SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- Throughout this winter, as you well know, I often took the position that the Cubs would finish the bleachers on time and open them April 5 with the rest of Wrigley Field.
Obviously, I turned out to be wrong. Mea culpa. Now, with the bleachers in a state of half-construction and right field promised no earlier than late May, and the state of the concourse as shown to Chicago media a week ago, it raised a reasonable question in my mind, or so I thought: Can Wrigley Field be safe for occupancy and the field and other necessary things (player facilities, restrooms, etc.) on April 5, which is now 27 days away?
I asked BCB's Mike Bojanowski to head over to the ballpark Sunday to take some photos (David Sameshima couldn't make it Sunday) and to give his layman's response to my question. Note! This is going to be long, so be prepared to take some time and refer to the photos as you read Mike's thoughts. Following Mike's commentary (and some from BCB's David Sameshima, too), I'll post my own conclusion.
Caveats: I'm not a professional construction worker, engineer, or draftsman. Everything I write here is based on my onsite observations, nearly daily, since last October, what I have seen and read from other sources, and my general knowledge -- 50 years' worth -- of the park and its grounds. This is intended exclusively as a judgment and opinion whether I think the park will be open for business on the scheduled opening night, April 5.These pictures were taken from approximately 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, March 8. As David has mentioned, this was by no means a full-press day, as least not visibly. That's not what you'd expect from an organization which just spent a great deal of public and political capital asking permission for 24/7 work or even getting work hours extended slightly.The outfield and triangle lots: whether the park opens on time is only tangentially dependent on the bleacher construction, and not at all on the triangle construction. The bleacher work will be completed later this year, and will be opened when ready, and not before. The triangle work will continue until the entire project's end, four years from now. What I discuss here is the likelihood of changes to the fencing, and related restrictions on street and pedestrian traffic. You can see the view from Waveland & Clark in photo 1.I can't figure that the fencing can be altered, if the work on the bleachers and triangle lot is to continue at the current level. The restrictions surrounding the park on the Clark, Waveland, and Sheffield sides will remain as is to start the season.The bleacher work is indirectly related to whether the park can open at all. I've been surprised that no one has remarked that the playing field has been dangerously compromised. Both corner walls had extensive on-field scaffolding and braces in place to support the bricks. Also, extensive demolition took place, and replacement brickwork was laid, for about 100 feet in the right-field corner. New, mostly larger, doorways were carved out and re-bricked along the entire length of the wall. The on-field braces must come down, and new doors must be installed, before the field can be used at all.The braces can't come down until the walls are backed with new girder steel. In left field, this has now essentially happened, and indeed most of the front bracing in left field has apparently now come down. Except for the right-field corner double-door, the new doorway framing is also in place. Installation of the new doors, it seems, can now be done at any time, and would not take long. Photo 2 shows the new, larger door frame in right field with a view of the unbraced left-field corner. This is the second doorway left of the right-field well. This was carved out of the right-field wall where it was not generally replaced. New bricks within the old wall are readily visible.Photo 3 shows the new, larger doorway just left of the right-field well. It's interesting that apparently no cross-top bricks will be laid at this door. This is located at the left margin of the new right-field corner brickwork. You can see the beginning of old wall bricks, not replaced, visible at the right of the photo.The remaining problem is the right-field wall support, since no backing girder steel is now in place. However, that seems ready to go at any time, the concrete footings have apparently all been poured, and await proper curing. Once that is complete, as we have seen, the steel can be raised quickly.Photos 4, 5, 6 and 7 show views of those footings along right field.Should the backing steel not be ready by April 5, there is an alternative, a temporary padded wall fronting the bracework could be built in short order, and be approved by MLB. Bottom line, the outfield and triangle work should not prevent an April 5 opening. The outfield fence may be incomplete, perhaps without baskets for awhile, but playable.Concourse: here speculation runs wild, great care has been taken to make this invisible, not even a small peek through the drapery. The media tour last Monday is the only time outsiders have been allowed to view the concourse progress since the project got well underway. This is the sticking point, if there is one. A usable floor and ramps, to minimum code, must be in place at least. Convenience would be an afterthought if simply