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Wrigley Field 'Restoration' Highlights Cubs Convention Day 2

At the convention, the Cubs unveiled a five-year plan to restore Wrigley Field to its former glory and in so doing, bring player and fan amenities up to 21st-Century standards.

Courtesy Chicago Cubs

There was plenty to see and do at the Cubs Convention Saturday, but I know the thing you most want to hear about is the presentation made by Cubs business management about what they are calling the "restoration" of Wrigley Field. President of Business Operations Crane Kenney used that specific word, saying they want to "restore" Wrigley to what it was in the successful years of the Cubs in the 1920s and 1930s -- but in addition, modernize it from both a player and fan standpoint.

In this post, I'm not going to address the ongoing discussions between the city, county and state and the Cubs, except to say that Kenney indicated that if the city is willing to lift the "restrictions" they currently have on the team, that the Ricketts family would bankroll all the renovations themselves. He got into a discussion of how the amusement tax is levied on the Cubs (and, according to him, isn't on any other major-league team that has a privately-owned facility), and again, this isn't intended to devolve into political talk. Please set that aside for another time.

What I will say is that presuming the Cubs do everything they talked about in the overflow-crowd session, they will have one impressive ballpark with modern amenities both for players and fans. They'll have upgraded seating in many areas, places for new revenue streams (a Jumbotron was again mentioned, which brought scattered boos), and a top-notch clubhouse, workout facility, training facility and batting cages for the players.

From a newsworthy standpoint, here are things we didn't know before about what the Cubs want to do and how they want to approach this project.

  • The work is expected to cost $300 million, and will take place over the course of five offseasons, beginning next winter. No games will be played anywhere but Wrigley (loud applause followed this part of the announcement), and it didn't sound like any work would be done during any season.
  • The first work to be done will be the new home clubhouse, which, if all goes according to plan, would be ready for the 2014 season. The left-field upper deck and right-field lower deck would also be done next winter, then they'd move alternately from side to side until everything is completed.
  • The work will include a bigger, brighter concourse (the photo above; here's a full gallery of 20 concept illustrations), a new upper-deck roof, player amenities including a batting tunnel, much bigger clubhouse and training facilities, new suites and a new press box in the upper deck, outdoor concessions in the upper deck as well as much improved concession areas overall, and restored ironwork on the outside of the ballpark replacing the chain-link fence and concrete panels.
  • The Cubs will be ribbon-cutting on their new facility in the Dominican Republic in May, and the point was made that they want the Dominican players who come up via that facility to have the same top-notch facilities when they get to Chicago.
  • The LED board under the scoreboard will be eliminated; a new LED board similar to the one in right field will be placed in left field. In addition, a party deck like the RF party deck will be in left field -- but behind the grandstand seating, not in the bleachers.
  • There will be a new suite entrance near the Ernie Banks statue, and quite a number of new restaurants and clubs. You'll be able to see them in the gallery of photos.
  • Finally, with shifting around of seats from one area to another (eliminating some seats, adding others), overall capacity would be lowered... by 70. (Presumably, they'd make up for this by some of the club seating and restaurant revenue.) Kenney also said, in answer to a question, that PSL's are not being considered.

There's a lot more, almost too much to take in via just one presentation that lasted an hour. The Cubs said they did more than 22,000 surveys of fans both at the ballpark and by email and phone, in addition to having focus groups and getting suggestions, including from me. I can tell you that they did listen. Some of the things I (and other fans) suggested have been incorporated into these plans, and they also consulted four different architectural firms, firms that have worked on renovation and restoration projects on stadiums as disparate as Fenway Park, Lambeau Field, the Rose Bowl (which is currently ongoing) and Roland Garros Stadium in Paris, France. (The Cubs toured several of these places to get ideas.)

In addition to Kenney, we heard from the following Cubs executives: Wally Hayward (executive VP of marketing), Colin Faulkner (VP of tickets), Mike Lufrano (VP, community affairs), Alex Sugarman (VP, strategy and development), Carl Rice (VP, ballpark operations), Jed Hoyer (VP, general manager), Alison Miller (senior director, marketing) and Steve Jacobson (consultant). As you can see, they brought all areas of the team into this project, which Kenney said took three years to bring to fruition.

It's really very impressive. Without getting into any of the politics of this massive project -- that, perhaps, is a post for another day -- if the Cubs manage to put all of this together, they will have a Wrigley Field which will last another 100 years.

