Wednesday, June 27, 2012

5th Anniversary of Tour: US Cellular Field

All photos of US Cellular Field available on Flickr.

Sunday, June 24th, 2007.  This was a day that Erik and I will never forget - the first day of our 10-week baseball odyssey at US Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois.  It seems like only fate that in 2012, the 24th of June also fell on a Sunday, the White Sox were home, AND they just so happened to be playing our hometown Brewers.  The stars had aligned and we could not ignore it.  I woke up refreshed on Sunday and nearly as excited as I was 5 years ago to the day.  We showered, wished each other a tongue-in-cheek "happy anniversary," and set out for Chicago's south side at about 10 AM.

This was the first time either of us had been back to "The Cell" since The Tour, and there were two noticeable differences right off the bat.  It used to be that if you got there early enough, you could snag a parking spot right on 35th Street on a weekend for free.  Now it seems like the City of Chicago figured out the money they were losing and made the blocks immediately surrounding the park 2-hour metered, 7 days a week.  Since we were super early, I was able to spend time scanning the area and we ended up finding a free spot about 5 blocks away on the edge of the IIT campus.  There was no way I was contributing another $20 to the White Sox in parking.  The second change we noticed is that the stadium exterior got a face lift.  As we approached the park, I remarked to Erik how I didn't remember any beige the last time we were there, and sure enough I looked at old photos the other day and my suspicion was correct.  It seems like the Sox added a "skin" of a softer color around the stadium to break up the drab black.  This layer is a cladding for vertical ramps and ticket offices.  US Cellular Field requires this exterior skin because of how their admission is set up - you are only allowed entry to the level you have a ticket on.  Thus, the ramps cannot be on the inside of the stadium as most other stadiums are, they have to be outside of the turnstiles.  The beige skin certainly makes the park a little warmer, but the facade is still intense because it still very tall and bland, and you have to ascend to the first level concourse so the ground floor lacks any interest.  Other additions to the park that I do appreciate are the pavilion behind home plate that contains plaques of retired numbers and an artistic statue, and a new giant team store and bar across the street.  Previously, there had been no real places to gather or enjoy before and after the game.  We quickly browsed the team store and had a drink at the Bacardi bar, because for some reason there was a huge delay in opening the gates.

We made sure to get lower level tickets for the game today, because 5 years ago we sat in the upper deck and did not get to see the lower deck.  Sitting down here definitely improved my perception of US Cellular Field.  It's still probably in my bottom third, but it gained a few notches on this day.  I really liked the outfield area where we sat.  The bleachers are really close to the field, and they treat the outfield concourse with the same attention as they do the concourse behind the seating bowl.  There aren't too many parks in the league that do either of these things let alone both, so I give kudos to the White Sox on those points.  The outfield concourse contains a lot of concessions, gathering spaces, bathrooms, and kids areas, as well as 4 separate scoreboards and some White Sox player statues, including one of Mr. Comiskey, the founder of the American League and the park's original namesake.  It was nice to have everything we needed right behind us and didn't have to walk too far.  Erik also found a stand behind the bleachers that sold $7.50 margaritas on tap, and he finally found his White Sox batting helmet, but it came full of nachos and there was no way we were going to attempt that during an 87º afternoon game.  There were also a couple of Louisville Slugger Museum booths that had some famous bats on display and were giving a demonstration on wittling bats.  Also a reason the lower deck is better: the entire level had a strong smell of sausage, even moreso than Miller Park, and that was more than enough to put me in a good mood no matter what the outcome of the game.

The Brewers did end up losing the game, 1-0 in 10 innings.  Their bats once again went silent and they made a ton of mistakes executing routine plays, an all too common theme with the Crew these days.  Rotation fill-in and 2011 Brewers Minor League Pitcher of the Year Mike Fiers threw 7 1/3 strong shutout innings but was not rewarded for his effort.  That was the first time I'd seen him pitch in person at any level and he really impressed me with how he pounded the strike zone, but that was about the only bright spot of the day.  Bullpen goat Manny Parra pitched terribly once again and gave up the winning run on a single by Alejandro De Aza with 1 out in the bottom of the 10th.  Corey Hart was really the only hitter that looked good for either team, as he went 2-4 with a double and smoked every ball he put in play.  We sat in the 2nd row in left field, and Hart's double in the 6th actually smacked the wall directly in front of us and I freaked out.  It was a another disappointing loss and my forearms got sunburned, but there's never such a thing as a bad day at the ballpark.

We picked up Lauren back on the north side after the game and spent an hour trying to find access west to the freeway, due to traffic and roads being closed off for a parade.  The game ended at 4:30 and we didn't get on the freeway until after 6.  I really hate Chicago roads and I'm glad I probably don't have drive on them again until Wrigley's 100th in two years.  Tour 2012 rolls on this weekend at the inaugural season of Marlins Park!

park stats and rankings
(see also original post from 6/24/07):
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 5
view to field
- 7
surrounding area - 6
food variety - 5
nachos - 3
beer - 8
vendor price - 6
ticket price - 2
atmosphere - 8
walk to park - 5

parking price/proximity - decreases to 6
concourses - increases to 6 (still no access to lower level unless you have ticket)
team shop - increases to 7 (great team store across the street)

best food - Chicago-style dog
most unique stadium feature - pinwheel fireworks stacks reminiscent of Old Comiskey
best jumbotron feature - old-school in-game play animations (walk, strikeout, etc)
best between-inning feature - White Sox legends race in rip-off Racing Sausage costumes
field dimensions - 330/400/335

starters - Mike Fiers (MIL) v. Jose Quintana (ChW)
opponent - Milwaukee Brewers
time of game - 3:15
attendance - 26545
score - 1-0 W
Brewers score that day - 1-0 L

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