opening the place on April 5 is the only issue.No one in the media tour noted any new floor or ramps, though much new support steel is apparently in place. There is evidently new flooring poured, and in use, at the marquee entrance. There is nothing apparent at the other end, near the J/K gate on Waveland.Photos 8 and 9 show views of the J/K gate with broken flooring visible just inside.Everything I have read about pouring and curing concrete on the scale needed for permanent flooring and ramps tells me this can't be done in time, assuming nothing along those lines has begun.Bottom line: the park can't open unless a sufficient temporary fix is built within the concourse. One also supposes that Gate J/K must be open and usable. If not, only two gates (the main gate at Clark & Addison, and Gate D at Addison & Sheffield) will be available to handle all fan traffic, which will include the new security procedures now mandated by MLB.We have all seen how quickly temporary floors and ramps can be built, as part of the concerts and other transient events Wrigley has hosted in recent years. At some point, construction will be put on hold, and the carpentry begun. It may already have started in some places. My guess is that the embarrassment and public humiliation involved in moving the opening series to another park will be avoided by the front office at all costs. This will involve temporary entrances, floors, ramps, restrooms, concessions stands, and barriers against the now wide-open outside walls.Final bottom line: there will be baseball at Wrigley April 5. It won't be pretty, amenities will be barely adequate, but it will happen. We can only hope that the organization shows more corporate intelligence than they have displayed until now, and provide necessary expanded gate-opening times and facilities. Opening Day is a zoo in the best of times, this year is going to be memorable, but it can be made amusing, and not a nightmare, with the proper preparation.Photos 10, 11 and 12 show an overview of the concourse, showing the open walls and thoroughly closed construction areas.This will be worth it in the end, but a combination of bad luck and bad planning has made the start of the '15 season a crapshoot. Let's hope this indeed becomes a footnote, and nothing more.
As you all know, I've been in Arizona since early December. What I know of the work is exactly what you, the BCB reader, know from David's photos, the photos and analysis by Mike in this article and what we all saw from the media tour last Monday. I asked David for his own summation on this and here's what he said:
With tarps covering up the west end, it is hard to judge. The recent media tour confirmed that it is still gutted. It doesn't look good. Can they make the third-base line habitable in time? I just can't gauge the progress with the tarps in place.I am questioning how even the left-field scoreboard can be ready. Now that much of the left-field steel is up, we will see how quickly it can be fitted out. I do have my doubts on this.Outside the ballpark, it is such a mess. Managing the traffic around the ballpark will be challenging. It's always been a fine balancing act, dealing within the confines of an urban neighborhood. This is such a dramatic change with the street closures and the loss of immediate parking. The loss of parking was anticipated, but not the street closures.
Given all of this, I have to say that at this time I have my own doubts as to whether enough work can be completed, on the field and walls and seating area, to be ready for major-league baseball April 5. Remember that the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball both have to sign off on this. It's 27 days away.
If -- and I repeat, IF, as this is just an exercise, for now -- how would MLB and the Cubs handle having to move the opening series (I assume they'd move the entire series against the Cardinals, not just Opening Night)? Games have been moved due to hurricanes on two occasions, both on very short notice. In 2004 two Marlins/Expos games were moved from Miami to the Cell, and I'm sure you all remember the two Cubs/Astros games moved from Houston to Miller Park in Milwaukee in 2008, memorable to us due to Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter thrown in one of them. You can read some details of the hurricane-moved games in this article I wrote in 2011.
Games have been moved in recent years for other reasons, too. In 2010 three Blue Jays/Phillies games were moved from Toronto to Philadelphia due to security concerns surrounding the G20 Summit being held in Toronto. That was done with about six weeks' notice. The Blue Jays served as the "home" team, batted last, and the DH was used.
The following year, a Mariners/Marlins series was moved from Miami to Seattle because of a rescheduled U2 concert. That one had six months' notice, and as in the Philly/Toronto situation, the Marlins were the "home" team, batted last, and pitchers batted as in National League home parks.
David reported from the Cubs/Wrigleyville community meeting last Thursday that there will be meetings tomorrow with the team and city transportation officials to discuss traffic issues surrounding trying to get Wrigley Field open for business while streets in the area are closed or narrowed. After that we might know more about whether there really will be baseball at Wrigley Field on April 5.