Cubs

Cubs: Kenney discusses amenities to new Wrigley bleachers

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Cubs: Kenney discusses amenities to new Wrigley bleachers

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney stopped by the CSN booth with Len and JD during Monday's Cubs-Mets game to discuss the opening of the new and improved bleachers in left and center field, giving updates on what amenities fans can expect to see when they head to the Friendly Confines. He also gave updates on when the right field bleachers will open, as well as a July 3rd date to celebrate the entire bleacher section being open to the public. See what Kenney had to say in the video above.

On the bleachers opening in left and center field: "It's great to have at least 2/3 of our bleachers open, so room for 3,500 (fans) in left field and center. And some new amenities they'll see when they're there, the first part is that there's more room to move around and we got rid of some of the choke points that happened really in center field where the concession lines would interfere with the pedestrian concourse and having new spaces behind there will allow everybody to get around.

"The second part is we're able to bring some new amenities in terms of better concession, fresher food. We've got 20 new points of sale, so in addition to getting through the concession lines quicker there's going to be a better food product once you get there.

"And then the last part, we've got some new spaces, some group spaces in left field what we call The Well, and then under the new video board there, one of our porches is open. So you'll see some great spots to view the game."

On new group seating areas in The Well: "Those spaces, there's room for 15. The middle space is a little bit bigger, more like 25, and you have a view right over the wall. It's all group space, so it's mean more to mingle and walk around and visit with everybody in your group rather the person on your right or left, which is one of the things we learned when we opened the Bud Patio a couple years ago.

"It's divisible into three spaces, so if there were three groups you could each have your own spot or you could take the whole thing. And then the upper patio is up to 100 people can fit under the scoreboard, and what's neat about that space is you've got both shade and a sun deck at one end, and your own concession service. So, it's really something that our fans told us after we opened the patio."

On the video boards in left and right field: "We've learned a lot by being last with our video boards, seeing what everybody else does. Some of it we like and some of it doesn't fit for Wrigley, and we're not going to do. But knowing the lineup, especially in the first game of a series with the Mets coming to town for the first time and they've got some new faces, they've got some injuries - David Wright's not there - so for our fans to see who's on the visiting squad and where they bat and what their averages are and to be able to kind of refer to it throughout the game really helps."

On a timeline for the right field bleachers: "So June 11 we'll open right (field bleachers), a month from today. And then we're going to celebrate the bleachers being fully back online in July 3rd. So they're still a work in progress; left field, still a little bit of work going on underneath. Everything works in terms of concessions and restrooms and obviously the seating, and the same thing will be true in right field. June 11 it will be open; we'll still be doing a little bit of work behind the scenes but we thought we'd have sort of a grand celebration for the bleachers coming online in their fullest sense on July 3rd, so those are the next two milestones."

Former Cubs pitcher Dan Straily, now in KBO, details games without fans

Former Cubs pitcher Dan Straily, now in KBO, details games without fans

Cubs fans may remember Dan Straily. The right-hander pitched for the club in 2014, making seven appearances (one start) before getting dealt to the Houston Astros the ensuing offseason in the Dexter Fowler trade.

Straily now pitches for the Lotte Giants in the KBO, South Korea's highest level of pro ball. The league kicked its season off earlier this month without fans in attendance, a model MLB will likely follow for most (if not all) of its potential 2020 season.

Jon Frankel, a correspondent for HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," recently interviewed current and former KBO players about the league's return during the coronavirus pandemic. In an excerpt made available via press release, Frankel asked Straily if he misses playing in front of a crowd.

MORE: Why one medical expert remains skeptical of MLB's COVID-19 precautions

"Of course. Like, even if you're on the road, and people are just telling you how much you suck — you thrive off it," Straily said. "You feed off that energy.”

Crowd noise obviously plays a big part in an athlete's adrenaline. Not having that factor will be an adjustment for MLB in 2020, and Straily took things a step further regarding the circumstances players face without fans in attendance.

