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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

What's Right with the Cell
by Hal Vickery

This week an email arrived that I found fascinating. Its author was Ronald J. Theriot, Jr. a teacher who lives and works in Louisiana. As it turns out, Theriot’s second visit to a major league stadium was to what was then called New Comiskey Park.

After over a decade of criticism of the stadium coming from numerous writers, particularly in recent years by Jay Mariotti of the Sun-Times, I thought it might be interesting for both readers of this column to hear the view’s of someone whose first ball park experience was a game on the South Side. Sox fans won’t be surprised. Media types might.

With Mr. Theriot’s permission, here is his email.

Mr. Hal:

I'm a high school Social Studies teacher at East St. John H.S. in Reserve, Louisiana. I live in LaPlace, La. (at the southern end of I-55), and I've attended one White Sox game per year since 2001 and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The Sox-Pitt game in 2001 was only my second MLB game (the first being at Arlington, Tx. in 2000). When I drove up to Comiskey and parked, I was really impressed. This was a Saturday night game and the crowd seemed really enthusiastic. One of the things that really impressed me was the stadium. I thought Comiskey Park a fine ballpark. During the game I kept looking around, thinking, "Boy, this place is really something."

It was about a year later that I began to read and hear complaints about the awful new Comiskey. I though, "Huh, what's all this?" In 2002 a friend went with me to see the Sox vs. KC. He thought the place was really nice. When we talked with people in Chicago and they talked down about the place, his reaction was, "What's the deal, that place is really good." It's weird because when I talked to folks at the games they told me (and this was every time) that old Comiskey was really run down and had to go. I only saw the place on cable tv back in the eighties, so I couldn't comment. It looked okay on tv.

Now, with all the renovations of the last couple years, I think U.S. Cellular Field is one of the top parks in the country. I can say this because we've checked out 19 others since 2000. We thought the Vet (2003) was really nice, the new Phillies place was good (another cookie-cutter retro deal; not bad), and Fenway Park (which we kept hearing was the great mecca of the MLB) an expensive, run-down, garbage dump. It looked and smelled like trash! They could at least repaint the joint. Fenway was the worst so far.

Mr. Hal, I can be totally unbiased in my assessments because New Orleans has no major league team and we didn't grow up exposed to any of it, except for TV, which isn't the best media for presenting the sport.

I think Sox fans should be more that proud of their outstanding facility! Why fuss, when you've got one of the top places in America?

Yours truly,

Ronald J. Theriot, Jr.

I’d like to answer your last question as best I can. As far as I’ve been able to trace it, the first published criticism of New Comiskey Park appeared in a 1991 article by the architecture critic of (you guessed it) the Chicago Tribune. It criticized the steepness of the upper deck of the new facility.

The next blow came the following year when Camden Yards was opened. Word got out that this was the ball park that The Chairman could have had. Suddenly New Comiskey, which was modeled roughly on the style of Dodger Stadium and Kauffman Stadium, two of the best of what before Camden Yards had been modern era parks, was obsolete.

Since 1992, most new ball parks have been built along the retro park mold which makes The Cell appear even more obsolete.

Perhaps the main reason, though, for the disparagement of The Cell is that once old Comiskey Park and Fenway Park closed, there were only two early twentieth century parks left, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. (Yankee Stadium doesn’t really count due to the extensive renovations the place underwent in the 1970s leaving only the shell of the original ball park in place.)

Suddenly Chicagoans, or at least some of the more trendy ones, realized that they had a “shrine” of “landmark status” in town, and it wasn’t Comiskey. This realization coincided with the movement of Yuppies into the Lakeview area which suddenly became known in the media as “Wrigleyville.” What had once been a near slum was now a trendy neighborhood with lots of Yuppie bars and other forms of entertainment involving the use of alcohol, including baseball.

Well, when you have a “shrine” and a “landmark,” not to mention the “World’s Largest Beer Garden,” anything else pales in comparison, at least to some minds. Suddenly no one remembered that the newer ball park on the south side was convenient to get to, right near the junction of two expressways, and had plenty of parking. Both of those attributes are sadly lacking in the “shrine” and “landmark.”

Everyone also forgot that, at least in the lower deck, there isn’t a bad seat in the house at the newer ball park, again a trait unshared by the “shrine” and “landmark.” Then there is the issue of adequate restrooms, quality of the food, and most importantly, for the most part quality of the team playing on the field. Those don’t matter to people who want to visit a “shrine” and “landmark.”

To the unbiased observer, the “shrine” and “landmark” compares to your description of Fenway Park. It is essentially a dump. The Cubs have added seats where there were formerly aisles, making it more difficult for many to reach the inadequate restroom facilities. If you are male and you actually make it to a restroom, you find that you are greeted by a long trough. If those are crowded, many choose to avail themselves of the few sinks.

Of course the media who write and speak the praises of the “shrine” and “landmark” don’t experience these amenities. They’re insulated from all of that in the press box area. As for the sheep who follow their advice, well, they’re so overcome by the fact that they are able to worship at the “shrine,” that they are willing to overlook the inconvenience. These people are regarded by White Sox fans, and anyone with any common sense, as sheep.

They are the type of people who were into disco until they became country and western fans when that became trendy. They listened to the World’s Greatest Beer Salesman for over a decade and bought his spiel. For the next several years, they listened to his grandson spout the same propaganda. They will now listen to the new broadcast team, and believe the lies that they will now spout.

The sad thing is that many Sox fans have bought into the lies they’ve been told about new Comiskey/The Cell. Sure the upper deck, now shorn of the top eight rows, is steep, but it is no steeper than any of the other newer parks. The problem always was that the entrances into the upper deck were at the bottom.

This was a dumb design, but having had experiences with architects in the past couple of years, I can understand how such a stupid mistake was made. Architects don’t design their buildings for people. (Someday I’ll tell you all about the chemical store room that had no place to store chemicals.)

By shearing off the top of the upper deck, the biggest problem of The Cell was solved. No climb is much longer than it would have been had the entrances been properly placed in the new design. Lovers of the retro feel should also be gladdened by the presence of obstructed view seats in the new version of the upper deck. Of course the Tribune saw fit to include the view from one of these seats in its article last year on the renovations.

The funny thing is that for all the changes, including those that just make the place more aesthetically pleasing, the Mariottis of the world still can’t find anything right with The Cell.

Fortunately fans like Mr. Theriot, who actually use the entire facility and not just the press box accommodations, know better.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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