Cubs welcome the bleacher bums back to Wrigley Field


Cubs welcome the bleacher bums back to Wrigley Field

What’s Wrigley Field without any bleacher bums?

The Cubs don’t have to worry about that existential question anymore, now that the left- and center-field bleachers opened for Monday night’s game against the New York Mets, with fans streaming in for batting practice.

“I guess awkward would probably be the word,” leftfielder Chris Coghlan said. “It’s different any time you look out there and there’s not the same hometown crowd. As hectic as they are – and as fun as they are – it’s been kind of a bummer not to have them.

“But we had to go through that process to get more people, more seats, and everything there is now.”

[SHOP: Get your Kris Bryant gear!]

The 3,990-square-foot video board in left field made its debut on Opening Night. The Cubs have now put up a 2,250-square-foot video board in right field with the Budweiser script on top, changing or blocking the views from the Sheffield Avenue rooftop buildings.

“Every stage that we keep doing here at the stadium is exciting,” Coghlan said. “Guys are like: ‘Man, I heard the Jumbotron’s up.’ Everybody wants to go out and look at it. So we’re like little kids and fans in our own right.”

Joe Maddon, Wrigleyville’s new Renaissance man, pointed out something else at the beginning of the manager’s pregame media session inside the interview room/dungeon.

“How bout the ivy?” Maddon said. “The ivy’s turning green right now. I noticed that. I’m a bit of a gardener from back in the day, so that’s kind of exciting, too.”

The Cubs anticipate opening the right-field bleachers on June 11, when the Cincinnati Reds come to the North Side.

“It will be fun when there’s not boards and nets out in right field,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But I really like the second scoreboard. I think it looks great and adds some symmetry to the ballpark.

[MORE: Bryant sends one into the new bleachers]

“It’s a cost of doing business while we get this done – having empty bleachers – but it will be a lot more fun when the bleachers are full. Hopefully, it warms up and we get some good crowds out there.”

The Cubs hope the promises of the $600 million Wrigleyville development will give them a home-field advantage, from the new clubhouse to the upgraded medical/training facilities to the new revenue that can be poured back into the team to what’s supposed to be an electric atmosphere. 

“I remember coming as a visiting player,” said Coghlan, who rolled through with the Florida/Miami Marlins. “In BP, they were just hammering me. And you’re like: Wow, this is crazy. Even in BP, they were already locked and loaded.

“Any time the crowd makes it difficult for the visiting team, it helps us. Same thing if we’re down by runs late and they give us energy. Sometimes we need that.

“Having more people – and the more rowdy they are – the better for us.”

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair