It felt like home.
That was my initial impression on returning to the left-field corner of the Wrigley Field bleachers, open Monday night for the first time in 2015. Those of us who had chosen relocation spent the first five weeks of the season as "Bleacher Refugees" in the other part of the ballpark:
But now we were home. Before I get to thoughts about the seating area, I wanted to thank Cubs management and security personnel for the way they handled the crowd gathering outside the construction gate before it opened. Construction crews were still finishing welding the main bleacher gate when I arrived (following a short rainshower) about 3:45 p.m. So they kept access to the bleacher lines closed until the construction folks could finish cleaning up. Cubs personnel were very proactive about keeping us informed about what was going on and that was very much appreciated. About 4:40, they opened the construction gate to perhaps 75-80 people who were waiting, and directed people to separate lines for season-ticket holders and non-season-ticket fans.
As they got organized, the usual 5 p.m. entry time for bleacher season-ticket holders was delayed a few minutes, but as it was still breezy and mild outside and it had stopped raining, this wasn't a big deal. A little after 5:05, the season-ticket line began to enter the ballpark.
Most of the under-the-bleacher concourse is still closed off. Only the main ramp up to the seating area is open at this point; the Cubs have put signage directing people where to go and also (very important!) where the bathrooms are. Much of the lower ramp concrete has been replaced; it almost looked as if the concrete was still drying, although that was obviously just moisture from wet shoes from the earlier rainfall.
The walk to my seat was exactly the same as I had done for the last nine years. I generally walk across the bleachers (when the right-field VIP gate is open) and then across the rows of seating over to the left-field corner. It felt the same. The seats in the left-field corner that our group occupies are configured precisely the same as they were before, so sitting there and looking across to the other side of the ballpark looks and feels the same. The view across left field toward center is the same... well, except for the giant video board in left field, which I now cannot see at all (photo 56). That's the nature of the location of any video board in any stadium where you have seats in front of the board.
The right-field video board is well-sized for its location and easy to see from where we are in left field (photo 48). Throughout the game it had both lineups posted, occasional scoring plays and other information such as pitch counts, and a few Cubs promotional notes (such as the 50/50 raffle), but no advertising apart from the beer-company ad on the top. One thing that would be nice to see on this board is replay reviews when they happen (hint, hint!).
I went down to have a look at the "well" area in front of my section before the game (photos 50, 51, 57). The Cubs expect this to be a popular area for groups, and they had the group of Cubs wives (along with others) who had been in charge of the "Pink Out" campaign to raise funds for breast-cancer research in that area. Honestly? The "well" is almost too deep to stand in unless you're over six feet tall. If you're shorter than that it feels too deep, although sightlines from there are excellent.
The other new area in left field is the "porch," a bar area for groups that's underneath the left-field video board (photos 33, 35-39, 60). They've also reserved the last two rows of seating in front of this area for people who buy "porch" tickets (a separate ticket that's not available on a season basis) beginning June 11. One thing that was a notable issue on the porch: It's supposed to be an area for people in groups to mingle and chat, but there were speakers turned up way too loud (photo 36). That's something they will likely have to adjust.
Speaking of speakers, for most of the game the new speakers on the left-field board were loud, but not overwhelmingly so. I was still able to carry on conversations with people I was sitting with, which is good. One odd thing: during some of the inning breaks, the video-board speakers were playing music, while the PA announcements came only over the speakers in the main grandstand, making the announcements inaudible in the bleachers. That, like many other things in the new bleachers, is likely a work in progress.
The only differences near my area in the left-field corner is a much wider concourse behind us, which is a good thing (it was quite narrow before, occasionally causing bottlenecks), and a standing-room area to my right, between the seats and the foul pole. That area was well-used Monday night and I think those who enjoy standing during the game will gravitate toward that corner. The area behind us, I believe will eventually have some food and drink concession carts. Food and drink areas were very spartan Monday night, with only a couple of concession and beer stands open.
The seating area currently open has a capacity of approximately 3,500, making the capacity of Wrigley Field (for now) 39,469. When right field opens that'll be 2,000 more, for a total in the bleachers of about 5,500. That's an increase of about 500 from the previous incarnation of the bleachers.
This is all still a work in progress but the Cubs did an excellent job getting the bleachers open as promised Monday night. Kudos to everyone involved in making this happen, from the construction crews to Cubs management to the game-day security folks who were extremely helpful and accessible in every possible way. The bleachers will only get better from here on.
Finally, ICYMI because it wasn't posted in time to get it into Cub Tracks, I was interviewed for this New York Times article about the bleacher reopening.
BCB's David Sameshima, who has been taking photos of this project throughout the fall, winter and spring, took these as well and as he was also in the bleachers Monday night, passed along his thoughts:
It's somewhat hard for me to comment about my feelings about being back in the bleachers. It was great to see my friends and ballpark employees. Since I was busy guarding our seats, and then running around to take photos, I didn't have much time to see everyone.Since I normally sit in right field, I am not quite home yet. I can't comment on how I feel about the new bleachers since my section is still not open. Since everything is still so incomplete, it is also difficult for me to comment on all the other changes. Here's what I will mention: The aisle tunnels in left field seem awfully narrow. When the large crowds return, it could be very difficult for fans in these tunnels when they are looking for seats.They have also placed decals on the last two rows of bleachers in front of the left field porch. These rows will be reserved as of June 11 as part of the left field porch group package. That could cause issues when fans are looking for seats. Everything is still a work in progress, so I know things will continue to change. I will just have to wait and see how things evolve.
We'll continue to document the bleacher construction project as it continues through May and June; the bleachers aren't supposed to be completely open until the homestand that begins July 3, although other areas will be opening up throughout the coming weeks and months. To the BCB reader who I ran into in left field just before the game -- and I'm sorry I didn't catch your name -- I did pass along your thanks to David for all his great photos all winter and early spring, and I'll post my own thanks to David for everything he's done here, and will continue to do as the Wrigley renovation project continues.