The $7 ticket: An adventure to the far reaches of U.S. Cellular Field

The way a stoner reacted to the Doritos Locos taco or old ladies to self-parallel parking cars is how my cheapass reacted when the White Sox announced they were selling upper reserved seats for $7. Now, I know those seats are located way up there [points to the heavens] and way over that way [makes a sweeping hand motion towards the horizon], but still, SEVEN DOLLARS. It used to take a half-price Monday game to get that price, now it’s every game*. And must I repeat, SEVEN DOLLARS! I just spent $9 on a strip of stamps.

*Well except for Cubs games. Always read the fine print

The upper deck at U.S. Cellular Field has always been sort of a funny thing. It has been discussed the same way people complain about pot holes to their city council. It’s so high. It’s dangerous. My kids are getting nosebleeds. I still remember a Greg Couch column from 2000 in the Sun-Times that addressed the nose bleeds at what was then Comiskey Park. Here’s a few excerpts:

Legs burning, head spinning, you are near the goal. Eighty-one, 82, 83, 84. Eighty-five steps, starting from the bottom of the upper deck, to reach the top row at Comiskey Park. The national anthem is sung on the field by what appears to be a small marble, though it is really a woman in an outfit with a wide stripe.

The game starts. You can't see the ball. You can't see the bat. "Don't worry," says Scott Fredericks, a fan in a White Sox jersey. "Your eyes adjust to it after 10 minutes."

The complaints about Comiskey Park never end. The upper deck is too high. There is no ambience in the entire place.

"Oxygen," said Ellen Ryan, sitting two rows down with husband Tom and son Sean. "It would be nice if they had oxygen. And I'm afraid of heights. "I told my son, `If you've got anything to say to God, say it now.' They should helicopter people in up here."

Word is, the deck has a 38-degree pitch, which creates the feeling that you are hovering or sitting on the edge of the Sears Tower.

It’s a bit dramatic, isn’t it? The crowd-search for the stupidest quote available has never been my journalistic cup of tea, yet, point being, when talking about an upper deck, the words “oxygen”, “helicopter”, and “Sears Tower” are never a good thing.

The fantastic Tommy Craggs said it much better in this piece he wrote for Deadspin:

U.S. Cellular Field is the hideous ransom paid to the White Sox after they spent the late 1980s threatening to hie themselves to St. Petersburg. This was deemed a fate too awful to imagine — the franchise had been in Chicago since 1901, after all — even though it's in the natural order of things for cranky 80-year-old nuisances to slink off to some godforsaken spot in South Florida where they can be safely ignored. In any event, the taxpayers gave the White Sox their lame Royals Stadium ripoff, the last ballpark built before the retro craze and certainly the last time anyone thought the Royals a franchise worth imitating. In fairness, the stadium did feature several design innovations, chief among them the decision to place the farthest reaches of the upper decks somewhere near Aurora. No one much liked the place, which is why it has been in a constant state of self-mutilation from the moment the Sox snipped the ribbon. A vast five-stage overhaul began in 2001, when the stadium was 10 — 10 — years old. The White Sox: baseball's cutters.

The upper deck at Comiskey became the whipping boy for all that was wrong about the new ballpark. With change comes an adjustment period, especially when the highest point of the upper deck at Old Comiskey was closer to the field than the lowest part of the upper deck at New Comiskey. That’s a silly type of change. And to be honest, it did get grotesquely steep at the top as if the grandstand was slowly succumbing to the sun’s gravitational pull. So naturally, in 2003, the White Sox renovated the hell out of the upper deck, sawing away the top eight rows and cropping it up with a nice overhead canopy, losing 6,000 seats in the process.

It should be mentioned, the upper deck wasn’t actually lowered, they just chopped off its big head to give the perception that the seats aren’t as crappy. And, for the most part, it has worked. Here’s a closer look at just how disgustingly horrific (read: not bad at all) the $7 seats are.

Height: After the renovations took 22 feet off the ballpark, the top seats now sit at a comfortable 126 feet, which is shorter than Soldier Field and half the fields in the MLB. Of note: that’s about 1/12th the size of Willis Tower.

Angle: 35 degrees. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It’s because it’s not. The steepness of the upper deck got fish-storied pretty good. Such is the nature with complaints; to feel validated you can never just bitch about one thing, you must bitch about everything. When you’re walking up the upper deck, you’re not scaling Mount Fucked Up Architecture, rather you are walking up a relatively flat set of stairs. Sorry to ruin the fun.

Distance: Some quick math: It’s 330 feet down the lines. Tack on another 100 feet or so for the distance the seats extend passed the field. So 430 feet long, 126 feet high, that means the farthest sitting person is about 450 feet away… Holy shit, that sounds bad. But if you think about it, that’s only 150 yards away, aka a short par 3. So have no fear, you’re still well within range to see Adam Dunn strikeout but far enough away to avoid seeing the dumbfounded look on his face afterwards.

Nosebleeds: Yeah…no.

I’ve always found it interesting the way the Sox have gone about setting ticket prices. In 2011, the Sox had the 4th highest average ticket price in all of baseball. That’s hard to fathom given the blue collar reputation of the fan base. After two straight years of large percent drops in ticket price, the Sox now sit below the league average in average ticket price. Ahh, that feels so much better.

It should also be mentioned that if you really want to get cheap tickets, just go on StubHub or some other third party market and scoop them up. But still, I think there’s something to be said for showing up at the ballpark and paying $7 at the gate. That’s less than most movie theatres. Bill Veeck would be proud.

So how are the upper reserved seats? For people like me who don’t like the cramped feeling of sitting in a hot sun surrounded by thousands of sweaty humans, the openness of these seats is quite satisfying. You can kinda see stuff. You’re in the shade, no rain, nice breeze. It’s nice. Plus you can always move down lower if you’d like, assuming you have even mediocre espionage skills.

So for an hour’s work at roughly minimum wage, you can get Paulie! and Thwack, cheer, fireworks and grilled onion aroma and Thunderstruck and summer air and aw shit, parking is still $20 and but that’s alright, just drink all the beer before you enter the ballpark to save money and fresh cut grass and Na-Na Hey-Hey Goodbye and approximately a 50-50 shot at a White Sox winner and the real small chance at witnessing one of those games and what once was and perhaps still is America’s Pastime. The $7 ticket. It’s an easy choice. You know what to do.

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