New Comiskey signals new era in ballparks

April 18, 1991|By Mark Hyman

The ballpark was built for baseball, and that's all. Everything about the design shouts Ozzie Guillen. Or was that Jack McDowell?

For starters, the seats all point toward the playing field. Small point, you say? Try sitting in the upper deck at Memorial Stadium or another multipurpose park, gazing out at the 50-yard line.

Welcome to the new Comiskey Park, Chicago's new baseball park, where baseball will be the first and only game.

This afternoon, a sellout crowd of 44,702 fans is expected to sink into the roomy seats at the new Comiskey Park for the long-awaited opening of the Chicago White Sox's modern home field.

They will hear the Oak Ridge Boys sing the national anthem and see former Illinois Gov. James Thompson toss out the first ball. If they look closely, they might spot Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who will lead a Maryland delegation attending the game.

The patient fans even will see a game -- the White Sox are scheduled to play the Detroit Tigers.

New sports facilities don't come along that often, particularly in Chicago. The last one built there, Chicago Stadium, home of the National Basketball Association Bulls and National Hockey League Blackhawks, opened in 1929. The original Comiskey, across a parking lot from its gleaming namesake, opened in 1910.

The $135 million Comiskey, which was financed by the state, is intriguing from a national perspective. As a baseball-only stadium, it is a harbinger of a new era in ballparks.

Since 1970, 10 new stadiums have entered major-league baseball. Of those, only two were tailored exclusively for baseball spectators and players -- the new Comiskey and Kansas City's Royals Stadium, which opened in 1973.

Now, however, state and local governments are spending hundreds of millions to keep their sports teams home and their owners happy.

One example is the new ballpark at Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles will be the only tenant in the $105.4 million ballpark scheduled to open next April. Baseball-only stadiums also are being planned in Cleveland and Texas, with projected openings in 1994.

The new Comiskey is the first of that genre. It may be the first ballpark that is more comfortable than your living room.

"Our goal was to build a ballpark, not a stadium," said Terry Savarise, White Sox vice president for stadium operations. "Ballpark connotes an intimate place. We always had that in our minds."

The result, in some ways, is similar to what is happening at Camden Yards, which makes sense because the architect for both ballparks is Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Inc. of Kansas )) City, Mo., which specializes in stadiums. In both ballparks, traditional touches have been preserved or planned.

At Comiskey, for example, the seats will be blue, just as they were at the old park. Get this: The dirt from the infield is the same dirt that mucked up uniforms at the old ballpark. "We dug it up, dumped it in wheelbarrows and wheeled it across the street," Savarise said.

Much is new, improved and, in most cases, more expensive. The new park has a two-level stadium club seating about 700, 93 luxury suites, a Hall of Fame, 12 escalators, 11 elevators and a mammoth video scoreboard that offers everything but shoeshines.

The scoreboard contains three side-by-side screens. One will convey animated messages and information. The middle one is a television screen, and the third will display out-of-town scores. That is topped by an updated version of the old Comiskey's exploding scoreboard, including the familiar pinwheels.

Ticket prices have gone in the expected direction -- through the roof. The cost of an average ticket to a White Sox game has increased this year to $10.50 from $8 -- up 31 percent. The bargain tickets -- 3,200 bleacher seats -- will go for $6.

If the price increase has irritated longtime White Sox fans, it is difficult to tell. Season-ticket sales have nearly tripled, and team officials say they expect season attendance to approach 2.7 million, which easily would be a team record.

Opening Day

Here are the years of the first major-league games played at all 26 major-league parks.

New Comiskey Park, Chicago 1991

SkyDome, Toronto 1989

Metrodome, Minneapolis 1982

Olympic Stadium, Montreal 1977

Kingdome, Seattle 1977

Royals Stadium, Kansas City 1973

Arlington Stadium, Texas 1972

Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia 1971

Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati 1970

Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh 1970

Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego 1969

Oakland Coliseum 1968

Busch Stadium, St. Louis 1966

Anaheim Stadium 1966

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium 1966

Houston Astrodome 1965

Shea Stadium, New York 1964

Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles 1962

Candlestick Park, San Francisco 1960

Memorial Stadium, Baltimore 1954

Milwaukee County Stadium 1953

Cleveland Stadium 1931

Yankee Stadium, New York 1923

Wrigley Field, Chicago 1916

Fenway Park, Boston 1912

Tiger Stadium, Detroit 1912

Tiger Stadium and Fenway Park opened the same day -- April 20, 1912.

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