The reactionary stadium (Chicago doubleheader)

I should go, see you in June – Smashing Pumpkins, “Rhinoceros”

Chicago skyline from Gate 5 at U.S. Cellular Field

Chicago skyline from Gate 5 at U.S. Cellular Field

As a born-and-bred West Coast, California kid, I gleefully admit to my various friends my general ignorance about other climates around North America. Many of my friends are transplants who casually talk about missing seasons while secretly celebrating not needing air conditioning (or much heating) where they currently live in the Bay Area. I’m smug and glib about it, I know. So it’s those times when I go out of my comfort zone that I learn a lot more about baseball and the way it’s enjoyed in other parts of the country.

Midwesterners tell me all the time about weird summer weather and turning leaves. None of it is a good substitute for me experiencing that weather. So it was with a little disappointment that I learned just prior to this weekend’s Chicago trip that the weather would be mostly overcast or partly sunny during the day with highs in the upper-60′s/low-70′s, lows in the low-50′s. I thought to myself, That’s the weather I’m USED to, I didn’t bargain for this. Rain would not be a factor in any of the five games on my slate, with only a tease of thunderstorms on the way in and out of Chicago. Alas.

View from my seat of grandstand. Ramps and fence behind grandstand are visible.

View from my seat of Wrigley Field grandstand. Ramps and fence behind grandstand are visible.

Still, since I was in the area four days, there was time to experience the game at a less rushed pace. Friday was the big doubleheader, a 1:20 game on the North Side and a 7:10 tilt on the South Side. I went to the Cubs game solo and the A’s-White Sox game with Zonis, who lent me a day parking pass for his street just three blocks from Wrigley Field. I had been so used to taking the El up to Wrigley Field that I wanted a different experience, and there was no way I would pass this up. Safe navigation to Zonis’s house completed and after a chat with the young man and his dad (they had just completed their own mini ballpark trip to Milwaukee and Beloit), I walked out of Zonis’s house and started the three block walk.

Vinyl covered exterior seems loud, no?

Vinyl covered exterior seems loud, no?

Then I heard it. The pregame organ. It’s a siren song to the residents of the neighborhood, telling everyone that’s okay to come out and play, to cut school or work, to enjoy a day at the yard. It’s something that often gets ignored coming from the Addison Red Line station because of train and crowd noise. In the comparatively tranquil setting of the Lakeview neighborhood, the organ made me feel like I was already there, that the neighborhood was a big theme park where all the streets would eventually lead me to Wrigley. No other urban ballpark is as integrated to its environs as Wrigley Field is. Fenway comes second at night when it turns into Red Sox game mode, but Wrigley really shines for these day games, making Fenway a distant second. Nothing else comes close, because of the way new ballparks are designed to be insular.

Wrigley Field exterior along Addison Street

Wrigley Field exterior along Addison Street

Wrigley famously has very little façade. Behind home plate is the light gray concrete structure accented by green and the distinctive red marquee. It’s not brick or sandstone, and there’s little to write home about. At some point recently the Cubs decided to have huge vinyl signs of the players cover up much of the concrete, as many newer parks have done. As much as I appreciate the blast of color, I miss the old humble concrete. Along the first and third baselines are chain link fences, so the back of each deck is exposed to the street it faces. Narrow ramps and corridors fill some of the space along the fences, creating numerous places for fans to stand. The back of the lower deck is also a great place to catch some sun, especially if you don’t have the gift of a sun-kissed seat close to the field (or the bleachers for that matter). One of the downsides of the open back is the lack of wind buffeting. Throughout the back of the grandstand the wind has a tendency to swirl, whereas close to the field the conditions are downright placid. An open back design would never pass muster in the current era. Potential neighbors would complain about the lack of noise insulation that a façade and other elements provide. Owners and architects would push for a design with more heft, and that requires a façade whether it’s stone, brick, or glass.

