Organization fully supports plan to renovate Wrigley
CHICAGO -- There's nothing wrong with Wrigley Field, manager Dale Sveum said Wednesday. It just needs a little upgrading and the support from the city and community to do that through the proposed $300 million renovation plan.
The Cubs submitted their proposed changes to the 99-year-old ballpark and the neighborhood to the City of Chicago Plan Commission on Wednesday and must now wait for final approval. If rejected, chairman Tom Ricketts said the team would have to consider other options, such as moving out of Wrigley.
"I think it's hard for everyone to envision," president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said of the possibility of the Cubs leaving the neighborhood ballpark. "Everyone's on record as saying their goal is to stay here and win here. Tom's answer to that question today really underscored the importance of the project and the importance of the revenue to our vision of building a sustainable winner in a big market and behaving the way a big market should."
Epstein would like to see the team generate more revenue to augment his payroll. The club has other resources, but Ricketts said the additional ad signage could generate $20 million a year.
Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer told players they could expect a new clubhouse by Opening Day 2014. If the renovations are not approved in time to begin work this offseason, that could be delayed until '15.
"At this point, it depends on how long the public approval process takes," Epstein said. "If it drags on too long, it's going to be unrealistic to get it done this winter, and then we're probably looking at Opening Day 2015 for the renovated clubhouse. ... We're all hoping, for a lot of reasons, and not just the revenue, that we can get this moving sooner rather than later."
Wrigley Field is special to opposing players, not just the Cubs.
"It's hard to imagine [them moving]," Padres manager Bud Black said. "I know there was talk similar to that up in Boston years ago about a new Fenway Park. For me, that's a tough pill to swallow, to think about that.
"This is a great ballpark. It's the most unique setting in this day and age for a professional sports venue, basically in the middle of a neighborhood. It's unique, and as a player, we sort of relish the opportunity to come here and enjoy this. That's sort of not my department, and I can understand what everybody's talking about, but selfishly I like this place and where it is and what it's all about."
Sveum said that he would always look forward to coming to Wrigley as a visitor. Now that it's his home park, is there anything he doesn't want changed?
"There's nothing wrong with any part of the ballpark," Sveum said. "It just needs some things added to it. I don't think we're taking away anything, we're just adding to it. I don't think you want to do anything to the old scoreboard or the bleachers. This and Fenway are the best two venues in all of baseball. But like Fenway, you add to it, and add some cool things that help the fans and create revenue and all that stuff."
The ballpark renovation would take five offseasons to complete. First baseman Anthony Rizzo would be 28 by then.
"You look at Fenway Park, you look at Yankee Stadium -- the Yankees are the most storied baseball franchise there is, and they tore down the original Yankee Stadium and built a new one," Rizzo said. "We don't want to tear this down, by no means, and we don't want to move. I think the renovations are great to modernize [Wrigley]. I think it'll be something special."
During games, players currently use a net and a batting tee in the clubhouse to warm up. Rizzo doesn't do that, saying his swing is too long. The renovations would include two batting cages near the home dugout.
"I know Mr. Ricketts wants to win and he's building a winning environment here," Rizzo said. "He's going to do whatever it takes to get what needs to be done, done. If it takes moving -- I know he wants to bring a championship here, whether it's at Wrigley or not. We all want to be at Wrigley. These renovations, I think, they need to get done, to be honest, to make everything more modernized."
What about the rooftop owners upset about the prospect of a 6,000-square-foot video scoreboard blocking their view?
"I know the rooftops aren't too happy about it, but my opinion is, come into the ballpark," Rizzo said. "It's a better experience inside."
Epstein said Ricketts is focused on maintaining the ballpark, and the proposal would do just that for years to come.
"Tom loves Wrigley Field," Epstein said. "He doesn't wake up in the morning thinking about moving, he wakes up thinking about winning here. Winning does come first. We're all committed to finding a way to make it work so we can win and act like a big market here. I'm pretty sure that's going to happen. As he indicated today, you have to keep alternatives alive because this has been such a crazy process."