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Two games, two ballparks: One day in Chicago

August 03,2017 05:15

There were games scheduled on both ends of town, one day and one night, meaning that enterprising types could attend both games. On such a day, the rich tapestry of the history of baseball in Chicago is hung out for all to examine. It was warm and ...and more »

1:50 AM ET

It's not exactly scaling Mount Everest, but this is a day that doesn't come around too often in Chicago. For obvious reasons, the astute schedule-makers at Major League Baseball do what they can to make sure the White Sox and Cubs aren't in town at the same time. Unless, of course, they are playing each other.
But it happens a handful of times each season, and on very rare occasions, you have a day like Wednesday. There were games scheduled on both ends of town, one day game and one at night, meaning that enterprising types could attend both games. On such a day, the rich tapestry of baseball history in Chicago is hung out for all to examine. It was warm and mostly sunny, and not humid if you've ever lived in Kansas City. It was the best possible way to spend a summer day.

Right in the center of this photo on the horizon is Sox Park, or new Comiskey, as it's most commonly referred to in Chicago. This is my starting point for a long day: Two games. Two parks. One city. It's rare for the White Sox and Cubs to play at home on the same day, and even more rare for the games to be staggered as day and night starts. The contrast between the two experiences will be interesting.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

The White Sox and Cubs are on polar opposite sides of the competitive spectrum right now. The North Siders are the reigning champions, as we all know. And the White Sox have entered into their first full-blown rebuild in years. Perhaps the two situations aren't entirely coincidental. What better time for the South Siders to drop out of contention than when they are buried deeper in the Cubs' shadow than ever before?
With the Cubs dominating the present, and the Sox trying their best to sell their fans on what does appear to be a promising future, it creates a certain lopsided dynamic between the teams.
Things have been tense between Cubs and White Sox fans for a long time. I always think of one of my favorite Chicago writers, Nelson Algren, who as a child made the arduous move from the South Side to the North Side. On his first day in the new neighborhood (where "all streets -- and alleys, too -- led to the alien bleachers of Wrigley Field") he came upon a group of young toughs.
Like a wizard guarding a bridge, the leader asked, "Who is your favorite player?" The young Algren answered with blasphemy: "Swede Risberg." The tough responded, "It got to be a National Leaguer."
There aren't a whole lot of true-born Chicagoans who root for both teams. This has always amazed me. At a very fundamental level, they not only share a city, but a public transit line.

Unless you're crazy enough to drive in and around the core of Chicago, to do both ballparks in one day means spending a lot of time on the CTA's much-maligned Red Line. Why is it maligned? You'd have to smell it to understand. Nevertheless, I have much love for our train system. Waiting on a southbound for the short trip to Sox Park.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

I live in the South Loop, about 3.1 miles from Guaranteed Rate Field and about 5.6 miles from Wrigley Field. There are only a couple of train stops between my neighborhood and 35th Street, where what I'm going to call Sox Park is situated, so it's a much quicker trip for me to get there. The southbound train, even during rush hour, is rarely overly crowded.
The first thing you notice when you get off at the Sox-35th Street stop is that the train platform is smack in the middle of the Dan Ryan Expressway -- roughly 14 lanes of traffic, including local lanes. This means more than you might think.
A big reason the neighborhoods north of the Loop have largely retained their traditionally urban character is that they were never bifurcated by the freeway system, or at least the areas nearest to the lakefront were not. This was not the case on the South Side, where the Ryan divided neighborhoods and sealed one side of the highway off from the other, as happened all over America in the 1950s and '60s.
The road also served to isolate the ballpark itself. Both the old Comiskey Park and the new version have always resided in an iconic urban neighborhood -- Bridgeport -- just like Wrigley Field. But the White Sox play in a venue surrounded by the freeway on one side, commuter rail tracks on the other, and sprawling surface parking lots elsewhere.
When you are at Sox Park, it feels like that's all there is.

There's a big difference between the CTA stops at Guaranteed Rate Field and Wrigley Field. On the South side, you are greeted with about 14 lanes of high-speed traffic. Not that you have to traverse it to get to the ballpark.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

Still, the White Sox have called Bridgeport home longer than the Cubs have existed in Lakeview, the official designation of their neighborhood, of which Wrigleyville is a subset. The old Comiskey opened in 1910 and stayed open for 80 years, until it was quite literally falling down. Shoeless Joe Jackson played in the same cavernous ballpark as Ozzie Guillen.

