Tom Ricketts offers up details on Wrigley Field renovations and new Wrigleyville hotel


Tom Ricketts offers up details on Wrigley Field renovations and new Wrigleyville hotel

Historic Wrigley Field looks less and less “historic” by the day.

Anyone who has frequented Wrigleyville this winter has seen the Friendly Confines further thrown into construction-fueled chaos, and the sparing shots inside the ballpark show a scene that looks nothing like the familiar green grass of gameday.

But it sounds like there are finally some improvements coming for the historically cramped visitors clubhouse.

“Obviously the home-team clubhouse has gotten very substantial improvements. With the visitors clubhouse, we kind of say, ‘Hey, well Lou Gehrig got dressed in there. Is that not good enough for you guys?’ So we’re actually going to put in hot water this year,” chairman Tom Ricketts said to a ballroom full of laughter on Saturday morning. “There will be some improvements to the visitors clubhouse, but it’s largely going to be the same place, relatively space-constrained.”

While visiting players might not see a large improvement in the quality of gamedays, the gussying up of Wrigley Field has been well received by Cubs fans, with The Park at Wrigley a huge hit last season and even during offseason activities this winter. The transformation of the more-than-century-old stadium continues this offseason, and the most notable addition to the corner of Clark and Addison will be the brand-new hotel, which Ricketts said will be open right around Opening Day.

The hotel is a hotel, obviously, and will provide lodging for out-of-town visitors to Wrigley and Wrigleyville, but local attendees will perhaps be more interested in another influx of dining options outside the gates of the park.

“This year when we come back, you’ll see that we’re opening a hotel that will be available I think April 9 or April 1,” Ricketts said during the owners’ panel at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. “And then in the hotel, there’ll be a bunch of food options. McDonald’s will be back, which I appreciate, I’m a McDonald’s eater. So that’ll be back if people want to get something quick before the game. Then we have a taco bar, Big Star taco bar, which is like a highly regarded place to go get a taco. … And then we have Smoke Daddy, which is a very popular, Chicago-based ribs and chicken kind of smokehouse. And a couple more interesting concepts, a bakery, and then we’ll have a restaurant on the corner we’ll announce later. But you’ve got more options before and after the game.”

President of business operations Crane Kenney added at his own panel later Saturday that the McDonald's will be open by St. Patrick's Day so folks can get their hands on Shamrock Shakes.

That big building has already made for a dramatically different look at the famous North Side intersection. More apparent to Cubs fans watching on TV, though, will be some of the changes inside the stadium.

Chiefly, the dugouts are being moves a couple dozen feet down the first- and third-base lines, another surprisingly popular conversation topic Saturday morning, with both the owners and the baseball operations folks who preceded them asked about it.

“The dugouts are sliding down about 25 to 30 feet,” Ricketts said. “The fact is, we had to redo the dugouts to make them nicer. If you’ve been in there, done a tour, they’re pretty old school. And so we slid them down. It gives the players more room, and I’ll be honest, it gives us another section of seats to put fans closer to the action. And it also allows us to build camera wells for the gameday production.

“So it just worked out that we can improve it for the players because it kind of comes right off of their clubhouse, and it’s bigger. We can improve it for the fans because we can create more space near home plate. And then we improved the TV production, too, because we just don’t have all the great camera angles that a lot of other teams have so we built them a better camera well. It’s just kind of win-win-win for everyone, just something that we thought we should do.”

Additionally, Ricketts touched on ballpark-related topics like accessibility, saying the number of elevators in the stadium will triple by the time the renovations are complete. He also mentioned that the team would like the ability to have more night games on weekends, if possible.

Kenney, diverting from Ricketts' earlier jokes about the state of the visitors clubhouse, mentioned that area will be updated with a batting tunnel, a weight room, a video room and a meeting space. He also said that Wrigley Field will have improved cell phone service in 2018.

It seems that Wrigley turning into an offseason construction zone is becoming a tradition as reliable as “W” flags and the hand-operated scoreboard. But the end of the major renovations is in sight, per Ricketts, and by Opening Day 2019, fans could see the fruits of all this labor.

