TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME – Rich Paschall

To The Ball Park We Go, by Rich Paschall

If you live in the continental United States and do not have Major League Baseball in your city, you are probably just a short road trip away from a stadium.  For some you may need one over night stay, for a few locations it may mean longer travel plans.

The thirty MLB ball parks are spread across the country.  If you count the 248 minor league teams, then I guess you can find professional baseball just about everywhere.

Center Field scoreboard from Sheffield Avenue
Fenway Park, Boston – Photo: Garry Armstrong

For our purposes, we will stick with the Major Leagues.  Three cities are lucky enough to have two teams, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.  Only one has a third team close at hand.  People in and around Chicago can also make the quick trip to Milwaukee to catch a game without needing an over night stay.

You might tell me that people in New York or Philadelphia can visit the other city with a quick trip since it is only a little farther than Chicago to Milwaukee.

Okay, start in New York City. Head down the New Jersey Turnpike, and get to Philadelphia. Then come back and tell us how long it took.  What time did you have to leave NYC to get to a 7 PM game in Philly.  Sorry, I digressed.

Game time 7:10 pm

Closest to home for those of us on the north side of Chicago is Wrigley Field, Major League Baseball’s second oldest ballpark.  Built in 1914, the park tries to maintain its old-fashioned charm despite some major upgrades. Only Boston’s Fenway park is older.

The neighborhood ballpark still lacks parking, however.   But who drives to the park?  The busy “Wrigleyville” is well served by the Clark and Addison bus lines.  The Chicago Transit Authority “Red Line” is just a few doors east of the ballpark, so you can take the “L” train.

After the game, buses are lined up all along Addison and leave in a “load and go” fashion.  When the bus is full, it takes off and the next one pulls up to the bus stop.  Years of anguish taught us how to get 40 thousand people in and out of a neighborhood with little parking.  In fact, Wrigley Field gave up its tiny lot along side the park on Clark Street for one of its renovation projects.  More seats, less parking!

By the way, people here bristle at any suggestion that naming rights should be sold for the park.  The park was originally Weeghman Park.  From 1920 to 1926 it was Cubs Park.  After that the Cubs owner, chewing gum king William Wrigley Jr.,  named it Wrigley Field.  Legend has it he wanted to popularize the name to help give gum sales a boost.  And we are against naming rights?

On the south side of Chicago fans can visit Guaranteed Rate Field.  Built in 1991, it originally carried the name of the stadium it replaced, Comiskey Park, which was located just across the street.  In 2003 it was named US Cellular Field.  This year it got another new name.

US Cellular Field

When it was first built, before the wave of “retro-style” ball barks, it was massively criticized by just about everyone in town.  There were lots of things to dislike.  Starting in 2001 the park has undergone renovation every year since, except 2015.

The South Side structure had the highest upper deck of any stadium in baseball, and loomed large above the old park before that was torn down. Few wanted to sit in the top rows of the steep upper deck.  There was no roof and only a wind break at the top.  In 2004 the top 8 rows and 6600 seats of the park were removed and a roof added, covering what became the top 13 rows.  It now has a smaller capacity than its north side rival.

Baseball on the South Side

Unlike Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field has copious parking.  Located right off the Dan Ryan Expressway (Interstate 90/94), it is easy to find.  It is well served by Public Transportation by train and by bus.  The Red Line train runs close to the ballpark, the same line that runs past Wrigley Field.  If the Cubs have a day game, followed by a White Sox night game, you can grab the Red Line and easily go from one ballpark to the other.  If you have to go to Soldier Field for a football game, just get off at Roosevelt and take the bus.

From the north side of Chicago, we made it to Miller Park in Milwaukee in 90 minutes.  We got on the Interstate close to home and did not get off until we spotted Miller Park.

Home of the Brewers

Fortunately for us, the park has a retractable dome which can open and close in 10 minutes time.   There were intermittent showers the day we went. A roof that opens in good weather and glass panels allow for a natural grass field.  It is the best a domed stadium can offer.

The park was scheduled to open in 2000, but was delayed a year due to a construction accident.  A large crane collapsed while lifting one of the massive roof sections.  The park was built behind the old County Stadium, one time home of the now Atlanta Braves.

Domed stadium, natural grass

If you like bratwurst, pretzels and cheese curds, this is your stadium.  There is no shortage of concession stands featuring the typical Wisconsin fare.  Of course, Miller beer is easily located as well.

With all of the renovations since the new Comiskey park opened, it may be the best of the group.  It can be the least expensive.  Wrigley Field continues its historic attraction, despite the many changes in recent years.  Miller Park is the newest and will have baseball rain or shine.