This is a weekly feature in which I (and maybe you, too, readers) detail the various reasons for hating your ballpark. This week: The Chicago White Sox's U.S. Cellular Field.
Hard Cell: U.S. Cellular Field is the hideous ransom paid to the White Sox after they spent the late 1980s threatening to hie themselves to St. Petersburg. This was deemed a fate too awful to imagine — the franchise had been in Chicago since 1901, after all — even though it's in the natural order of things for cranky 80-year-old nuisances to slink off to some godforsaken spot in South Florida where they can be safely ignored. In any event, the taxpayers gave the White Sox their lame Royals Stadium ripoff, the last ballpark built before the retro craze and certainly the last time anyone thought the Royals a franchise worth imitating. In fairness, the stadium did feature several design innovations, chief among them the decision to place the farthest reaches of the upper decks somewhere near Aurora. No one much liked the place, which is why it has been in a constant state of self-mutilation from the moment the Sox snipped the ribbon. A vast five-stage overhaul began in 2001, when the stadium was 10 — 10 — years old. The White Sox: baseball's cutters.
Shining Armour: In 1989, as the White Sox mulled various stadium proposals, a Chicago architect named Philip Bess drew up plans for a ballpark in the spirit of what he called, in his book City Baseball Magic, "pragmatic idealism." The design of Armour Field was "governed by a concern that it be a genuinely urban building, constrained by its block, with an architectural presence, scale, and monumentality befitting its status as a public building," a true neighborhood ballpark. It was a wonderful proposal and looks even better today, after two decades of downtown baseball nostalgia palaces. "Camden Yards, Jacobs Field, and Pac-Bell are not 'neighborhood ballparks,' but rather 'downtown ballparks,'" he told one interviewer. "Many people in our culture have stopped thinking of cities as good and desirable places where people live as well as work, shop, and play. Instead, they think of cities as 'entertainment zones,' and of stadiums as 'anchors' for downtown entertainment zones. The goal has been to replace the tax revenues lost by the flight of middle class families from cities, to use public dollars to finance new ballparks in an effort to keep municipal services and governments afloat. But this seems to me a short-sighted solution. Better to make cities themselves livable again; and well designed smaller-scaled neighborhood ballparks can be a legitimate part of that strategy, and make money for team owners at the same time."
What happened next was everything Bess had sought to avoid. New Comiskey was thrown up in 1991, a suburban stadium dropped into an urban setting, uprooting 250 households, disrupting the street system, turning the old Comiskey Park into a parking lot and more or less gutting the old neighborhood of Armour Square. It's not clear if the White Sox ever seriously considered Bess' proposal. My guess is Jerry Reinsdorf took one look at a rendering and laughed himself out onto 35th Street. Bess never really had a chance, anyway. As Charles C. Euchner has written, the architect's proposal would've removed the buffer zone — a park — between black Armour Square and white Bridgeport, a politically influential neighborhood that has been home to five Chicago mayors, including the current one, Richard M. Daley. The Bridgeporters never would have allowed it, and so the ballpark that sprang up across from old Comiskey was, in many ways, a tribute to the characteristics of its surroundings: small-minded, hostile and all about clout. That, in Chicago, is a true neighborhood park.
The view from the stands (everything sic'd): "'The Joan' (labeled by a few after the horrendous Joan Cusack ad campaign put together by US Cellular in 2004) features a lower section, box seating and a top tier which has rarely ever been filled. About two months ago I watched as a young man fingered his girlfriend in the left field seats. Both were wearing jean shorts. Classy. Worst physical issue with the park: The top tier was designed by the same deity who created Mt. Everest. As you climb the staircase into the stratosphere just keep your eyes on the prize ahead of you, otherwise you might start to feel nauseous. Which reminds me of this story about the steepness of the park ... Rangers V White Sox 2005: Garland is pitching for his life while a girl who just turned 21 is getting puh-lastered four rows behind me. Her screeching is almost unbearable but when the game is finished one man was brave enough to give her a high five only to deke her out at the last second, causing her to fall over thee rows of chairs and come crashing into our backs. The end result was a boobie prize. Her tit popped out and she left the stadium in tears. I masturbated for days. Oh yes, did I mention the jean shorts? If you ask nicely I will email you my set of jean shorts around US Cellular Field. Believe me ... you're going to want these." (Jim O.)
