Friday, August 28, 2009

Separate and not quite equal at U.S. Cellular Field

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. The White Sox should take customer relations lessons from the Mets.

The Baseball Truth gang made U.S. Cellular Park the spot for our Executive Game 9 last weekend, watching the Sox beat the Orioles 4-1.

Will shows off the tickets as we head out to the game. Fans of the televison show "Leverage" will recognize Laurie, who had a big scene in the pilot and was praised mightily by the producers in the DVD commentary.

New Comiskey was the site of the very first Executive Game in 2001, and this was my first visit inside since then, though Will and I had fun exploring the outside just before 2005 World Series Game One.

The park was famously overhauled, and it does seem like a much better place.

The team trimmed some rows from the painfully steep upper deck, painted a lot of the grab concrete, added a neat deck area in centerfield and about a zillion more concession areas in the upper level.

Sadly, they try to keep you up there, too.

We took the train to the park, and after paying tribute to the former Comiskey, we entered the ramps, only to find the lower level blocked off with and an usher checking tickets.

Scott managed to race around all the people playing corn hole and score!
Cars now park on the spot where Tom Seaver pitched. Sigh.

When we got to the top, we discovered that people with upper deck tickets were not allowed in the lower levels at all. Outrageous. I’ve never seen such a rule.

You have to know that I’m one of those people who likes to get to games as soon as the gates open and explore every inch, even if it’s a place I’ve been to before.

I like ballparks. They’re fun places. And once I explore and purchase the necessary program, yearbook and Diet Coke, I can settle in and enjoy the game.

To be sure, the White Sox added all kinds of stores and food concessions in the renovated upper deck concourse. But there were more stores on the lower levels, as well as all the fun in the outfield concourse.

I purchased a program at a concession stand, but there were no yearbooks to be found.

The team also has a new Fundamentals section, with neat interactive games for kids. I knew playing the games wasn’t an option, but I wanted to get photos of the activities, which were pretty elaborate.

I took a step into the upper deck Fundamentals area, only to have an usher stop me and say I couldn't enter without a child.

This was madness.

And I would not be denied, mentioning to friends that I would, in fact, get to the lower level at some point.

The scoreboard erupted after Carlos Quentin launched a bomb into the left field stands.

I approached an employee and told them I want to go to the lower level to go to a store and buy a yearbook since there were none available in the upper regions.

He told me to find the customer relations booth and ask for something called an elevator pass.

Finding this booth, I declared that I wanted a pass because I wantd to spend money in one of the stores, and that it was somewhat insulting to charge someone $30 for a seat in the park and restrict them to only one level.

The worker gave me a pass, reluctantly, noting that there were three people in my party and asking that I return the paper pass back to him upon my return.

Will, Laurie and I made a quick trip down. At one level, the elevator doors opened, and there, briefly, we saw a display case with the glorious 2005 World Series trophy.

But the game was about to start, so after a short walk we hustled back up to our seats.
Future Hall-of-Famer Jim Thome and closer Bobby Jenks in action.

In the third inning I did something I never do: left my seat for a walk around the yard. Will’s a former official scorer, so I knew I could fill in the missing spots in the program upon returning.

With my elevator pass — I did not turn it in — I slipped back down to the main concourse, wandering out to the outfield area, checking out the view from the party deck.

The Sox have always done a decent job of showing off their not-always-glorious history, and new in centerfield were a series of statues of Sox legends. Note to the Mets: This is a cool thing, and you have legends.

Billy Pierce

Nellie Fox

Luis Aparicio

Then I saw the lower level entrance to the Fundamentals area. Knowing the kid rule, I followed a family through the entrance, past the usher and up the stairs.

There were some neat things to see, like a cutout of Scott Posedenik running that sped along a 90-foot track. Youngsters tried to keep up, and the times of both were flashed on a scoreboard.

I checked out some stores — finally getting my yearbook — and headed back to the elevator. Once on board, I asked the operator if it would be OK to stop on the level with the World Series trophy and take some photos.

"Sure! You take all the time you want."

Finally, an employee who gets it.

Aside from the World Series and American League Championship trophies, the lobby had a display dedicated to former Tribune sportswriter Jerome Holtzman.

Photos, views and yearbook secured, I headed back up to the seats in the upper deck, missing two full innings. I assumed my cohorts thought something horrible had happened, since it’s incomprehensible that I would miss that much of the game.

Lame new rules aside, U.S. Cellular is a nice place to see a game. It was certainly the best-smelling stadium I've experienced. The upper deck concourse was lined with food stands, and the team grills onions with the hot dogs and brats, and the aroma fills the area.

The team had some pretty cool souvenir stands, too. I found two dedicated to items on clearance, and snagged an authentic World Series game cap for $10.

The exploding scoreboard is fantastic, and the team still does a nice job saluting its history.

Throughout the upper level, murals showed great players and events in Sox history, including a nice photo of Tom Seaver and a shot from his 300th win.

Hail Seaver!

We attended on a fireworks night, and the rockets started firing with moments of the last out.

Naturally, Chicago is too wild of a town to head right back home.
Scott and Tim hoist a Hudy. Not being from Cincy, I hoisted Diet Cokes.

Will and Scott are Ohio natives and Scott lives outside Cincinnati. Will discovered a Cincy-themed bar not far from his Windy City apartment, and we celebrated the Sox win the Skyline-style spaghetti and chili and they enjoyed Cincy-based brews.

The original Executive Board: Dave, Jim, Scott and Will.


Scott said...

Great writeup about the game. It was a great evening and I look forward to the annual gathering next year. Where ever we end up, that park better be on notice. We take these thing seriously. If you do, you will get the highest honor that the Execs can pronounce upon you, a G, g for...



Shannon Shark, Mets Police Chief said...

Hey - I'm doing Stadiums week on Mets Police. Would you mind if I lifted this post lock stock & barrel? Of course I'd link and say where it came from. It's just so perfect for this week's theme.

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Anonymous said...

I was listening to WFAN via internet this past weekend and a lot of callers were ranking on the Mets for not putting enough Met's memorabilia around the stadium. One caller said "if you didn’t know the Met’s played there you certainly couldn’t tell by being in the park." I’m curious what your opinion of that comment and the stadium in general. I think it's a beautiful stadium, nothing’s perfect (like the garbage cans, etc.) but the staff was super professional and the general layout is well done. What are your thoughts?

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Hi Tim!

I thought it was a great park! I'm surprised about all the carping. I thought there was plenty of Mets stuff around. Sure, you can always add more. And there absolutely needs to be a Hall of Fame.

But as the owner of a small piece of the stadium, I sure can't complain!!

Junior75 said...

Great posting. I too got traped on the upper level...but we were able to give the ushers the magic password..." we are going to the Majestic custom t-shirt store on the lower level to buy some shirts" totally worked, and we were able to check out the rest of the stadium. I have a lot of stadium write ups of the stadiums that I've visited. It's still a work in progress. Check it out if you get a chance.