Episode 153 — Ken Smoller: The Chicago Rivalry, “Last Comiskey”, & Photographing 2,300 Stadiums

Ken Smoller is a Chicago White Sox fan who now lives in the Boston area. His love for baseball started as a kid thanks to fond memories at Comiskey Park, like attending the team’s photo day with his Kodak camera. Ken has now photographed over 2,300 stadiums and ballparks and shares his photos and sports travel experiences on his website, Stadium Vagabond. 

He also recently released Last Comiskey, which is a book highlighting the park’s surprising last season. Based on the popular “Last Comiskey” documentary, the book contains over 400 full color photos Ken snapped of the “The Baseball Palace of the World” over the years.  

We also chat about the Cubs / Sox rivalry, what separates old from new ballparks, and how finding old ballparks and stadiums provides insight into what sports and the world used to be like. 

Find Ken Online:
Buy The Book: 
Stadium Vagabond: stadiumvagabond.com
Twitter: @StadiumVagabond
Instagram: @stadiumvagabond
Facebook: @StadiumVagabond

Find Baseball Bucket List Online:
: @BaseballBucket
Facebook: @BaseballBucketList
Instagram: @Baseball.Bucket.List
Website: baseballbucketlist.com

This podcast is part of the Curved Brim Media Network:
Website: curvedbrimmedia.com


Read the full transcript

[00:00:00] Ken: one of my thoughts is the best way to understand a new city or country It’s through their sports. You know, you learn their, their architecture, their personalities, their food, their songs, their music,  you see people young, old, all ethnicities.  So, you get to really know a place when you go to their sporting events.

[00:00:21] Ken: And that’s something that has really allowed me to get to know our country really well. I’ve been to 49 states. I’ve been to probably about five, six hundred baseball parks in this state. This country and  you just get to know each city a little  bit differently. 

[00:00:42] Anna: What’s up Bucketheads? Thanks for tuning in and welcome to episode number 153 of the baseball bucket list podcast. I’m your host Anna DiTommaso, and each week on the show, I speak with a different baseball fan about their favorite memories, what’s’ left on their baseball bucket list. And what the game of baseball means to them. 

[00:00:58] Anna: This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Ken Smoller from Brookline, Massachusetts. Ken is a lifelong White Sox fan who has developed a bit of a soft spot for the Red Sox since he moved to a place that is walking distance from Fenway park. 

[00:01:11] Anna: Despite his proximity to an soft spot for the Bo Sox, Ken has remained faithful to the south siders. Thanks to a love that started in early childhood. Along with his love for baseball and other sports. Ken has also always enjoyed photography. And highlights his love for both worlds on his stadium, vagabond website. He also just released “The Last Comiskey”, which is a book focusing on the surprising last season at Comiskey Park in Chicago. The book, adapted from the last Comiskey documentary by Matt Flesh features 400 full color photos of the ballpark shot by Ken over the years. 

[00:01:44] Anna: Ken. And I had a blast chatting. He’s obviously very well versed in ballpark history and architecture and shares a lot of great insights on older ballparks. As well as what differentiates old from new and how old are stadiums are great relics of how the world ends sports used to be. 

[00:02:00] Anna: This one was a ton of fun. So let’s get right to it. Now without further ado, sit back, relax and enjoy some baseball banter with Ken 

[00:02:08] Anna: Ken, thank you so much for joining us today on the Baseball Bucket List. How are things? Man, just, just a stone’s throw from Fenway, I think, right?

[00:02:17] Ken: Yeah, yeah. Thanks so much for having me. Yeah, I live a short 40 minute walk away from Fenway. And I try to walk there when I can to kind of pre work off the damage that I do to my body when I when I go. So

[00:02:32] Anna: You’re living my dream. I’ve always said, when I was younger, it was that I wanted to live above a bar because I thought that that would be the coolest thing in the world. Never did that because I’ve always lived in suburbs. But, uh, you know, now that I’m older and wiser, I would think that the the next item on the list would be walking distance to a ballpark.

[00:02:52] Ken: yeah, it’s awesome. And what’s cool now is the Red Sox tickets are a little easier to get than they used to be. You know, they had the 500 games sell out a few years back, but now you can kind of walk up, get things for under face value on, on StubHub. So it’s kind of nice to be able to go last minute to a game.

[00:03:10] Anna: Yeah. How often are you, I mean, I know this year’s a little different for you, but how often are you actually making your way down to the ballpark?

[00:03:17] Ken: I try to get to Fenway like six, eight, nine times a year. But then I, in a typical season, we’ll try to hit up about 15 to 20 different ballparks every year. Major leagues, minor leagues, college, overseas, if I’m really lucky. Um, so I try to hit her as many as I can, but yeah, it’s ironic this year because of the book, I’m finding myself buried in my laptop and talking to the publisher and, and haven’t gotten to go as many events.

[00:03:45] Ken: My big one was a year ago. Finally get, um, getting to Mexico City and seeing that first major league baseball game in Mexico City a year ago.

[00:03:53] Anna: Oh, very cool. I can’t wait to dive into all of those things, the book, the travel, everything. But out of the gate, I got to ask you, how is it that you became a fan of the game of baseball?

[00:04:04] Ken: Yeah, it goes all the way back to when I was about eight years old, seven years old. My dad brought me to Old Comiskey Park. He grew up in the north side of Chicago and I was in the northwest suburbs. So the fact that we were Sox fans was already a bit out of place. Um, but he would take me to eight ten games a year.

[00:04:23] Ken: And I fell in love with the place. You know, the fireworks would go off when the home runs would be hit. The great organist, Nancy Faust would play na, na, na, na, Hey, Hey, goodbye, which little did I know started the first year that I had gone to the ballpark in 77, and I just got sucked in by the whole Bill Veeck experience who was owner at the time and became a baseball fan for life.

