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The Chicago Traveler

U.S. Cellular Field

by Matt B on November 27th, 2007

The relationship between the White Sox, the city of Chicago, and U.S. Cellular Field has just as much of a rocky history as that of the Chicago Bears.

US Cellular Field

By the 1980s, Comiskey Park was the oldest park in baseball and was slowly falling apart. Even with a new video board and luxury suites, several structural engineers determined that the park would not be usable in only a few short years. And so, the hunt was on for a new home.

Like the Bears before them, the White Sox made plans to build a new park in the suburbs. They purchased a 140-acre site in Addison and started drawing up blueprints. However, the town voted to turn down the resolution that would have allowed the Sox to construct their stadium. In 1988, Jerry Reinsdorf, the new co-owner of Comiskey, demanded a new ballpark and threatened to move the White Sox to Florida.

Funding for a new stadium would have to come from the Illinois legislature, which would be no easy task. Suburban politicians had no interest in city projects, and downstate representatives were openly hostile to spending more Illinois money in Chicago. The funding bill would have to be passed by 12 midnight on June 30, 1988. By state law, any legislation beyond that date would require a three-fifths majority to pass, and the stadium bill was having difficulty just maintaining a simple majority. Construction of the Florida Suncoast Dome moved speedily along, and Florida fans began purchasing 'Florida White Sox' t-shirts. Things did not look good for Chicago South Side fans.

James Thompson The only real hope for a new Comiskey Park was Illinois Governor Jim Thompson. As the last week of June drew near, he brought a few busloads of Sox fans with him to Springfield for support and began working his magic. He won over some of the suburban voters by adding the construction of a new Arlington Park grandstand to the stadium bill. Jim called in every favor that was owed him by other legislators. His busloads of fans held public rallies.

When the fateful June 30 arrived, the bill (with a few minor changes) managed to pass through the Illinois Senate with the minimum required votes' at 11:35 p.m. Remember, the bill had to pass both houses by 12 midnight. It seemed impossible that all the debating and voting would be completed in the Illinois House in less than half an hour. At 11:59 p.m., a few more votes were still needed, and House Speaker Michael Madigan knew there were not yet enough votes to pass the stadium bill. He consulted the keeper of the gavel and made it clear that the voting session would not end until he wanted it to. The vote was finally taken, and the bill passed at 11:59 'officially.' Everyone's watch said 12:03, but somehow the gavel keeper's clock still read 11:59. Thanks to this '12:03 miracle,' the White Sox would stay in Chicago.

US Cellular Field The next summer, construction began on the new Comiskey Park across the street from the original one. It was the first baseball-only stadium to be built in the American League since 1973. It was only appropriate that Comiskey's biggest supporter, Governor Thompson, threw the first pitch on Opening Day in 1991. The new stadium included over 80 luxury skyboxes, a spacious clubhouse for the players, and unobstructed views. A few of the old park's features were kept though. The infield dirt was brought over from the original stadium, and the famous exploding scoreboard (which lit up and shot fireworks after a Sox homerun or win) was replicated on a smaller scale.

In 2003, U.S. Cellular bought the naming rights at $68 million over 20 years. The White Sox immediately used the money to improve the park, preparing to host the 2003 All-Star Game. A new high-resolution video board in center field was installed as well as two LED ribbon boards along the upper decks. A 'fan deck' was constructed on the center field concourse, providing a patio feel and a unique view of the action on the field. However, to many fans, the park still didn't 'feel' right.

For example, the stadium's upper deck was set back to avoid overhang problems. But this created one of the highest upper decks in baseball. Fans in these seats were higher and farther away from the field than ever before. Chicagoans were accustomed to much more intimate ballparks. In response, eight rows and over 6,000 seats were removed from the top of the upper deck. The original blue seats were replaced by green ones, murals were added to the interior concourses, and a few other structural changes helped 'the Cell' feel more like the old Comiskey.

In 2005, the Chicago White Sox swept the Houston Astros at the World Series, ending the second-longest period without a title. (The longest, of course, belongs to their northern neighbors, the Chicago Cubs, who haven't won a World Series since 1908.) However, their winning game was not held in U.S. Cellular, but rather in Houston's Minute Maid Park. Of course, this didn't stop Chicago from beginning the biggest celebration since the sixth NBA championship by the Bulls in 1998.

US Cellular Field
US Cellular FieldUS Cellular Field
US Cellular FieldUS Cellular Field

Photo credit: (c/o Flickr) goatopolis, Wikipedia, jlurie, jimcchou (1, 2, 3), clare and ben, Reznicek111

U.S. Cellular Field: 333 W 35th St; 312-674-1000
Public trans: Bus # 24, 35 or Red Line train (Sox-35th)

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POSTED IN: Architecture & Attractions, Sports and Recreation

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