As the 2017 MLB season gets closer, Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field construction crew continues to make progress renovating the more than century-old ballpark. But how much renovating is too much?
You’ll notice one big difference on the field next season—no more on-field bullpens. The Chicago Cubs are officially moving them underneath the bleachers. Now, there are a number of reasons why this move is probably necessary, but it could be just another part of a disturbing trend for the Friendly Confines.
Wrigley Field isn’t just a ballpark. It’s an American baseball relic. Constructed during a time when baseball was unquestionably America’s pastime (it still is, but that’s another story for another time), Wrigley Field, to this day, has mostly retained its original beauty and form. This is something the Ricketts family should be extremely careful not to lose.
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The Video Boards
You’ll recall that last year the Cubs made some big changes out in the bleachers. Two giant scoreboards were added to right and left field, as well as extended rows of seating. The extra seats never bothered me. The scoreboards, on the other hand, disappointed me to a degree. In its history, Wrigley field had only ever used a manual scoreboard. As the rest of the league made the transition to digital video boards, Wrigley kept using their giant, hand-operated scoreboard in center field.
The center field board is still being used, but now we have the large video board as well. I’ll admit that I still haven’t quite warmed up to it yet. I don’t know that I ever will. For those who love it, I can understand why. But for me, and others, the new video boards detract from the classic look of baseball’s greatest park.
As for interior changes, I don’t mind at all. Better bathrooms? Fantastic. More concessions? Great. But the more changes made to the exterior of Wrigley Field, the more it loses its century-old charm.
The move to put the bullpens underneath the bleachers is driven by safety concerns, so it’s understandable why it’s being done. But it is another classic tradition that Wrigley is losing. Fans will also miss out on the game within the game. As Chicago Cubs viewers know, the bullpen pitchers have traditionally played chicken while the game goes on. If a foul ball was hit their direction, players would do their best to resist flinching as the ball hurdles towards them. Probably in the best interest of the players that this will no longer occur, but sad nonetheless to see another classic Wrigley tradition head for the exit sign.
Tread lightly with renovations
There are certain parts of the stadium that have to remain untouched. The marquee on the outside will stay put. The ivy-covered walls in the outfield are as iconic as the stadium itself. If the ivy ever gets removed, then you might as well just build a 5-star hotel within the Roman Colosseum while you’re at it. The day they replace the ivy with digital ads is the day you can lay me to rest. Let’s hope that day never comes.
We aren’t quite there yet, but Wrigley is heading in a direction that worries me. The owners must be careful not to turn this great baseball landmark into another plain old, generic baseball stadium. Take Marlins Park, for instance. It looks quite comfortable, but holy mother of mercy is it ugly. You could say the same for a number of other ballparks.
The Chicago Cubs are looking at hosting the All-Star game in 2020, and these changes will no doubt strengthen their chances of getting it. But is it what the fans really want?
I’ll take classic, seductive beauty over a luxury experience any day. I don’t go to a baseball game to feel like I’m watching from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy chair. I go to take in all that America’s pastime has to offer. And there’s no better place to do that than Wrigley Field. In fact, it’s one of the few parks left that will give you that rich, traditional baseball experience. So let’s protect it.
One can only hope that Tom Ricketts has a vested interest in preserving the classic charm of the greatest baseball stadium in history.