[00:04:46] Ken: And then a few years later, when I was, I guess, about 10, 12 years old, I I brought my little Kodak camera to the park because they had picture day. Back in those days. And I think some teams still do this. They would trot out all the players who would stand in groups of twos and threes on the perimeter of the outfield.

[00:05:03] Ken: And you can go and take pictures and say hi to them. And I started to do that and got hooked with photographing sports and photographing stadiums. And it just went from there.

[00:05:12] Anna: All right, I want to back up because you said y’all were from the north side of Chicago, but you were Sox fans. I know that’s, you know, mostly your dad’s doing it sounds like, but why is it that he was a Sox fan?

[00:05:25] Ken: I can’t figure it out myself. He doesn’t have a good story. His father was a Ukrainian immigrant. So I had no baseball knowledge. Maybe WizWiz was easier to get to Sox games because you could drive there? I don’t know, but you know all the years that we would go be, I guess I got to go to Comiskey Park for about 13 years before it was gone.

[00:05:45] Ken: He would always point out the parking lot attendant that was there when he was a kid. And that was something about Comiskey Park that was really cool. People were there for decades. And then they would have their kids work at the park in the same, the same area as well. So, I don’t know, I just, I got, I liked bearing a contrarian. I liked being the only White Sox fan in my high school. you know, I like Wrigley Field, but I would always go and root for the other teams. Yeah. Anytime we would go, and my dad wouldn’t take me to, to Wrigley Field until they started doing this interleague exhibition game in the mid eighties. And that was the first time the White Sox had played there for decades.

[00:06:25] Ken: So the first time I ever saw Wrigley Field was an exhibition White Sox game. And, um, thereafter, like we would go, we’d look at the ticket back when you had tickets, Oh, I guess we’re rooting for the Astros today or the Reds or whomever. So that was part of my experience.

[00:06:42] Anna: I love that you’re so invested in the rivalry that it’s like, it’s that, you know, far is, I don’t care who the Cubs are playing. I want the other team to win.

[00:06:52] Ken: Yeah, yeah, it’s still, you know, the best days for Sox fans are when the Sox win and the Cubs lose. Those are always considered to be the good days. Um, if it’s the interleague games, even better, but yeah, like when the, um, the White Sox won the world series down your way in Houston in 05, the first time I went to Wrigley the following year for a buddy’s bachelor party, I was sure to bring my, my 2005 championship hat.

[00:07:17] Ken: I wore it obnoxiously everywhere, took photos of the hat with Wrigley in the background, you know. Sox fans have this more than Cubs fans because we have this inferiority complex because we’re the, the uh, what the phrase is, red headed stepchild in the city of Chicago. So we have a bit of a more hardcore feel towards the rivalry.

[00:07:39] Anna: Yeah. I can, I mean, you sense that when you’re there, you really do. And in 2018, we had tickets to opening day at Wrigley Field. Then we had tickets the following day to my Tampa Bay Rays play at guaranteed rate field. And, of course, in 2018, it was early April, there was a just wild snowstorm, which I guess is not that abnormal.

[00:08:02] Anna: So the Cubs canceled the game. We were literally on our way to the game. Realized that, for whatever reason, the Sox were gonna play, just hopped on another train, made it to Guaranteed Ratefield with about half of the people I would, you know, at the game at Guaranteed Ratefield were just Cubs fans who were there to heckle the Sox.

[00:08:23] Anna: I think,

[00:08:24] Ken: yeah, that happens a lot.

[00:08:26] Ken: That happens quite a lot.

[00:08:27] Anna: they had just taken a day 

[00:08:28] Anna: off 

[00:08:28] Ken: tease us about everything. They tease us about the attendance issues. Um, now certainly about the record. Um, that is, is good fodder for people. But yeah, it’s, it’s quite the rivalry. Um, which is funny because NADR Team has been relevant more than a few times in the last 120 years.

[00:08:47] Anna: Yeah. Exactly. But you have your, you know, your sibling and that’s what it kind of feels like you’re squabbling with there, but, oh man, 

[00:08:55] Ken: Totally, totally. 

[00:08:57] Anna: story and, um, uh, a good rivalry is always, is always great, especially when you’re not invested and you’re just a objective observer. So, 

[00:09:06] Ken: Listen, Sox fans still have this claim to fame. They won the only inter series series in 1906. So I am still riding that wave from 1906. I, you know, someone’s got to produce a t shirt, you know, pointing that out. But that’s, uh, that’s something that White Sox will have, or at least for the time being.

[00:09:28] Anna: I love that. Alright, so, I mean, you’re living in Massachusetts now. We, we discussed you’re, you’re just a short jaunt from Fenway, um, but it sounds like the, the Sox are still your, your team, even through, through mostly thin.

[00:09:44] Ken: They’re in my blood, you know, there’s, there’s only been one series. I know that’s been relevant between the white socks and red socks in the last 110, 15 years. And that was a playoff series in Oh five. But other than that, it was kind of easy to come here. And at the time, the red Sox had their, their, uh, streak of, you know, I guess if we got broken in 86 years, the white Sox were 88, it was kind of easy to adopt the red Sox as my second team, but I’ll never root for them over the white Sox, um, you know, it’s, it’s, what’s in your blood.

[00:10:14] Anna: yeah, yeah, I get that, I get that. So, I want to back up. You were talking about being a kid, you had your Kodak camera, you were, you were, You know, able to get down on the field and take photos of some of the socks as a kid. And it sounds like that instilled not only a love for sports and baseball and the Chicago White Sox in you, but also maybe photography.

