By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
THOSE ANNOYING TELEMARKETERS
American League co-founder Charles "Old Roman" Comiskey must be spinning in his grave: Chicago's Comiskey Park, home to the All-Star Game this July, has been rechristened U.S. Cellular Field in a deal worth $68 million through 2025. Vowing to spend the loot on stadium renovations (or, possibly, Bartolo Colón's postgame meals), White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf predicted, "People are going to be very thankful and appreciative." Oh, are they? We're really grateful to have one of the few remaining historic ballpark monikers replaced by some phone company's name for the next 23 yearsor until U.S. Cellular goes bust, like Enron. When that behemoth went bankrupt three seasons into the life of Enron Field, the Astros actually had to pay $2.1 million to Enron to buy the naming rights back (not to mention the cost of changing all their signage to read "Astros Field"). Four months later, the team would sell the rights again, playing in Minute Maid Park for $112 million until 2030.
According to an Advertising Age report, big businesses now sponsor around 70 percent of the country's pro sports arenas, more than twice as many as in 1997. Yet even a financially secure sponsor doesn't guarantee a stable nomenclature. Pacific Bell, which pledged $53 million over 24 years when the eponymous San Francisco venue opened in 2000, recently renamed itself SBC Communications. While the conglomerate has magnanimously allowed Pac Bell Park to keep its identity this season (the Giants had already printed tickets and programs), a spokesman suggested that the place would eventually be dubbed the ever-so-catchy SBC Communications Park, boasting, "We have transitioned to a single national brand." Transition this, buddy: The relentless branding of stadiums may enrich club owners, but in erasing names of local significance (Candlestick, Comiskey) for empty corporate signifiers it impoverishes the rest of us. J.Y. Yeh
KEEPING THE CUP ON ICE
They weigh up to 3000 pounds, span 50 feet, can do 80 miles an hour in a good tail wind and, oh yeah, most of them are more than a century old. Antique ice yachts are all about speed, but getting the clubs that sail them to actually race can be glacially slow. In 1892 the members of the North Shrewsbury Ice Boat Club in New Jersey got dubbed the "Bad Boys From Red Bank" for raising hell in the Poughkeepsie area until the clubs on the Hudson raced for (and lost) their prized possession, the Van Nostrand Cup. It took until 1978 for the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club of well-heeled Rhinebeck to arrange a rematchwhich the New Yorkers say they lost because the New Jerseyites rigged the rules.
"In history, a lot of things get distorted," says Greg Strand, North Shrewsbury's historian. Distortion or no, the two clubs spent the next 25 years bickering instead of racing for the cup, a Tiffany item worth an estimated $34,000. The thaw in this cold war started a couple of years ago when the boys from Red Bank got a new commodore. Last month, on Super Bowl Sunday, the clubs finally faced off again, and when the racers hit the ice in Red Bank, it wasn't hard to see why there might have been a culture clash.
The Bad Boys are still bad. Many of them race internationally and wear track shoes on the ice to get good grip when pushing off. Race winner Jimmy Hadley of North Shrewsbury broke the rules by inviting best friend Bobby Stewart (not a club member) to crew his boat. The Hudson River guys, on the other hand, are outdoorsmen of the New England variety. They wear khakis, duck boots, beards, and wool sweaters, and they sail for pleasure, not sport.
Naturally, the Bad Boys won. But in the spirit of the new glasnost the clubs have agreed to race every year. Not that feelings are altogether warm: The North Shrewsbury guys say that even if they lose the race in 2004 they want to keep the cupfor safekeeping, of course. Matt Wirz
Play ball, eh? A bunch of investors plus Ferguson Jenkins are launching the Canadian Baseball League this spring, featuring tiny salaries and, as in junior hockey, housing and meals with local families. Some of the details may be modest, but the league just signed an 18-game national TV contract in Canada with The Score Network (TSN), according to the Sports Business Journal. Jenkins, the only native Canadian in the Hall of Fame, will be the commissioner of an eight-team league that features four clubs in southern Quebec and Ontarionot too far away from Cooperstown, as a matter of fact. The CBL, as the SBJ's Bruce Schoenfeldreports, aims to be a minor league somewhere between AAA and AA. The best news: Bud Selig doesn't have anything to do with it.
Canadians are blazing trails elsewhere, too. Hayley Wickenheiser, the star of the Canadian Olympic hockey women's team, is playing in a men's pro league in Finland, and just last week scored what is believed to be the first goal by a woman in a men's pro game. Wickenheiser's packin' 'em in for the Salamat club, something that maybe the NHL should take a look at. Attendance in the boys-only league is so feeble that even the Rangers aren't a lock to sell out. And heading into the All-Star break, the Devils were third in the standings but 25th in attendance. Just barely better, according to Canadian press accounts, were Original Six members Boston and Chicago, which were 24th and 23rd, respectively. Now if the league could just get NBA mascot Mariah Carey to go to an NHL game and have Tie Domident her grill . . . Ward Harkavy