Guaranteed Rate Park is the Ryan Seacrest of ballparks: an awkward misfit in its early days before maturing into a presentable adult.
Opened in 1991, it was the last park built before the Camden Yards-led retro park boom. Designed with revenue maximization in mind, New Comiskey was built with 2 levels of suites, a club level separating the upper and lower decks, and a glassed-in pretentious Stadium Club. It raised many of the small businesses in its immediate area for team-controlled parking lots. And it was universally panned for being an antiseptic, boring park that replaced a quirky classic.
Since then, the White Sox have made several changes to vastly improve the stadium experience. While some of the fundamental issues can’t really be fixed (such as the parking lots creating a buffer from the neighborhood, the park not facing Chicago’s iconic downtown skyline, and the upper deck being incredibly steep and quite distant from the field), it’s actually a really nice place to catch a game, especially if you’re in the lower bowl.
Exterior aesthetics 7/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 9/10; Sightlines & seating 6/10; Amenities & entertainment 10/10; Flow 4/5; Celebrating history 4/5; Scoreboards 5/5; Grand entrance 2/5; Sense of place 3/10; WOW Factor 18/30. Total 68 points divided by 2 for 34.
This may be too low given everything they’ve done. There are still some serious flaws, but I’m not sure any park built in the last 40 years has done a better job in making their facility better.
- There’s a pleasing symmetry to the stadium. The team didn’t manufacture quirks, but rather created a pure baseball park without anything jarringly out of place.
- You can walk around the entire park from the lower level concessions area and see the game. This was one of the first parks to do this. The outfield concourses are particularly nice as they are open air.
- The dark green seats and black steel trellises look and feel like a ballpark.
- In the lower bowl, the rows in the infield box seats are very short (in many cases only 8 seats across) enabling fans quicker and less disruptive access to the concourse
- The scoreboard is among the better ones in baseball. The White Sox kept the classic pinwheels but digitized everything. The result is a beautiful large videoboard that seamlessly blends into the batters’ eye.
- There are many statues honoring Chicago White Sox legends around the park (including one of legendary bastard Charles Comiskey, but not one of Shoeless Joe Jackson)
- The Fundamentals kids’ area focuses solely on baseball rather than other forms of entertainment. Kids can have fun, but stay in “baseball mode”.
- They brought the Comiskey shower over from the old park. It’s a cool quirk, but potentially useful on a sweltering Chicago summer day.
- They ripped out several rows in the upper deck and built a canopy to provide some shade and add some visual beauty
- The Craft Kave and Revolution Brewing Sox Social (and sometimes, the centerfield Fan Deck) provide areas for people to congregate and socialize regardless of where they’re seating
- The upper deck is far. A seat in the first row of the upper deck is further from the pitcher’s mound than the last seat in the upper deck was at old Comiskey. It’s a product of 3 levels of club/suite seating.
- The upper deck is steep. Knowing it would be away from the action, the team wanted to keep you closer by increasing the pitch. But the steepness can feel a little intimidating, and it puts you into the sky after row 6 or so.
- Despite being less than 4 miles from the Willis Tower, you can’t see any of the Chicago skyline from your seat. The park faces southeast giving you a view of…nothing. In fact, there’s no real sense of place here.
- Getting up and down from an upper deck seat is a pain in the arse. You’re likely using a slow ramp since stairs don’t exist, and there are relatively few escalators.
- 500-level ticket holders may be restricted to that level; while this policy doesn’t seem like it’s being enforced anymore, it’s still on the books, so beware
- The large parking area around the stadium gives it more of suburban feel even though it’s a very urban park
Bottom line, a lower bowl ticket is essential here unless you’re a part time Sherpa.
The food is generally really tasty and really artery clogging. More so than other parks, the Sox tend to focus more on stadium classics, but they do those very well. They may lack a true “signature” item, but their menu is tasty and has historically been the better of the two Chicago parks.
The sausages are among the best in baseball, and the Beggar’s deep dish pizza is good as well (it better be, it’s Chicago!). There’s a good selection of Mexican goodies as well including burritos, tamales, chicarones, churros, and nachos with the standouts being the Antique Tacos and the Elotes: corn off the cob served with butter, lime, cojita cheese and cayenne pepper. Local faves like Buena Italian Beef , Garrett popcorn and Vienna beef Chicago dogs are also available. You can also find some nifty things like Elote nuggets (fritters instead of corn), Bacon popcorn, hot chicken sandwiches, a Cuban burger, smothered fries, fried pickles, Knuckle Balls (like a Little Caesars crazy bread), and pierogis.
My personal fave: The Italian sausage with peppers, grilled onions and marinara. Take extra napkins.
The park offers 90+ different beer, which rivals Petco Park for the most in the MLB. The only difference between Sox Park and Petco is that you have to hunt a little more here.
The roving vendors only hawk Bud and Modelo. You have to go find the better stuff. A couple of Midwest Craft beer stands offer liquid gold such as Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter, Bell’s Oberon, 3 Floyds Gumballhead, Noon Whistle Guave Gose Sour Smack, Pipeworks Mango Guppy, as well as more widely available, but still delicious options such as Lagunitas IPA, Goose Island Green Line, and Ballast Point Sculpin. Revolution beers are offered in the Social and around the stadium, allowing you to enjoy 7 of their offerings including (my fave) Fist City Pale Ale.
