07/12/2003 2:02 PM ET
U.S. Cellular Field sets the stage
Renovation Photo Gallery
By Damon P. Young / MLB.com
Changes not just in name
CHICAGO -- No, it's not set on the dock of a bay or in a revitalized downtown setting, but U.S. Cellular Field -- aka Comiskey Park and Sox Park on the street -- offers its own unique baseball experience. One that White Sox fans have come to enjoy since the ballpark opened in 1991. And it will be on the world stage for all to see Tuesday night when baseball's All-Star Game returns to its South Side birthplace.
The White Sox have hosted the All-Star Game four times, including the inaugural contest in 1933, but this year marks the first time at U.S. Cellular Field.
Born as the New Comiskey Park, replacing the classic, history-rich Comiskey Park across the street, U.S. Cellular Field has long been criticized for being sterile and fan-unfriendly. The first new ballpark of the '90s, setting the stage for the now-popular retro design trend, U.S. Cellular Field was the first new baseball-only stadium since Kansas City debuted Kauffman Stadium in 1972. During the stadium's first three seasons, the White Sox drew more than 2.5 million fans to the park. Twelve new "old-fashioned" stadiums have opened or are being built since the U.S. Cellular Field hosted its inaugural contest April 18, 1991 -- a Detroit romp, 16-0, before a sellout crowd of 42,191.
But after three straight years of renovations and two more years of changes being planned, at U.S. Cellular's expense, the ballpark has been transformed into a different experience. A simple paint job this past offseason did wonders to the interior of the park, muting the original stark white with a new dark grey. A new state-of-the-art video screen in center field, video boards on the upper-deck fagade, a new fan deck in center field and a redesigned concourse were unveiled before the 2003 season.
The $68 million garnered over the next 20 years through the club's naming rights agreement with U.S. Cellular is all going toward making more stadium improvements, including upgrades to the much-maligned, steep upper-deck seating area. Those renovations, designed to enhance the ballpark experience, are to be completed before the 2005 season.
With a seating capacity of 47,098, U.S. Cellular Field's most distinctive feature is the "exploding" scoreboard, high above center field. A replica from the original Comiskey Park, the scoreboard (measuring 140 feet by 80 feet) features colorful lighted pinwheels. Fireworks, seen high above the center field after a Sox home run and on traditional Fireworks Nights, are actually shot off from a launching pad behind the ballpark.
Another tradition on the South Side remains the sweet sounds of organist Nancy Faust. Faust, who has missed just five ballgames -- because of the birth of her son -- in 34 seasons with the team, enhances the South Side experience with a light-hearted style, mixing traditional ballpark favorites with current musical melodies.
The main concourse is 40 feet wide, giving fans room to walk around the ballpark or search for their favorite cuisine. Ballpark fare rangers from traditional favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, popcorn and pretzels to garden burgers, wings, popcorn chicken, burritos and funnel cakes.
Dimensions of the playing field were altered in 2001 during the initial renovation phase. The current distances are 330-377-400-372-335. Originally, the ballpark measured a symmetrical 347-375-400-375-347.
If the game doesn't keep your or your kids' attention, U.S. Cellular Field offers some fun attractions, including FUNdamentals (an interactive baseball skills area), the Hall of Fame Gift Shop (showcasing the team's history), the Bullpen Sports Bar (located at field level in right field), and the Stadium Club, situated in the right-field corner, provides a unique look of the on-field action.
Unveiled before the season, the new center field Fan Deck offers fans a unique perspective of the game. Open to all fans, the Fan Deck, situated 454 feet from home plate, may not be a prime location for catching home runs in Monday's Home Run Derby, but it would be a fun place to watch the flight of the moon shots.
On a typical, humid summer day -- as is expected for the duration of the All-Star festivities -- first-time visitors and long-time Sox fans enjoy the ballpark's two cooling off stations. The Rain Room in right field offers a cool mist, while the famous left-field shower, brought in from the original Comiskey Park, remains a South Side tradition.
On the field, U.S. Cellular Field has been the home of its share of dramatic game-breaking moments -- most from players, a couple from spectators -- including nearly two-dozen White Sox walk-off wins. Here's a rundown of the some of the significant moments.
May 4, 1992: Alex Fernandez tosses a one-hitter against Milwaukee as the Sox beat the Brewers, 7-0.
Sept. 27, 1993: Bo Jackson, playing with an artificial hip, belts a three-run homer against Seattle to lead the Sox to a 4-2 victory that seals the club's AL West Division championship since 1983. The club would go on to lose the pennant to the eventual-World Champion Toronto Blue Jays, four games to two. Jackson homered in his first at-bat of the season
July 6, 1999: Outfielder Chris Singleton becomes the first Sox rookie -- fourth player overall -- hits for the cycle against the Kansas City Royals. Singleton goes 5-for-6 with four RBIs.
April 27, 2000: Shortstop Jose Valentin hits a "natural" cycle against Baltimore, going 4-for-5 with five RBIs. Valentin singled in the first, doubled in the second, tripled in the third and homered in the eighth.
Oct. 3-4, 2000: The White Sox, AL Central champions, drop the first two games of their ALDS against Seattle at home, and eventually get swept by the Mariners in three games.
Aug. 3, 2001: Mark Buehrle tosses a one-hitter as the White Sox earn a 4-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
May 2, 2002: Seattle tallies 10 runs in the first inning on their way to a 15-4 victory over the Sox. Mike Cameron leads the way for the visitors with four home runs, becoming the first AL player in 43 years to accomplish that feat, and just misses a fifth in his final at-bat. Bret Boone backed his teammate with two homers of his own, both in the first-inning outburst. Cameron and Boone went back-to-back twice in the first inning, the first tandem to ever do that.
July 23, 2002: Frank Thomas hits the longest home run ever at U.S. Cellular Field with a 495-foot blast off Minnesota's Johan Santana. Thomas' mark will certainly be challenged in Monday's Home Run Derby.
With home-field advantage in the World Series at stake, this week's All-Star Game will, without a doubt, enrich Chicago's South Side baseball tradition.
Damon P. Young is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.