Saturday, September 11, 2010

What I Hate About the US Cellular Experience

On average, I attend about 15 to 20 White Sox games a year.  I’ve been doing this through three different eras; the Old Comiskey era, The New Comiskey Era, and the revamped US Cellular era.  Over the course of my fan-manship, I have seen a lot at the ballpark, both good and bad.  While I could go on and on about what makes the US Cellular experience great, being a glass is half-empty type of guy, I’d rather focus on the bad.  Besides, praising does not bring about change, and if the election of Barack Obama means anything, the people of this country both want and deserve change.  White sox fans are no different.  They deserve change as well.  So if you’re reading this Jerry Reinsdorf (which I’m sure, as a loyal Buzznews follower, you are), what follows are the gripes that I have with "The Cell" (awful nickname by the way) and my suggestions for what could be done to make it better for all of your loyal customers, especially me.

1.  The “Everyone gets a trophy” home run challenge

Each game, one young fan is chosen in between innings (can’t remember which one), to compete in a contest on the Fundamentals deck which is shown to all via the jumbotron.  The kid is given three chances to hit a whiffle ball off a tee over the fence on a mini-field for the opportunity to win some sort of inconsequential prize.  On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this.  Everyone roots for the kid to touch ‘em all and the youngster gets an opportunity to show off his skills in front of thousands of people.  Fine, I’m good with that.  In fact, I love the idea.....if it is done right.

The Problem:  Regardless of whether or not the kid hits the ball over the fence, the White Sox marketing people decided that, so as not to hurt the kid’s feelings, the young slugger take a home run trot even if he or she is unsuccessful.  Call me a grouch, but this is the stupidest thing ever and is a microcosm of what is wrong with our society today.  It annoys me every time I see it, and I make it a point to share my disgust with whoever is sitting next to me.  

First of all, I’m guessing that any self-respecting kid with any sense, if they don’t hit a homer, would much rather put their head down and sulk back to their seat, then take a “we don’t want to damage your self-esteem” sympathy home run trot.  Secondly, what does it teach all the other youngsters in the crowd?  So Dad, even if I don’t hit a home run, I still get to run around the bases anyways?  Does that mean if I miss the last second shot at tommorow’s game, everyone will still rush the court and we can celebrate like I made it?  How about if I ask little Susie Smith out, even if she doesn’t want to go on a date, will she still allow me to get to third base?  And what if I get a 14 on the ACT, can I still graduate with honors from Harvard?  No, No, No, and No will be the answers, but you can understand the child’s confusion because of the mixed messages that are being sent to him.  Please, instead of worrying about feelings, can we please use sports as the great metaphor for life that they are? There are winners and there are losers and in order to get what you want, you have to work for it.  

This "everyone is a winner" culture that has been created is exactly why China is going to overtake the US as the world's largest economy by 2015, because in China, if a kid fails at their version home run challenge, he is much more likely to be disowned or cained by his family, then given an opportunity to run the bases.  If we want to continue to compete globally,  we must stop confusing kids, starting with the home run challenge. 

The Solution:  If you don’t hit a home run in three tries, you don’t get to run the bases, pretty simple.  Instead, you walk immediately back to your seat where you can make a vow to yourself that you will practice harder and longer than anyone around until you become the greatest ballplayer who ever lived.  Only then will you make peace with your failure today at the “Everyone gets a trophy” home run challenge.  You may get booed for not jacking one, but at least you won’t feel like a complete loser with everyone feeling sorry for you and allowing you to do your best sympathy trot.

2.  The Balk call by at least one fan per section of the stadium on the first to third pick-off move by the opposing pitcher

The Problem:  No matter where you are sitting or what part of the game it is, whenever the opposing pitcher does the ‘ole first to third pickoff move (Side Note:  The only person that I have ever seen successful at this move was Black Jack McDowell in the early nineties), there will be at least one fan in your section who angrily screams “BALK!!!!” at the top of his or her lungs.  The trouble with this is that it is not a balk, has never been a balk, nor will it probably ever be a balk.  Yet, there is always some idiot who hurts the eardrums of intelligent fans in the ballpark with this verbal nonsense.

