Part XIII: U.S. Cellular Field
(AKA: Let’s Play Two Across States)
Because the Brewers game took a long time, I had to leave that game early. For the first time in about two decades, I actually left a game around the 7th inning stretch. At least I heard the rest of that game on the radio, only to have the Indians come back and win the game. Yeah, I’m glad I left that game early. Anyway, I made my way down I-94 across the state line from Wisconsin to Illinois and headed for the south side of Chicago. Traffic was looking bad and I had to take a couple shortcuts because the gridlock was simply too bad. Thanks to the AM radio and Google maps, I was able to make it to the park with about forty minutes to spare. I realized that I would not make it in time for batting practice, but I knew I could give this ballpark a good chance.
Ballpark 27: U.S. Cellular Field, elevation 596 feet
The game: Cardinals @ White Sox on July 22, 2015
When I arrived at what some people call “New Comiskey,” I was able to secure a good parking spot for $20. At least this was in one of the closer lots to the stadium, so the walk up only took a couple minutes. Much to my surprise, there was some tailgating going on here, too! There were a few corn hole games, and some other various games to keep the crowds entertained. This place had a neat feel to it, but I didn’t have the time to partake in any activities with the crowds.
Ticket prices: After the ticket pricing fiasco at Cleveland, I made sure to call in to the White Sox ticket office days in advance to ask about the number of tickets remaining, and the cost of tickets. Fortunately, the White Sox are not one of those teams to raise prices during game day, and their prices are not different at the box office. They stick with the traditional model that the prices you see online are the actual prices at the box office. Also, their customer service over the phone was very friendly, so thank you to them! With that said, the secondary ticket market here isn’t the best as not many tickets are sold after being bought. In fact, the best bet here is to get tickets straight from the ballpark! I got a single ticket directly behind home plate for $23, which was so much better than StubHub for this particular game. Oh, it was also fireworks night!
The food: When I entered the ballpark, I was told that I couldn’t enter the lower bowl area because of the big crowds down there. The ushers were fairly strict on this rule, so I was led to the upper concourse where there is a decent amount of food. Before buying any food, I checked in on my “At the Ballpark” app, only to find out that I won a coupon for $3 off an ice cream helmet. However, this wasn’t for the mini helmet… this was for the full-sized helmet with too much ice cream, and a souvenir helmet that would be difficult to pack away!
Since I didn’t opt for the giant ice cream sundae, and since I didn’t dare go for the rib bucket, there was nothing else on the list of “must-eat” foods that I was looking for at this particular ballpark. Thus, I ended up having a hot dog, which was decent. Right before the game, I also had a deep-dish pizza because you just have to while you’re in Chicago, right? Beggars Pizza is actually quite good as far as ballpark pizza goes.
The fans: The crowds were huge in the lower bowl for this game, but many of them were fans visiting from St. Louis. Yes, the Cardinal faithful wanted to see their team continue their winning ways, and a ticket to U.S. Cellular Field is not very expensive at all. This is not to say that there weren’t many White Sox fans, because those fans came out! To their credit, the southside fans can get rowdy and root on their team like nobody’s business. I can easily compare the White Sox fans to the Oakland fans. They can be rowdy and know their game, but realizing that the ballpark isn’t in the best part of town, they will take on a blue-collar approach to the game. It’s difficult to put the White Sox fan base into exact words unless you’ve actually been in the south side of Chicago, but I tried.
The sad thing about not being able to check out the lower bowl of the stadium was that I couldn’t check out all the statues in the lower level, but I could see plenty of pictures of them all around, and they look pretty neat. At least in the upper bowl, there is still a good food selection and a great view of… the Dan Ryan Expressway and housing projects. This isn’t exactly an ideal setting, but at least there’s deep-dish pizza!
The game: Making it to my seat in time for the anthem, I had a feeling this wouldn’t be a near four hour game like the one I left early in Milwaukee. The pitchers for this game were John Danks and Lance Lynn. While Danks has a decent ERA with a good fastball, Lance Lynn has excellent numbers, strikes out batters at a good ratio, and works quickly. Almost as if it was on cue, both pitchers got off to good starts. John Danks really settled down after the first inning, and Lance Lynn got out of a jam in the third. Through four innings, both pitchers only allowed two hits in a scoreless tie. This game was moving at a fast pace and I thought we could possibly be done in 2 and a half hours!