[00:10:37] Anna: Do you want to talk a little bit about how you went from being a kid who just found this thing that he loved? Towards, you know making it a more meaningful part of your life.

[00:10:49] Ken: yeah. I started to do it really when I was about 12, 13 years old. I started to take photographs of all the stadiums that I would go to. And previously I had been drawing pictures of ballparks. I wasn’t a very good drawer and actually include one of them in the last Comiskey book. Never going to talk about it.

[00:11:10] Ken: Um, but I decided, you know what, I wanted to do something artistic and I decided photography was kind of a cool way to capture stadiums. And I started to work on the high school newspaper. You know, we had one of those sort of big Illinois high schools, not like Texas, but you know, we’d cover the football team and whatnot.

[00:11:26] Ken: And then I went to Michigan as an undergrad and became a photographer, and later on the photo editor for the Michigan Daily, which back in those days, student newspapers were the big newspaper in town at a 30, 000 person circulation. And I got to cover great events. I got to cover the Rose Bowl, the Final Four, the Fab Five.

[00:11:48] Ken: Um, we’re there when I was there. So I got to cover their run and Chris Weber all the way to the national championship and Desmond Howard won his Heisman trophy while I was there, got to cover his games all across the country. So each time I would do this, we’d always have a day or two to kick around when go to these campuses and I would photograph all the stadiums that were there, football, basketball, hockey, baseball, whoever, softball, whatever the school was, you know, Known for and little by little I started to really develop a travel bug and a photography bug.

[00:12:20] Ken: So I decided okay I’m going to go with a straight and narrow job and become a lawyer, which is what I ended up doing, or be a photographer and decide I’ll do both. I’ll become a lawyer, but then do as much travel as I can, depending on whomever was my significant other at the time, and now my kids. And I’ve now since then photographed over 2300 stadiums, ballparks, arenas around the world.

[00:12:44] Ken: Not always games. You know, I’ll go to a university and really quickly pick up five, six stadiums, depending on what the school is. Um, and I try to get to as many games as I can. Sometimes I’ll get into weird events, like I’ve gone to, um, you know, Jehovah’s Witness rallies and kind of snuck in while people are somberly praying, and I take my pictures and grab a prayer book and leave.

[00:13:07] Ken: Or, you know, whatever the event may be, I sneak in, um, I’m friendly to guards. I’ve had to do a few bribing. I’ve had to get my Tough out of trouble with police a few times. Um, but that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s just become this scavenger hunt. And, um, tried, you know, started with trying to get to remajor league ballpark and then I kept going from there.

[00:13:30] Ken: So yeah, we’re at 2350 about right now.

[00:13:33] Anna: I can understand I mean, there’s only 30 major league ballparks. Obviously if you want to go back in time, you’ve you’ve been there Probably found your way to several more, but I can understand how once you hit 30 you’re like, okay now what so Would you say that? Baseball is kind of your first love or is there a sport that you appreciate even more?

[00:13:55] Anna: Mm

[00:13:55] Ken: I think baseball always was. And part of the thing that was great, of course, is, and it’s cliche now, every stadium and ballpark is unique. You know, they all have different dimensions. They’re all, um, of a distinct character. But about 22 years ago, I also became a huge fan of European soccer, football. And that became sort of my second love.

[00:14:16] Ken: Arsenal is my team out of London. And they had at the time, um, a stadium that was built just a few years after Old Comiskey in 1913. Um, and there’s similar reverence. For football grounds, soccer grounds throughout the world. There are tours at every single one. There’s museums often people it’s called ground hopping or ground hoppers where people go from park to park to parks, the ground to ground, and you’ll see it a little bit with ballparks, you know, the ballpark chasers group.

[00:14:48] Ken: But there’s a real passion associated with soccer runs, which also don’t have to be a specific um width so you get a lot of different feelings depending on if the pitch is big small narrow, um, You know, there’s all kinds of different designs. You don’t get that as much with football and basketball and hockey So that’s become my other passion Um, and then listen i’m a chicago and who grew up with the 85 bears as my team So I still could recite the super bowl shuffle from heart Um, and that’s my other big passion.

[00:15:22] Anna: Nice. So it sounds like, it sounds like you enjoy a little bit of everything, which is, you’ve always got something to do, I imagine, you know, the off season is not as dim and dark for you.

[00:15:33] Ken: I also love the obscure sports. Like I’ve gone to curling matches. That’s fun. Um, you know, I’ve gone to curling in Ireland, which is a totally different thing or sumo wrestling in Japan. So that’s something I talk about a lot of my website, Stadium Vagabond. I write a sports travel blog. And what I try to do is share with people, um, either ideas for their travel or if they’re not big travelers, share my photos and stories.

[00:15:59] Ken: And one of my thoughts is the best way to understand a new city or country It’s through their sports. You know, you learn their, their architecture, their personalities, their food, their songs, their music, um, you see people young, old, all ethnicities. So, you get to really know a place when you go to their sporting events.

[00:16:20] Ken: And that’s something that has really allowed me to get to know our country really well. I’ve been to 49 states. I’ve been to probably about five, six hundred baseball parks in this state. This country and you just get to know each city a little bit differently.

[00:16:34] Anna: What state are you missing?

[00:16:37] Ken: I gotta get to Alaska

[00:16:38] Anna: Okay. Yeah.

[00:16:39] Ken: and I gotta photograph a sport in Montana. I have not photographed, because I drove there in the night and I have not photographed a um, a sports or sporting event there. So those are the two. I promised my kid, um, I’ve got a 12 year old that will do that midnight baseball game in Atlanta and Alaska at some

[00:16:58] Ken: point. That’ll be in a few years. We’ll have to hit that one.