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Gate 5 at U.S. Cellular Field is separated from the ballpark by 35th Street. Fans who enter here use footbridges to enter ballpark.

I had a seat in section/aisle 223, row 27, which had me hopelessly stuck under the upper deck overhang with a column in plain view (but not obstructing). As the winds swirled around and brought the shade temperature down to the mid-50′s, my jacket-less and goosebump-ridden self started to look for ways to warm. The back of the lower deck was nice option. Wrigley’s compact design and unique network of ramps makes it easy to move among the decks. There’s only one concourse at street level, beneath the 200-level seats on the lower deck. I made my typical shutterbug walk in the 4th inning to capture as much with my camera as I could.

The true beauty of Wrigley reveals itself best when emerging from one of the tunnels in either the left or right field corners. Up a long stairway, suddenly you’re among the lucky sun-drenched fans. Ferris Bueller and his friends made the LF corner idyllic, whereas Steve Bartman made it notorious. You go there and then you figure out ways to stay there forever. As the shadows move during the game, those further away from the field down the 3B line get their sun taken away, a cruel tease.

wrigley-03-seatview-sm

View of home plate from my seat at Wrigley Field

Old Comiskey Park was even worse from a sun standpoint. The upper deck was only 16 rows from the field in foul territory, and completely hung over the lower deck in fair territory. While Wrigley was “wide open” behind the lower deck, Comiskey had windows to let some natural light in. Nevertheless, Comiskey’s reputation was always darker and more foreboding, an image owed to numerous factors such as the South Side location, the catacomb bullpens, and the generally darker, danker atmosphere.

View of home plate from my seat at U.S. Cellular Field

View of home plate from my seat at U.S. Cellular Field (night game)

Knowing what Sox fans had experienced for decades, Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf would give fans coming to the new Comiskey Park (nee U.S. Cellular Field) a much sunnier, wide open experience. The suite/upper deck cantilever is only a few rows above the back of the lower deck. Initially there was only a small roof covering the upper rows the upper deck. With a modern design derived from Kansas City’s Royals Stadium, New Comiskey was to be the more family-friendly albeit less intimate experience. Ramps were well removed from the concourse, especially the ones on the 3B side (across 35th Street). Escalators brought fans to their exclusive levels on three seating levels, with no way for fans to move from one level to another without proper admission. Seating sections were narrow to provide better access. The outfield seats were a single level, fully exposed like the Wrigley bleachers, and had full concessions plus a huge concourse. Enormous scoreboards and a video board were placed along the outfield, blocking much of the view of the less-than-desirable neighborhood to the southeast.

Upper concourse at U.S. Cellular Field

Upper concourse at U.S. Cellular Field

The upper deck concourse was also exposed, with only the tall seating bowl providing protection from the elements. That was changed in the 2004 renovations, when the concourse enclosed with translucent windows providing natural light. The Gate 3 ramps provided gorgeous views of The Loop, but the ballpark was built in the era before recognizing skylines, so New Comiskey turned its back to the city. Reinsdorf eventually reduced the park’s capacity while introducing touches reminiscent of Old Comiskey, such as the more extensive roof.

And so we have the starkest contrasts in ballpark building (multipurpose stadia don’t count as ballparks per se), mere minutes from each other on the Red Line. There’s “The Cell” with its hulking, seemingly impenetrable concrete edifice, and Wrigley, where the boundary between the ballpark and its neighborhood almost doesn’t exist. The former advances sun at the expense of intimacy, the latter brought intimacy well before anyone cared to consider ballparks as intimate or not intimate. We’ve seen the era of multipurpose stadia rise and fall, to be replaced by retro ballparks that feign intimacy while providing virtue for sun-seekers. It’s a summer sport, and in a place where summer really exists for only three months, we’ve seen owners and fans take great care to appreciate every bit of summer they can get. While Californians take summer for granted, those in the Continental climate savor it just a little more than we do. Therefore I can’t blame new ballparks like The Cell or Comerica for not being intimate. They’re just trying to give as much summer to as many fans as they can bring into the ballpark. As much as I prefer an aggressive cantilever to bring upper deck fans closer, I can see the argument against it. It took a trip to Chicago to fully understand the dilemma.

19 thoughts on “The reactionary stadium (Chicago doubleheader)

  1. Dear sir,
    Your article was was well written. I enjoyed it very much however, your overall point is wrong. First, the White Sox, generally, only play day games on Sundays making your statement that, “they’re just trying to give as much summer to as many fans as they can” completley unsubstantiated. Next, Wrigley Field is not an intimate ballpark based on the standards of they day. I count at least 30 rows until you reach the upper deck. Comiskey Park was an intimate ballpark. Tiger Stadium was the most intimate ballpark of all. The upper deck literally was on top of the field. What makes Cellular and most of the new parks less intimate than Wrigley is the suite level(s)! Which significantly move the upper deck further away from the action. Not out wards but upwards.

    Fact. The last row of the upper deck at Comiskey Park was closer to the field than the first row of the upper deck at Cellular Field. Now that’s an intimate ballpark.

    Let’s talk about the sun for a second. I invite you to Google Baseball-Fever/Comiskey Park. There are some wonderful pictures in there. There are many pictures of (at the time) general admission half full outfield seats. You will see that when the sun is shining down the most fans enjoy the shade on a nice day. In fact you will see that fans preferred to sit further back under the roof than have better (closer) seats. The most popular outfield seats (citation needed) at The Ballpark in Arlington are the ones under the roof in the right field, “home run porch” despite the obstructed pole views. Why? Because, Texas is hot and they are in the shade.

    When you imagine Wrigley Field you imagine the half drunk shirtless beer belly bleacher bum. That is not the majority of people who go to baseball games.

    -Mark

    Twitter Sofaking@markandersonwsu

  2. @Mark – Good points. However, you’re reading something extra into what I wrote. There’s nothing in the piece about Wrigley being especially intimate. Integrated, yes.

    Let’s not forget that New Comiskey was patterned after Royals Stadium. Royals Stadium didn’t have three levels of suites/club seats when it was built. It had a mezzanine and a single level of suites or loge boxes. While that contributes to the verticality of the decks, it doesn’t necessarily have to equate to the a lack of overhang. Reinsdorf chose suites and he chose sun, wider concourses and more exclusivity, for good and (mostly) ill.

    You can talk about Tiger Stadium and Old Comiskey being intimate. They were also obsolete dinosaurs that very few other than some architects and perhaps Lew Wolff are trying to replicate. Fans didn’t want columns, and they didn’t always want to sit in the shade during the summer. Pictures of Comiskey during the dog days belie what I saw this weekend: fans milling around in the sun, wearing short shorts, reveling in summer’s onset. When I sat under the Wrigley overhang with the wind whipping around, people were bundled up and less comfortable. It was easily the coldest of the five games I attended – and that was on a Friday afternoon. Think about that.

  3. Thank you for the response. Comiskey and Tiger were absolutely obsolete but, not because of their seating configuration but because of their lack of amenities. The renovation of Yankee Stadium proved with cantilevers you could keep the same intimate configuration and take out the view obstructing poles at the same time. All Tiger or Comiskey needed were wider concourses, modern (more) bathrooms,and suites. The suites (at Tiger) could have easily gone on top of the second deck (See Cocarane Plan). I, like yourself, like more of and open park like Wrigley than that of the boxed in Tiger, ,Comiskey, and Cellular. No Problem knock out half of the outfield seats to have a configuration like Shibe Park. At least Comiskey was faced toward the downtown skyline of Chicago.

    The rendering for Cisco should be commended because they put the suites on top (who really pays attention to the game in those anyway?). Bringing the fans closer is a good thing. The HOK era ballparks took out the best seat in the house (first row of the second deck) They also took away the upper deck foul ball.

