Changes to U.S. Cellular Field complete

U.S. Cellular now a bit snappier

CHICAGO -- Sprinting as fast as he can, 12-year-old Michael Wirth focuses squarely on the finish line ahead while not paying any attention to the speedy center fielder racing right beside him.

He screeches to a halt, and quickly stares up at the mechanical time clock to see if his time was good enough to beat Scott Podsednik - well, at least a cardboard cutout equivalent.

Wirth was taking part in The Race to beat Scott Podsednik, one of the new attractions at U.S. Cellular Field in the recently added FUNdamentals deck. The Pontiac FUNdamentals deck is a 15,000 square foot baseball skills area located above the left field concourse area. The deck is designed as a baseball and softball skills instruction facility for kids to visit while at the park.

For Erwin Wirth, who was watching his son's sixth attempt to beat Podsednik, the new area was an instant hit.

"I think this is going to be a really nice addition to the park," Wirth said. "This really helps the family atmosphere and it will get a lot more play. I have two 13-year-olds at home too and they are going to love this."

The FUNdamentals deck is just one part of an $11 million dollar renovation project that was finished for the 2005 season. Also included in the renovations is the addition of a luxury seating area behind home plate called Scout Seating.

The renovations seen this season are the fifth and final stage of a project that was put into place when U.S. Cellular bought the naming rights to the stadium. All the money from the deal was put into updating the park and adding amenities to make the park more "fan-friendly."

While the new Scout Seating area should be a big draw for the park, the real gem is the FUNdamentals area.

The three-story fun area includes activities such as batting cages, a waffle ball field, speed pitching cages and areas for base running and skills instruction.

The deck area is a one of a kind feature that Brooks Boyer, the White Sox vice president of marketing, feels sets U.S. Cellular Field apart from other ballparks. The White Sox previously had an area for children near Gate 3 but it lacked the view and the amenities of the new area. The new location not only allows for children to have fun in all the baseball themed stations, it also allows for the parents to still have a great view of the game's action.

"Not only is this the signature element of our park but I think it's the signature element of any ballpark around the league," Boyer said.

The area is more than just about occupying children's time. One of the main goals is to help teach the fundamentals of the game while also correcting swings and pitching techniques. There are between 7-10 instructors at any given time at the different stations on the deck from the Chicago White Sox and Bulls Training Academy.

Joe Lachcik, the Director for the Pontiac FUNdamentals deck, said that the purpose of the deck is to provide entertainment while also involving a little education in the process.

"All of our instructors have experience with baseball such as high school coaches or college players with a few years under their belt," Lachcik said. "While learning is a big part of the new deck, the biggest focus is on the fun. This should be the most fun place in the ballpark."

Beyond just learning things about the game, the deck also has history lessons attached to each station. One example is the Winning Ugly Speed pitch area. Winning Ugly was the nickname of the 1983 White Sox team that won its division.

Even if the adults can't enjoy playing on the new FUNdamentals area without a child, the United Scout Seats can provide their own experience to evoke childhood awe.

The Scout Seating area provides an experience that is not often offered at a ballpark. Besides just having great seats right behind home plate, the seats provide a long list of other amenities.

Ticket holders get their own private parking area, a separate entrance, a lounge of their own along with a behind-the-scenes feel by entering the stadium near the teams' clubhouses.

"It's not just the seats, it's the experience," Boyer said. "To have these seats and give people the experience of walking past ballplayers swinging their bats in the tunnel or taking to their seats at field level, it's pretty unique. These tickets come with a premium-parking pass, a premium dinner and (ticket holders) can get food delivered to them in their seats. The goal is to never have to open your wallet and to give you a behind the scenes feel."

The Scout seats are not available on a game-by-game basis but can be purchased in a full season or partial season package.

The final change that fans will notice at the park in 2005 is a change in color. Throughout the season, while the team is away on road trips, new forest green seats will begin to replace the original blue ballpark seats. The whole process should be completed by Opening Day 2006.

All of the changes to U.S. Cellular Field in the past five years have been to try to make a fan's experience the best it can possibly be and Boyer feels that the newest changes are going to help in achieving that goal.

"We're listened to our fans and what they want in a ballpark and that is what we are ultimately trying to deliver," Boyer said. "When you come to the park we want there to be something for everyone. Not everyone may like baseball but hopefully everyone can enjoy their trip to the park."

Kelly Thesier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.