The Solution:  Just like fans who touch balls that are in play are removed from ballpark, the same should hold true for the false “Balk” callers.  If this is not feasible, although I don’t see why it wouldn’t be, then any fan who is found to have done this, should be forced to give a verbal disclaimer to all fans in their section prior to the next game they attend, which goes something like this “I, state your name, apologize in advance for my lack of baseball intelligence.  Although I have been told time and again that the first-to-third pickoff move is not a balk, I simply cannot help myself.  I am a baseball idiot.  Please ignore any baseball related things that I happen to say. For that matter, ignore everything that I have to say regardless of it is baseball related or not.  Thank you for your time and god bless.”   While our eardrums will still probably hurt at the inevitable verbal diarrhea of this fan, instead of wasting the 2 seconds of our lives that it takes from the time “Balk” is screamed to coming to the conclusion that the guy who said it is an idiot, we will have already tuned the guy out thanks to the pre-game disclaimer, and thus be able to use those two seconds for something far more productive.  Does this seem like an unreasonable request?  If you think so, I’m guessing you’re probably the person I’m complaining about or his or her significant other.

3.  Outrageous Beer Prices

The Problem:  You have already taken advantage of us with ticket, parking, and food prices; do you really have to get us on beer too?   Paying seven dollars for a beer is ridiculous, especially with the harsh economic times that people are facing.  I could get a 6-pack at the local liquor store for less, and yet you expect me to pony over that much for one Miller Lite?  No thanks.  I’d rather sit through an episode of the Rachel  Zoe Project than splurge that much cash on a cold one.

The Solution:  Cut beer prices in half to $3.50.  You’ll still have a mark-up way above market value and I think because of the lower price, the number of sales would skyrocket.  I think most people would be more likely to spend twenty-one dollars on six beers than buy only one beer at seven dollars.  Just think of all the untapped revenue that could be had from people like me, who wouldn’t spend seven dollars on a dose of anti-aging syrum, let alone, on a Miller Lite.

4.  Shameless Plugs and Advertising Everywhere

The Problem:  Everywhere you look; there is some sort of advertisement or sponsorship.  If the McDonald’s logo on the scoreboard weren’t enough of eye sore, we have to sit through an entire half inning of White Sox players talking about their memories of going to Mickey D’s as kids.    We also have a section of the stadium called the Jim Beam Club and a group of annoying cheerleaders (using the word annoying to describe cheerleaders seems kind of redundant doesn’t it?) who go by the moniker of the Chevy pride crew which coincidently, serves only to make me want to drink anything but bourbon and ashamed to own a Lumina.  While I could live with giant billboards above the concourse, making the fence look like a minor league ballpark classified paged outfield is inexcusable as well.
Katie Ramoley
To me, baseball is the purest American sport.  There is something sanctimonious about the game, but all the sponsorships and advertisements are taking away from that, particularly at US Cellular Field.  While all the shameless plugs may bring in revenue, it leaves me completely turned off.  It would be like if in my next column I wrote how my sister Katie Ramoley is one of the best real estate agents around, and how if you would like to buy or sell a home in the Chicagoland area, you should contact her at 1-708-612-1848 or  To take the point even further, what if I put a picture of her at the bottom of the page of my next column with a link to one her listings like the one to the right ?  Wouldn’t that make me a complete hypocrite and wouldn’t it be annoying for anyone who read it?  Absolutely it would.  That’s why I would never even think of doing something like that.  I believe that the written word is far too sacred, just like baseball park should be, and I would not want to sacrifice my personal integrity, just like the Sox organization shouldn't want to either.

