Commonly referred to as Chicago’s other baseball team, the American League White Sox reside at 35th Street and Shields and play at U.S. Cellular Field (Comiskey Park until 2003). While “The Cell” does not have nearly the romantic history of its rival in Wrigleyville or the “Old” Comiskey Park, it’s a vastly underrated ballpark.
Year Opened: 1991
Architect: HOK Sport
Dimensions: 330L, 377LC, 400C, 372RC, 335R
Playing Surface: Grass
Ticket Prices (2009): Premium Club Level, $53-$67; Club Level, $24.50-$67; Premium Lower Box, $53/$67; Lower Box, $19-$52; Lower Reserved, $17-$48; Bleachers, $16.50$47; Premium Upper Box, $13-$40; Upper Box, $11.50-$37; Upper Reserved, $9.50-$33
League: American League
Parking: You might want to take the El because parking could cost you up to $17 if you want to park anywhere close to the stadium. However, there are plenty of lots near the stadium and cops do a good job of directing traffic.
Address/Directions: 333 W. 35th Street, Chicago, IL 60616. From NW suburbs and O’Hare: Take I-90 or I-190 East ramp toward Chicago. Merge onto I-90/94 East and follow for about 17 miles to 94 (Dan Ryan Expressway), taking the local lanes. From SW suburbs and Midway: Take I-55 North toward Chicago. Take the I-94 East/Ryan Expressway Exit 294 toward Indiana. Merge onto I-94 East, taking the local lanes. From the Far North Suburbs and Milwaukee: Take I-94 East to 90/94. Proceed to 94 (Dan Ryan Expressway) local lanes. From the Western Suburbs: Take 290 East to 94 South (Dan Ryan Expressway) using local lanes. From the South: Take 57 East to 94 West. From all directions proceed to 35th Street exit once on Dan Ryan and follow signs.
When the day finally came for the ChiSox to build a new ballpark in the late 80s, those in charge were dealt the impossible task of bringing those memories from the old park across the street to a more modernized setting.
The “new” Comiskey Park opened in 1991 to a franchise record of nearly three million fans and drew reasonably well until the 1994 when the strike took the wind out the South Side’s sails. Every year since then, the ChiSox have been notorious for low attendance. Why? Well, nobody officially knows although there are plenty of theories.
Many believe the new Comiskey came a year early and that when Oriole Park at Camden Yards ushered in a new era of retro ballparks in 1992, the Sox’ facility quickly became an outdated structure. Some say there’s a lack of entertainment in the surrounding neighborhood and complain about the stadium’s steep and often vacant upper deck.
In 2001, the White Sox began renovating Comiskey Park in hopes of turning the stadium’s image around. The Sox again spent money in 2002 to improve the park.
On January 31, 2003, the White Sox announced a naming-rights deal with U.S. Cellular for $68 million to be spread over 20 years. To validate the deal to fans of the sacred Comiskey Park moniker, the franchise vowed to use that money only to remodel the ballpark. They began using the money immediately, spending $20 million that offseason installing a new videoboard and ribbon boards on the upper deck façade, while constructing a Fan Deck in centerfield. (These photos were taken before many of the changes took effect at the ballpark.)
So, after building the park for $137 million in ’91, has the $80 million poured into renovations been well spent?
Over the past five seasons, the bland and boring Comiskey Park has transformed into the architecturally attractive U.S. Cellular Field. And that’s just the outside. Inside the park, the Sox have added plenty of fan amenities and given the South Side a ballpark with it’s own personality.
The exploding scoreboard is obviously the Cell’s trademark feature and that hasn’t changed. The Sox toyed with idea of moving it to left or right field at one time but thankfully they haven’t. It’s prominence in centerfield is the best part of the stadium, not to mention you have a good view of it from anywhere in the park.
The Fan Deck is a great touch. Imagine this great big patio with all kinds of seating that sits high above the centerfield seating area. The view is great and fairly unique in baseball and the setting is perfect if you feel stuffy in your middle-of-the-aisle seats. At the bottom of the deck is a concession stand, so you aren’t too far from refreshing yourself with snacks or drinks.