"It's the 2007 season, I'm a White Sox season ticket holder in the upper deck. It's a Sunday night game for ESPN, 3rd inning or so, and we let some people returning to their seats pass by our group. One of the passing fans accidentally dribbles a couple drops of beer on the middle aged woman in the row in front of her. The woman turns around, and chucks an entire full cup of Miller Lite on me. I know it's Miller Lite because I could taste it, that's how much it was. Not knowing what happened, I assumed I spilled my own on myself (notice the theme here...drinking). This woman the whole game is hammering down beers as if Prohibition goes into effect the next day. At the end of the game, the woman leaves her email address on her ticket and mentions she is sorry for throwing a beer at me and I should email her for her tickets to a game later in the season. The email address ended in '@uchicago.edu'. Noticing she is far too old to be a student at The University of Chicago, I researched the name and address via Google to see if she was faculty. Not only was she faculty, she was a dean of students. Only in Illinois would this bribe be acceptable, Blago would have been proud." (Mark M.)
"white sox fans know their baseball. and any good white sox fan knows that most of the fans are rarely intelligent enough to find their own seat. during a 2008 indians/sox game, my friend and i took our nosebleed seats behind first base. a mother and her two bratty kids were sitting around two rows behind me, and the young boy-i think-was screaming his head off like a little girl everytime something even somewhat interesting happened. finally, an annoyed couple in front of me got fed up. the boyfriend turns around and says, "hey kid, why don't you give that one a shot once your balls drop?" the mother looks as if she's just been shot. a random drunk, cut-off t-shirt-wearing redneck throws himself at the guy and my buddy and i are left to witness the aftermath. the sox got hammered and i stayed sober, staring at my ticket stub. how much did i pay to sit here again?" (Evan)
"It's 1991, a good year for the Sox, new stadium, exciting team. My dad gets field level seats down the 3rd base line. A foul ball comes our way and the guy in front of me catches it. Someone in a group of guys in the row behind us asks to see the ball because there is some sort of special insignia on it since it's the stadium's inaugural year. As soon as the ball is handed over, the guy behinds me throws it to his buddy standing in the aisle who promptly runs away with the ball. This obviously incites the gentleman who caught the ball in front of me and he starts swinging at the guy behind me. This fracas goes on with me in the middle for about a minute before my dad and security can break it up and escort the combatants away. Guess who got their ass kicked: ME, BECAUSE I'M SIX YEARS OLD. Stadium staff quickly whisk me into the bowels of stadium to apologize profusely and bandage up my bumps and bruises. I still think we could've parlayed the whole incident into something bigger and gotten free season tickets or a copy of Big Hurt Baseball for Super Nintendo, but all I got was a baseball and an ice cream, so it wasn't all bad." (Mark H.)
"As a Cubs fan I can honestly say I would rather drown in a cesspool of smelly, creepy Cardinals and Brewers fans than spend 3 hours around Southsiders. Everything is about the Cubs. Everything. Especially when 'it's not about the Cubs.' They are most insecure, vindictive, petty sports fans I've ever been around. And that's counting hockey fans." (Drew)
"As a life long Sox fan, I'd say the easiest way to describe the Cell experience is to compare with that other Chicago team. Wrigley is old and falling apart. The Cell is new and full of modern amenities and a growing forest of bronze statues. Wrigley always seems packed. The Cell always seems half empty. Attendance was awful before the World Series and while it's gotten better, you can almost always get tickets on the same day as a game you want to see. Though you will pay like you're going to see a top ten team instead of a team that's come in 1st in the division four times since the Cell opened. Wrigley sits near one of the main centers of the gay community in Chicago. The Cell sits near some fairly harsh neighborhoods. And the fans... At the Cell our drunks aren't content to sit and look pretty while texting on their Blackberries and talking on the phone like the drunks at Wrigley. No, our fans rush out and beat the crap out of a Kansas City Royals first base coach. Our fans attack a first base umpire. At least once a month it seems like some asshat is delaying a game by running out on the field. If the Steve Bartman incident had happened at the Cell, he would have been torn to pieces and his head put on a pike over the front gate. In general, the fans are a reflection of Ozzie Guillen - foul mouthed, abrasive and a bit nasty at times but uniquely Chicago. Of course the best part about going to a game at US Cellular Field (besides wondering if you might get to see someone stabbed in the crowd or attacked on the field)? Not having to listen to the biggest homer announcer in all of baseball." (Sarah P.)