But the real winner here is the Craft Kave. This under-used large subterranean bar located under the rightfield stands has the cooler of a beer fan’s dream. Too many brewers to mention, but you can get some obscure local stuff from brewers like Marz Collective, 18th Street, Tribes, Pollyanna, Metal Monkey and 2 Bros; as well as renown faves from brewers like Founders, Deschutes, Surly, Cigar City, Collective Arts, Left Hand, and Sweetwater. Plus this place has some experimental and lesser known brews from Goose Island worth trying.
All in all, you won’t go thirsty at a Sox game.
Unlike their northside brethren, the Sox are not a neighborhood park. With the exception of the team-owned ChiSox Bar & Grille located just outside Gate 5, you have to walk a little further to get to a pre-game bar.
The neighborhood has a reputation for being unsafe, something that may have been truer before they tore down the Robert Taylor housing project just east of the ballpark. Sure, the area is a little gritty, but it’s not outright dangerous. Still most people get in and get out, choosing to tailgate if they drove in.
If you’re willing to walk a bit and have an intrepid spirit of adventure, within 1.4 miles of the park are a couple of the better drinking establishments in the city. Maria’s Packaged Goods is to the northwest (a place where I’ve pre-gamed often), and Marz Collective Brewing is due west. If you want to stay within sight of the ballpark, there’s Turtles and Cory & Kerry just north of the park for drinks, and 35th Street Red Hots for a good dog served with the fries inside.
But Wrigleyville it isn’t.
Parking is steep, but that’s true everywhere in Chicago. Tickets are priced fairly at the box office, and good seats can often be had on the secondary market for low prices. Concession prices seem fair. And it’s WAAAY less than a Cubs game.
Sox Park is one of the easiest urban ballpark to get to. Were it not for Chicago traffic, this would earn a rare 5/5 score.
Just off the Dan Ryan Expressway, it’s a relatively easy trip from wherever you’re coming. There is ample parking right on site. Don’t look for legal side street parking in the neighborhood, it doesn’t really exist.
If you’re staying downtown or River North, you can take the red line. The green line also stops close by. Metra commuter train also has a nearby stop.
Cold and/or rainy April and even May games are likely, and the nip in the air often returns late season. Summers can be great, and sometimes crazy hot.
The Sox are the second team in the Second City. As such, the place is usually only half full for each game.
The fans who DO show up tend to be good fans though. Sox fans are knowledgeable, loyal, loud and a tad edgy. I usually feel like I’m among my own (even though I’m not a Sox fan). Just sometimes, I wish there were more.
While the get in/get out vibe of the place works well on a Monday night game, it’s a bit of buzzkill for a weekend tilt. (Too bad. Given the beer selection, you probably have a buzz.)
On the plus side, the pregame hype videos are traditionally really strong. The old “exploding” pinwheel scoreboard, while now digital, stills lights up after a hometown home run and is a lot of fun. The organist who replaced the legendary Nancy Faust still has subtle zingers for opposing players and bad umpire calls. It smells like a ballpark should, likely due to the grilled onions from all the sausage carts. And there are a lot of roving beer vendors; were it not for the great beer in the stands, it’d be very easy never to leave your seat given the frequency of visits.
While it was originally built for the sole purpose of extracting as much revenue as possible, it matured into a good baseball facility with the focus squarely on the game. It’s a purist’s park and that’s not a bad thing.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Three fun Chicago restaurants:
- Lou Malnati’s (Several locations, 2 in River North. One of, if not THE best deep dish in the city)
- Al’s Italian Beef (River North. Classic Chicago sandwich. Get it dipped.)
- Billy Goat Tavern (River North. Venerable institution for a cheeseburger and a beer. Go to the original underneath Michigan Ave)
Three places to imbibe before the game:
- Maria’s Packaged Goods (Bridgeport. One of Chicago’s best beer bars. A bit of a hike.)
- Cork & Kerry at the Park (Ballpark. Probably the best bar close to the stadium.)
- Mitchell’s Tap (Bridgeport. Classic Chicago taphouse on Halsted, not far from the park.)
One bar in the area worth hitting:
Monk’s Pub (The Loop. An OG beer bar with a more Euro bend.)
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- Marz Collective (Bridgeport. Some fun and funky stuff here.)
- Moody Tongue (South Loop. Experimental brews. The upstairs restaurant received two Michelin stars!)
- 18th Street Brewery (Hammond, IN. A 25-minute drive from the ballpark lies one of the top taprooms in the nation)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- Museum Campus (Field Museum of Natural History/Shedd Aquarium/Adler Planetarium. Hit all three for a day of learning and entertainment, or just the aquarium if you only have the time for one.)
- Museum of Science and Industry (South side. Not just for kids, though kids would like it too.)
- Willis Tower Skydeck (Loop. You need to do it once.)
Guaranteed Rate Field is an underrated ballpark that still pays for the sins of its youth amongst ballpark aficionados. The renovations really improved things and have made it a good park. If your seat is infield lower deck, you’ll find it to be very good. If stands are relatively full because fans are cheering meaningful baseball, it’s very, very good. It lacks the neighborhood vibe as other “more notable” parks, and the upper deck really drags this score down. She may not be the most “exciting” park, but there’s a purity to the presentation; it’s really all about the baseball (accompanied by really good beer).