If you're from out of town and unfamiliar with the geographical history of Chicago ballparks, you might be unaware that Guaranteed Rate Field stands directly across the street from where the old Comiskey Park stood from 1910 to 1990. Similar to how Pittsburgh marked the spot where Forbes Field once stood by preserving a section of outfield fence, the White Sox commemorate the spot where home plate used to be in the surface parking lot that is there now. That's right -- that is the very spot where Shoeless Joe Jackson once stepped to the dish, though since it's surrounded by asphalt now, he'd probably want to keep his shoes on.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

The pregame scene outside of Guaranteed Rate Field is similar to what you might find in Milwaukee, or Kansas City, just to name a couple of other cities. People veer off the freeway into the amply-sized parking lots. Many of them set up tailgate spreads, or just sit near their car in folding chairs while dipping into a cooler. There is a sports bar, built just a few years ago, across the street from the stadium. To the more savvy and experienced, there are a handful of neighborhood spots within reasonable walking distance.
Outside the main gates of the park are live bands playing, though not many seem to watch. Fans pose for pictures in front of the sculpture celebrating the White Sox's 2005 title, which features Paul Konerko, Joe Crede and others. Above the main entrance, the White Sox remind everyone of their three championship seasons: 1906, 1917, 2005. That's the same number of titles as the Cubs.

The White Sox also commemorate that 2005 title with a big sculpture out front featuring Paul Konerko and Joe Crede. This is a popular spot for fans posing for pictures. The White Sox also have live music on a stage near the main entrance before games, as over the years they have tried to beef up atmosphere outside and compensate for the lack of amenities in the immediate perimeter of the park.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

The White Sox were playing the Blue Jays on Wednesday, making the contest one between last-place clubs. There was a good crowd on hand -- just under 21,000 -- considering the early start and the relative meaninglessness of the game. The largely empty upper-level and bleacher seats had patches of neon, the T-shirt colors of the different groups of kids from various summer camps. It was also $1 hot dog day, and you could tell that was a popular promotion from the lines at the concession stands.
The White Sox have done a great job of building up the in-stadium experience over time. When the new Comiskey opened in 1991, it was a dreary place. The upper levels felt impossibly steep. The backdrop was a little dismal, if only because of the burned-out high-rise projects that have since been torn down. The seat colors were an odd blue.
It's a lot better now, with the backdrop built up in a more attractive way, vegetation grown on the outfield walls, and different fan amenities mixed in throughout. Statues of franchise greats populate the concourse behind the bleachers.

There are plenty of cool trinkets situated through the park on the South side, including statues of White Sox greats from over the decades. This is Billy Pierce, who sadly is positioned with his back to the ballgame. There is an decent crowd on hand this afternoon, though there are plenty of empty patches in the stands. The nose-bleed seats have pockets of kids in neon-colored t-shirts. It's camp day. And, I'm told, $1 hot dog day, though I did not confirm this particular detail. I don't eat hot dogs, a blasphemous admission for a baseball writer.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

Walking around the ballpark during the game, I couldn't help but feel like there was a lot more happening on the concourses than on the field, which I suppose is par for the course this time of the year when two out-of-the-running teams are competing. The White Sox lineup offered little to stir fan interest, especially with touted rookie Yoan Moncada out.
What little happened in the game happened for the Blue Jays, who won 5-1 behind a sharp outing from J.A. Happ. Josh Donaldson and Steve Pearce hit the only home runs, to the delight of a pretty sizable contingent of Toronto fans. There are always plenty of baseball tourists around in the Chicago summer, even on the North Side, even if on the Cubs' end of the city, you can't always pick out who the tourists actually are.
The atmosphere of the game was jovial, like you might find walking around the Lincoln Park Zoo. The game, and its outcome, felt almost beside the point.

