I was fortunate enough to be included on a media tour of the Chicago Cubs' new clubhouse Tuesday afternoon and I can tell you that whatever you've imagined it to be... it's far, far better than that.
The Cubs have been saying they've got the biggest and the best facility in the major leagues and after touring all of it, I have no reason to doubt that statement. They've taken a team that won 97 games last year and given it the best clubhouse, the best play space, the best training facilities... everything first-class.
So let me take you through this facility photo by photo, just as I saw it.
The first four photos are in the media room. This is not only where players, coaches and scouts can watch video, but it's where staff reviews plays for possible challenges. That equipment can be seen in photo 3. Photo 4 shows one of the Cubs video staffers (at left, in the "Do Simple Better" T-shirt) explaining the functions of the video room.
Photo 5 is Joe Maddon's office, a nice large space, clearly stocked with everything to make him comfortable and give him a useful workspace.
Throughout this gallery you'll see photos of Wrigley Field and Cubs history. Those are all over the walls in this subterranean space, 22 feet below street level. Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney said that they took care to put some of the team's history where the players get exposed to it on a daily basis. They want to remind players that they're part of an unbroken line going back to 1876 and they want them, in understanding that, to know that they can be part of writing even better and more exciting history in the years to come.
There are photos of recent successes like the 2015 season and postseason, great players from the 1930s and 1960s and 1980s, and a display case with a collection of jerseys, bats and other memorabilia from team history that's right outside the weight room (photos 23-26 and 34-36), as well as many other photos from team history on every wall of the subterranean facility.
Photos 9 through 22 were taken in the clubhouse itself, which was designed as a circle so that no one had a "corner." In this way all the players are seen as equal partners in the team concept. Players did get to decide who they wanted to locker next to (for example, you see close friends John Lackey and Jon Lester adjacent, and Anthony Rizzo next to Kris Bryant), but in general it was supposed to be a place where everyone's comfortable. Some of the player lockers were open, so you can get a closer look at what Jake Arrieta and Munenori Kawasaki have in their lockers. You'll also see they have left a space for Javier Baez, so I'd expect him to be at Wrigley Field soon.
It's intended to be a place where every member of the ballclub can feel at home. One of the reasons, said Kenney, that Joe Maddon didn't want the players to show up too early at the ballpark last year is that they really didn't have enough space. Now they do, and Maddon has already gone on record as saying he might have to change that idea.
Incidentally, in what Cubs VP of Wrigley Field Restoration and Expansion Carl Rice said was a "happy coincidence," the circumference of the clubhouse is the distance from the mound to the plate, 60 feet, six inches.
There is also a large player cafeteria and lounge, which we were asked not to photograph because that's the players' personal space, and that request was respected. I can tell you that there's plenty of nutritious food available there and some players are eating almost all their meals at the ballpark during the season. There are also plenty of TV monitors and games that players can play in their downtime, and -- well, I wish I could have shown you the signs on the wall. One of them is a "Welcome to the Cubs Clubhouse" sign in the "Welcome to Las Vegas" style. It's all done in good taste, but also in good fun, and it feels like a very comfortable area for players to hang out and get closer to each other.
In late 2013 I was able to tour the Cubs' training facility at the spring complex in Mesa. There are some photos here and video here of that workout room and training facility, which is top-notch.
Now the Cubs have an even better facility in Chicago, as you can see in photos 27-33. Beyond the weight room, which allows players to keep in great shape during the season, there are rehab facilities including various types of pools, a hyperbaric chamber and a cryotherapy room (photos 39-45). One of the great things about having this type of facility at Wrigley Field is that Kyle Schwarber can do his rehab while staying with the team. If that injury had happened a year ago, he'd have had to go to Arizona to rehab. This way he can be with his teammates, at least when they're at home.
Photo 39, incidentally, shows a particular righthanded pitcher with whom we are all familiar; he was there with his family and was there long enough for a couple of photos to be taken. (Incidentally, as I was walking through one door on the way to the stairs down to the clubhouse, out walked Schwarber, in a walking boot. Having never been that close to the man before, I can tell you... yes, he's a big, big guy. All the best to him in his rehab.)
The end of this gallery shows more of the Cubs history photos that are all over the walls everywhere in the clubhouse facility. You can see one wall with Joe Maddon's famous saying, "Don't let the pressure exceed the pleasure." In addition, the Cubs gutted the old clubhouse space to the bare walls and put large batting cages there (photo 51). That's a 30-second walk from the dugout, so potential pinch-hitters can warm up in that area and take some swings. (Incidentally, we were told that the new clubhouse is only another 30-second walk past this area, so players can, if they need to, walk to the clubhouse in only a minute.)
Opposite this batting-cage area is where the former players lounge was located. This area has also been blown out to the bare walls and this is where the "celebration area" you might have heard about was created. Again, we were asked not to photograph this area, but I can tell you that when it's in operation after the Cubs win, there are flashing disco-type lights, loud music and a machine spewing out mist. The players celebrate their win in that area -- for about five minutes, said President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein -- and then head back to the new clubhouse, ready to focus on the next day's game. (Beyond that, Theo said, they want to keep the new area nice and clean!)
After the tour, Kenney, Epstein and Rice held a brief news conference. All praised the Ricketts family for not holding back anything when it came to everything they needed for completing this project, which Theo said only came together completely within the last week before the season. At one point, Theo said he'd go there in the morning, go out to lunch, come back in the afternoon and it seemed as if a week's worth of work happened in one hour.
Crane Kenney confirmed to me that this is the only major-league clubhouse that is not within its ballpark's actual footprint. One question I know many of you have had is in regard to player parking. For the next couple of years it's likely going to remain in the tent located north of Waveland, but eventually, a player parking lot will be constructed underground where the hotel is going to be built on the former McDonald's property, with a tunnel leading into the clubhouse. Sadly, when this happens it will likely end the practice of fans waiting for player autographs.
If you've been on a Wrigley Field tour within the last few years, or participated in a season-ticket holder family day at the ballpark, you know what the old clubhouse looked like, as that area was generally included as part of those tours. That clubhouse was built in 1984, replacing an ancient player locker room that was located in the left-field corner. Those of you of "a certain age" no doubt remember watching, on WGN, players walking across the field to the left-field corner door to enter their tiny clubhouse, now home to the Wrigley Field grounds crew.
Crane Kenney told me that Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams recently brought his grandson to visit the park, and took him on a personal tour of sorts, first showing him the clubhouse he dressed in back in the 1960s, then going through the 1984-era area, and ending up in the new digs. Billy was overjoyed to see the wonders that the current players have to themselves, and was also thrilled to see some of his own playing memorabilia included, connecting the generations of players as we, the fans, have similar connections to parents or grandparents who grew up watching the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs have done a magnificent job here. I hope these photos give you some idea of how amazing this space is; mere words, I find while writing over 1,600 of them, are insufficient to describe how much care was taken in designing and building this workspace to make everything perfect for the players before they go out on the field to compete. Well done, Cubs. Well done.
Thanks to Julian Green and Kevin Saghy of the Cubs for their kind invitation to me to join in on this media tour of what has to be the best player facility in major-league baseball.