WEDNESDAY MAY 24, 2017
 
Blog EGOS & ICONS
WRIGLEY RENOVATION: TRADITION LOSES OUT
Wrigley_field.jpg

If you're the type of person who likes to wax lyrical about old baseball stadiums as green cathedrals, pristine places where the soul is soothed, then you probably love Wrigley Field.

And if you're the type of person who believes the inexorable march of progress is natural and good, or maybe just if you're a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan, then you won't be too sorry to see the second-oldest stadium in baseball undergo a dramatic, $300 million facelift.

After years of rancorous negotiations the team and city reached an agreement on a renovation plan last weekend. And while it may come at the cost of defiling a diamond jewel, ownership is promising the overhaul will deliver the first World Series title since 1908, a championship that came six years before the Cubs moved into their current home.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and his well-heeled family are fronting all of the money for this, plus another $200 million to build an adjoining office and hotel complex. He's willing to pay that hefty price because he knows how much he'll benefit from the "significant advertising and sponsorship opportunities" created by relaxed municipal rules on things like ad signage inside the heritage property, even the number of night games allowed on the schedule.

What that means, of course, is there'll be revenue generators everywhere you look around Wrigley once this is all done, from new billboards above the bleachers to in-stadium restaurants, revamped luxury suites and, more ominously, a huge electronic scoreboard, something the Cubs took great pains to keep under wraps as their negotiations with the city dragged on. The proposed left field Jumbotron, twice the size of the existing hand-operated scoreboard, was omitted from all 20-odd design images released to the media when the deal was being heralded.

I don't begrudge Ricketts, or any passionate Cubs follower, for the desire to modernize. But it's hard not to feel nostalgic about Wrigley's famously Friendly Confines, and all the things that make the place special. From its ivy-covered outfield walls to the classic scoreboard above the centerfield bleachers, where flags indicate whether the Cubs won or lost that day, it's a ballpark that abounds with history and curiosity.

It didn't even have lights for almost 75 years, finally hosting its first evening game in 1988. Just beyond the ivy, neighbourhood streets are often the landing site of lengthy home runs, with the deepest drives sometimes smashing apartment windows on the other side of the road. It’s the owners of those nearby buildings, at least the ones with rooftop bleacher seats, who remain the biggest obstacle to the Wrigley remake, because of concerns over what it will do to revenue they share with the team from that lucrative secondary market.

As with any building a year away from celebrating its 100th birthday there are certainly some things about Wrigley that could stand to be improved. The aging stadium costs the team a reported $15 million a year in maintenance and repairs, and its concourses and concessions are dark and outdated. Its dugouts, clubhouses and conditioning facilities are a far cry from those in any of baseball’s newer pleasure palaces, and it doesn't even have an indoor batting cage.

The ivy isn’t going away, and Wrigley won’t be ruined by these renovations. But the ballpark’s historic soul, already ebbing, will be further diluted and deteriorated, the experience of seeing a game there irreparably altered by a money-driven march into modernity.

It’s a fact of life: you can't fight progress. But sometimes, you want to shed a tear for the shreds of purity that get lost along the way. The Cubs will be better off with a renovated Wrigley. But the game of baseball will be poorer for it.

 

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