That's one game down, one to go in Chicago. The Blue Jays dispatch with the White Sox 5-1 behind a nice seven-inning outing from J.A. Happ. Steve Pearce and Josh Donaldson homered for Toronto. Both teams entered the day in last place and will exit it in last place. The White Sox crowd was a docile bunch today and you can't blame them. No more than a couple of those names in today's lineup will be part of the next contending South Side team. Now, back to the train station and the long rumble to the North side.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

With one game down, I bypassed the postgame availabilities for the best reason there is: There was another game to go to. I joined the fans in meandering out of the park, and watched people split off into the parking lots to the north. I followed those headed for the train station, many of whom were Blue Jays fans presumably headed back to their downtown hotels.
These postgame processions move slowly, so I slipped around the whole bunch and hit Wentworth Avenue just as the traffic directors started waving pedestrians through, and made the train turnstiles without getting hung up in line. It pays to know where you're going, and to have a transit card to wave at the scanners.

After the game, the vast majority of the patrons of Guaranteed Rate Field head for other parts of Chicagoland. There just isn't much to do in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark -- unless you really know where to look.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

It's a long ride on the Red Line to go from Sox Park to Wrigley Field, not helped by the density of humanity on every train car. However, I found a seat and read baseball news from my phone, while the train emptied of Sox and Jays fans, and filled back up with commuters -- it was rush hour -- and Cubs fans headed to the park. The commuters are never happy at these times.
The train dips underground for several stops before reemerging as you reach Lincoln Park and the Fullerton Stop next to DePaul University.
Two stops later, you're at Addison. The ballpark is plainly visible outside the windows here and about 75 percent of those crammed onto the train spill out onto the platform. Yet I've still seen tourists argue about whether or not they are at the right stop, and in a couple of cases, fail to get off the train. You just can't help these people.

Very different scene when you get off the train at Wrigley Field. No freeway, but there are other obstacles to getting to where you need to be. Mainly in the form of rivers of blue-wearing humanity.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

Immediately you are aware of an entirely different vibe. It's tangible. The music spills out of bars and from the park itself. The smell of grilling meat wafts through the street. People are everywhere, walking in every direction. The patios are packed with people enjoying pregame libations. Sheffield and Waveland Avenues are both blocked off for pedestrians, giving the scene a festival-like flavor. Down on the South Side, 35th Street is pretty wide-open and people drive on it as such. Battling the city on that kind of thing is always rough in Chicago, but I've always felt like the Sox should push to make that street more pedestrian-friendly.

There is always plenty going on around the ballpark at Wrigley, sometimes too much. You can even have a picnic at the Ron Santo statue. I don't think he would have minded.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

The Cubs have long dominated their neighborhood, which seems obvious considering the district around the ballpark carries the informal name of Wrigleyville. However, the area continues to transmogrify into Cubs Disneyland, a process that shows no signs of abating. This year, the Cubs opened a new outdoor park area adjacent to Wrigley Field on a spot that used to be surface parking. There is a new building on one end that houses a bar -- of course -- but also a premium coffeehouse, where I stopped for some cold brew. The manager at the coffeehouse insisted that I try a new shake made out of cold brew, chocolate ice cream and bitters. It is highly recommended.
As at Sox Park, a band was playing, this one in the new park area. However, this band had a lot of eyeballs on it, as fans sprawled out on the grass and watched from the upper level of the new bar across the way, and even from the exterior deck of the ballpark itself. There were so many watching, I thought they might actually be famous. Heck, maybe they were. I'd be the last to know.

The Cubs have long dominated their neighborhood, which seems obvious considering the district around the ballpark carries the informal name of Wrigleyville. However, the area continues to transmogrify into Cubs Disneyland, a process that shows no signs of slowing down. This year, the Cubs opened a new park area adjacent to the venue on a spot that used to be surface parking.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

Across Clark Street is the burgeoning Hotel Zachary, a team-owned property that has been steadily rising since before the season. It is scheduled to be open for business by next season. South of the park is another new development, with hotel space, residences, retail and a bowling alley, I have heard. This week, it was also reported that the improbable auto body shop across Addison and the sports merchandise store next to it have finally sold and will be redeveloped in the near future. So, too, will the Taco Bell just down the street -- long a hot spot of late-night shenanigans in the neighborhood.
By the time all of this is completed, the ballpark section of Wrigleyville will be all but unrecognizable from what it was when I lived here in the 1990s, fresh out of college. Yet for all the complaints many locals have about the Cubsification of the neighborhood, local landlords have little problem finding tenants to fill their increasingly pricey rental area. When it comes to the bottom line, the Cubs remain the rising tide that floats everybody's boat.
Still, it's the ballpark that remains the star of the show. The concourses are narrow, the walkways steep and exhausting, the bathrooms tend to get overrun, and you might end up sitting behind a pole. But once you step out of the tunnels and lay eyes on the vista before you -- the old scoreboard, the bleachers, the neighborhood intertwined with all of it, the elevated train snaking behind the building across Sheffield Avenue, Lake Michigan shimmering on the horizon -- you can't help but feel like you've entered a place where baseball was meant to be played.