    The Cleveland Indians played from 1932-1994 in a monstrosity known as Cleveland Municipal Staduim. At one time it sat over 80,000 people for baseball! Where a crowd of 30,000 looked empty. Cleveland Municipal Stadium could fit inside Progressive Fields blueprint. The last row of CMS was closer to the field than that of Progressive. Think about that.

  4. @Mark – The latest Cisco Field renderings have a level of suites tucked under the upper deck like PNC Park or Wrigley.

    All the examples you cite are part of the “columns or no columns” debate. There are pros and cons to both, with major compromises either way.

  5. The main reason why fans in the Midwest and Northeast prefer ballparks with large overhangs is to have more seating in shaded areas. The summer days in those parts of the country can be extremely humid, and sitting directly exposed to the sun for an entire ballgame can be a rather uncomfortable experience. One will notice that the seats on the side of the stadium where the sun shift becomes shaded earliest will generally be filled up more than the sunniest side. Many fans that sit on the sunniest side come well prepared with plenty of sunscreen, and bottled water is often the most popular concession drink item.
    While most games are overwhelmingly played in the evening, the day ballgame in most parts of the country, the South excepted, is still extremely popular. Despite its shortcomings, some just mentioned, there is just something special about the day ballgame experience that cannot be replicated watching a ballgame under the lights. The baseball fans in the Bay Area are most fortunate to be able to attend baseball games, day or evening, under relatively the most ideal weather conditions.

  6. I was really surprised at how much I liked US Cellular Field on my only visit. I was not there in the middle of a humid day, it was in may of last year and a beautiful evening for a ball game. I can’t really comment on the weather and how it impacts the place as a result.
    .
    I will say that the drawings of Cisco Field are for more impressive than what actually sits on the South Side. I prefer the intimate nature the close upper deck to the vast openness.

  7. @ML
    hi ml , I hope you enjoy your trip to Chicago, great sport city Bulls, Bears, Cubs, W Sox and Blackhawks have ur hands full.

    I just wanted to see how you felt about the SOS latest blog about “keeping the teams” on the SOS page. It’s the first time to me Oakland pols are being honest regarding the stadium situation and i just wanted to see how u felt about Oakland pols being finally honest and what that means for Oakland teams moving forward…if u have time, but thx you and enjoy Chi-Town

  8. @Aaron – If I’m either Lew Wolff or Joe Lacob, I sit back and watch what happens when Mark Davis asks for public money. Then see what happens next.

  9. Can someone post a link to the SOS blog where politicians are being honest about keeping the teams? Sounds interesting but I can’t find it on the SOS page.

  10. @jeff

    What I meant was honest dialogue coming from the SOS website. I think its under “if Oakland can keep its teams” it has Chris Dobbins on the cover” , anyway what i was asking ML was what he thought of it…..and I have to admit ML threw a fast one….what will happen when Mark Davis says ” Ok Oakland ill stay and be the anchor of Coliseum City”, now show me the money”….

    Ml my only comment to u is YES , I believe the raiders have Oakland by the balls with mount davis debt and being the only show that wants to stay, so in a brilliant way yes the Raiders have a “opportunity” to squeeze Oakland….question is when??? Goodnight and look forward to ur next Oakland post.

    P.s How do Chicago fans feel about the Cubs stadium situation??? Do they feel for the A’s trying to move???

  11. Holy moley that vinyl wrapping on Wrigley is ugly. Why why why why why? Don’t they know what they have there?

  12. My experience, talking to folks outside of the Bay Area about the A’s, is that they have one of two reactions: !. They have no idea about the A’s stadium situation or little knowledge of the details 2. They think of Oakland as adjacent to San Francisco. They think of San Jose as adjacent to San Francisco. They don’t understand what the big deal is (be it from fans, the Giants, MLB, whatever).
    .
    The vast majority fall into the first category, however.

