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Today’s must-read story

It’s all about baseball, folks, and it’s a pure-dee KILLAH.

The Comiskey effect: Can MLB revive what it lost in the retro building boom?
CHICAGO – During the last season of Comiskey Park’s existence, its replacement was rising adjacent to it.

As Comiskey’s final months ticked away in 1990, the new stadium’s giant concrete grandstands began to take shape, eventually towering over the old ballpark across 35th Street on the south side of Chicago.

Comiskey opened on a sweltering July 1, 1910 afternoon, the fifth of 13 so-called “jewel-box” ballparks built early in the 20th century. The ballpark was part of baseball’s first steel-and-concrete stadium construction boom, of which only Wrigley Field and Fenway Park remain.

Eighty years later, something very different was looming to the south.

While Toronto’s multipurpose SkyDome opened in the middle of the 1989 season – ushering in a new type of stadium, the first with a retractable dome – new Comiskey was the first baseball-only facility to open since Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium debuted in 1973.

Later named U.S. Cellular Field, and now called Guaranteed Rate Field, the facility featured a top-row, upper-deck seat 130 feet above the playing surface – more than twice the height of Comiskey’s, whose last row was 62 feet above field level.

Chicago native Matt Flesch recalls visiting Guaranteed Rate Field during its inaugural season.

“I remember being depressed that there were escalators. I couldn’t believe how high it was. The players were like ants,” Flesch said. “After new Comiskey was opened, in that first year when going to games, they were slowly tearing down old Comiskey. So you’d see old Comiskey with a gaping hole and a wrecking ball hitting it. And then you’re walking into this death star and you’re like, ‘Oh man, I cannot believe we are tearing this down.’”

Flesch released a documentary last year called “Last Comiskey,” which covers the final season at the old park and the White Sox team that played there.

“Bill Gleason was a famous longtime sports writer in Chicago. He has a great quote in the documentary. He said, ‘In Europe, they preserve their magnificent old buildings. In America, we tear everything down.’”

The architecture firm HOK, later named Populous, designed Guaranteed Rate Field. The firm also created Camden Yards, which opened in 1992 in Baltimore. Populous has designed or renovated 20 MLB parks.

Camden Yards was viewed as a revelation in design, harkening back to a bygone era because it featured the B&O Warehouse beyond right field, asymmetric dimensions, and wrought-iron flourishes. Camden Yards ushered in the greatest stadium construction boom since the jewel-box era.

In contrast, it made Comiskey’s replacement appear to be a massive error: it was generic, gigantic, and soulless. (HOK gave White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf a Camden-like option, but he turned it down.)

It’s one hellaciously compelling, soul-stirring read, even if you aren’t really much of a fan of the ol’ bes-o-boru, closing thusly:

Compared to Globe Life Park, the Rangers’ previous home built in 1994, architecture firm HKS moved the decks on average about 30 feet closer to the playing surface.

The last row of the upper deck is 33 feet closer and 5 feet higher in elevation. The first suite level is 39 feet closer, and the closest seating behind home plate is 10 feet closer. There are also 8,000 fewer seats in the new stadium.

Fred Ortiz, a partner at HKS, shared with me a few years ago two black-and-white photos that influenced the design. One was from the upper deck of another long demolished jewel-box park, Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., the franchise’s first home in 1961. The second was the same photo but with the steel support beams photoshopped out.

“What if we could eliminate those and bring fans closer to the field,” Ortiz said of the inspiration, “and change the dynamic of the cross section of a typical ballpark?”

While that exact effect wasn’t quite created, it was arguably the greatest change to ballpark design since Camden Yards opened.

If MLB clubs truly want to engage a new generation of fans, perhaps they should think about returning to what we once had: the experience of being close to the game, of better hearing it, seeing it, and feeling it. Perhaps that’s the lesson in moving from old Comiskey to new.

I repeat: even if your feelings about the game known far and wide as America’s Pastime are lukewarm at best, do NOT let this one get by you. The crack of a traditional wooden bat meeting the ball; the taste of those ballpark chili-dogs; the lush, manicured green of the infield diamond, marked off by the brown of the base paths; the feel of a well-broken-in fielder’s glove, the warm scent of linseed oil wafting from it; the umpire’s bawling cry of “Heeeerike TWOOO!!”—this article is richly redolent of all those precious things and many, many more.

The history of baseball is the history of the nation that birthed it, nothing more nor less, and the piece is bound to introduce you to a chapter of that wonderful history you almost certainly weren’t previously acquainted with. Don’t dare miss it.

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9 thoughts on “Today’s must-read story

  1. I have always loved college level sports because it was, for the most part, students playing the game. I watched the pro’s as a youth until it changed and morphed into a pure business construct played only for the $$$ by all*. I have not watched a pro game of any kind for so long I don’t remember when I last watched.

    It’s looking like the college game is being transformed into the same useless dollar sport.

    *yea, always an exception somewhere

  2. Au contraire.

    If MLB wanted to engage a new generation of sportsball fans, they’d move to change ticket prices by moving the decimal point one place to the left at every park in the leagues.

