A Stranger in a Strange Land: I Visit the Home of the White Sox and Live to Tell the Tale

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Our original plans for Chicago had us visiting both the White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers at their respective home parks, but as the trip went on, I began to question the wisdom of these plans. Both games that we wanted to attend were asking for an arm and a leg for tickets, even on the secondary market and honestly, it wasn’t worth it to me at this juncture. What was the worst that would happen? “Aww shucks, at some point in the next 10 years we have to visit Chicago/Milwaukee again”?

With that mindset, we took the next 2 days and just enjoyed the city of Chicago. We walked all over the city and, of course, took in some baseball sights as well, including the infamous Billy Goat Tavern and Harry Caray’s restaurant.

While trying to decide what to do on our Sunday, Lauren asked again about going to one of the ballparks. We were close to both, after all. Since the White Sox were the easiest to get to, I checked my usual ticket dealers and found some tickets that were reasonable and so, that Sunday, rather than taking a train to Milwaukee, we hopped the El to US Cellular Field, sworn enemy turf. We went in slightly incognito, but definitely still representing the Cubs, as will be made evident soon.

The ride on the El was easy. We just rode the Red Line–the same route on which Wrigley Field stood–and got off a block or 2 away from US Cellular. I was apprehensive about getting from the El to the ballpark, since, as Jim Croce once sang, “The south side of Chicago is the baddest part of town…” but the route to the park was fine, if somewhat barren.

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From the outside, US Cellular is nothing to write home about. It’s essentially a concrete bowl in the middle of nothing. At the entrance plaza, however, are several markers honoring the players with retired numbers, as well as a large statue, commemorating the 2005 World Series title. I honestly never thought that I would see Joe Crede honored with a piece of public art.

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The layout of US Cellular is kind of unique, and that is what provided me with the difficulty in acquiring tickets. I am certainly not opposed to buying cheap tickets and wandering around the stadium during a game–particularly if I am only attending one game. I want to see the details and unique features. The problem with trying to do that at a White Sox game is the fact that there are 2 distinct seating areas: both an upper and lower bowl. The upper bowl is completely segregated to the upper area of the stadium, with no wandering privilege throughout the rest.

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Since this was to be my 1 and only visit, I needed to be able to explore a bit more, and so a large seating section was rendered completely useless to me.

We wandered for a few minutes and then found our seats next to the right field foul pole and sat down to enjoy the warmups and pre-game entertainment. It was a Sunday morning game, so there wasn’t batting practice, just some long toss by Rays starter, David Price. I’ve always liked Price, so it was nice to be able to see him pitch. In fact, it was a great game for me to see lots of players I was excited to watch. In addition to Price, the Rays had former Cub David DeJesus in the starting lineup, as well as having one of my favorite former Padres, Heath Bell come in to relieve and the White Sox had rookie phenom, Jose Abreu as the DH…which meant that the retiring Paul Konerko would be manning first base. Not a common occurrence. I took full advantage of this by taking far too many photos, mostly of Paul standing around either just before or just after a play had occurred. I’m gifted like that. Paul is one of the few members of the Pale Hose that I can say that I legitimately like (currently you can add Abreu and pitchers Chris Sale and Addison Reed to that list) and it was nice to be able to see him play first in his final season.

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As I said before, I had the lowest of low expectations for US Cellular Field, but I am pleased to say that I was wrong. It is a perfectly nice ballpark, perhaps unfairly criticized since it was the last “new” park built before the retro ballpark craze that came into vogue when the Orioles built Oriole Park at Camden Yard. There is nothing too flashy about it, and the “signature” feature is the bizarre lollipop/pinwheels atop the scoreboard, but it does a very nice job of honoring the White Sox long history.

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There is a smattering of statues all around the concourse for most of the men who had their numbers retired, as well as owner Charlie Comiskey for whom the park was once named. My personal favorite statues were those for Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox. While standing independent of each other, the statues feature the 2 Hall of Famers mid-double play. It was pretty neat. The only statue that I had an issue getting to is that of the newest Hall of Famer, Frank Thomas who was surrounded by people who seemed oblivious to it’s existence both times that we looped the ballpark, I don’t know if this is due to the fact that he is so beloved that everyone wants to watch the game with the Big Hurt or the fact that he happened to be near a beer cart, but either way, it was tough getting a picture.

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Another interesting feature of the park is the community shower that was brought over from old Comiskey Park when the new one was built. It is sponsored by a local plumbing union and is an interesting way to cool down during a hot summer game. The temperatures were in the 50s when we were there, so there was to be no communal showering for me this time.

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Unfortunately, the game was not exactly going as I had initially hoped. David Price was lit up for 6 earned runs in 6 innings, including Jose Abreu’s 10th home run of the year. The silver lining is that the White Sox starter was Scott Carroll, a career minor leaguer, who got his first major league win in his first start, allowing only 1 earned run. He received a great hand after he was pulled in the 7th inning.

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After the game, we took our traditional pictures, with the field in the background, but Lauren wanted to assert her rebellious streak and we took a few of her sporting the Cubs long sleeve t-shirt that she was wearing under her sweatshirt, Thankfully no one saw, and we were able to depart with all limbs and teeth intact and not battered.

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Overall, US Cellular is a nice place to watch a game, and I certainly like it better than Dodger Stadium (currently my least favorite park.) The fans were pleasant enough and they seemed to know their baseball. The crowd was small, but it was a cold Sunday afternoon and neither the Rays nor the Sox were really playing for anything, even at this point of the season. I would definitely see a game here again, particularly if a team I really liked was playing, or the White Sox were in contention.

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Where would our journey lead us to next? Lauren posed some interesting questions as the game wound down…and let’s suffice it to say that what happened was not in either of our plans as the vacation began.

Until next time, keep trippin’ baseballs!

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