Unfortunately, any seat at the Cell is pretty expensive, and I think this has more do with the team’s lagging attendance than the upper deck or lack of pre/post-game activities. If you want to sit anywhere in the lower bowl it’s going to cost you at least $24 and up to $67 depending on whom the team’s playing and what day of the week it is.
And that will only get you into the outfield bleachers. If you want your own seat in the lower bowl that will cost you $26 on the low end. The cheapest seat in the ballpark is $9.50 and it’s not all that great of a view from the top of the upper deck; half the time it’s empty and you’re just too far away to feel like a part of the action.
The other big catch with buying upper-deck seats is that you are doomed to spend the rest of your evening at that altitude, as you are not allowed to set foot on the lower concourse. This means that an upper-deck seat does not grant you access to the center-field fan deck, the Hall of Fame shop, the Rain Room and the plethora of great concession stands on the lower concourse. However, you do still get to enjoy the immensely popular FUNdamentals section.
I suppose that the ChiSox think that since the Cubs can get away with keeping bleacher bums in the bleachers, they can do the same with folks in the upper deck. And while logistically the Cubs have to, it doesn’t make sense for Sox fans in the upper deck to miss out on some of the fun, they already get a pretty bad view.
But if you happen to have the cash to get yourself a seat in the lower deck, not only are you granted access to nearly all of the Cell’s fan amenities, you get a great view no matter where you sit. The sight lines are fantastic and you’re right on top of the field. The lower deck concourses are wide and loaded with a wide variety of concession stands. Even on a packed night you don’t have to wait long to get what you want. Another plus is being able to see the action on the field from anywhere on the concourse.
The Cell’s facelift has pushed it into the upper half of ballparks in terms of respectability. Now, if they want to push their attendance figures in that direction, they should consider taking in a game at U.S. Cellular Field a bit more affordable.
The Cell offers a wide range of ballpark food from your traditional hot dogs, burgers and popcorn to Chicago-style pizza, beef sandwiches and sausage. The concession stands are named after former Sox greats including Luis Aparicio, Tony La Russa and the 1983 Winning Ugly White Sox. There is plenty of variety at the park, including desserts and coffee for those day-after-night games.
A tip for all you vegetarians: Head to the Fan Deck in center field to find some of the best veggie hot dogs and gardenburgers in the Majors. The best thing about the food is it’s extremely affordable by ballpark standards. Two people can eat pretty liberally for less than $20 and that’s saying something.
FOR THE KIDS
The FUNdamentals station in left field is a dream come true for any kid. The area is free of charge and offers plenty of baseball activities and instruction for kids including a speed pitch, baserunning station, a youth-sized diamond for instruction and batting and pitching cages. The souvenir shop/museum located behind home plate on the lower concourse is a nice touch. They have gear from every era of White Sox baseball including those hideous early 90s curly-c hats and collared jerseys from the late 70s to the immensely popular 80s “SOX” shirts. The “Rain Room,” another Bill Veeck invention that made the move across the street, on the outfield concourse is great for hot days and for little kids, a great place to rejuvenate hot and tired toddlers.
In 1991, “New” Comiskey Park was finished across the street from the original Comiskey Park, which had stood since 1910.
In 2003, the stadium was renamed U.S. Cellular Field and the franchise promised to use all of the money from the naming-rights deal into upgrading the stadium. By the beginning of the 2006 season, the stadium renovations were completely finished.
BEFORE/AFTER THE GAME
Cubs fans have Wrigleyville. Sox fans have tailgating. Unfortunately, there is no sprawl of bars near U.S. Cellular Field like there is near Wrigley Field. However, a trip north on the CTA red line and you’ll be in downtown Chicago in no time. A little further north on the red line to Addison and one could be so inclined to head to Wrigleyville, although expect to hear comments if you come wearing White Sox gear.