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.”