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April 15, 2012

Inside The Park Blog

Wrigley vs. the Cell

by Bradford Doolittle

CHICAGO -- In order to pick up a few extra bucks, I cover games for outlets like MLB.com and the Associated Press, in addition to representing Baseball Prospectus at the ballpark. Sunday was one of those days, and when I'm doubled up, I'll have to post my ITP entry before postgame access begins. If you want to read my words on the actual game, just pull up the write-up from ESPN or a billion other places. That's me, even if stringers don't get bylines.

Anyhow, it's a good chance to post something I started the other day, which is a comparison between covering a game U.S. Cellular Field, which that new commercial has me calling Mobile Phone Park, and Wrigley Field. It's another one of those ponderous media-only type subjects, but nevertheless, I think it kind of captures the essence in the differences between the two parks. Besides, I'm still fascinated by the machinations of covering live sporting events. Fifteen years ago, I was an accountant. Ten years ago, I was a bartender. Now, I typically earn about what I did as a low-level accounting type fresh out of college in the '90s. But I'm infinitely happier, and I'm three years away from having a Hall of Fame vote.

Because I was a late-comer to the sports writing profession, I still occasionally get that sensation of being a Lilliputian in a land full of Gullivers. I tend to notice things that most of my colleagues quit paying attention to years ago. I've long sensed a similar tenor in the work of all the writers at BP who have become members of the credentialed media, and I think the perspective is refreshing. (The exception to this is seasoned pro John Perrotto, long a ballpark fixture in Pittsburgh.)

So here's my point-by-point comparison between covering a game at Wrigley and the Cell:

Pitch velocities: There are only a couple of spots in Wrigley Field where real-time pitch velocities are flashed up, and neither of them are on the new scoreboard in right field. At the Cell, the readings are clearly displayed on the big scoreboard in right, among other places. This is very important to me. ADVANTAGE CELL

Elevators: Wrigley Field has an old elevator that I am personally afraid of, located just inside of the gate in left field. It's slow, creaky, and rarely used. Instead, we wind our way up the steep ramps to the upper level. Those prone to sweat, like me, have a wet shirt before they've even started to work. The Cell has a pair of spacious, efficient elevators located just past the security check-in. We get to know the elevator attendants, who are fine people. It's a very pleasant experience. ADVANTAGE CELL

Shelves: The Cell has shelving units located behind the press box seats, where you can stash your spare gear. Wrigley has nothing, not even a place to hang your coat when the weather is cold. Instead, you're constantly watching to make sure the hem of your coat doesn't get caught beneath the dirty wheels of your chair. ADVANTAGE CELL

Clubhouses: Wrigley has cramped clubhouse, as you'd expect in a 98-year-old park. The visitors are housed in a space smaller than the locker room at the junior high I attended in small-town Iowa. The home side isn't much bigger. This is awkward, because you spend half your morning trying to stay out of people's way which, frankly, is impossible to do. On the other hand, there are fewer places for the players to hide. They manage to do it anyway. At the Cell, everything is plush, spacious, and modern. ADVANTAGE CELL

Dugouts: This is really the same story as the clubhouses, though there isn't any difference in the width of the respective dugouts. In both cases, you have to remember to duck coming out up the steps from the tunnel if you're taller than Hack Wilson. Six-foot-eight Cubs pitcher Chris Volstad is sure to suffer a concussion at some point this season. The Cell has lots of head room. ADVANTAGE CELL

The El: Both parks lie off the Red Line. From my stop at Argyle, Wrigley is nine minutes away. The Cell is 48 minutes. This is big. ADVANTAGE WRIGLEY

Pressbox: Once again, Wrigley is small, the Cell is huge. The heating and cooling is better at the Cell, as in they have them. The windows at Wrigley don't open, until they are removed for good once the weather can be counted upon to stay warm. Then it's hot as hell, so much so that I bring a little electric fan from home to keep my sweating hands dry enough to type. The box at Wrigley is closer to the field and is centered up behind home plate, whereas Jerry Reinsdorf made sure the media was shunted up the right-field line. So it's close, but the more consistent WiFi at the Cell swings the vote. ADVANTAGE CELL

