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What's in a name? When it comes to big league ballparks, it could be tradition, beer, insurance, banks, and a sampling of other businesses. With the exception of tradition - more than a notable ingredient of the game - all the others contribute to the teams' bottom lines.
For a number of reasons, I've tried my best not to mention the moniker at 35th and Shields in the past year-and-a-half. For one, I was used to The Cell. In fact, it was kind of apropos the way the White Sox had been playing. Watching a game from the first to ninth inning too often created feelings of being institutionalized as the losses piled up. I knew no one who used U.S. Cellular. The company meant absolutely nothing to me. But The Cell was cool and not inaccurate. I miss it.
And the truth is, I've never been quite sure what to call Guaranteed Rate Field. There I've written it! When the announcement was made about the change almost two years ago, I wondered if we were going to attend Sox games at the G-Spot. One fan tweeted, "The Sox will play at the G-Spot, where many men will try and fail to score."
That tag, however, never caught on.
To this point, no label has been consistently applied to the former Comiskey, White Sox Park, and The Cell. Our esteemed Beachwood editor Steve Rhodes called it The Grate in an e-mail a few weeks ago. I suppose that's as good a name as any.
Other than paying the Sox about $2 million a year - enough to cover this season's salary of left-handed pitcher Hector Santiago, who gave up seven runs in the eighth inning at Houston on Friday - until the agreement expires in 2029, there is no connection between a mortgage lender and a major league baseball team.
And make no mistake: Guaranteed Rate is no better or worse than any other mortgage lender be it Comerica in Detroit or SunTrust in Atlanta, the two other places where lenders have naming rights. I know because I am a customer of G-Rate. Don't let anyone like the White Sox or the company's CEO Victor Ciardelli tell you that obtaining a mortgage from Guaranteed Rate involves just a few keystrokes and clicks.
Even after supplying what I thought was the end of the required documentation, it was never enough. I was prepared to count my spare change sitting in a jar on the kitchen counter. I figured they'd want to know about that too. I even had my shoe size ready for disclosure. And the rate was about the same as anywhere else.
Twenty ballclubs have corporate sponsors for their stadia. Some make sense like Coors Field in Denver, Miller Park in Milwaukee, and Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Show me a ballpark without beer and I'll show you a Little League game. Beer and baseball have a long association.
For those teetotalers or those who prefer screwdrivers, we have Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and Minute Maid Park in Houston, where the White Sox were swept four straight last week by the defending World Series champion Astros. A slug of straight orange juice on a hot day might slake the thirst, although both of those venues have roofs.
The remaining sponsors - banks (5), insurance companies (4), telecommunications corporations (2), Target and Petco - supply nothing but cash as far as obvious connections to the game are concerned. But that's the world we live in.
According to Forbes, the Mets have by far the best monetary deal because Citibank has a 20-year commitment to pay the Mets $20 million annually for Citibank Field. The Braves are next, collecting $10 million a year from SunTrust for a 25-year contract for the new ballpark in Atlanta.
Most arrangements are more in line with what the Sox get from - how shall I say? - G-Rate, which actually is less in dollars than what the team garnered from U.S. Cellular. When the deal was announced, White Sox marketing director Brooks Boyer touted that "fans can expect aggressive co-promotion in addition to the naming rights." Outside of mortgage rates a point lower than prime, I can't imagine what that might be. A presence at SoxFest doesn't cut it for me.
Consider for a moment what would happen if the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers or Red Sox were to sell naming rights for their venerable stadiums. The outrage would be rampant. They might even lose a few season ticket holders and - heaven forbid - sponsors. Now think of the PR and goodwill that might have been generated if the Sox had dropped U.S. Cellular and said, "We are returning to our roots and tradition. From this day on our ballpark will be called Comiskey Park."
Of course, for a team that has outdrawn just four other franchises this season, losing the income may be more important than a name. The Sox last week signed their top draft choice, Nick Madrigal of Oregon State, for a bonus of almost $6.5 million. The money has to come from somewhere. (By the way, Madrigal is a middle infielder, positions presently manned by young players Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson. I'm not aware that general manager Rick Hahn has commented on what could be a logjam in the next couple of years. If all three continue to develop, someone will wind up playing another position or perhaps some place other than Chicago.)
But assuming that The Rebuild will bear fruit in 2020 . . . err, 2021 . . . I mean, by 2022, the fans will once again pack the park, and no longer will the cheap seats go for $7. We've seen this development on the North Side. No, once those days return to the South Side like 2005 and the few seasons thereafter, the $2 million collected in naming rights won't even cover a utility infielder.
The time when that occurs seems to be a dream after another horrifying week when the White Sox lost two of three in Cincinnati before the debacle in Houston.
Ricky's boys had a 3-2 lead on Thursday in the bottom of the ninth when Joakim Soria, who very well could be traded later this month, was summoned to close down the victory. In his previous 18 appearances, Soria hadn't allowed a run over 18 innings. In fact, he had been nicked for just eight hits while walking only three during the streak.
But his perfection ended abruptly Thursday. Soria faced six hitters, retiring only one as Yuri Gurriel's walkoff single signaled the start of the sweep by the Astros. The Sox lost all seven games between the two clubs this season. According to the Sun-Times, the Sox had never been winless in a season series in the history of the franchise.
Lucas Giolito did his best to salvage the last game against Houston, a 2-1 squeaker on Sunday which was decided on a two-strike safety squeeze bunt in the seventh inning. Giolito threw seven balls on his first eight pitches, walking the leadoff man before hitting Alex Bregman. However, he settled down and allowed just three hits, including Jose Altuve's solo home run in the fourth, before exiting with one out in the eighth.
We're accustomed to the little tidbits of optimism following many losses. Sunday it was Giolito's performance as he lowered his ERA to 6.59, dead last of the 88 pitchers who have started at least 13 games this season. We should be encouraged.
The next two weeks will be among the season's most comforting basically because the Sox won't be playing very often. They return to The Grate - that's the place where they play - for a two-game series against the Cardinals beginning on Tuesday. After another off-day Thursday, the putrid Royals will invade for three games over the weekend.
Then comes the much-anticipated four-game All-Star Game break. So just five games for the White Sox in 11 days. Talk about hitting the G-Spot.
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