Wrigley Field rooftops: Survivors or endangered species?
CHICAGO — Beyond Wrigley Field’s ivy-covered wall, atop a rooftop deck across Waveland Avenue, Amy Waldron could see the tiny ball jump off the toothpick-size bat of a miniature Kyle Schwarber more than 450 feet away.
As the ball rose, it suddenly disappeared behind the massive Jumbotron that stood between her seat and the field, meaning that Waldron and everyone around her didn’t know there had been a home run until the Wrigley Field crowd erupted and Schwarber slowed to a trot.
"It looks like I’m looking at the back of a television set," said Waldron, 44, as she motioned to the Jumbotron that is nothing more than a huge black rectangle from behind.
On Tuesday night, as the Cubs were losing to the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series, the famed rooftop bleachers circle the outfield were crowded with fans, clustered on the bleachers, quaffing beers, eating hot dogs and other fare. The experience of a game at Wrigley Field from this unusual perch has been part of Cubs lore for decades but the end may be in sight.
The team and the rooftop owners fought for months after the Cubs decided to erect ad-friendly videoboards at the stadium. The owners say the big signs and video screens block the view — and that’s true — and that it unfairly impacted their businesses.
Under a 20-year deal struck in 2004, the rooftop owners agreed to share 17 percent of their revenue with the Cubs and the Cubs agreed not to block their view. But the relationship that was rocky before the contract — the Cubs once put up windscreens that partially obstructed the rooftops — heated up again when the Ricketts family in 2009 bought the team and decided that the contract did not prohibit them from erecting the videoboards.
That triggered another fight, but the rooftop owners were not able to halt the videoboards from going up. Since then, the Ricketts family and its entities have bought at least six buildings with rooftop businesses and a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by two of the rooftop owners.
All of it has many believing that the rooftop businesses might eventually go away.
The 2015 postseason was the first for the Cubs since the team sliced into the view from the rooftops with the Jumbotron above the left-field wall and a huge videoboard in right field. There was no getting around the fact that these fans could not see as much of the action as they used to.
"Before, you at least saw 70, 80 percent of the flight of the ball," said Ken Kasowicz, 43, of Chicago, "Now you see 25, 30 percent."
That meant these fans were forced to wait for a play to pop up on a nearby television screen to see exactly what they’d just cheered about. It was more time to brace for the ugly sight of a ball bouncing off Schwarber’s glove in left field as the Mets cruised toward a commanding 3-0 NCLS lead — but it’s not the best situation for a baseball fan eager to track the action in an era of smartphones.
Waldron’s friend, Amanda Burger, pointed to the Jumbotron and said: "All this, it’s just too much."
The Cubs haven’t commented about what plans they might have for the rooftops, and did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. But most agreed the beginning of the end of the rooftops has probably arrived.
"I don’t know if all of them will (survive) but I don’t think this location will," said Mike Osterhout, a 38-year-old fan who works in Chicago.
Fans said they don’t begrudge the Cubs for putting up the new signs, particularly if the team uses the money to sign better players and keep top players.
At the same time, they say it would be sad if some or all the rooftop businesses disappear.
"They’re part of what makes Wrigley Wrigley," Osterhout said.