Cellular sells quality at a steep price
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

Editor's Note: This is the 19h report card in Page 2'ssummerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.

CHICAGO -- A t-shirt I saw on several White Sox fans reads, "I STILL call it Comiskey.''

U.S. Cellular Field
Capacity: 47,098
Opened: April 18, 1991
Surface: Grass

Our Ratings:
Seat comfort: 4
Hot dogs: 5
Concessions: 4.5
Signature food: 3.5
Beer: 4
Bathrooms: 3.5
Scoreboard: 4
P.A. system: 4
Fun stuff: 4
Souvenirs: 3
Tickets: 1.5
Exterior: 2.5
Interior: 4
Access: 4
Ushers: 3.5
Trading up: 2
Fan knowledge: 5
7th inning stretch: 3
Local scene: 1
Wild card: 8

Total: 74

I feel the same way. Charles Comiskey was one of baseball's most notorious bastards, the Jeffrey Loria of his day. The Black Sox scandal never would have happened had Comiskey paid his players decently. When the standard meal money allowance was $4, he gave his players $3. He promised them a bonus for winning the 1917 pennant but gave them only cheap champagne instead. He paid Joe Jackson $6,000 ("Don't spend it all in one place, dummy''). He promised Eddie Cicotte a $10,000 bonus if he won 30 games, then benched him when he got close to the mark.

He's the sort of owner who makes Jerry Reinsdorf look like Mark Cuban.

And I still would rather call the stadium after Comiskey than a corporation that paid for the naming rights. And that's exactly how I will refer to it.

The last stadium built before the retro-park era began, Comiskey Park has a bad reputation. While North-side fans talk lovingly of the ivy and the bleachers and the Friendly Confines at Wrigley Field, Comiskey is known mostly for its ridiculously steep upper-deck, for the way Reinsdorf blackmailed the state into building it and for being built just before Camden Yards ushered in the retro-ballpark era.

Nobody writes poems about Comiskey Park.

That's typical. The South Side always gets neglected. But the truth is, Comiskey is actually a darn nice place to watch a ballgame. Not that many people notice. Two nights after more than 50,000 fans paid $200 and more to watch the All-Star Game here, maybe 10 percent of that number showed up for the first game of the second half. True, a three-hour rain delay had a lot to do with it, but attendance is usually so low they can go through the stands and sell raffle tickets.

That's why I hope the White Sox can stay in the race and generate some excitement. It's about time someone remembers there are two teams in Chicago.

The ratings:

1. Knowledge of local fans: So help me, I'm not making any of this up.

My friend Scooter and I arrived at the Comiskey Park El station just as the Chicago skies turned black and the heavens opened in a torrential rainstorm that resulted in the longest, dreariest rain delay I've ever experienced.

It was so long that the grounds crew covered the infield four times ... BEFORE THE FIRST PITCH! The decision-makers were so determined to get this game in that they sent some poor woman out to sing the national anthem ... while it was raining! The grounds crew was in the middle of rolling the tarp onto the field when she started, so they had to stop, stand in the pouring rain, wait for the woman to finish singing, and then resume covering the infield.

So, after a three-hour rain delay, with perhaps 3,000 dedicated fans still in the stands, the White Sox finally took the field and the game began. And after starter Bartolo Colon went 3-0 on the fourth batter he faced, the man in front of us yelled, "Get him out of there!''

U.S. Cellular Field
The game is finally underway after all the rain.
And he was right. Colon was awful. He threw 43 pitches in the first inning and took 27 minutes to finally retire the Tigers.

It was a miserable night for the White Sox. When beleaguered manager Jerry Manuel, barely clinging to his job at the time, finally trudged to the mound for a pitching change in the seventh inning, the fan yelled, "Dead man walking!''

I tell you, these folks know their baseball. Points: 5

2. Ticket price/availability/location: At 29,028 feet, Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. It takes weeks for climbers just to reach the base camp and adjust to the altitude. At 25,000 feet, climbers reach the death zone, where the air holds only a third the normal oxygen levels, leading to impaired judgment, headaches, nausea, double-vision, hallucinations and possible pulmonary and cerebral edema. Temperatures can plunge to 40 degrees below zero with 125-mile-per hour winds. Those who die on the mountain are left where they fall because moving the bodies is too difficult.

The highest, most remote point on earth, however, is the top row of the upper deck at Comiskey Park.

You want to know why White Sox attendance is so low? Buy a seat in the upper deck and you won't wonder any longer. The lower level seats are all very good but they also are all very expensive. Like all the tickets. The lowest price anywhere at the stadium is $14. And that doesn't include the Sherpa fees.

The only saving grace is the availability of scalpers. I got a $29 seat for $10 within 10 steps of the El station. But if the Sox want to increase attendance, Reinsdorf might want to consider lowering their prices. 1.5

3. Seat comfort: Is it just me, or do seats always feel especially comfortable when you're suffering from vertigo? 4

4. Quality of hot dogs: As high as the ticket prices are, the concession prices aren't that bad. And best of all, hot dogs sell for $1 on Thursdays (kosher dogs are $2.50). It's Chicago baseball's biggest bargain next to Esteban Loaiza.

