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Game provides White Sox fans a shot for redemption
U.S. Cellular Field has been the site of two of the sports' worst fan incidents.
By Nancy Armour ~ The Associated Press
CHICAGO -- The last time U.S. Cellular Field was in the spotlight, yet another unruly fan had gone after someone on the field like it was WWF Day at the ballpark.
This one grabbed an umpire around the waist. Seven months earlier, a father-and-son tag-team had taken down a Kansas City Royals coach.
Not exactly the warm-and-fuzzy memories the Chicago White Sox want associated with their ballpark. Especially when "The Cell" is hosting the All-Star Game.
"Isolated incidents," said Rob Gallas, senior vice president of marketing and broadcasting for the White Sox. "There are a couple million fans that go through the ballpark every year, and there were a couple of lunkheads that happened to be in those millions of fans.
"This," Gallas said of the All-Star game, "is an opportunity for fans to show what Chicago fans are really about."
The White Sox and Major League Baseball have been preparing for Tuesday night's All-Star game for months -- long before a barechested father and his teenage son attacked Royals coach Tom Gamboa last September.
But after April's incident, security for the All-Star game took on added scrutiny.
"We have to learn from these lessons, no question about that," said Kevin Hallinan, major league baseball's security chief. "And we have."
The White Sox have always had about a dozen security guards -- all off-duty police officers -- positioned at both ends of each dugout, in the bullpens and elsewhere on the field during games. Ushers roam the stands, standing at the bottom of the aisles when teams switch sides during the half-innings.
Tickets are checked to make sure fans are in the right seats. And since April's incident, fans with upper-deck seats can't go to other levels of the ballpark unless they have season tickets.
While Hallinan would not discuss what additional measures are planned for the All-Star game, he said he's confident everything possible has been done to prevent a problem.
"The White Sox have done everything we have asked. In fact, above and beyond," Hallinan said. "There's absolutely no stone left unturned as far as making sure before the game or the event that we ... have an environment that is safe and secure."
Events like the All-Star game generally don't attract the riffraff. Tickets ranged from $125 to $175, and the game is sold out.
But Hallinan and his staff are not taking any chances.
Hundreds of people have been involved in planning security for the All-Star game. Besides working with White Sox security, Hallinan said baseball officials consulted with the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Fire Department and the FBI.
After the April incident, Hallinan and Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations, met with White Sox officials to see what else could be done. Problem areas -- like the waist-high fence along the first-base line that fans have jumped over to get on the field -- got added attention.
And the vigilance won't stop until the game is over and the fans are gone, Hallinan said. There will be evaluations during the game to see where adjustments are needed. Staffing can be increased if there's a potential hot spot, and particular attention will be paid to the later innings, when trouble tends to happen.
Not that Hallinan anticipates any.
"I'm excited about the game," he said. "I think the fans are going to have a great day, and we want to make sure that we're not part of the story."
The White Sox would like that, too. Though this is the fourth time the White Sox have hosted the All-Star game, it's the first at this ballpark, which opened in 1991.
Renamed U.S. Cellular Field under a $68 million deal announced in January, the park has undergone renovations the last three offseasons in preparation for the All-Star game. The bullpens were repositioned so fans could watch pitchers warming up, the outfield fences were shortened and seats were added down the lines.
"It's always great to have one of professional sports' jewel events at your ballpark," Gallas said. "We've made some substantial improvements to U.S. Cellular Field, as well, and we're anxious to show them off.
"Hopefully it will be a great game, and people will come away from here impressed with the park and impressed with baseball."