SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- Yesterday, we looked at the state of Wrigley Field's construction project (we'll have another photo update from BCB's David Sameshima later today) and asked whether it will be ready for play April 5.
There was a bit of discussion about alternate venues in the comments to that article and I decided to split that out into a full article of its own.
We know that the Cubs went so far as to discuss with the Brewers the possibility of playing an entire season in Milwaukee to help speed along the Wrigley expansion/restoration project. In hindsight, they probably should have moved out of Wrigley for a year. I don't think Milwaukee would have been the best idea -- logistically, for any Cubs fans south of the Lake/Cook County line in Illinois, Miller Park is just too far to go for 81 games.
But now we're not talking about 81 games -- we're probably talking about three games, the first series against the Cardinals. I suppose there might be a possibility of six more, the Cubs' second homestand against the Reds and Pirates from April 13-19.
This article is intended to take a look at several alternate venues and the pros and cons of the Cubs playing there on a temporary basis. Keep in mind, again, that at this time this is a purely speculative exercise. There's been no official talk of this happening, nor would I expect it. But they are going to have to make a decision soon if this is to happen for real -- the logistics aren't simple no matter where they'd want to go.
Busch Stadium, St. Louis
Pro: It's located not too far from Chicago (a little over four hours drive). There's a chance of somewhat better weather. It's the home to the Cubs' opponent in the opening series and many Cubs fans often travel to series in St. Louis. Busch has many more seats (46,861) than the current capacity of Wrigley Field minus the bleachers (about 36,500).
Con: It's the home to the Cubs' opponent in the opening series -- making it potentially unfair to the Cubs even if they are made the "home" team and bat last. According to this comment in yesterday's article, as of Monday no one in the Cardinals' ticket office had been told anything about any possible switch. There's a soccer game scheduled at Busch Stadium April 4 -- that would make logistics of playing baseball there April 5 difficult.
U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago
Pro: The games would be played in Chicago, which would be helpful both for players trying to get settled in their spring/summer homes and for fans. Transportation options are plentiful, and at least right now, the Cell has more seats (40,615) than Wrigley Field will have until the bleachers open. There are no conflicts with White Sox games -- the first day this year that both the Cubs and White Sox are scheduled at home is July 3. And, there aren't any neighborhood issues -- the Cubs could play all the games at night if they wanted to.
Con: I can't believe I'm even writing this, but the attitude of some Cubs fans toward the White Sox. To which I say: get over it. The Cell is a perfectly fine ballpark, made better by several renovations over the 25 years it's been open. If it had to be the temporary home of the Cubs for a few games -- what's the big deal?
Miller Park, Milwaukee
Pro: The roof would mean the games would be played regardless of weather. Miller Park has more seats (42,200) than the current capacity of Wrigley Field. Since it would only be a handful of games, the 90-mile distance from Chicago wouldn't be too much of a burden.
Those are the three most logical places for the Cubs/Cardinals series to be moved if they have to do so. Here are two more venues, one a bit farfetched and the other even more so.
Chase Field, Phoenix
Pro: The Cubs are already in the Phoenix area and are playing two exhibition games against the Diamondbacks there April 3 and 4. There are many Cubs fans in the Phoenix area who would likely go, making it feel more like a "home" game. The weather and the roof mean the games would be guaranteed to be played. It's the largest of all the parks mentioned, with a capacity of 49,033. The Cardinals are playing their final exhibition game against their Triple-A affiliate in Memphis on Friday, April 3; they could easily fly to Phoenix for a game Sunday.
Con: It's too far for most Cubs season-ticket holders to go. The Diamondbacks open the season at home against the Giants, which would cause logistical issues similar to what you'd have at Miller Park.
Sloan Park, Mesa
Pro: This isn't as silly as it sounds. Cubs players are obviously quite familiar with the ballpark and they have a spectacularly good workout facility there, plus extra practice fields. The Cubs already have a staff in place in Mesa. There is precedent for a major-league team starting the season at a smaller facility due to construction -- the Athletics did it in 1996, playing their first six games at Cashman Field in Las Vegas. Check out what the A's owner had said in February 1996:
After touring the Oakland Coliseum's construction-in-progress late last month, A's owner Steve Schott said, "They're working 24 hours a day. They feel very, very confident they'll be ready by Opening Day, and we have to believe them."
Welp. Didn't happen, and the A's had to play elsewhere -- and then their fans had to deal with construction issues much of the season:
Construction continued even during A's games. Fans were often forced to watch baseball to the sound of buzz saws, jackhammers and other heavy machinery. The constant work was necessary because the work had to be finished by Aug. 8. "We lost a good part of our food services and some restroom areas," A's Executive Vice President Ed Alvarez said. "We did not realize until the project was well under way that we wouldn't have a public concourse in front of the stadium. As a result, we had to deal with unique directional signs."
Con: Sloan Park seats only 15,000. The lights are likely not up to major-league standard for regular-season games, so they'd probably have to play the games during the day unless they brought in portable lights. I don't believe the park has suitable clubhouse facilities for visiting teams (most Cactus League parks don't; teams usually dress at their home park and bus or drive individual cars over for away games).
The bottom line is that the Cubs obviously want to do everything they can to be able to play at Wrigley Field on April 5. It's my opinion that if they can't, the best possible option is the Cell -- because that's the most convenient for both fans and players. Second choice would probably be Miller Park, due to the roof that would mean the games would be played no matter the weather. Logistics of working around Brewers home games would be, as noted above, difficult.
There is supposed to be baseball at Wrigley Field 26 days from today. As has been mentioned by some commenters here, there almost has to be some sort of contingency plan in the Cubs and MLB's back pockets. It's getting to be very close to the time to implement any such plan, if they're going to do so.
Your turn. Vote in the poll and leave your thoughts in the comments.