“My shortstop dove for a ball. And he missed it by, like, an inch," he said. "Like, it was an incredible effort. When he hit the ground, I heard the air leave his lungs. And we've talked about that in the dugout. Because I've never once in my life heard that.”

Not having crowds to drown out on-field noise could make for a unique viewing experience for fans at home. UFC returned on May 9, and many punches and kicks were audible on ESPN's TV broadcast.

MLB teams could play proxy crowd noise in games, but nevertheless, fans may pickup noises on their TVs previously unavailable from home.

The full episode will air Tuesday at 9 p.m. CT on HBO.

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How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

The cheer master’s whistle echoed through the ballpark, and dinosaur mascots wearing giant face masks danced on top of the dugout.

With fans absent due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday’s scene didn’t quite do the Korean Baseball Organization experience justice. But it was still the league that taught Ryan Sadowski how to let loose on the field.

"I found that as a player I didn't allow myself to enjoy my success the way I should have because it's the game of baseball,” Sadowski told ESPN in 2016. “You're not supposed to show that you enjoy your success. I think it's something I learned here (in Korea), that I would take to younger kids in the States."

Major League Baseball is well aware that its status in the United States will continue to slip if it can’t figure out how to reach a younger audience. This summer presents an opportunity. If the players and owners can agree to a deal that makes the league’s early July target date a reality, for weeks it will be the only major sport on television.

Sports fans are clamoring for action after a months-long drought. What better time to draw in new fans? In that regard, the KBO could have something to teach MLB.

Sadowski is in a unique position to compare the KBO and MLB. He played in both leagues before becoming a KBO scout. Sadowski’s support for on-the-field expression is one Cubs shortstop Javier Báez would likely get behind.

Báez had a message similar to Sadowski's on MLB’s YouTube channel recently. In a show taped during Spring Training, Báez chatted with Puerto Rican recording artist Residente while running the Grammy Award-winner through baseball drills.

“In my personal opinion, I would like to teach young people growing up to enjoy [the game],” Báez said in Spanish. “And if they fail, fail having fun. And keep doing what is right. Let the kids play.”

Báez has been criticized for his playing style, most famously in 2018 when he bat-flipped after a popup. Afterward, former Pirates manager Clint Hurdle questioned Báez's “respect for the game.”

But Báez's huck wouldn’t have been out of place in Sunday’s KBO game between the NC Dinos and Hanwhu Eagles. The broadcast didn’t feature the kind of ostentatious bat flips that have become so popular on social media. But still, in consecutive innings, players on both teams tossed their bats several feet up the baseline to punctuate base hits. No uproar ensued.

The rate at which KBO bat flips have spread through Twitter speaks to a hunger for showboating among young baseball fans. Why not embrace it?   

“It’s not that it is not the correct way of doing it,” Báez told Residente of his playing style. “It’s just not the way many coaches teach it.”

In the United States, the NBA is the poster child for attracting millennial fans. In 2017-18, young adults led the league’s growth in ratings, according to Forbes. TV viewership among 18- to 34-year-olds was up 14 percent.

The NBA does an especially good job marketing its stars. Admittedly, the game lends itself to that strategy in a way that baseball does not. LeBron James can take over any game down the stretch, but Mike Trout isn’t going to get an at-bat every time the winning run is in scoring position.

But there are other ways NBA stars capture the fascination of young fans. Kids across the country grew up shrugging like Michael Jordan or pumping their arms and pounding their chests like LeBron James.  They take deep dives into YouTube, watching the most devastating dunks of all time – the more embarrassing for the defender, the better. None of that disrespects the game. The NBA and KBO have that in common.

MLB doesn’t have to adopt the KBO’s use of specific chants for each batter and embrace bat flipping for everything from home runs to ground outs – even though, by all accounts, those elements create a delightfully raucous atmosphere.

MLB doesn’t have to abolish baseball’s unwritten rules in one day. But an amendment is in order.

What if demonstrative zeal was instead embraced as a sign of respect for the game? After all, it might be MLB’s best hope of connecting to the next generation.