  13. weather was pretty bad in chicago today if you saw any of the highlights of both games.

  14. I just met Sparky Anderson’s grandson at a wedding. We were seated together because of our mutual love of baseball. We discussed the A’s situation a little bit, and he was mainly unaware of the details of the A’s/Giants stand-off. I feel the main reason baseball fans are unaware of this situation is because MLB isn’t making a big deal about it. I have to admit that my palpable distaste of the Giants has dissippated in recent years. MLB is the reason this hasn’t been resolved yet, not the Giants. I still say the Giants area soulless money-hungry organization, but there are A’s fans who’ll say that about the A’s current ownership group.

  15. I appreciate when ballpark reflect the era in which they were built. US Cellular is fugly from the outside, but it’s got that late 80s/early 90s geometry down flat, like a womens skirt suit with shoulder pads.

  16. Sad story about that construction worker that perished this moring @ Levi’s Stadium…

  17. Nice photos RM. Hope you had a great time.
    My condolences as well to the construction worker who lost his life at Levi’s Stadium.
    OT RM (but really on topic if you think about it); did anyone ask Wolff about the lease at the Coliseum? IMHO that needs to be resolved before we hear any “real” news on this ongoing saga.
    BTW, continued gag order and Wolff having “so much fun” (and joking about it) is all good ;)

  18. As a Bay Area born-and-raised transplant living in Chicago, I can’t say that Midwesterners necessarily have any hard and fast preferences with regard to sitting out in the sun or not–ultimately, people are people and it’s not like Midwesterners are necessarily some kind of monolithic group. But I can say that you are constantly dealing with the weather’s fickleness and volatility here; when I first moved here, I was told “if you don’t like the weather, wait an hour,” and while that can be the case in summer, it seems that saying is especially apropos in months like May and June and then in the fall. You just never quite know for sure what it’ll be like out.

    As for this past weekend, it had been unseasonably chilly and rainy the week prior, so folks were understandably happy to finally bask in the sun, even if it wasn’t exactly hot. But come a sticky heat wave in the dog days of summer–well, some shade, à la Kauffman Stadium in KC, would be preferable for many. ML could well be correct that Reinsdorf had sun maximization in mind in building New Comiskey/U.S. Cellular Field. When the summer sun’s out, you may want to savor it, but you understand it won’t last, and if it gets too hot, not everyone wants or needs sun anyway. You just learn to deal with the fact that this isn’t California and weather is far from perfect here! Whether it’s cloudy, sunny, or even rainy sometimes–people just enjoy a day out at the park to soak up summer before it’s gone. And with the weather being what it is, no stadium is perfect for that. Another example is Milwaukee, which built a retractable dome to prevent rain-outs, but at the expense of sun. I’ve been there a couple of times, and even when the roof opens up to the sun, it still feels like a spaceship and not much sun gets in.

    And as far as U.S. Cellular’s exclusivity and preventing movement from one level to the other without admission, I’ve heard that it took a certain memorable and infamous incident in 2002–the attack on 1st base coach Tom Gamboa by that drunk father and son combo (what a gene pool!)–for them to really get serious about its enforcement. Especially, I would think, being able to move from the cheap upper deck seats down to the lower deck.

    Great photos, ML!

  19. Nice report ! What I remember most from my visits to Wrigley Field in the summer is how humid it is and how you feel the presence of a hot body in the seat next to you … (and that some sight lines are not great with all those supports for the roof etc). The view into the park from the El is nice, and so is just walking around in the neighborhood with people on folding chairs in the alleys selling their parking spot (similar to your description of Miami a couple of posts earlier).

    But your description of the organ all over the neighborhood reminded me of my greatest annoyance about the proposed Diridon stadium: being forced to listen to that organ all summer long whether I am in the mood for a game or just try to enjoy a quiet afternoon in the backyard. I did not buy a house in Wrigleyville but Wrigleyville is coming to my hood. The Pavilion is quiet.

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