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Renovate Wrigley without tearing down history

There is a baseball god. After all, courtesy of Chicago city officials and Cubs ownership, Wrigley Field is preparing for $300 million worth of renovations as opposed to heading for becoming a parking lot or something on the city's north side.

I mean, surely you know there are a slew of folks who would hurl themselves in front of a bulldozer if it were steaming like a line drive toward those ivy-covered walls.

I'm one of them.

Well, maybe not, but you get the point: You don't tug at Superman's cape, you always remember to make that phone call on Mother's Day, and you never think about nodding between yawns while somebody talks of destroying a legendary sports facility.

As for the latter, I'm not advocating the status quo. Time has a way of making things snap, crackle and pop in old buildings. There also is something to be said for a stadium or arena having multiple restrooms that are larger than a box of Cracker Jack.

It's just that, when it comes to making changes to such places, the new shouldn't strangle the old.

The old is special.

"Absolutely," said Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, an unofficial expert on such things. This is his sixth season at Wrigley Field, which is the 97-year-old home of the Cubs. Prior to that, he spent four seasons through 2006 catching passes as a wide receiver at Notre Dame Stadium, which is the 83-year home of the Fighting Irish.

Added Samardzija, "Two years ago, we played a couple of night games in Boston and a day game. You have the same feel at [101-year-old] Fenway Park that you have at Wrigley and Notre Dame Stadium.

"All these places have a certain smell, and I'm very particular to these old places. You get sort of this quiet, weird feeling."

It's called history.

At Wrigley Field, for instance, you have the massive scoreboard in center field that has been manually operated forever. You have the home schedule that is heavily dominated by day games. You have people watching games from the rooftops on Waveland Avenue behind left field and from more rooftops on Sheffield Avenue behind right field.

The grass. The bleachers. The winds.

The ivy.

Unless something drastic occurs during the ongoing negotiations between Cubs executives and Chicago city officials, all of those Wrigley things will remain -- for the most part. It's just that the Cubs wish to put a Jumbotron video scoreboard in left field, and they are seeking more night games since they often attract more fans.

Then there is the obvious: A much-needed parking deck could be in Wrigleyville's future. Plus, the ballpark's closet-sized clubhouses need modernization, along with other player-related areas that would make the Cubs more attractive for prospective free agents.

"You look at Fenway. They redid that, and it's amazing what a new paint job and a few other touch-up things here and there can do," said Samardzija, smiling, referring to the Red Sox spending the last decade doing a bunch of things such as building luxury boxes around Fenway and placing a video board in center field.

The Red Sox also did the previously unthinkable by adding seats along the top of the Green Monster.

Those changes haven't exactly hurt attendance. Every Red Sox game at Fenway has been sold out since May 2003. And although team officials expect that streak to vanish this month, they know it won't have anything to do with those changes.

"I don't think you have to necessarily tear the whole thing down and start new in these situations," Samardzija said. "There's a certain way of keeping that old feeling and that old mystique relevant and still finding ways to make it nice and up to date in a new age."

Like Notre Dame Stadium. While growing up in Valparaiso, Ind., Samardzija loved the original Notre Dame Stadium in nearby South Bend, where I was born and raised.

The so-called House That Rockne Built was constructed with distinctive brick walls surrounding a grass field that featured coaching legends Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz. It also was the showcase for the Irish's seven Heisman Trophy winners and many of the most famous games in college football history. The grass field is still there. So are the brick walls.

"Notre Dame redid the outside [with a modern-looking addition that increased the seating by 21,000], but with that outer shell, they didn't let what they were doing touch the main part of the stadium," Samardzija said. "There still is a dilemma going on there. Do you keep it the way it was, or do you do more things to attract recruits?

"They've done it the right way. That's why you still get that feeling of the past when you're walking around Notre Dame Stadium and stuff."

One problem, though: When Notre Dame officials put that outer shell around the stadium, they partially blocked the view from the field of a storied campus site called Touchdown Jesus, the large mosaic of Jesus that covers the side of the campus library.

The Wrigley equivalent? Just imagine if these Wrigley renovations involve removing parts of that ivy.

"I don't see them doing that, but adding a video board, absolutely. Yeah, that's fine," Samardzija said. "If a home run hits the top of the wall, or if it hits the middle line in the basket, people want to see that. It makes for a better culture for the fans.

"Doing something with the clubhouses also makes a lot of sense, because the size of travel now that most teams have with video people and training staffs, coaches, players, media and so on. There just needs to be more space for everyone.

"I really don't think it is what it once was."

No, it isn't. Still, when it comes to all of the iconic places in sports, the essence of "what once was" can remain.

It should remain.

Terence Moore is a columnist for
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