Schaefer scouts for ideas at Comiskey Park opening

April 19, 1991|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Correspondent

CHICAGO -- He peeked into luxury suites, strolled crowded concourses and, of all things, looked in at the press box.

He wanted to know about the seating capacity. He asked why the upper deck had such a pronounced slant. Politely, he inquired why the elevators arrived late or not at all.

He watched a couple of innings of the ballgame and even answered the burning question, what does Gov. William Donald Schaefer eat for lunch at a baseball game?

(Answer: a hot dog and a giant soft pretzel.)

But there was another question to be asked yesterday afternoon:

What was Maryland's governor doing at the grand opening of the Comiskey Park, the new $135 million home of the Chicago White Sox?

He was watching the Detroit Tigers crown the White Sox, 16-0, before a crowd of 42,191 fans. More importantly, Mr. Schaefer was preparing for next year.

In April 1992, the Baltimore Orioles expect to move into their new ballpark at Camden Yards. As he toured the new Chicago ballpark with officials of the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Orioles yesterday, it was clear the governor had given the occasion more than passing thought.

Mr. Schaefer has ideas. Yesterday, he revealed about 60.

He is determined that the opening game will be preceded by days of fun and frolic that will be "bigger than Preakness Week."

Longer, too.

"What I have in mind, you couldn't do in seven days," he said. "It will take at least 10."

The governor recommended that the Orioles hold two opening days -- one on the obvious day, another when they return from their first road trip.

"Why not have an opening Opening Day?" he said. "If you can't get all the people in the first time, do it again."

He is pitching the idea of an Eastern Shore Day to honor Orioles fans who live across the Bay Bridge. This would be followed by a Montgomery County Day, a Hagerstown Day and a Frederick Day, though not necessarily in that order.

He appears open to any idea that either will bring customers to the Inner Harbor or honor residents of even the most far-flung regions of the state. "You've got to get that excitement going, and keep it going," he said.

Planning is already under way for some of those special events. Last week, officials of the Orioles and the Stadium Authority met with a representative of the governor to discuss such things as fireworks, parades and rallies. But yesterday the governor said he wanted more -- and he said it with a hint of impatience.

"It's not happening, not the way I'd like to see it," he said. "You can't wait until a month before Opening Day. We've got to get on this now. As soon as we get back, we're going to get real excited about this. We need to include the whole region in Opening Day."

Orioles President Larry Lucchino, who accompanied the governor on his tour of the new Comiskey Park, did not resist.

Of the twin opening-day concept, Mr. Lucchino said, "It's inspired."

Of the aggressive marketing man who also is the governor, the Orioles president added, "His enthusiasm is infectious."

Stadium Authority Chairman Herbert J. Belgrad said plans were under way to create the "exciting opening to the ballpark that the governor has spoken about."

Yesterday morning, Mr. Belgrad, Mr. Lucchino and Bruce Hoffman, Stadium Authority executive director, met to discuss the new ballpark's design features with Joe Spear, an architect with Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum, the firm that designed the White Sox ballpark and the one at Camden Yards.

The two ballparks often are compared, because both are new and were conceived by HOK architects. But as the Maryland party learned yesterday, there are significant differences.

For one thing, there is the height of the new Comiskey. Unlike the Camden Yards ballpark, which will be dug about 15 feet into downtown Baltimore, the new Comiskey stands at street level. In the upper deck, the last row of seats are 120 feet above the street. To reach that height at Camden Yards, one would have to scale the light standards.

Baltimore's upper deck also should be a friendlier place than at this ballpark, where the pitch of the upper deck is something like a toboggan run. Here, the slope is 35 degrees. By comparison, Memorial Stadium's upper deck is 33 degrees, and Camden Yards will be a user-friendly 31.5 degrees.

By increasing the angle, the planners brought the upper deck at the new Comiskey closer to the action. They also may have made some sections off-limits to cardiac patients.

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf does not agree.

"I'm a pretty fat, out-of-shape guy, and I walked up to the last row of seats the other day," Mr. Reinsdorf said. "It's a little high, but not as high as I've seen in other ballparks."

The ballparks also supposedly are to be linked by the attention paid to traditional baseball architecture.

There are some touches here. Arched windows dot the outside of the stadium. Seats are close to the field, as in old ballparks. But the dazzling features of the new Comiskey are mostly modern amenities.

"This is a hybrid, trying to pick up the traditions of the old Comiskey and also emphasizing many modern amenities," Mr. Belgrad said.

Mr. Schaefer took in all of this, but appeared to be most impressed by what he saw moments before the game's first pitch. As he sat in his seat behind the first-base dugout, a squadron of airplanes passed over the playing field and the loudest fireworks in major-league history exploded overhead.

"That's fan stuff, real fan stuff," Mr. Schaefer said. "I like it."

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