There is no shortage of places to go around Wrigley Field, though increasingly those options tend to be variations on a theme. The sports bar theme. This seems like a logical enough state of being, but even 20 years ago, Wrigleyville had a more robust mix of businesses, with restaurants, retail options, book stores and small performance venues complementing the ubiquitous selection of bars.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

The game itself was a much more promising matchup than the one on the other side of town, with Jake Arrieta going for the champs and Zack Godley throwing for the playoff-contending Arizona Diamondbacks. The stands were, as usual, filled to capacity, with an announced crowd of 41,321.
Cubs fans get a lot of guff -- well, at least from White Sox fans -- because of a perceived indifference to the actual game on the field. This might be the case in down times, just as it seems to be now at Sox Park. But nowadays, if anything, the fans at Wrigley are possibly too into the games, often overreacting to trivial moments. But there is always a steady murmur in the stands and deafening roars when the situation warrants it.
The pitching duel turned out to be a good one, though the weather threatened to disrupt the proceedings at times, with lightning flashing over Lake Michigan and the rumble of thunder apparent in the middle innings. The seventh-inning stretch ritual starred former Cubs announcer and big league manager Bob Brenly, who now does games for the Diamondbacks. The crowd sang along enthusiastically; they don't care who is up there. They get just as excited at the games where they simply roll back an old video of Harry Carey.
One night after being bludgeoned for 16 runs by the surging Cubs offense, Godley and three relievers put up a shutout, 3-0. Jake Lamb drove in all three runs for the Diamondbacks with a pair of doubles and has now driven in 83 runs on the season. It was a snappy game between two teams with higher aspirations.
And it was a wrap on a two-game day in Chicago, with both home teams taking a loss.

One night after being bludgeoned for 16 runs by the surging Cubs' offense, Zack Godley and three relievers shut out Chicago 3-0, limiting the champs to just three hits. Jake Lamb drove in all three runs for the Diamondbacks with a pair of doubles and has now driven in 83 runs on the year. That's a wrap on a two-game day in Chicago, on which both home teams took a loss.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer

I prepared to head to the Red Line again to join the late-night exodus from Wrigleyville, when the train cars tend to be populated by the over-served. As I passed out of the park, the usual crowd of adoring Cubs fans were huddled around one of the gates, where they can catch a glimpse of the players as they pass from the clubhouse into the corridor that leads to their vehicles. Every time one emerges, the fans scream in unison until the player disappears from sight.
All of this might seem unfair to the White Sox, who pull out all the stops for their fans and the media alike. It's always a first-rate experience to go there and, from a working standpoint, it's actually a heck of a lot easier. At Wrigley Field, when the game is over, you have to dash down the concourse before the fans start emptying out from the seats, or else you get caught in a pedestrian jam of impenetrable proportions. More than one sportswriter has cracked over this issue, though you get the feeling that on the long list of renovations the Cubs continue to execute, a press elevator isn't a high priority.
It's clear that these are simple byproducts of where the franchises are at this point in time. The White Sox will always suffer by comparison when it comes to venues; their neighborhood simply has a different character, and no one in any city can match the iconic status of Wrigley Field. The Sox do what they do, and they do it very well.
So in order to win a fair share of the more nonpartisan members of the Chicago baseball community -- not to mention their share of media attention -- the White Sox have to out-compete the Cubs on the playing field. That's not going to happen for a while. If there is only so much energy that can exist in one city at one time over a sport, then now more than ever, a larger portion of that energy is circulating around the North Side. But the White Sox are working hard to transfer as much of that energy as they can. And if the prospects they have dominating the rankings lists turn into household names like Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, etc., then days like this will be truly electric. The flow of energy will be more balanced.
As it was, the day was special enough, if you love baseball. Two games, four teams, two parks, one city. This is why I am here. When it comes to summer and baseball, there is no place like Chicago.

MLB,Chicago Cubs,Chicago White Sox

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