[00:17:02] Anna: That’ll be some great photography opportunity too. Yeah, for sure. So you, you touched on something. the best way to get to know a country or a city or a state or just an area is through their sports. And that’s something we talk about a lot here on the show. I think it was Virgil Brooks who originally said something along the lines of minor league baseball is a microcosm of a community.

[00:17:26] Anna: It gives you kind of everything. You know, you have a bit of the food, a bit of the culture, a bit of the the people who live there. It You know, most people are from that specific area. They’re not traveling from out of town, like they might be in a major league ballpark. But to couple that with photography, I think about photography.

[00:17:46] Anna: I have a couple of family members who, who do that for a living. And I’ve always thought it was so interesting because what’s the saying of a photo is worth a thousand words or something like that. And it’s so interesting the way that you can actually capture emotion and movement and all of these things in one scene.

[00:18:05] Anna: singular still image. so I’m just thinking in my head about putting together those emotions and that kind of cultural completeness into singular images. And I can definitely see why it would be something that kind of sucked you in over the course of your life.

[00:18:24] Ken: Yeah, it’s become this weird scavenger hunt. It’ll never be done. You know, there’s too many in the world and they’re always being rebuilt, so it’ll never be done.

[00:18:32] Anna: Right.

[00:18:34] Ken: I just feel this compulsion every time I go to a new place, like I want to find their ballparks. You’re saying this is so much easier now with the internet.

[00:18:41] Ken: And with Google maps on my phone, but I used to have these atlases that would be like a sports atlas. And they would show you, you know, what the stadiums were in a particular city or back in the old days, I would, I would take out the map or even like, I’d go to a town for a business trip, like for some legal reason as a lawyer, and I’d go to the front of the yellow pages back in the old days.

[00:19:02] Ken: And they would show the seating charts of the different ballparks or stadiums. So I’m like, Oh, there’s an old minor league ballpark. I get to get to, um, and what’s cool. Now is. You get two different elements because after bull Durham came out, there was the proliferation of brand new ballparks all around the country.

[00:19:20] Ken: They’re very few that predate 1990. But what’s cool about it is a lot of them are still there and they’re for college or high school or, you know, and you can find those now on Google Maps. And search that and you get a sense. Okay. Well, what were they like previously? You know, did they have a cool old wooden ballpark that they use for high school?

[00:19:41] Ken: Are there mountains in the background? Like I, I stumbled upon one in, in Northern Virginia where it was just embedded into a mountain and all around it, it was surrounded by mountains and like they haven’t had modern league baseball there in 30 years. I’m spacing right now on the name at Salem. It was in Salem, Virginia. And it was just a cool way of like, kind of seeing like, what was it like? It was an old mining area and just seeing the sort of surrounding areas. And you really get a sense of that, you know? And so every time I go to town, like, I feel so bad if I like missed one, if I like, you know, I’m not going to go to Salem, Virginia that often.

[00:20:20] Ken: So I try to get to each one when I’m there and kind of hit as many as I can. Sometimes I’ll do it quickly. Just, you know, Want to get that one photo in the thousand words, just in that quick image, but sometimes I’ll linger and stay for the game and, and roam around and kind of listen and, you know, I don’t really chat a lot, but I kind of just observe and sort of get the experience.

[00:20:42] Anna: Yeah, the atmosphere and just kind of soaking it in. That’s one of my favorite parts about being at a ballpark too. do you have kind of like a repertoire I guess of, of photos that you take? Like you, you gotta make sure you get this type of shot every time, you know, then this type and maybe you’re taking photos of specific people, things like that.

[00:21:03] Ken: Yeah. So it started with in major leagues. My goal always was to get that behind home plate view. if you know, it’s kind of obscure now, but every now and then you’ll see in some old baseball books, there’s a guy named Gene Mack, who was a cartoonist from like the 30s, 40s, 50s. And he used to do these behind home plate cartoons of ballparks with little stories about what was going on there.

[00:21:25] Ken: And I tried to replicate that when I was, when I was younger. Um, yeah. No, it’s just, I want to get a good panoramic shot of any minor league ballpark. Usually the behind home plate is not as good of a view as, as kind of the side down the line, I’d like to get anything that’s distinctive, you know, any characteristics architecturally that are distinctive, um, any sort of views that are great, um, such as, you know, you go to the ballparks in Utah, all of them have these jaw dropping views of the mountains in the background.

[00:21:56] Ken: That’s something, or a skyline view like Charlotte’s ballpark or Birmingham Barron’s ballpark. Those are kind of cool because they have great skyline views. Um, So I try to do that. I try to get interesting food, take photographs of interesting food. My wife, who was then my girlfriend, encouraged me to do that when I went to Japan.

[00:22:16] Ken: I was going to photograph, um, seven different baseball games, and she asked me to photograph the food, and I never really had thought about that before. This is 20 years ago now. And so I always try to get anything that’s like the signature food for an area, like Rochester has this thing called the Rochester, the plate, the plate specials, like a combination of like all these different breakfast foods and they sell that and they become the plates once a year or like pierogies in Pittsburgh.

[00:22:42] Ken: Um, the chicken finger was created in Manchester, New Hampshire. So one, one year, the team became the chicken fingers for a day and had, um, different versions of their uniform and hat. So like, I try to get those things and then I’m a sucker for a mascot. Always got to get a mascot. So,

[00:23:01] Anna: I like that. I like that there’s a, you know, some sort of collection kind of continuity between all the parks you visited. So, um, I want to chat now a little bit about this book that just came out. I mean, in the last couple of days, by the time this airs, it will have been out for a couple of weeks at least, but the last Comiskey, you’ve talked very endearingly about your connection to this ballpark.

