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Wrigley Field is ready for the most unusual Opening Day in its history

It’s July. And the baseball season is starting. Get ready for weird baseball.

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Wrigley Field looked beautiful from the rooftop at 1032 W. Waveland Thursday afternoon. It was just another gorgeous summer day, perfect for baseball...

Of course, we don’t have baseball. Yet. But it will be played tomorrow evening at Wrigley Field and other ballparks across the country. The Brewers and Cubs will kick off a 60-game season, and my fervent hope is that everyone involved stays healthy in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

I was invited to the rooftop to get some panoramic views of the ballpark, which you see above, and also to speak with Cubs VP of Sales and Marketing Colin Faulkner about some of the things happening both inside and outside the ballpark.

First, here’s a little panoramic video I took of the scene from the rooftop. The Brewers were taking BP when I was there in the late afternoon:

Honestly, that’s a pretty good view from up there. The Nuveen sign blocks a lot of left field, and you’re pretty far from the infield, but everything else can be seen quite well (except, of course, the left-field video board, which you’re behind.

As you can also see, Opening Day bunting is up in the stands, even though no one will be there to see it except the players and coaches. It’s a nice touch intended to make things feel normal. There will be ceremonial first pitches Friday, some of which will be thrown by health care workers from Advocate Health Care. Dr. Hillary Ecker of Advocate will sing the national anthem Friday evening.

For Cubs season-ticket holders, the club has also introduced a new Season Ticket Holder Foul Ball Program. During each home game without fans in attendance, foul balls will be collected by the Cubs Authentics team and shipped to the Season Ticket Holder with the closest seat location.

Faulkner told me that sales at the 11 rooftops owned by the Ricketts has been very good, they have sold out Opening Night and have good sales for many other games. All told, on the 11 rooftops they can have about 500 people, at 20 percent of their original capacity. In some cases the rooftops will have fewer people than that. As you can see in the photos above, they have blocked off certain seats on the bleacher on the rooftop itself to make sure people are properly social distanced. Faulkner said they’re confident they can make it work.

He also told me that many team executives, including himself and Crane Kenney, have taken turns helping out with grounds crew needs, since they have not hired the usual seasonal crew of grounds crew workers. Only the full-time grounds crew staff is working there, but Faulkner assured me that they’ve got enough folks to pull the tarp onto the field if there’s a rainstorm. As you can see in photo 9, only the Cubs/Brewers score is on the board. It’ll be the only one maintained during home games, as there are only a limited number of workers allowed in the ballpark. Only one scoreboard worker, Darryl Wilson (who’s been up there for many years) will be in the board on game days.

As far as the tents you have probably seen on TV, some of them are to provide social distancing for players during games so they don’t crowd the dugouts; others are for food and drink for the players. Pretty much everything for players, Faulkner said, including weight training, has been taken out of the clubhouse and put into open air areas of the concourse. For visiting players, they have expanded the clubhouse area and also used part of the concourse. You might remember that the original clubhouse protocols called for players to not shower at all in clubhouses; now that’s just “discouraged” and that would be about the only thing players would do in the clubhouse. Some might just go home to do that, and visiting players, depending on the team, might dress at their hotel.

You might have read this article in The Athletic about the Cubs’ discussions with 3D Digital Venues, a company which helps make 3D seating maps for ballparks, among other things. Several other teams are also consulting with 3D Digital Venues. This company is trying to help the Cubs out in the event that fans are allowed in ballparks this year, which doesn’t yet seem like it’s going to happen. If it does:

So let’s say the Cubs wanted 90 percent of their available allotment to be sold in groups of two and four, with 10 percent split between groups of five and singles. The Cubs might not get to 8,000 fans given their internal restrictions that eliminate around 18 percent of their available seating, but even with conservative estimates, they could service between 4,500 and 7,000 per game, based on simulations shown to The Athletic.

Faulkner told me that if fans are allowed in the bleachers this year, it would be on an assigned-seat basis like the postseason. You’ve surely noticed the advertising tarps on parts of the bleachers (and you can see them in the video), but Faulkner said they left room for fans to possibly attend at some point.

My feeling is that’s not going to happen this season, but the team does have to make contingency plans just in case. And this could help them in 2021, depending on how many fans are permitted back in the ballpark.

Incidentally, Ald. Tom Tunney’s office says the city will be enforcing residential parking restrictions as usual for Cubs games even though there won’t be fans in the ballpark.

It’s baseball. It’s weird baseball. It’s coming tomorrow. Hope you enjoyed the views. I’ll have further thoughts about the 2020 season tomorrow morning.

Thanks to Colin Faulkner for his time and to Ellie Lange of the Cubs for her help in arranging this photo op and interview.