"I love the White Sox, but there too many fucking statues in and around the joint. The statue depicting DeWayne Wise's catch during Buehrle's perfect game is already being molded in Hawk's basement." (DomChota)
"We've all heard stories about the Vertigo Seats..consider this- When the Bears were rebuilding Soldier's Field- the most logical thing was to have them play at 'Sox Park' during the construction year ( After all the tax payers did pay for this place, and its in Chicago ). What did the Bears do? They avoided Sox Park like the plague & they shipped the Bears 2.5 hours South to The University of Illinois for every 'Home' game. Nothing like that "home feel" when you are being shipped to the middle of Illinois on a Saturday!" (Neal J.)
"First off, Sox fans, it's U-S C-e-l-l-u-l-a-r F-i-e-l-d. Not 'Cominsky Park,' not 'Cominsky's Field.' Not even Comiskey Park like the old days, but at least I can put up with that. Southside "Chicaaaahgoins" do tend to add an 's' on everything, but mostly to grocery stores for some reason. Jewel becomes The Jewels. Meier becomes Meier's. Soldier Field becomes Soldier's Field, but I digress. There seems to be a rule that no one can attend a Sox game unless their name is Tony, Tina, Vinny, Pauly, Lisa, or Marie. It's like a god damn Soprano's episode 'over dere.' It's AWESOME people watching, though. Tons of wife beater tanks and quarts upon quarts of hair spray which reminds me of my 1987 8th grade Jr. High yearbook. Just don't light a match. Lot's of green Southside Irish pride Sox hats to go 'round and the attitude to go with it. US Cellular is filled with anyone who has ever started a sentence with, 'Like I says' and 'Know what I'm sayin.' (No I don't, because you haven't started anything nearly resembling a sentence yet) They pull up in their Trans-AMs ready to raise hell. The park itself is a train wreck. An improved train wreck, but still a train wreck. They really missed the mark, as The Cell was one of the first of the new breed of ballparks in the 90's. Builders had to do a re-work on the upper deck steps well after many games played, because too many of you clumbsy 'yooz guyz' fell on their craniums with two beers in their hands. (They really tripped over their gold rope chains, in reality)The upper deck was way too steep. Ingenious planning. I miss the old days of Disco Demolition already at the old park. If you want decent food and cold beer go right ahead. If you want to fear for your life because of the shiteous neighborhood and lack of security be my guest. Leave your suburb SUV's at home and pull up in your IROC-Z or Fiero and you'll be just fine. You may get a fist bump or a shout out by one of the guys from youtube's 'My New Haircut.' See also: William Ligue Jr." (Craig H.)
"For some background, this was my first time to Chicago and the South Side so I had no idea what to expect. As I'm walking off the L with a buddy who made the trip, the first thing you notice is the smell. It literally smells like garbage as you're walking in. Why? Who knows, but WTF. Secondly, is the bathroom fight that took place. The bathrooms in the outfield have the urinals and stalls in a row next to each other with very little room to form a line. This causes confusion about who's next in line as no one knows if there's on singular line or a line for each stall. So, this sketchy gentleman, complete with the ratty shirt and cocked hat takes a place in front of a couple of us but directly in one of the stalls. He also has a shit-eating grin on his face like he pulled a fast one. Anyway, a stall opens up and he goes for it. Well, the gentleman directly in front of me also makes a play for the stall. They soon put their arms in front of each other as they angle for the open stall. Shoving ensues, yelling is abound but shit-eater wins. Well, would'nt you know, the stall next to him opens up and his adversary takes it. For some reason, he decided to talk shit to the shit-eater about the stall which took all of 30 seconds out of his life. Shit eater then steps it up and starts using insults you'd expect from drunk trailer trash: bitch, pussy, cocksucker, etc. The other man doesnt let up either and returns the favor. Shit-eater then reaches over the wall and starts punching the guy as they both spill out of their respective stalls.. All of this in front of children using the urinals who were almost collateral damage. Thank God a security guard decided to take a leak or else an actual fight might have taken place." (Michael M.)
"I used to attend games at the Cell often. Then I found a job." (Ryan S.)
Photo via statlerhotel's Flickr account.
Next up: The Minnesota Twins' Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Got any horrible experiences to share? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.