Yes, other things happened at the convention, most of which wasn't nearly as newsworthy as the Wrigley Field session. The Ricketts family had their annual open session with fans; the most interesting highlights:

  • He was asked about the move to Kane County from Peoria (Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were asked the same question in their session). All three said that the proximity to Chicago was the most important factor, that it would be easy for Cubs executives to see players in action, as well as help with sending out players on rehab assignments. Jed in particular mentioned the fact that the Red Sox had close-by affiliates in Pawtucket and Lowell and they wanted the same thing in Chicago.
  • I posted here not long ago about why the Cubs need more retired numbers, to acknowledge their pre-1960 past. Someone asked Tom Ricketts about this, and he said he'd look into it.
  • A further question asked about retiring Kerry Wood's number. Ricketts essentially said, "Not now," and I'd say "not ever". Wood was a fine player for a short time, a great teammate, a great guy -- but not worthy of a number retirement.
  • A similar question was posed about bringing back Sammy Sosa. (Yes, I know we just had a contentious discussion about that here.) Ricketts hedged a bit, saying that he'd like to see "that chapter in baseball history" laid to rest and then perhaps Sosa could be welcomed back. It didn't sound like it would happen any time soon.

The session with the baseball management team was in a smaller room than usual, forcing many people to stand (that was a common complaint over the weekend). Both Theo and Jed said they are much more familiar with the organization, the city, and team culture and claim they understand things better than they did a year ago. Jed, in particular, said he wants to develop a "core" of players that will someday be as beloved as the late 1960s group is now. They said they now have a "Cubs Way" manual that goes to "several hundred pages" defining what every player in the organization should do as they make their way from the lowest levels to the major leagues.

There's nothing player-wise that should surprise you. Though Jed said they're still looking at outfielders, there was nothing happening now and it was likely they'd start the season with an outfield made up from players currently in the organization, with David DeJesus in center field and Nate Schierholtz in right. They are impressed with the adjustments that Brett Jackson has made, and having seen him in the major leagues late last season, they want to look at him in spring training. At this point, he's in a similar position to where Anthony Rizzo was a year ago. No one really asked about whether he'd make the team or not. And, Alfonso Soriano is likely to stay a Cub. They said they'd "listen" to offers, but feel Soriano adds value to the team both in his production, and as a leader, saying "the perception of him is different from the reality; he's a positive influence on younger players." Incidentally, speaking of Rizzo, Dale Sveum called him a "leader." (I concur, for whatever that's worth.)

The "rookie indoctrination" that took place at Wrigley Field and elsewhere in Chicago over the past week was for 12 prospects that the team feels has a strong chance to be in the major leagues within the next couple of years. It involved helping them with everything from logistics of where to live, to how to deal with the media, so that they can "relax and just play" when they actually get to the major leagues.

Regarding the draft, Theo said he wants 2013 to be "the last time" they pick No. 2 overall. As is the case with most baseball executives, he said they'd take "the best player available", but he said he'd tend to picking a position player with that choice, because he feels the club can add pitching "by volume", by picking more pitchers in the lower rounds (as they did in 2012, when after Albert Almora, the next seven picks were all pitchers).

Carlos Villanueva will be added to the 40-man roster "soon"; there's "paperwork" to be done, they said. And, of course, someone will have to be removed. There was no indication from anyone as to who that might be.

I'm probably leaving something out. That's what happens most years after a weekend filled with tons of Cubs news after an offseason that moved pretty slowly. The Wrigley renovation, or, as they are terming it, "restoration" plans are extremely impressive. They've done pretty much everything right -- now, we'll see if they actually get done.

Regarding the Sheraton, I still have the same comments I had Friday night. There are bottlenecks and congestion points, and even though there were fewer vendors in the vendor area (45, I heard, as opposed to 75 last year), it was overly crowded. Because there were only two main ballrooms for panel sessions, it was necessary to arrive quite early to some of them so as to assure yourself of a seat. Again, this was a maiden voyage. I like the location of the Sheraton and the fact that it's new, and the Cubs set aside a special room for season-ticket holders where they could get food and drink. This is all good. I'll hope for more room for people to move around in future years.

It was good to meet up with and talk with Brett Taylor for a while today, and also a shout-out to BCB'ers Shanghai Badger and Kedzie Kid, who I spoke to briefly during the day.

And the best news is that it's now just 23 days until pitchers and catchers report to Mesa.