CHICAGO —Years ago, I stumbled onto a tradition of visiting Major League ballparks when there wasn’t a game. All I could do was stand outside of them. First it was a trip to Denver one March, followed several years later by a quick stop by PNC Park while passing through Pittsburgh.
Since the regular MLB season ended and I was in the Windy City, I resumed the tradition!
One L line, two ballparks
Thirteen CTA Red Line stops and about 30 minutes separate the Cubs’ Wrigley Field and White Sox’ New Comiskey Park. New York, the other true two-team city, involves a Manhattan transfer.1 I think San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics are nominally on the same BART line. But for how long?
Despite a shared transit line, the two Chicago ballparks are very different experiences.
Growing up, I was one of the “never been to Chicago” Cubs fans because of day baseball and Harry Caray on superstation WGN. I’ve wanted to see 1060 West Addison since time-immemorial and a Washington Nationals road-trip is a bucket list item.
The ballpark tour schedule didn’t line up with my itinerary though, so I settled for taking the Red Line up to Addison-Clark and walking around Wrigleyville. Riding the L, the light standards appeared as the train came around Belmont station.
A neighborhood ballpark
The reputation around Wrigley, one of the few neighborhood ballparks left, is strong. Visiting I confirmed it’s warranted.
flickr: Photos tagged with wrigleyfield
The block between the L station and the ballpark has bars and stores in old buildings. The stadium itself, over 100 years old and under renovation for the last decade or so, is beautiful. Ornate ironwork, painted dark green and no concrete on the exterior. A plaza with the Cubs statues provides a park like atmosphere. Points off for the artificial turf. The corners opposite the ballpark are also full of activity. The Cubbie Bear bar2 though, was closed.
Behind the outfield is mostly small, old apartment buildings with bleachers on top. That got litigious and I hope its worked out to all parties satisfaction. The foul poles on a couple of those building with distances from home plate seem obvious and natural.
The one thing I didn’t see – parking lots. It’s a feature, not a bug.
If you haven’t seen it, this drone video the Cubs put out at the end of the season is amazing
I’m calling it New Comiskey
Closer to the Loop, adjacent to the Red Line and I-90/94 Dan Ryan Expressway, Guaranteed Rate Field as it is now called, is like so many of things – plenty of parking, but not much to experience. Has anybody coined the term parkadox?
The exterior of the ballpark is pleasant enough – exposed steel and distinctive light standards. I remember when it opened, it was billed as retro ballpark, branded “brand new, old fashioned fun.” As it turned out, it would be obsolete within a year following the opening of Baltimore’s ballpark. The steel was eventually painted dark green and it looks like the concrete may have been stained a more natural color. An improvement and I guess that it isn’t a brick ballpark like its predecessor and most of the ballparks built gives it its own identity.
flickr: Photos tagged with comiskeypark
The big plaza about celebrating the 2005 World Series is a bit much. Flags fly forever, but a permanent sculpture and plaza? It kind of shows a lack of confidence about winning another. Not even the Nats have gone that far. Nationals Park is also in a more vibrant neighborhood.
There’s no there, there
Outside of the park though it’s tumbleweeds. A closed restaurant opposite the ballpark is probably fine on gameday. Parking garages and surface lots are adjacent as well, so aside from a few commuters walking from the L, there is no street life. It’s quite a contrast to Wrigleyville. I didn’t even bother walking around the whole park. It’s footprint is bigger, it was windy, cold and getting dark. The overhead view shows I didn’t miss much and I couldn’t have walked directly around it anyway. It’s weird too — the White Sox have played in this vicinity for over a century and nothing really developed there. The old park was built several years before Wrigley. Perhaps the Red Line not reaching there until 1969 is the culprit.
The biggest shortcoming of New Comiskey though – IT FACES THE WRONG DIRECTION! Look at this panorama from just north of the ballpark.
Most ballparks are oriented northeast to keep the sun away from the batter. Here, home plate looks southeast which AWAY FROM THE SKYLINE. How in the world did nobody say “we have the tallest building in the world 3 or 4 miles due north, maybe we should have the fans face it!” Years later, Philadelphia didn’t make a similar mistake.
A big part of what makes or breaks a ballpark is the view beyond the outfield.
It’s probably a lot more comfortable and there are not any posts in the way either.
Also of note is the two CTA stations serving these facilities. The Cubs logo is included in the station signage.
Down the line, no logos in signage, but the station is called SOX-35th. There is also a mosaic on the floor.
The Lerners must have been very jealous.3
Bonus: Solider Field
I also bicycled past Solider Field, the current home of da Bears. It’s been said that it looks like a spaceship landed on top of Solider Field following the renovation about twenty years ago.
It’s located in Chicago Parkland near the Field Museum. Since the parkland is so extensive, it doesn’t feel like a complete waste of urban space. The old columns are stunning as well.
The Bears seemed determined on moving out to the exurbs. It may be great for the bottom line, but it seems like a mistake. How’d that work out for Dan Snyder’s franchise? That’s only a few miles from the city; the Bears want to move over 30 miles away.
In September 2004, I found myself in Montreal and Boston. Neither the Expos or Red Sox were in town when I visited the
of those venues and I thought about how I was always visiting ballparks at the wrong time. Within a month or so, baseball was very different for those two cities.
I visited several other stadia without seeing a game inside – Philadelphia, DC’s RFK Stadium and San Francisco, the new Yankee Stadium under construction. A photo in front of it became a running gag.
Thankfully, I actually started seeing some games, first in Philadelphia, DC of course, and even Pittsburgh. I still have six to go though – Denver’s Coors Field, new Yankee Stadium, Boston’s Fenway Park, San Francisco’s AT&T Park (Is that what it’s still called?) and the two Chicago parks. That’s before we even get to the parks I’ve never seen in person.
Chicago is a land of baseball contrasts.
1What is now known as the D Line connected Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds
2Dave Grohl discovered punk rock there – Consequence of Sound