Monday, July 30, 2018

Toronto Blue Jays at Chicago White Sox - July 27-28, 2018


My Toronto on the Road quest continued this past weekend in Chicago as the Jays took on the woeful White Sox. My wife and baby accompanied me on this trip, and the baby saw her first Blue Jays game, which was a lot of fun. But first, a review of Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the White Sox.



Opened in 1991 to replace Comiskey Park, it retained the same name for 12 seasons before the White Sox succumbed to the naming rights craze, after which it became U.S. Cellular Field. The agreement was supposed to last 20 years, but U.S. Cellular exited the Chicago market in 2013, and eventually had to pay $13 million to get out of the contract, with mortgage provider Guaranteed Rate stepping in last year.



Located on the South Side of Chicago, the stadium is easily accessed from downtown on the CTA's Red Line, which has a stop called Sox/35th, from where it is a short walk. The ballpark is actually on the other side of the street from the station exit, but don't bother crossing as the gates are on the same side as the station. Take Gate 5, the first one you reach (there are 7 other gates, including one labeled 3 1/2 for the very expensive Scout Seats). The Chisox Bar and Grill is next to Gate 5 should you arrive early and feel the need for refreshment. Gates at GRF open 90 minutes before first pitch, but the bar opens 3 hours before, giving you some time to relax. One thing that was a bit odd here was that my ticket was scanned before the security check; usually it is the other way around in case you need to return some contraband to your car. Most fans now are familiar with the security rules though, so it didn't seem like much of a concern. Once past security, you can take an escalator or a ramp up to the concourses. I prefer the ramp, as you can see the structure with its arched windows, as well as some banners that show previous incarnations of the Sox logo.



At the bottom of the ramp is a photo collage of Sox successes, including Mark Buehrle's perfect game.



At all levels, there are walkways over the street that lead to the ballpark.



Go to the 500 level first, as there are a few things to see there. Before entering, take a look back at the Chicago skyline.



There is also a Chicago sign in the Sox font that makes for a good photo opportunity.



Look down to see the home plate location of the old Comiskey Park.



Finally, a sign that needs to be removed. There are no ushers preventing those with 500 level tickets from touring the park on the lower level, or just standing and watching the game. Most ballparks, including this one, now allow fans to move freely around, protecting only the best seats, so this sign really has no meaning.



As the stadium was the last major league venue built just before the retro ballpark craze, it resembles the older type of ballpark. There is a single lower bowl that goes from foul pole to foul pole, with suites just above. The 300 club level juts out above these suites, and the 500 level is above this. All seats are forest green, which is a change from the original blue used when the stadium opened.



That is just one of several updates that have been made over the years to try to 'retro'fit the stadium. I last visited in 2006 and it certainly seems to have changed in the meantime.



There is a large concourse that circles the outfield and has quite a bit to see. Right above center field is the CIBC Fan Deck, which comes with an all-inclusive buffet (domestic beers too!) for your $80 ticket. Sometimes the area is booked by a group, but if not, anyone can buy a ticket.



The fan deck is on the right of the picture below. Above left field is the Xfinity Kids Zone.



In front of the fan deck is a series of hedges and you can stand behind them if you want an obstructed view of the game.



Just behind here is a plaque commemorating Jim Thome's homer that hit the fan deck in June 2008. This was quite fitting as Thome was inducted into the Hall of Fame over the weekend.



There are nine statues of past Sox greats located all around the outfield concourse, including Harold Baines...



...Minnie Minoso...



...and Carlton Fisk.



Retired numbers are posted along the railing beneath the upper deck, but there is also a single poster just above the right field entrance to the lower concourse that includes photos of each player along with the numbers. With all that talent, it is surprising that the White Sox have only three World Series to their credit. Guess the 1919 scandal really did curse them.



There are a couple of interesting seating areas behind the fences - one is The Patio, which is reserved for groups, but the other is a new addition known as the Craft Kave (with the K backwards for good measure). Located just behind the right field fence, this area is open to the public. There is a bar with several craft beer selections, and an open-air section that seem to be first-come, first-serve basis, though an additional charge applies.



Overall, Guaranteed Rate Field has really improved since it opened nearly 20 years ago. It will always play second fiddle to Wrigley, but has become a worthy destination in its own right. I didn't see everything due to my limited time here, so I hope to be back to explore further in the near future.

The Games

With the family along for the trip, I decided to limit myself to the two night games on Friday and Saturday. We brought the baby, wearing her Blue Jays onesie, to the first game and managed to stay until the end.



We had aisle seats near the back of a section, which is probably the best place to sit with a baby, as you don't have to bother too many other fans while getting to your seat, and it provides a quick exit should you have a diaper emergency. The view isn't bad either.



By the time we reached our seats, the Blue Jays had a 2-0 thanks to back-to-back homers from Curtis Granderson and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to lead off the game. They tacked on three more in the second, another in the fourth on Gurriel's second homer of the night, and got to double figures with a four-spot in the fifth. With the game well in hand, we walked around the concourse and picked up baby's First Game Certificate at the Rookie Corner. This is a truly professional operation here as the baby's name is typed into a computer and the certificate is printed with the name, date, and opponent, and handed to you in a folder for protection. I'm hoping to get the baby all 30 of these before she's old enough to hate baseball.



The Blue Jays hung on to win 10-5, the first time I had seen them win in Chicago after a loss in their last game at old Comiskey in 1990 and the sweep in Wrigley last year. Nice to see the iconic scoreboard showing the Jays win. Of course, the picture had to be taken before the final out as the scoreboard changes immediately after the game ends, but we did watch until the end.



The next day I returned alone, picking up a ticket outside which had me sitting in the outfield (view above), something I rarely do. After a couple of innings, I moved to the infield, standing at various spots until I found a seat. I was handed a bobblehead of Iron Man upon entering. I had no need for this item, but carried it around throughout the game until about the 7th inning, when a gentleman asked me if I wanted to sell it. I quoted the price of my ticket and he accepted, so in the end I saw the game for free. Which was good, because this was a bad game. The Jays were scheduled to start J.A. Happ, but he was dealt to the Yankees a couple of days before, so they went with reliever John Axford. I feel that trying to get through 9 innings with 6 or 7 relievers is silly because at least one will probably be off his game, and sure enough that is what happened. Axford pitched 3 strong innings, followed by Jake Petricka and Aaron Loup who combined for 2.2 innings yielding just a run. The Toronto offense had tagged Lucas Giolito for 5 runs, but as expected, it wasn't enough. The next three relievers (Clippard, Garcia, Tepera) all pitched like crap, giving up 8 runs in just 1.2 innings as the White Sox came back to win 9-5. Axford and Loup were traded a couple of days later as the Jays officially gave up on the season.

Notes

I still have to see the Jays in Oakland, Washington, and Los Angeles, as well as new venues in Detroit and Seattle. All but Washington should be completed in 2019.

We also spent some time touring the city. One of the more interesting and less visited spots was the Museum of Broadcast Communications. I found out that my near namesake is actually older than I am, but he didn't become nationally famous until after I was born, so my parents still have an excuse.



The camera below was used in the first presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, which took place at the studios of WBBM-TV in Chicago and is widely thought to have influenced the outcome. There is also a video of the two candidates before the debate that is very interesting.



Next Up

I'm taking another family trip in mid-August, this time to Washington, where I will check out the Nationals and D.C. United over a weekend. As always, recaps will be posted here.

Best,

Sean

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