Thursday, November 08, 2012

Does “Sox Park” need a new name?

U.S. Cellular is destined to become that big, bulky building where the Chicago White Sox play, rather than an actual business entity with a strong Chicago presence.
Will the name atop the scoreboard change  soon?

For it seems that the company is cutting back its Chicago operations significantly. Crain’s Chicago Business used its website Wednesday to report that while the corporate headquarters will remain within our city limits, there won’t be much else here.

THE COMPANY IS selling off its customers in several markets, including Chicago, to Sprint Nextel Corp. About 980 jobs will be cut, including 640 in the Chicago area.

Which makes me wonder how the White Sox feel at this moment – knowing they’re playing in a stadium that has been branded with the “U.S. Cellular” name. Because the Chicago Tribune reported that the name is going to remain in place, for the time being.

Now I comprehend in an intellectual sense how it doesn’t matter that the stadium is named for a company that is cutting back its local presence (not that I ever used U.S. Cellular to subscribe for cellphone service).

But it could be a matter of perception, and one in which the name becomes one of those unfortunate labels that people wish could go away.

WHAT AMUSES ME is that I remember back to 2003 when U.S. Cellular paid many millions of dollars for the rights to put their corporate identity on the building then known as New Comiskey Park.

That money was used by White Sox and state Sports Facilities Authority officials to pay for various cosmetic changes to the building that supposedly gave it more character than it had when it originally opened for the 1991 season.

Of course, it gave the building a rather “blah” kind of name. Then again, “U.S. Cellular Field” is less awkward than many of the corporate names that adorn sports stadiums these days.

It also helps that the White Sox situation hasn’t deteriorated to the point where the building name seems to change every couple of seasons. We’ve had a decade’s worth of games at U.S. Cellular Field (a.k.a., the Cell). It has kind of become a part of the ballclub’s character.

AND NOW THAT character is going to be associated with a company that isn’t interested in picking up any more business in Chicago, and is going to wind up laying off some local residents.

How many White Sox fans are going to feel a touch of repulsion at the thought of going to ballgames at a building named for the company they no longer work for? If only they could ensure that the layoffs were restricted solely to employees who root for the Chicago Cubs.

They could go chew Wrigley-brand gum while filling out forms at the state Employment Security department to collect unemployment benefits.

Nah! I don’t really mean that. Because I can’t really joke in a convincing manner about the idea of people being put out of work – particularly when the reason for making the layoffs is a corporate interest wishing to make its bottom line just a tad bit better.

BUT BACK TO the stadium identity.

While I can’t stand the idea of stadiums whose names change every few seasons (I still think of it as “Enron Field” in Houston – even though that name is ancient history, buried beyond several subsequent names), maybe it’s time for a new name for the building at 35th Street and Shields Avenue.

I always thought the “Comiskey Park” name should have been retired with the old building that was torn down following the 1990 season. So I don’t want that one brought back.

Yet a part of me wonders if we ought to make official the long-time informal reference to the stadiums. I recall as a kid many people who would say the Cubs played at “Cubs Park” and the White Sox at “Sox Park.”

MAYBE IT’S TIME to put that moniker on the marquee of the current stadium. Make it official.

White Sox Park. Or maybe, because of the building’s scale, White Sox Stadium. It has a nice “ring” to it.


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