[00:23:27] Anna: And it sounds like you’ve, you’ve got just kind of connections to ballparks and stadiums in general, but you know, what about this? specifically. What about this story was so captivating and so important to you that you wanted to share it with the rest of the world?

[00:23:44] Ken: Yeah, I mean, it goes back really to 1990. Um, that year, which was the final year of old Comiskey park. I was a 19 year old college photographer working, um, temp jobs that summer. And I decided, you know what, this park’s going away. I wanted to make sure I captured everything from my own memories. But also thought, you know, maybe someday this will be a book.

[00:24:08] Ken: I didn’t know where my career was going then. So I took three or four days off of my summer jobs and went down there alone. And that was kind of the first time I started to explore ballparks alone and realized how great it was and how much fun it was. Um, and photographed really every nook and cranny of the ballpark.

[00:24:25] Ken: The, not just the, the field and, and, you know, the common ones that people saw, but the outside, the facade, the ticket windows, the parking, the player’s parking lot, I did the concourses, you know, concourses in those days were, were underneath the stands. Now they’re kind of above the stands at most ballparks.

[00:24:46] Ken: Um, but then it was a little bit different. It was this weird little nether world. Um, and Tomisky was, you know, always kind of on the edge of feeling a little dodgy and dangerous back in those days, I want to make sure I photographed all these little obscure parts. Um, I was lucky. I got a press pass for one game.

[00:25:05] Ken: Um, by virtue of the fact that I went to the university of Michigan, it was covering Michigan sports. There was a pitcher then named Jim Abbott, who some older fans will know. He was a one armed pitcher also had a no hitter for the Yankees when he pitched for that, but a real good solid pitcher pitch for the U S national team in the Pan Am games in 87, and he wasn’t the time playing for the California angels.

[00:25:30] Ken: They were visiting. And so by virtue of him being there, I finagled a press pass. Met, met him, got some photos of him. But what it enabled me to do was go all around the park into areas I wouldn’t normally get to. I got to go to the locker room, I got to go to manager Jeff Tor Borg’s office and chat with him.

[00:25:48] Ken: I got to go to the bullpen and where the players, um, would pitchers would warm up. And so those days, plus the last two days of the ballpark, the last night game on September 29, 1990, and the last day game following my, uh, deceased uncle Gary, I wasn’t deceased then my late uncle Gary, um, gave me his season tickets for those games.

[00:26:12] Ken: So I drove in from Ann Arbor and photographed that. So fast forward. Last year, Matt Flesch was doing a documentary about the last season of Polisski Park, and he put out a call for photos and video on Twitter, et cetera, and I volunteered my photos, and the documentary came out amazingly. And after that, I said, Matt, like, I’ve got hundreds more photos.

[00:26:33] Ken: He used maybe 30 or 40. Um, why don’t we turn this into a book? And Matt was burnt out and working on his next project, which is going to be about the Chicago Stadium called Last Stadium. Um, and so I said, listen, I will put together with my photos, we’ll, we’ll adapt the documentary. And I added a lot of new content.

[00:26:54] Ken: Um, there were some parts that he had to miss, like the first turn back the clock day, which was one of the first retro games, if not the first retro game of any North American sport, or, uh, Michael Jordan came to do batting practice late in the year. I got photos of that. So. Right now the book includes over 400 of my color photographs restored from negatives.

[00:27:16] Ken: Um, that I had just sitting there in my, you know, storage room gathering dust. I scanned them in, digitized them, and, and, and updated them. And, um, was able to convince Ozzy Guillen, long time player and manager for the White Sox, to do an introduction to the book. And it, it really, you know, came out fantastically.

[00:27:36] Ken: I’m really excited about how the book looks. Um, the content is great. It’s getting good reviews so far. And we’re just really happy about it to share it with baseball fans, whether you went, whether you’re a White Sox fan or not, it doesn’t really matter. It is a time travel, um, mechanism to go back to that era when ballparks were really different.

[00:27:57] Ken: And, um, it was a lot of fun to put together.

[00:28:01] Anna: It sounds like it would be. I mean, especially a ballpark that you had a sentimental attachment to. Obviously, that’s why you have all these photographs. But, you know, I, I never made it to Comiskey. but I love these older ballparks. I mean, so we were chatting before we started. I now live very close to Arlington.

[00:28:21] Anna: Obviously they’ve opened their new latest and greatest ballpark, uh, in 2020. And, you know, but. Fortunately, I got to go see, I don’t know, probably over a hundred games at the old ballpark, and there’s just a charm that existed there that doesn’t exist in these new state of the art ballparks. And I, from what I’ve heard about Comiskey, like I said, I’ve never been there, but everything that I’ve heard first hand, second hand, It sounds like it was, it was such a beloved ballpark by Sox fans, but baseball fans in general, too.

[00:29:01] Ken: yeah, it really was. It was distinctive. There’s only one other ballpark that was like and that’s Tiger Stadium and the ways in which they were similar is that he both had twin decks that encircled the field and what it did is it trapped in the noise. White Sox fans did not draw very well for decades.

[00:29:20] Ken: Um, they only double decked the outfield because Babe Ruth and the Yankees are bringing in so many. Fans in the 20s, and then also the Chicago Cardinals played there for years and years before they moved to St. Louis and now Arizona. but it was a special ballpark. It had something that Tiger Stadium didn’t have, which were these distinctive arches that encircled the entire ballpark that I include a photo in the book about the comparisons to the Roman Coliseum.

