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New stadium goes too far with short-fly rule

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CHICAGO -- Everything felt wrong. The sign on the glass wall of Comiskey Park said . . . wait. Stop right there.

The sign on the glass wall of Comiskey Park? Since when do baseball stadiums have glass walls? And since when do they have rules like these etched into them:

"No jeans.

"No cutoffs.

"No tank tops.

"No abbreviated attire.

"Tailored shorts acceptable.

"Children on weekends only in Stadium Club."

This was the Stadium Club entrance to the new Comiskey Park. The new Comiskey Park was designed by the same architectural firm that has designed the new stadium in Camden Yards.

And things like stadium clubs are very, very important to these New Wave ballparks.

In fact, Baltimore's new stadium is being built largely because former Orioles' owner Edward Bennett Williams demanded a new stadium with clubs, sky boxes and premium seating.

Such features are expected to generate an extra $5 million to $10 million per season at Camden Yards.

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. So I called my friend Mike and wangled an invitation to Comiskey.

Mike is a season ticket holder, which gives him the right to pay an extra $500 per year to join the Stadium Club, which gives him the right to pay $18.95 for a buffet dinner.

I went to the glass wall of the Stadium Club to meet him. And I see the dress code printed there.

I go up to the little window. What's "tailored shorts acceptable" mean? I ask.

"Flies," the woman tells me.

Flies?

"Got to have a fly on the shorts," she says. "A zipper. You know."

Yeah, I know zippers. And now I know what tailored shorts are. But I do not know one thing: Who do the White Sox employ to check up on this? Plainclothes midgets?

Mike shows up and we take an elevator to the Stadium Club level. We get off and the club is unlike anything I have ever seen in a ballpark: Multileveled, fronted in glass looking down on the field, polished oak, gleaming brass, deep pile green carpets. People are standing around holding cocktails and chatting.

"Why are you bent over like that?" Mike asks me.

I'm checking out the flies, I say. Anybody without a fly is outta here pronto.

"Don't be like this," he says. "I got an image here."

A hostess shows us to our table. Below us, the White Sox take the field. Inside the Stadium Club, they pipe in the crowd noise through a carefully modulated sound system. As you watch the game behind the huge panes of glass, it is, not surprisingly, like watching the game on a large-screen TV.

The hostess hands us menus. "You want a steak, you can have a steak," Mike says. "Me, I'm gonna have the buffet."

I look at the buffet menu: "Rack of lamb, carbonara de pesce, Norwegian salmon, sun-dried currants and papaya relish, pesto chicken, rice pilaf, stir-fried vegetables."

"You get all of those things," Mike says proudly. "And it's all you can eat."

I want a hot dog, I say.

"You're being that way again," Mike says.

You go to a ballgame, you have a hot dog, I say. You go to the opera, you have pesto pesce and papaya rice. I also want a beer.

Mike makes an infinitesimal motion with his hand, like one Prince Charles might have learned as a youth, and a waitress appears instantly.

"A beer for my friend," Mike says.

The waitress hands me a beer list. There are about 25 beers on it including Samuel Smith Nut-Brown Ale for $5.25, Watney Red Barrel for $3.50 and Hacker-Pschorr Weisse for $4.50.

I can recall when Comiskey Park served only Hamms and Blatz. I could be wrong about the Blatz. Maybe it was Schlitz. But it was definitely not Hacker-Pschorr Weisse.

"And with the Kilian's Irish Red," the waitress is telling me, "you get to keep the souvenir mug."

An Old Style, I say. I got mugs at home.

After a few minutes, "The Star-Spangled Banner" comes on the loudspeakers and I stand up. The rest of the people in the Stadium Club get to their feet very slowly and some very reluctantly.

It takes me a second to realize why. It has nothing to do with a lack of patriotism. If the "The Star-Spangled Banner" comes on while you are watching a game at home, you don't stand up. And watching from the Stadium Club is like watching from home. If you happen to have a very, very nice home.

Nobody sings the words to the national anthem but me. I am not kidding. I shout out "O!" at the appropriate part and this lady who has a mouth like a torn pocket turns around and glares at me.

What are you looking at? I say to her. My shorts got a fly on them.

Mike decides dinner is over. "You want to go outside and see the game?" he asks.

You mean you can actually see a game here without looking through glass? I say. Jeez, this park has everything.

We go out to Mike's seats, which are on the Club Level, right beneath the sky boxes. This is where the Yuppies sit, right beneath the business moguls. This is today's corporate food chain.

The seats, I have to admit, are terrific. Every seat in the whole stadium is angled toward the infield. This makes a big difference. You'll notice it at Camden Yards.

The Sox are playing the Milwaukee Brewers, which means a lot of people are sitting around with yellow foam cheese wedges on their heads.

I once came up with a new motto for Wisconsin, I tell Mike. It was: "Come Smell Our Dairy Air."

"You are cut off," Mike says. "And I want the car keys now."

A very tanned and very cheerful young lady appears at my elbow and hands me a form. "I'm Diane," she says. "I'm your server."

The form is a menu with 27 items ranging from "Mineral Water -- Evian" to "Daisy Chicken -- Grilled chicken breast, attractively arranged and served with orange cartwheels, cole slaw, pasta salad, grapes and honey mustard."

On the Club Level, there are no vendors lugging big trays around their necks. There are servers who take your order, go get it and then bring it to your seat.

I crane over the railing and look down at the cheap seats (if $6 can be called cheap) and even they are really nice, close to the action and comfortable looking.

And while the poor folk don't get servers, they get a boardwalk-type area that looks like the food mall of a high-class shopping center.

The Sox win on a leadoff homer in the 10th by Robin Ventura and I look across the park into the Stadium Club and see the people cheering behind the glass.

So some things about baseball never change, even if the surroundings do. And, as the scoreboard explodes, I think of one of baseball's greatest innovators, Bill Veeck.

Veeck, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday, was often called the Barnum of Baseball, a nickname he did not like. Yes, he believed in stunts like sending a midget to the plate and exploding scoreboards and giving the fans a lot of glitz and glitter.

But Veeck never lost sight of what the fans really want: The best possible team on the field.

And as long as baseball owners give us that along with the stadium clubs, the sport will continue not only to survive but to flourish.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer went to Opening Day at Comiskey Park and later he told me it was a great place, but Baltimore's new stadium was going to be even greater.

If it is, and it probably will be, everybody from the cheap seats to the ritzy seats is going to have a swell time.

I just hope they let us in without flies.

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