Reinsdorf must not know about this. 5

Here's what Page 2's Jim Caple spent during his day at U.S. Cellular Field:

El tickets: $3

$29 ticket from scalper: $10

Steak sandwich: $5

Chicken sandwich: $5

Hot dog: $1

Funnel cake: $3.25

Beer: $4.75

Soda: $2.25

Total: $34.25

5. Quality/selection of other concession-stand fare: There's a wide variety -- steak sandwiches, meatball sandwiches, cheeseburgers, funnel cakes, etc. -- but what makes the concessions stand out is that all the stands are named for a past or present White Sox player. Joe Jackson, Ed Walsh, Billy Pierce, Chico Carrasquel, Dick Allen, Bill Melton, Ozzie Guillen and Harold Baines all get their due.

Can there be any greater honor than having a bratwurst stand named after you? I think not. 4.5

6. Signature concession item: As near as I can figure, the signature item is cholesterol. 3.5

7. Beer: There isn't a great variety, but you can get a bottle of Pilsner Urquell for $4.75. When I saw those prices, I wanted to drink so much that Scooter would have to hold me down to prevent me from attacking the third base coach. 4

8. Bathrooms: As Scooter and I linked up with the Sherpas near the upper deck's top row, we had one very disturbing thought. If we had to go to the bathroom, we would have to hike all the way down the stairs and then climb all the way back up.

I kept it to just one Pilsner Urquell. 3.5

9. Scoreboard: Bill Veeck is most famous for putting ivy on the walls at Wrigley, but he also was responsible for the great exploding scoreboard at the original Comiskey Park. The new one isn't as impressive as the old one, but it incorporates the old distinctive pinwheels and has a fine video board. 4

10. Quality of public address system: The sound quality is very good and I give the Sox an extra point for their p.a. announcer, Gene Honda. He isn't Bob Sheppard but I've always appreciated his style. 4

11. Fun stuff to do besides the game: You mean other than attacking the first base coach when he has his back turned?

Here's something more clubs should do. The Sox offer baseball clinics before the game, though it apparently was cancelled the night we were there and replaced by swimming lessons in the parking lot.

There also is a "rain room'' behind the bleachers, where fans can stand and cool off in a wet mist during hot games. Oddly, there wasn't a line for this feature during the rain delay. 4

12. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: The selection was fine but the prices were a little questionable. I mean, $25 bobbleheads are one thing but the $20 Paul Konerko nesting dolls definitely are over the top. 3

U.S. Cellular Field
It's a long, long way down from the upper deck.
13. Exterior architecture: Well, it's big and offers a fine view of the Dan Ryan Expressway. I mean, couldn't they at least have put up a Michael Jordan statue at the entrance? 2.5

14. Interior architecture: I miss the arches of the old park, but the rest of the ballpark looks much better than its reputation would lead you to believe. The concession stands are nicely designed, and you can walk all the way around the lower concourse and see the game.

That is, you can if you buy a ticket in the lower level. 4

15. Trading-up factor: Given the conditions, we not only were able to sit anywhere we wanted (close enough to smell the players passing gas), the Sox announced that everyone at the game would be given a free ticket to an upcoming game. Now, that's customer service.

On the other hand, if you sit in the upper deck, not only are you subjected to some of the worst seats in baseball, you are not allowed into the lower level. The White Sox started this policy in reaction to the drunk fans who attack players and coaches on the field, which is just a kneejerk response to the problem and a stupid one at that. Fans in the lower level are just as capable of getting violently drunk as those in the upper deck -- maybe moreso, since the upper deck is often filled with families trying to save some money.

If you really want to stop fans from running onto the field, don't punish the fans -- position more guards on the field and stop selling beer earlier. 2

16. Friendliness and helpfulness of usher staff: By the end of the game around 1 a.m., there were so few fans left that everyone could have had their own personal usher. 3.5

Grades for ballpark we've visited so far on our summer tour:

Pac Bell (Giants): 93
Camden Yards (Orioles): 92
Edison Field (Angels): 84
Kauffman Stadium (Royals): 84
Wrigley Field (Cubs): 84
Dodger Stadium (Dodgers): 82.5
Comerica Park (Tigers): 82
Fenway Park (Red Sox): 81.5
Safeco Field (Mariners): 81.5
Jacobs Field (Indians): 81
Turner Field (Braves): 81
Pro Player Stadium (Marlins): 78
U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox): 74
Yankee Stadium (Yankees): 73.5
Bank One Ballpark (D-Backs): 72
SkyDome (Blue Jays): 67
Qualcomm Stadium (Padres): 58
Tropicana Field (Devil Rays): 56
Veterans Stadium (Phillies): 53.5
Olympic Stadium (Expos): 49

Complete rankings by category

17. Access: The red El line takes you right to the stadium -- it should actually be called the baseball line because you can ride it to Wrigley as well -- and there is plenty of parking. Unfortunately, one of those ramps is built directly on the old stadium site. If something is going to be built over themer Baseball Palace of the World, it should only be einsdorf's tomb. 4

18. "Take Me out to the Ballgame" moment: If singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame'' at Wrigley is akin to performing at Carnegie Hall, this is like playing on the street corner with your guitar case open for spare change. 3

19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: You're kidding, right? Not only is there nothing around the stadium, it's even difficult to get a cab to come and pick me up -- especially if you're working and need to file a story after a game at Comiskey Park. 1

20. Wild Card: Wow. Only 66 points so far? This place deserves better. So here's a point for the Sox uniforms that the grounds crew wears, here's another point for naming a concession stand after Bill Melton, here's another point for organist Nancy Faust, another point for the free ticket offer, and four points for the South Side always getting the shaft when people talk about Chicago baseball. 8




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