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Playing the Fields

In an era when live major-league baseball has retreated to pleasure palaces packed with flashing videos, blaring music, and gut-busting food courts, has the old-fashioned game lost something? Across seven ballparks in seven days, one fan goes looking for an answer

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Tiger, tiger: Detroit’s Comerica Park hosts the Chicago White Sox in 2007.


Baseball fans love to lament the Disneyfication of their ballparks. The argument goes something like this: Major League Baseball has sold out to corporations and to casual fans who need more than a slow-moving game to keep them interested. In doing so, baseball’s keepers have betrayed the game’s sacred rhythms and flattened the idiosyncrasies that once made each park a singular experience. Sure, the changes have been effective in their way—attendance is the highest in decades, and in a recent SI.com survey, fans overwhelmingly backed the new stadiums. Still, the traditionalists insist, much has been lost.

As a longtime fan and a White Sox die-hard, I am required to say I despise U.S. Cellular Field (built in 1991). OK. But then I recall games at Comiskey Park. It was an uncomfortable place. Dirty. The lines were brutal. I couldn’t see. It smelled kind of funny. The game being played at The Cell isn’t much different from what it was at Comiskey, so the question is: Can a clean, accessible ballpark boasting assorted entertainment off the field coexist with the real game? Must our baseball experience be unpleasant to be considered authentic?

Chicago is a great baseball city, but it also has a geographic advantage for considering these questions. From my desk downtown, I count seven big-league ballparks within reasonable driving distance: Wrigley Field; U.S. Cellular Field; Milwaukee’s Miller Park; Detroit’s Comerica Park; Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park; St. Louis’s Busch Stadium; and Cleveland’s Progressive Field. Many regard the 94-year-old Wrigley as the jewel in the crown of traditional baseball; the other six parks have gone up in the past 17 years.

In July 2007, I found a stretch of the major-league schedule that conspired for a test: seven days, seven games, a minimum of driving. When I asked my father to come with me, there were no ulterior personal motives. We had no wounds to heal, no generation gaps to bridge through the magic of baseball, à la Field of Dreams. Nor were we seeking any great truths about America, or each other. We simply enjoy spending time together, and wanted to compare the new parks with one of the oldest.

Note: If you’ve got a week at your disposal and want to make a similar road trip this summer, a good bet is August 31st through September 6th, when you can cover 1,500 miles around the Midwest and see seven games, five states, and 12 different teams in one week. As for tickets, any number of affordable seats (usually $15 to $35) are available for most games if you know where to look. Stubhub.com, eBay, and craigslist.org are good places to start. Regarding food prices: Unless otherwise noted in this story, they’re pretty much the same all over. Except in St. Louis, where they’re a total rip-off.

On to Game 1 >>

Photograph: Mark Cunningham/Courtesy of Comerica Park



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