Food: No contest. The press food at Wrigley is way better, healthier, and is even a dollar cheaper. The bison chili is a nice twist, and there is always fresh produce on the salad bar. The Sunday brunch is a big favorite. Unfortunately, they've switched from real oil-based salad dressing to the sugared-up stuff in packets. But I just bring my own, so no harm done. The nosh at the Cell is so bad that many reporters shun the dining room and wait for the free hot dogs that are put out after the third. That's no way to live. ADVANTAGE WRIGLEY

Press notes: The Cubs always have a nice stack of the game notes for both teams laid out, along with minor-league reports, league stats, etc. The White Sox don't print that stuff for the media, much to the chagrin of many sports writers. But you know what? This is the 21st century. I can download the notes and put them on my laptop, Blackberry and Kindle. And I'm a lover of Mother Earth. ADVANTAGE CELL

Concourses: The concourses are Wrigley are narrow and the stadium full. And unlike any other park in the game (as far as I know), the media doesn't have a dedicated elevator to get downstairs to the clubhouses and interview room. No, we have to fight through hordes of ticket-buying plebes in order to obtain those choice quotes you read on a daily basis. Often you resort to throwing little girls and hunched-over old men to the ground, all with the sound of "Go, Cubs, Go!" echoing in your head. It's madness. ADVANTAGE CELL

I could go on but you get the idea. U.S. Cellular Field is new and Wrigley Field is not, which makes the North Side venue a decidedly less convenient place to cover a game. I'm reasonably sure that is the consensus among the other media members I've encountered over the last three years.

But you know what? I love Wrigley Field, and I'd rather cover a game there any day or the week, year or decade. Convenience is highly overrated.

BRAND NEW A-JAX: Tigers manager Jim Leyland has lauded outfielder Austin Jackson's "new swing." The early, early results have been promising, though we've seen this act before. Two years ago, Jackson had a 917 OPS in April; last year it was 509.

Jackson is off to a .433/.528/.700 start, and it's that middle number that is tantalizing—he's drawn seven walks in 41 plate appearances and was seeing 4.53 pitches per trip entering Sunday's game, up from his career figure of 3.98. Uselessly small sample, yes, but a trend worth following, even if the good news seems to be more a product of approach, not swing mechanics.

"He's done well all year," Leyland said before the game. "We've faced eight good pitchers, and he's done well all year."

For the record, the eight starters the Tigers have faced—John Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Matt Moore, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, Jake Peavy, and Gavin Floyd—are an impressive group.

JUST A DH: Brandon Inge (left groin strain) got his first start of the season as Detroit's designated hitter. He is expected to get regular duty at second base this season, which is not one of the five positions he's played thus far during his 12-year big-league career.

Leyland said that because he didn't want Brennan Boesch to play against Chicago lefty Chris Sale, his only DH options were Inge and Ramon Santiago. If he used Santiago as the DH, he wouldn't have had a backup for Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, so Inge's debut at the keystone will have to wait.

Apparently, Inge has made an impression the Detroit media corps. One writer asked Leyland before the game if Inge—whose range has been so impressive—might start to take some ground balls at shortstop. Leyland dismissed that idea, saying simply that Inge has never played there. He did play short in college, however, before converting to catching as a professional.

RED AND WHITE: The White Sox wore their red pinstripe uniforms for the first time this year. They'll don the look at all Sunday home games this season to pay homage to the 40th anniversary of their 1972 team. It's a different look for sure. What confuses me is that I'm not quite sure why the '72 season deserves commemoration. That's not a complaint; that's a hole in my knowledge of White Sox history. I'm hoping one of you will fill it in in the comments section below.

Chicago went 87-67 that season, good for second place behind the powerful Athletics. It was the most games the Sox had won in five years, but they won 79 the season before, so it's not like they were making a giant leap. Dick Allen, who is to be honored in a ceremony at the Cell this season, won the AL's MVP award that season, hitting .308/.420/.603, good for a 199 OPS+, with 37 homers and 113 RBI.

To me, the most fascinating part about that team is that three pitchers accounted for 130 starts, led by Wilbur Wood's 49 starts and 376 2/3 innings. They don't construct staffs like that anymore.

Follow me on Twitter for essential ITP updates.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bradford's other articles. You can contact Bradford by clicking here

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