[00:29:48] Ken: It, it quite literally was based on the look of the Roman Coliseum. When it was built and designed in 1910, there weren’t that many new ballparks. You know, you had a handful of the steel and concrete parks that were already up. Um, you know, Shibe Park, I think, came out a year before. Forbes Field, about the same time.

[00:30:07] Ken: Crossley field about the same time, but so it was still a new concept. The idea of in closing baseball fields and charging money for tickets was really only about a 30 40 year old concept at the time. And so the ballpark was based partially on the Roman Coliseum and partially on cathedrals. The architect, Zachary Taylor Davis, had previously been building churches.

[00:30:32] Ken: So there’s a church element to the facade that you’ll see in old photos. They’re real distinctive brick design that you would never see in a modern ballpark, let alone a modern building today. And that really separated it and made it special. Um, there are a few parks that were like that. I didn’t get to Cheyenne Park, but I’ve seen the design and it was a gorgeous ballpark on the outside.

[00:30:58] Ken: And just similarly, Old Comiskey had that feel. Old Comiskey. Um, by the way, Zachary Taylor Davis went on to build Wrigley a few years later, although it wasn’t called Wrigley and it wasn’t for the Cubs. He built it for the upstart Federal League Chicago Whales. It was Wiegman Park, built in 1914. And based on the success of Comiskey, he got that commission, and then he was brought back to expand Wrigley when it became the Cubs ballpark and the Bears, uh, uh, stadium.

[00:31:27] Ken: And he also worked on the expansion of Comiskey in the 20s. And so, you know, those parks just look different. They, they were, there’s a lot more put into it that was more focused on the look and the aesthetic and less on the profitability.

[00:31:43] Anna: Yeah. My dad grew up in the Detroit area. He has such fond memories of old Tiger Stadium. I mean, the way he talks about it, it’s, it’s almost poetic, you know. He, you can hear him get choked up about it. But the thing I remember him talking about more than anything is how loud the place would get.

[00:32:00] Anna: because, because of what you just said, it was enclosed.

[00:32:04] Anna: And obviously the, the wooden bleachers, you could make a lot more noise than you can on, on concrete and plastic that we sit on now. So, um, I’d be curious, I don’t want to put you on the spot, but I’d be curious to kind of hear, have your love for ballparks at all been tarnished or faded based on the direction that we’re seeing them go?

[00:32:27] Ken: Oh yeah. I mean, new ballparks aren’t the same. Listen, New Comiskey is a real problem. I’ll still call it New Comiskey. No one calls, I don’t know anyone from Chicago that will call it by the corporate names. Um, Sox Park’s also acceptable. Um, the new ballparks with the exception of a few. often have just a lot of similarities to each other and PNC Park in Pittsburgh obviously is special and there are a number of minor league ballparks that are special.

[00:32:54] Ken: But what it does is it makes you really appreciate when you find some of those old ones that still exist. Um, you know, Rickwood Field obviously being the most famous, um, was built just a month after, opened a month after Old Comiskey. And I’ve gone there twice and it feels like you’re going back in time, you know, the concourses, the design, the architectural elements, it feels different and it’s so special.

[00:33:21] Ken: sometimes you’ll see the modern ones kind of pick up some of those old characteristics and that’s when it really is fun. I love what, um, Was done, for example, in Worcester by Janet Marie Smith, the great architect who was behind Camden Yards and the renovation of Fenway and Dodger Stadium. it really does harken back to the old days.

[00:33:41] Ken: It’s got a cool feel. There’s a kind of almost a, um, a warehouse facade on the outside, a metallic warehouse facade that makes it feel distinctive. And those are the types that when an owner really cares to make something that’s Architecturally distinctive. It’s special and you can tell, you know, it’s a modern arena, but you can tell that the brand new Clippers arena is going to be something special next year, you know, because, um, The owner wants to do so.

[00:34:11] Ken: Steve Ballmer wants to do something special for his fans. And when you see those, you can really tell. Um, unfortunately I don’t think new Comiskey falls in that, that camp.

[00:34:23] Anna: Yeah. I mean, it’s not one of the worst ones I’ve seen. I’ll say that, especially in terms of, you know, just the way it looks from the outside. I mean, I think the Texas Rangers have done the worst out of everybody in terms of 

[00:34:36] Ken: kind of agree. 

[00:34:37] Anna: in terms of, of putting something in a sky, I mean, obviously no city skyline there, but I mean, I feel like if, if this is your job, you should be maybe considering, you Is anybody ever gonna purchase a shirt or a poster with the exterior façade of Globe Live Field?

[00:34:57] Anna: I don’t think so.

[00:34:58] Ken: It’s a tough one. It’s a global life field. I took my son there a few months after it opened, not the COVID year, but the year after.

[00:35:05] Anna: Yeah.

[00:35:06] Ken: it really felt like, I know everyone says it feels like a warehouse or airplane hanger. It really does. Now it’s comfortable. I get that. You know, it’s, it’s really hot down there.

[00:35:19] Ken: Um, but it’s not, no one’s gonna be inspired to write poetry about it. Um, I think, I think that’s safe to say. Um, I even liked the hodgepodge element of its predecessor a little bit. I know, you know, what they’re trying to do with bringing all elements of Yankee stadium and tiger stadium. I liked it. but.

[00:35:40] Ken: It, you know, neither of those ballparks really captured their measures. I do think up the road in Houston is not a bad one. I think they did a pretty good job with Minute Maid. Um, I saw it when it was still, I first came there when it was Enron

[00:35:53] Ken: field, I think for a few, a few months. Um, but you don’t, you don’t get the same feeling.

