell's main entryway. . .

We checked out the personalized bricks in the plaza outside the main entrance, and the sculpture commemorating the 2005 World Series title, and out of nowhere were beseiged by mascots--there must've been a dozen of them, from the White Sox as well as the Bulls, the Blackhawks, college teams, minor-league teams, teams of which I had no idea existed (the Cubs, in case you're wondering, do not have a mascot. That's more of that snooty North Side attitude about "tradition").

As the mascots frolicked around the hot and sweaty masses headed for the stadium entrance, the only thing I could think was: Jesus Christ, can you imagine how uncomfortable those poor bastards are inside those mascot outfits?

Good lord! They're everywhere! Any mascot you could imagine, except, thank God, the scary Burger King guy. . .

Large and In Charge with the Sox mascot, Southpaw. . .

And Mary danced with. . .well, I have no idea who the St. Bernard is.

Germaine Dye went 0-for-4, here fouling off another pitch. . .
The Cell
Here's the main beef I have with The Cell: They treat the upper-level ticket holders like the steerage passengers on the Titanic, but instead of keeping them locked in the lower level of the sinking ocean liner, they're instead banished through separate entrances to the upper reaches of the place, unable to access the amenities, activities, and perhaps snag an autograph during batting practice. You can't take your kids to the Baseball Fundamentals area, you can't see the half dozen statues of great White Sox, you can't even visit the Chicago Plumbing Council Shower. Nope, you're not allowed down below--hey, you rabble, get back up there! No Pro Shop for you!

Our seats were high above home plate. . .high, high, high, above home plate. The angle of the upper level stairs was so steep, you half expected to hook into a rope like a mountaineer. But the view WAS nice, and we lucked out being JUST under the shade from the overhead roof. The upper level concourse was cool and dark and in a couple locations called "rain rooms" water cascaded out of perforated pipes onto those below to keep them cool. I was kept amused by the snippets of organ music played by long-time organist Nancy Faust. I'm sure the younger fans had no idea that was "Norwegian Wood" played, for example, when a bat broke. My favorite was when Indians second-baseman Jamey Carroll came to bat accompanied by the old theme from the Carol Burnett Show. Obscure cultural references relevant only to baby-boomers!

The game? I must say that the luck we brought to the Royals didn't extend to the Sox. The White Sox went up 3-0 in the second before the Indias came back with four runs in the 5th, extending their lead to 6-4 in the 7th before nailing the door shut with two more runs in the 8th. Final: Indians 8, Sox 4, and 34,000 hot, sweaty Chicagoians headed for home. We let the crowds thin out a bit; I hoped to buy a t-shirt on the way out, but all the vendors had shuttered their doors as soon as the final out was called (betcha there were still open on the lower level!). We admired the great view of the city on the way out of the stadium, and the boys checked out the next-door parking lot, where the location of home plate at old "Kaminskey"Park was memorialized.

The boys cool off in The Rain Room. A thoughtful idea--something the Rangers should try out.

I. pretends to take a swing from the site of home plate at old Comiskey Park (1910-1990). . .

Downtown for Dinner
We all caught the CTA back to the city for dinner. Pizza, of course, since we're in Chicago. We transferred at Roosevelt Road from the Red Line subway to the El, then rode that to the north end of the Loop; from there, Robert navigated us using GPS on his phone and we walked the mile or so north up State Street to Uno Chicago, a sweltering trek. Sunday evening? Naturally, the place was packed--a two hour wait. A block away, though, was Pizzeria Due (apparently under common ownership with Uno), and we drained two pitchers of ice water while waiting 20 minutes for our seats. The deep dish was awesome.

We caught a taxi back to the Metra stations (narrowly avoiding an accident on Wacker Drive), bid Robert and Donna and their kids adieu, and lucked into an extra express back to Naperville, added to accomodate Lollapalooza traffic. To the west, lightning flashed from an approaching thunderstorm, but we fell asleep at Tom and Susan's before it hit.

We stopped sweating a moment for a family photo with the Chicago skyline. . .


Anonymous said...

Not surprised to hear it's not a warm-and-fuzzy experience in the upper deck.

I went to the Cell (when it was still "New Comiskey") with friends once, and had the responsibility of going and getting the tickets beforehand. Guy at the box office showed me the seats that were available in the outfield, and the ones in the upper deck. Upper-deck seats looked like the better location, so I said I'd take those.

Pause. The guy looked at me and said, "You do NOT want to sit in the upper deck." Bought the outfield seats.

Of course, the Sox have earned my undying enmity for turning the press box into luxury suites, while moving the press box waaaay down the line. Haven't ever been in either press box, but the idea alone just shows what weasels they are. (The Cardinals asked to do the same thing with their new park, but MLB said no. The Sox just did it in one offseason without telling anyone.)

-- David Lassen

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