The Solution:  I understand that advertising brings in money which is then used to create a better on-the-field product, but there must be a better way.  Couldn’t the White Sox do some sort of profit sharing with their television and radio networks and completely flood each broadcast with as many advertisements, sponsorships, and plugs as humanly possible?  I’d much rather watch or listen to something like that, then have to see or hear it at the ballpark.  Besides, it might be funny to hear Ed Farmer sarcastically stating that "Gordon Beckman's latest slump buster iscourtesy of the day shift at the Pink Monkey, located at 750 South Clinton" or Hawk Harrelson say something like “that last AJ Pierzynski ball scratch was brought to you by Gold Bonds baby powder."  I think it’s a great idea (probably because it’s mine) and one that I expect to see by the 2013-2014 season if the Sox have any sense.

5.  The Pre-determined Kiss Cam

The Problem:  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some kiss cam.  It is one of the few between innings gimmicks that I actually enjoy.  I just hate the predetermined kiss cam when two fans have a camera directly in front of them and have agreed to let their kiss be displayed on the big screen.  The lack of surprise robs us of everything that is great about the kiss cam, and lessens the odds of seeing one of the following three best scenarios that the random kiss cam has to offer.

a. The “we did not come together, my wife is actually on my right” scenario

I love this scenario, especially when the woman is attractive, because you can usually see the man contemplate, even if just for a split second, if he should just kiss her and suffer the consequences later.  You can read the thoughts in his head in that quick moment about how he could justify it to his wife on the car ride home.  Honey, it’s the kiss cam.  You have to do it, otherwise the whole crowd will boo you.  You wouldn’t want that would you?   Usually this scenario ends with the wife either slapping the guy in the chest because she sees what we all see or she grabs her husband, claims her territory, and kisses him herself.  Either way, the crowd gets a kick out it and the kiss cam serves its purpose.

b. The “first date” scenario

Similar to the “we did not come together, my wife is actually on my right” scenario, you can read exactly what the woman is thinking in the “first date” scenario.  If I kiss him now, that sets a bad precedent for the end of the night.  If I don’t, he may think I’m not any fun.  But then again, if I do, he is going to be expecting much more than a kiss later.  On the other hand, not kissing him may make him want me more.  This scenario is pretty funny because it usually ends with an incredibly awkward peck on the cheek, a head shake “no” by the woman and a visibly disappointed guy, or the woman still contemplating in her head as they decide to switch to a different and more willing couple.  While not quite as funny as the first scenario, it usually gets a chuckle from the crowd who knows exactly what is going on.

c. The “till death do us part awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww” scenario

The couple has to be at least seventy and clearly married.  The man sees himself on the screen, turns, looks into his wife of 40 years eyes and gives her a sweet, yet passionate kiss.  Everyone in the crowd lets out a long, loud, and collective “awwwwwwwww” and feel good about that fact that true love and a long marriage are possible.  While this scenario is much more well received by the female portion of the crowd, the great part is that even the most alpha of males is usually touched by the “till death do us part awwwwwwwwwwwwwww” scenario even if they don't want to admit it.

The Solution:  Get rid of the predetermined kiss cam completely.  It’s not fun, nobody enjoys it, and it gives us one less chance of seeing one of the above scenarios.  The predetermined kiss cam is like CBS telling one of their live look in bubble teams at selection Sunday that they made the tournament ten minutes before the show began and  how they should try to act worried, nervous, and then ecstatic during the actual show.  That would be stupid and rob all of us of watching them go through the full gauntlet of human emotion that makes the live look in so great.

While I have much more to say about what I hate about the US Cellular Experience, I decided to save that for a Part Two because this is getting far too long and any normal person probably stopped reading about 600 words ago.  Also, if no one likes what I have to say in Part One, I can conveniently forget to write a Part Two  and move on to a topic that is a little more interesting.  But that may be harder to determine than it seems because in the "everyone is a winner society" people will probably tell me how much they enjoyed it, even if it they thought it sucked.  So......look for part two by the end of the week.  I'll be busy soaking in my sympathy praise in the meantime.          

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