    I’m not griping about the recockulous salaries of the players, but in order to pay them, the sport has necessarily soaked the fans to the point that going to a game is an exercise in pointless nostalgia about a sport made of prima donas, both on the field, and in the owners’ boxes, in a financial exercise for fans who show up in person that makes Disneyland seem like a non-profit effort. Taking an average family to a game, and buying everyone a hot dog, beverage, and bag of peanuts is currently an exercise that requires selling a kidney to finance, in order to watch multi-millionaire corporate pawns try to gin up enthusiasm for the other corporations’ paid sumo wrestlers. The only people who really give a flying f**k about the outcomes anymore are Vegas oddsmakers, which is only fair, since they’re the only ones with more at stake than any players or owners.
    Which explains why watching any pro sports nowadays has all the compelling allure of televising the trading pits on Wall Street. Give day traders hand weapons like swords and axes, and televise their fights, and you might find something people would truly enjoy, and at far higher levels of enthusiasm for anything happening between epicly-long commercial swathes on TV. Truth in advertising?
    “We now interrupt this forty minute orgy of bad commercials to bring you five minutes of corporate sport.”

    A little too on-the-nose there? You betcha.

    They might as well televise corporate board meetings, and let the underlings stage kabuki theater knife-fights or brass knuckled dust-ups. It would be as compelling to the audience.

    Nobody not criminally stoopid gives a wet fart about multimillionaire children playing a children’s game for lottery payout annual salaries.

    Frankly, I’d rather get a hot dog from a sidewalk cart vendor, and watch a pick-up game at the local sandlot, played by any 18 total unpaid amateurs, from any age from pre-teen to retiree.

    The game is identical, and the stakes far more important to those on the field than anything happening at Corporate Spoonsorship Monstrosities.

    Eff Sporstball, for any value of that term. The main difference between pro wrestling and any version of Pro Sportsball is everyone knows pro wrestling is totally fake and ghey. Field of Dreams has transmogrified into Field Of Used To Be. There’s hardly anyone under the age of 40 now who even remembers what it is they used to watch, unless they’re watching Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary. The sport memorialized in that docu-epic is deader than dinosaurs, deader than canned tuna.

    To quote two lines from other popular entertainment:
    It’s dead, Jim.
    Let it go.

  3. I still love the game but don’t watch much anymore after the kneeling bullshit. Yes. We are a throw away society and I do not like that either. Okc did a good job with their minor league stadium with a retro look though.

  4. Baseball was the one sport I always did love most, perhaps because it was the only one I could play worth a damn, who knows. I don’t watch anymore either, but there’ll always be something special about it, at least to me. Part of it might have something to do with this, from my “Greatest Hits” archive:

    I’ve never really been much of a sports fan, but I always loved baseball. Hate football, loathe basketball, NASCAR bores me unless I’m the one driving and ain’t really a sport anyway, and soccer is from Mars.

    But baseball; man, baseball was always another matter. Baseball had magic and poetry and Objective Beauty. In baseball, there’s no clock. The pitcher can stand up on the mound and scratch his sack until next week, the batter can step out and spit until his saliva gives out, but sooner or later the man has to heave that pill and the other man has to either swing or not. The mano-a-mano confrontation can be delayed but never avoided. Sooner or later we’re all going to see who’s better.

    The rest of it, if you’re interested, can be perused here.

    1. I share your love of the game, but not the sport that is now.
      And The Way It Used To Be ain’t never coming back.
      More’s the pity.

    2. It as mostly about the pitching duals between knuckleballers and junk throwers against supreme hitters for me. Greg Maddox of the braves probably was my most enjoyed duals. I got the same chuckles as watching Barry Sanders in Stillwater and the pros causing the premadonnas to separate from their jock straps with his famous directional changes

  5. “…and ain’t really a sport anyway…”

    “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”
    Ernest Hemingway
    I agree with the esteemed Hemingway, but I have not watched a Noosecar race since, well, since the noose that wasn’t and EVERYONE knew it.

    I love baseball because it’s a strategy game mixed with skill capability.
    I like football becuse it is a strategy game that can be reset every play.
    I love basketball because it is a strategy game with little ability to change other than what the coaches have taught the players. It’s fast paced with few stops.
    I hate soccer, because.
    I love womens field hockey because it is similar to men’s basketball in a way.
    I love LaCrosse, men and womens.

  6. Baseball now has a clock though…

    I have mixed feelings. In one way it was fundamental to baseball that it didn’t have a clock. That being said, even if I were interested in a game, the 3 1/2 to 4 hour run times was just too much. It was obvious they weren’t going to cut out the commercials because TV Rights is the real money maker, not in house attendance.

    So how else could one get the game to at least stay close to a 3 hour run time (which is often STILL too long for me).

    1. The clock is a bigger sacrilege than the Designated Hitter, or lights at Wrigley Field.
      The commissioner should be dick-punched with a battle mace for that abortion, and then have a grandfather clock shoved up his tailpipe.

      Somebody wants a clock?
      Watch basketball.

      What’s next? Umpires dressed as rodeo clowns? Hardwood tracks and roller skates around the basepaths?
      WTAF!?!
      Either play the sport the way it was meant to be, or go invent your own game, and see if it catches on.

      All this corporate b.s. is why America is walking away from sportsball.

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