During the first few innings, I got a good look at the number of fans in attendance, and it was much bigger than I anticipated. I had seen several White Sox games on TV, and the crowds usually looked fairly empty, so this big crowd was a nice surprise, and it was great to see all the fans around. The best surprise was seeing two couples in front of me both with newborn babies. The couples talked to each other once in a while, and it turned out that both babies were attending their first-ever baseball game! So many people (and ushers) passing by commented on how cute the babies were, it was pretty adorable! Yes, the White Sox fans were great all around, but I also give credit to the amazing Cardinals fans I met there. Upon mention of my trip, every person said how great new Busch Stadium is. Yes, I was saving that place for last, but I didn’t want to enter with super-high expectations. Like just about every ballpark on this tour, I didn’t want to let other fans sway any expectations I had about a stadium before visiting it.
John Danks allowed two hits in the top of the 5th, but quickly worked out of that jam. In the bottom of that frame, Lynn struck out two more batters, and we were still at a scoreless tie after five innings. At this time, I remember seeing a sign from the upper concourse team store that the team mascot was going to make an appearance during that time in the middle of the game. Immediately after that third out of the inning, I made my way to the team store… which was right behind where I was sitting! There was only me and one other person there at the time who wanted a picture. A minute later, I had met this odd-looking mascot with cool pinwheel buttons, and got an awesome picture!
I got back to my seat just in time for the first at-bat of the inning. The bottom of the 6th inning finally had some real fireworks as the White Sox struck first and took a 2-0 lead off RBIs from Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera. After that, the Sox left two crucial men on base and failed to blow the game wide open. Soon after that, it was time for the 7th inning stretch where the fans were jovial and enjoying the lead… at the time. During this stretch, the exploding scoreboard in center field finally showed some action. However, I noticed that the dancing lights around the scoreboard weren’t all functioning properly, which was a shame. I know part of the charm of U.S. Cellular Field is the exploding scoreboard, and to see all the lights not working was a slight downer.
Back to the game, the Cardinals threatened in the top of the 8th inning with Zach Duke now pitching for the pale-hosiers. He gave up a single and drilled Matt Holliday (who left the game after being hit by a pitch) before having Jason Heyward reach on a catcher’s interference?!? David Robertson entered the game to try and get a 4-out save, but it didn’t happen. One pitch changed the entire game as Yadier Molina drilled a solid triple to right field scoring all three base runners. Trevor Rosenthal would get the save to give the Cardinals another win and extend their lead in the NL Central. Needless to say, the Cardinals fans were very enthusiastic about this win.
At least the White Sox put on a tremendous fireworks show set to the music of one of my favorite films of all time, “Back to the Future” for the whole show! I’ve always loved the soundtrack to that trilogy, and watching this show gave me goosebumps. This was a job very well done by the White Sox. After fireworks and pictures, I made my way to the team store, the Chicago Sports Depot. This two-story souvenir-fest has everything a Sox fan could possibly want. Classic jerseys, discounted hats, and a fantastic staircase among other things. I wanted to spend so much money in that store, but I’m not much of a White Sox fan, and I never saw any wool jerseys from the 1919 White Sox days. However, I did find a wool Sox cap from that same time era! I jumped on this hat immediately, especially because of another place I’d be traveling to later on this tour. Besides, I think this is one of the coolest looking classic caps out there. I’ve wanted this cap for a while, and was happy to see it at the store for $36.
Before leaving new Comiskey, I thought I would pay a visit to the spot where home plate was at old Comiskey Park. There is a nice marker in the parking lot that shows where home plate was from 1910 to 1990. This is very close to where the main team store is located, and it isn’t too difficult to find. I’m glad I was able to check all that stuff out. Overall, this isn’t too bad of a ballpark. The surrounding neighborhood can understandably turn many fans away, but the park itself is a good place to watch a game. The prices are more than fair, and there aren’t that many stadiums where the premium lower box seats are less than $100. Their Sunday games are an especially great deal for fans. So if you’re in town and the White Sox are playing, why not check out a game? Again, thank you all for reading… see you at the ballpark!