Chicago Is Working With The White Sox On A New Ball Park
Major League Baseball has been aggressively pursuing new ballparks for its teams that they believe are playing in sub-par facilities or buildings that they believe are out of date. The ones that most baseball fans are aware of are the Oakland A's, who have had a decade-long saga trying to get a new ballpark in Oakland, and apparently will be moving to Las Vegas. And the Tampa Bay Rays, who are building a new 1.3 billion dollar ballpark in St. Petersburg. Whether pressured by Major League Baseball, or just owners who want something different, those aren't the only teams seeking new digs.
Royals fans, of course, are aware that owner John Sherman has been trying to get the team a new stadium downtown, or in North Kansas City, or the East Village, or now where the old Kansas City Star Printing Press building sits.
For Royals fans, it's a complicated decision whether to support a move. There are many fans with an emotional attachment to Kauffman Stadium. There's the use of public funds to help build a new ballpark that some don't want to pay, or feel could be better used paying for something else. There's the crowd that wants more urban baseball. And the tailgaters who like the K. Not to mention, some folks don't want a new ballpark in their backyard, and then some do. There's also the ever-present fear among fans that Sherman may just pack up the team and go to Nashville if he doesn't get the stadium he wants, which by the way isn't a threat he made.
I don't believe Major League Baseball has entered the fray when it comes to a new ballpark in Kansas City, at least not yet. However, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was more than happy to go to Milwaukee and hinted the Brewers could face a fate similar to the A's if politicians didn't get their act together and fund a pretty big renovation of the Brewers ballpark.
That brings us to Chicago. Where all the talk of a new stadium until this week has centered around the NFL's Bears. The team purchased the old Arlington Park racetrack in the Northern suburbs of Chicago and conventional wisdom had the team building a stadium and entertainment complex there, yet that seemed to run into some snags which left other suburban towns pandering to the Bears to build in their town instead. It also gave the City of Chicago an opening to fix the damaged relationship between the team, the City, and the City's Park District which owns Soldier Field.
That is, until this week, when surprise surprise, the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson confirmed they are working together to keep the team in Chicago. It's a good move for Johnson, who beat former mayor Lori Lightfoot in the last mayoral election. Lightfoot took some heat for at least not outwardly taking the Bears leaving Chicago seriously.
Also coming out this week, were details that the White Sox are looking at some land close to downtown, a little further north than where the team's current home is, called "The 78". ESPN reports that the team and a developer are in serious discussions to build a baseball-only ballpark on the site.
The White Sox pursuing a new ballpark isn't all that surprising, as there was some media speculation when the White Sox signed their last lease at Guaranteed Rate Field that included some renovations and updates they might try to leave the facility when this lease expired.
Additionally, from a fan standpoint, Guaranteed Rate Field never really lived up to the hype. The ballpark was hyped as being modeled after Kauffman Stadium, which it was, more or less, however, it failed to have any of the charm and uniqueness of the K. In some respects, the new ballpark also hurt the neighborhood it was in. While Comiskey Park never had the hip neighborhood Wrigley had, it was still a neighborhood and had charm. By the time I made it to the new ballpark, a lot of that seemed to be lost.
On top of that, no one foresaw the new "retro" ballpark boom that exploded right after the White Sox's new park opened. The White Sox and the Illinois Sports Authority, who own the park, have spent a lot of money making the park look more retro, and unique, and even lopped off several rows of seats at the top of the stadium to make it palatable for White Sox fans.
Fan chatter recently has centered around the White Sox relocating to Nashville at the end of the lease, more from a standpoint that it's Chicago's red-headed stepchild of a baseball team, and Nashville might be greener pastures for the team as opposed to continuing to be the second baseball team in Chicago.
Of course, fans remember the White Sox threatening and seemingly coming pretty close to leaving Chicago for Tampa Bay when they wanted out of Comiskey Park and wanted a state-funded facility, which then-Governor Jim Thompson pushed through to keep the team in Chicago, so they could be forgiven from thinking Jerry Reinsdorf might pull that card again.
That, however, doesn't seem the case this time as ESPN quotes Reinsdorf from last August talking about how the team would probably look at whether they want to go for a new stadium or not, and he specifically says he hasn't threatened to move out.
I'm not a big fan of public ownership of buildings supporting private enterprises like major sports franchises. That said, as someone who grew up in Chicago, Guaranteed Rate Field never really lived up to what a new ballpark should be. It's an OK ballpark to watch a game in. Yet, it just doesn't have the charm or the uniqueness of a Kauffman Stadium or even a Dodger Stadium, which it should have.
So, for White Sox fans, for Chicago baseball fans, all baseball fans, and the City of Chicago, I'm all for giving it another go. This time build a ballpark people won't want to see the team leave in 50 or 100 years. Build the next Baseball Palace of the World.
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Gallery Credit: Peter Richman