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.”

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Cole Hamels' dominant start to his Cubs career continued on Friday in stellar fashion, and with some considerable help from his infield.

The 34-year-old veteran not only pitched seven innings of five-hit ball without allowing a run, but induced five ground ball double plays. The Cubs finished with a staggering seven double plays in a 1-0 win at the Pirates on Friday.

The last time the Cubs turned five double plays was in 1985. 

All five hits Hamels gave up were groundball singles. The 16 groundballs induced is the most for a Cubs pitcher this year.

After Hamels exited after seven innings, the Cubs got double plays in the eighth, on a line drive double play with Jorge De La Rosa on the mound, and ninth, on a groundball induced by Jesse Chavez to end the game.

Hamels was initially brought in to provide depth to a struggling rotation and ease the pain of Yu Darvish being unavailable. But Hamels has now started an honest debate over who should be the Cubs' starter in Game 1 of the postseason. He has been otherworldly since joining the Cubs, with an 0.72 ERA, three wins and one no-decision (the Cubs won and he had nine strikeouts). 

The 1-0 win over the Pirates gives the Cubs more breathing room in the NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, pushing the Cubs lead to 4.5 games in the division.

And the Hamels hot-streak comes at an excellent time for the North Siders, who took in Jon Lester's gem of an outing on Thursday, where he went six innings with no earned runs and eight strikeouts in a win against the Pirates. The Cubs starting pitching seems to be turning the corner, and with three straight series against sub-.500 teams following their series in Pittsburgh, this could be the beginning of a great run of outings that carries the Cubs confidently into the postseason.

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season.