[00:36:00] Ken: One of the big reasons I think is that now the service level is always the bottom level between almost every park, even minor league parks. And so there’s a separation between the players and the personnel that work for the team and the fans, and that used to not be the way it was. And it changed the, I’m like White Sox fans.

[00:36:20] Ken: We talk about this in the book, White Sox plans had access to the players, but the players had to go through the concourse to get from the parking lot to their dugout or to their locker room. So there was by definition interaction and you don’t get that anymore. Now they have a service level and they don’t have to mingle.

[00:36:39] Ken: Then you throw in the new nets, so there’s almost no interaction. Then you throw in the fancy seats that have the moat behind home plate started starting with new Yankee stadium. And you just, you lose that effect.

[00:36:53] Anna: Yeah. That’s true. I hope we see some sort of like renaissance and kind of how teams and management are running things, you know, I, but I don’t know that there’s money in it.

[00:37:06] Anna: It’s, I’m, 

[00:37:07] Anna: 

[00:37:07] Ken: Yeah, that’s the 

[00:37:07] Ken: problem. 

[00:37:09] Anna: I don’t 

[00:37:09] Ken: Goodwill doesn’t seem to get much money. Um, after the strike in 94, I remember for about You know, we lost a lot of baseball for a little while. They’re really taking initiatives to be fan friendly. Um, but that seems to have gone away and now it’s just about maximizing TV revenue as evidenced by the fact that the playoffs are on, my kids never get to see a playoff game, you know, they’re on after they go to bed and in the morning, like, do they want to see the score quickly on their phone?

[00:37:39] Ken: Or do they want to, you know, go through and quickly watch it on DVR. And, you know, the answer is usually just their phone. They’ll get the results. And they’re not going to have the same passion that we do

[00:37:50] Anna: or the same memories, you know, they won’t, they won’t remember watching that as it was unfolding. But, um, yeah, it’s a weird transitory period for, uh, I think, you know, the access that, that fans have and we’ll just have to see what happens, but I’m glad that there are projects that kind of convey what it used to be.

[00:38:11] Anna: And, Like I said, I just I can’t wait to to get my hands on Last Comiskey because I think it’s gonna be a great read

[00:38:19] Ken: I mean, that’s, that’s my goal. I’d like to, what I do on my website is I’d like to share photographs of stadiums and ballparks in particular ballparks that aren’t around anymore because it’s a form of time travel. I used to love to, I used to just gawk at photos of Ebbets Field and the polo grounds and the ones that predated my time.

[00:38:39] Ken: And I now become the old guy. And, you know, I turned, I turned 53 today, actually. So I’m now the old guy. Thank you. Um, and I now can share stories with, I love it. I share with podcasters who, you know, are in their twenties or thirties and they don’t remember the old ballparks. And it’s fun to share those stories.

[00:38:58] Ken: And I like to share it via photographs. I hope to do, um, one of the tiger stadium and the sports of Detroit and Michigan, as I went. To school there. So I got a chance to see a lot of Tiger stadium before it was gone. Um, I’m going to do one for, for hopefully New York and for Boston as well. Um, because you know, all the stadiums from before the nineties are gone.

[00:39:20] Ken: And I luckily started to, you know, my photograph, do my photography before that era. So I got a lot of those photos before the places disappeared.

[00:39:29] Anna: Yeah, well, I’m glad someone captured that I mean I think that’s it’s crazy to me to hear that 1990 and before is now considered old, but that’s fine

[00:39:40] Ken: Well, I think the third oldest ballparks now at Dodger stadium. Which, you know, for the folks that have been there, I mean, it’s, it feels a little older, but it still feels brand spanking new,

[00:39:50] Ken: but that’s, uh, 60 years old now. Um, and then after that, I think new Comiskey is like the fifth oldest ballpark,

[00:39:59] Anna: 

[00:40:00] Ken: um, which is crazy.

[00:40:01] Anna: Yeah, yeah, it’s wild and they’ll continue to to crank out the new ones and and do these land deals and everything else but You know, what’s there to do? I’ll 

[00:40:14] Ken: Yeah, I mean, it’s, it will always change. Listen, I don’t want to sound like an old timer and, you know, get a get off my lawn mentality. But, um, you know, there certainly was something nice and special about the older ballparks, which you don’t see today. Um, one thing that does still exist, which I love, you go to universities around the country.

[00:40:34] Ken: And you see, um, the modern basketball arenas, you know, that are generally soulless, have a lot of corporate seats, bad student protections, et cetera, but the old arenas almost always still exist and are used for like wrestling or volleyball or whatever the local sport may be, um, depending on the part of the country and those still exist.

[00:40:57] Ken: And a lot of those were built in the 20s and 30s and 40s. And that’s become my new fascination, is anytime I go to a university, finding that, like just down the road from you, you had a Texas A& M, they’ve got an old arena that predates their basketball arena, um, or like up the road in Oklahoma, the same thing, um, it’s, it’s really cool.

[00:41:17] Ken: You can see those old arenas that still are made of brick and give you that feel of the old ballparks.

[00:41:23] Anna: I remember that about my own school. It uh, it had the the old gym it was called gymnasium Carter gymnasium and then you know, the new one was the Convocation Center and that sort of thing, but they they kept Carter around for intramurals and things like that with the the Bleachers that fold out of the wall like the wooden bleachers.

[00:41:44] Anna: And yeah, this is fun stuff like that. But What comes to mind if I ask you what your favorite baseball memory is?

[00:41:52] Ken: I mean, how can I not say one of the White Sox won the World Series. I was there in Houston. I went alone, and I got the absolute lucky privilege of buying a horrible ticket from a then sad Houston fan, but they were down 3 0. Snuck in pregame to the area by home plate to get photographs of the festivities.

[00:42:16] Ken: And a guy next to me who was working for the Chicago, um, ABC affiliate said, I don’t think anyone’s taken the seat. You can sit here. And I got to watch my team win the world series from a 20 rows back between home plate and first base. And, um, you know, shifted over when they’re about to win. It was a one nothing win in a sweep.

[00:42:39] Ken: Um, and got my dream photo that I felt I was training my whole life to take, which is my team celebrating on the mound. Winning a title. And, you know, the last time they had done, so there was barely photography or barely video at that time. No, there was black and white non talking film at that time. So there was nothing.

[00:43:01] Ken: So it was just really exciting to finally get to experience that. Um, it wasn’t at old Comiskey, which was the dream. It was at, you know, some modern park. It’s now an American league park, oddly. Um, but that was the experience, you know, how can you not? Love that. My close second was, um, being there for the field, the dreams game, which I was really, really dying to go to see my team blow a lead to the Yankees.

[00:43:26] Ken: And then went on what’s now called the stock off home run by Tim Anderson. And God, just amazing photographs of that, that whole. Experience and turn it into a long story. You know, those two really stand out in my head as far as my best baseball memories.

[00:43:45] Anna: Yeah, how could they not? Those are great stories, both of them. I mean, I, uh, if my team were ever to go to the World Series again, which hopefully they do, um, I would prefer that it not be a four game sweep, but I say that now, but I feel like maybe my heart would, you know, beg to differ if it was, I might just be pleased to get it over and done with, but, um,

[00:44:07] Ken: couldn’t have taken seven games. Um, I don’t know if you remember that series, every game was close. I think the White Sox swept, but I think they won by the aggregate of seven runs for all four games. So everything was either a two or a one run win. And I don’t think my, my, Physical constitution could have taken three more stressful days like that.

[00:44:30] Anna: All right. So, the favorite baseball memories, both of those are just incredible. Both things that I would hope to be able to do at some point in my life. But, is there still one thing that kind of, uh, Lands at the top of the list as something you want to see, a person you want to meet, or a place you want to go?

[00:44:48] Ken: I mean, for me, I really want to see baseball in as many countries as I can. I need to, I want to get to Korea. The baseball there. Um, I want to go to Taiwan. It looks amazing there. I just started to dabble singing in Latin America and it was just so much fun. I really, I’m promising my kid we’re going to go to Cuba in a few years and do a baseball trip.

[00:45:09] Ken: Um, that’s really what I want to do is see baseball played in other parts of the world, um, where maybe they’re not as corporatized as they are here. Um, although Japan’s getting pretty close from, from what I recall. Um, but I really want to go see baseball in other areas. Um, I got a taste of it last year, seeing in Mexico City, I’ve seen a ball game in Juarez, Mexico. And that’s a lot of fun. Those are experiences I want to do. And now that my kids have a 12 and a 15 year old, it’s fun to share it with them because even if you’re not into baseball, and I’m not quite sure how much they are, just the experience of seeing a sporting event in another culture is something that’s really compelling.

[00:45:52] Ken: And, um, I love to photograph it, but also, you know, like to taste that food, hear the music. You know, see what they are like when they tailgate or what kind of bars they go to before and after. It’s just so much fun to experience that. And that’s what I really want to do as much as I can. Um, you know, that, you know, obviously that midnight baseball game I got to get to.

[00:46:14] Ken: So that’s a few years off. Um, I did get to finally see, um, a sporting event. I saw football and volleyball in Hawaii, which was a lot of fun. That was a different experience seeing, you know, how do they play sports? In the Hawaiian Islands, it’s just a little bit of a different vibe.

[00:46:31] Anna: Yeah. Yeah, I can imagine so. And, um, definitely relatable to, to want to get to as many foreign countries to watch ballgames as possible. I mean, I think you really can use baseball as kind of the vehicle to explore the world and, um, can’t wait to kind of follow along and I’m sure there will be imagery to support those stories that you end up telling.

[00:46:53] Anna: But, um, yeah. Ken, I’ve so enjoyed this, this has been a blast and cannot thank you enough for making time. Before we let you go, where do we send people if they want to find you online, maybe they want to order the book or, you know, see some of your photography?

[00:47:08] Ken: So, um, the book is available at lastcomiskeybook.com, or you can follow me on all social and stadium vagabond, which also is the name of my website. And like I said before, I share travel stories all the time. Um, I have a big story I did about the field of dreams, one about seeing sports in Hawaii.

[00:47:30] Ken: Um, you know, I’m working on more of these, um, one about Mexico City and seeing sports in Mexico City, in particular, baseball, soccer, and lucha libre. That’s coming out this summer. So that’s at stadiumvagabond. com. And, um, again, the book is lastcomiskeybook.com. com.

[00:47:47] Anna: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Ken. I really enjoyed this and, um, can’t wait to see what you get into next.

[00:47:52] Ken: Thank you so much for having me. It was really fantastic chatting with you.

[00:47:55] Anna: And that will wrap up this episode of the baseball bucket list podcast. Special, thanks to Ken Smoller for joining us today and sharing those stories and memories. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, if you think you might like to be a guest on the show, head to baseball, bucket list.com/podcast and fill out an application. 

[00:48:11] Anna: I’d absolutely love to hear from you. While you’re there, make sure to spend some time on the site, sign up for a free membership, build your own baseball bucket list and track your ballpark visits. And if you find yourself enjoying the show each week, please take a moment to rate and review it in the podcast app of your choice. It goes such a long way in helping us find new listeners. I get emails all the time from folks saying that the show just popped up in their feeds. So I would really, really appreciate it. That’s it for this week. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll see you. Next episode.

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