No one who has been reading this blog will be surprised when I say that I’ll be spending a lot more of my baseball time and money at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, than at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the city’s other major league team, the White Sox.
I have loved going to games at Wrigley, a quaint baseball antique, since I attended my first game there nearly 30 years ago, so much that somewhere along the way I started rooting for the Cubs. The Cell, as the successor stadium to the Sox’ old Comiskey Park is known, opened in 1991 and seriously lacks the charm that makes the nearly century-old North Side ballpark a major tourist attraction.
Then there is the convenience factor. It is sheer coincidence that we ended up moving so close to Wrigley Field, but I can take a leisurely 15-minute stroll there and go to a baseball game. Or I can walk one block short of Wrigley, get on the Red Line train at the Addison stop, and take a 10-mile schlep through downtown to Sox Park (a tag favored by many over the tongue-tying name that resulted after the U.S. Cellular phone company bought the naming rights years ago).
If I hadn’t arrived in Chicago pre-packaged as a Cubs fan, the easy access to Wrigley Field probably would have been the tipping point.
But now I’m going to say something that some might find shocking. I do not hate the White Sox, although I may be required by statute to do so if I want to call myself a Cubs fan for the rest of my life.
And I had a nice time at this year’s first U.S. Cellular experience, Saturday’s game in which the White Sox defeated the Detroit Tigers, 5-1 (though admittedly this was enhanced by the fact that it was a field trip organized by the Michigan State University Alumni Club of Metro Chicago and I was surrounded by fellow Spartans, most of whom grew up in or near Detroit and were rooting for the visiting team).
U.S. Cellular Field was the last conventional, big-old-ballpark built before Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles’ stadium that opened in 1992, became the template for the more compact and idiosyncratic “retro” stadiums based on old-timey places such as Wrigley and Boston’s Fenway Park. Located at 35th and Shields streets on the South Side, it looms large over the adjacent Dan Ryan Expressway.
There is a big banner on the side of the stadium that salutes the World Series championship that the White Sox won in 2005. Granted it was the team’s first crown since 1917, and the crosstown rival Cubs are still nursing a historic streak of no championships since 1908 (and not even a trip to the World Series since 1945). But there are some folks who believe the Sox and their fans remain a little too fixated on an event that occurred seven years ago now: Ben Strauss of the ChicagoSide sports site has an interesting perspective in his piece, “Excessive Commemoration at US Cellular.”
But the Cell makes up at least somewhat for its charm deficit with a few more creature comforts than Wrigley. The seats are a bit more comfortable, the aisles a bit wider. There are fewer seats with bad sightlines, in part because, unlike Wrigley, there are no steel support posts to create obstructed views. These are among the reasons why Mrs. B — who is naturally inclined anyway to favor the Sox because she grew up in a family of the team’s fans in a town south of Chicago — prefers to go to games at U.S. Cellular than Wrigley, much as it breaks my heart to admit that.
Sox Park has been known since it opened for having one of the better food concessions among major league ballparks, and the selection of beers, including some nice craft brews, is much wider than at the Cubs’ field.
That said, the Cell is a big place and you are likely to feel farther from the action than at the Cubs’ little bandbox. Our seats in the lower level in the left field corner were perfectly acceptable, but felt really far from home plate. The following, which shows Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd throwing to Tigers leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, was as close as I could get even with my telephoto lens maxed out.
We did have a good view of the outfield play. Here’s Jackson settling under a White Sox fly ball in the early going.
Floyd ended up picking up credit for the win by containing a powerful Detroit lineup that includes the massive Prince Fielder, the slugging first baseman who they lured away from the Milwaukee Brewers with a huge contract this past off-season.
Floyd pitched six shutout innings, holding the Tigers to three hits and striking out six batters. He did have to weather some control problems, as he walked three Detroiters and hit three more with pitches.
The Sox are hardly tearing the cover off the ball — they rank 19th in batting average and 24th in run production among the 30 major league teams — but decent pitching and some timely, if very occasional, hitting has them at 5-3 in the early season going, even after the Tigers — the team widely favored to win the American League Central Division that they share with Chicago — salvaged one of the three games in the weekend series with a win on Sunday that put them back in first place with a record of 6-3.
The White Sox on Saturday got three solo home runs, from shortstop Alexei Ramirez, backup catcher Tyler Flowers, and veteran star first baseman Paul Konerko, seen here completing his tour of the bases.
Meanwhile, Adam Dunn chipped in with a double in four at-bats…
… though his performance in the season’s first week has hardly quelled concerns about the multi-multi-million contract to which the team signed him prior to the 2011 season. After averaging about 40 home runs and 100 runs batted in per year from 2004 through 2010 playing for the Cincinnati Reds, Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals, Dunn was a colossal flop in his first season with the Sox, batting .159 on the season with 11 home runs and 42 RBI.
While his .233 batting average after hitting two more doubles on Sunday looks pretty meh for a player who is being paid big bucks to carry his team’s offense, it is almost half again as high as his season average last year.
But Saturday, a day on which White Sox pitchers held the Tigers to one run on an eighth-inning homer by outfielder Brennan Boesch, was one on which the team didn’t need a ton of offense. Here’s closer Matt Thornton retiring Detroit pinch-hitter Brandon Inge on a ground ball to the mound for the game’s last out.
And the final verdict…