“We have this offseason and next offseason, and by the end of that, our initial plan is complete,” Ricketts said. “Now that doesn’t mean we’re done because it’s a 100-year-old ballpark, so there’ll be something else we have to fix the year after that. But it’ll be great to have the major construction done a year from now. And then, particularly at the end of next year, because of the way we have to stage everything, we get all the great upper-deck renovation done after the 2018 season, which will really help the ballpark a lot.”

Javier Baez does more Javier Baez things in Cubs' blowout win over Rockies


Javier Baez does more Javier Baez things in Cubs' blowout win over Rockies

Javier Baez continued his hot streak on Friday night.

The 25-year-old infielder went 4-for-6 with a homer, a double and four RBIs as the Cubs cruised past the Colorado Rockies, 16-5. Batting in the second spot, he fell a triple short of the cycle.

This GIF was basically Baez all night: 

His night started with a two-run homer in the first inning. Did it look familiar?

Baez now has nine hits in his last 16 at-bats. He also ranks second in the league in RBIs this season with 20, trailing Jed Lowrie (21) of the Oakland A's.

On Friday night, his play drew some "Javy! Javy! Javy!" chants multiple times from the Coors Field crowd, one of which came after a risky baserunning play in the fifth inning. Baez was on second base when Kris Bryant hit a chopper to the shortstop. Baez took off for third. He was initially called out, but it was overturned after a video review. Two runs would go on to score, and the Cubs would continue to pour it on the rest of the game.

Just another game of Javy doing Javy things.

Meet the new Kyle Schwarber


Meet the new Kyle Schwarber

It would be easy to point to Kyle Schwarber's new six-pack as the main reason why he's off to a solid start at the plate.

But Schwarber's offensive prowess is more related to the work he's done inside his own head, not on being in the Best Shape of His Life.

He's out to prove he's more than just a three true outcomes guy.

In the Cubs' 8-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, Schwarber flashed a different part of his game with a pair of groundball RBI singles that helped stake his team to an early lead.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon also pointed to Schwarber's lineout up the middle in the eighth inning as his favorite at-bat, even above the run-scoring hits.

"That's as good as I've seen him in a while," Maddon said.

Schwarber is hitting the ball with authority up the middle and the other way, shortening up his swing with two strikes and finding ways to beat the shift by just sticking his bat out and directing the ball to the left side of second base, where teams only have one defender.

Schwarber is still largely a three true outcomes guy, on pace for 30 homers, 101 walks and 172 strikeouts.

But he no longer looks so stressed/anxious with runners in scoring position. He's been working toward relaxing with guys on base and instead of trying to put every ball out onto Sheffield Ave., he's doing what he can to just put the ball in play.

He insists his thought process with runners in scoring position hasn't changed since last year, but he is definitely getting better results now.

After starting the year 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, Schwarber went 3-for-6 in such situations on the Cubs' recent homestand. Even more impressive: All three hits have come with two outs and went to center or left field.

"I'm not trying to go out there and put a lot of pressure on myself because that's when negative things are gonna happen," Schwarber said. "You just gotta be able to have that same approach you have when there's no one on base."

Since the start of the 2017 season, here are Schwarber's numbers based on runners:

Bases empty: .220 AVG, .831 OPS
Runners on: .206 AVG, .730 OPS

The Cubs are trying to get him back to his 2015 form when he exploded onto the major-league scene to hit .270 with a .914 OPS with runners on base.

There is reason for optimism and the numbers back up Schwarber's progress.

In 2017, 83 percent of his season RBI came on home runs — he only had 10 RBI that didn't come from longballs.

This year, he already has 5 RBI on non-homers and there is still roughly 90 percent of the season remaining. Only 44 percent of his 2018 RBI have come on dingers.

As impressive as anything, Schwarber ranks 17th in baseball in walk percentage (16.9 percent) while also reducing his strikeout percentage slightly from last year's struggles

Schwarber has spent a lot of time working with new hitting coach Chili Davis, but he won't allow himself to ride the daily roller coaster based off recent success, even if it is helping his confidence.

"Yeah, I've been feeling good," Schwarber said. "There's been some tough at-bats here and there, but still taking the walks and also trying to get those guys in when they're on and go from there.

"Not gonna get too high, not gonna get too low when things are going bad. Just stay right in the middle."

When Schwarber is producing like this and Javy Baez is ascending to star status, this Cubs offense won't be struggling to find consistency for long.

"If these two guys keep on doing [this], wow," Maddon said. "Sky's the limit."