It was honestly the most pandemic meeting ever. Ten minutes into the 18th annual (and first-ever virtual) Wrigley Field Community Meeting the only things that had been communicated were instructions on muting, unmuting, whose audio was garbled, whose audio was incoherent, and, finally, instructions to turn off cameras in order to spare the bandwidth. No one was immune. I could only hear every fifth word of 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney’s opening remarks, but I imagine if there was any critical information there he repeated it later when his audio situation cleared up a bit.
Before I jump into information from the meeting I’d like to comment that the City of Chicago and the Cubs would do well to offer virtual access to this meeting in the future. I have attended this meeting for Bleed Cubbie Blue for the last five years. In fact, it’s one of the last in-person events I attended before everything shut down due to COVID-19 in 2020. I’ve never counted the number of people in attendance but I’d estimate it’s in the 20-30 range. That’s including reporters, the Cubs staff members in attendance and various city representatives. The one exception was 2017 when the 19th Police District was standing room only, but I’m 90 percent sure that was just because the World Series Trophy made an appearance. This year’s meeting shattered that record with a reported 285 people on the call. Just as importantly, there were representatives from all adjoining Wards (44th, 46th, 47th and 32nd) on the call — at least initially. No Ward representatives, including Ald. Tunney, were on later in the call when they were called.
COVID-19 and the Cubs
The meeting began appropriately with a COVID-19 update from Dr. Rachel Bernard of the Chicago Department of Public Health. Dr. Bernard noted that they are carefully monitoring the COVID positivity rate which has crept up from 2.9 percent to 3.4 percent in the city in the last two weeks. She noted that increase is concentrated in younger populations so they do not expect a spike in hospitalization or death rates as a result of the increase. She also offered some optimistic news on vaccine rates in the city, although if you’ve been trying and failing at scoring an appointment for yourself or someone you love you likely feel like the vaccine process looks a lot more like this:
Every time vaccine scheduling opens up in Cook County pic.twitter.com/peGq7fn1ct— JRob (@josiesawklife) March 24, 2021
Ald. Tunney then began his remarks keeping in the spirit of 2021 with “Can you hear me now?” We could and he thanked everyone for their participation in the meeting before turning it over to representatives from the Cubs.
In previous years Assistant Director of Government and Community Affairs, Heather Way Kitzes, has taken the lead on this call. She was present and actively involved this year as well although the bulk of the Cubs’ initial comments were presented by Senior Vice President of Operations David Cromwell.
The Cubs are looking forward to welcoming fans back to the Friendly Confines and reiterated their four pillars of community engagement, specifically their commitment to keep the neighborhood safe, informed, clean and vibrant.
There is a lot more detail on all of the Cubs’ initiatives at the Cubs fan portal and honestly, I cannot stress enough how much you should visit that webpage before you head to Wrigley Field this year. I will get into some of the new procedures below, but pretty much every question you can imagine, and some you likely haven’t thought of yet, are on the Cubs fan portal.
While there will not be temperature checks to enter Wrigley Field this season, there will be pretty much everything else COVID-related, and most of it will require the MLB Ballpark App. Fans will need to attest they are symptom free prior to entry and paper tickets are a thing of the past, your phone is your ticket to the ballpark this year. Additionally, every ticket will include entry gate information. While this information was available to fans in previous years in 2021 it will be non-negotiable. One of the ways the Cubs will control crowds at Wrigley Field is by ensuring fans enter and exit through their preassigned gates. Your ticket will also include an entry time before the game. I was lucky enough to score a single ticket for the first homestand and you can see what that information looks like here:
As an aside, the prices were quite reasonable for the opening homestand, although that face value was bumped up considerably by fees and taxes in Chicago.
One other key change here: Gates at Wrigley Field used to open two hours before game time, that has been cut back to 90 minutes before game time.
As Al wrote earlier this week the magnetometers at Wrigley Field have been completely replaced by machines from Evolv Technology. You should check out the whole piece, but here are the specifics:
I had a chance to speak with Anil Chitkara, co-founder of Evolv Technology. He told me that these systems can screen up to 3,600 people an hour, 10 times what a traditional metal detector can screen. That will help the Cubs keep lines moving and in social distancing people coming to games, which is why you have a time of entry on your ticket if you have tickets for the opening homestand.
In addition to the ability to screen a lot more people per machine, these machines should allow fans to keep their cell phones and keys in their pockets. Bags are now limited at Wrigley Field to a 9”x 5” purse with the only exceptions being medial and diaper bags. Fans should not need to empty these bags of small metal items, which is a relief for those of us who always worried about losing our keys taking them in and out of our pockets and bags as we entered the park.
One other element you might have noticed on the above ticket are the zone assignments. In order to keep congestion at restrooms and concession stands down fans are supposed to stay in their designated zone during the game. Speaking of concessions, the way you get your nosh on at the ballpark will be a bit different in 2021. The Ballpark App isn’t just your ticket, it’s also your way to order delicious food and drink from your seat. From the Cubs fan portal:
All fans over two years old will be required to wear masks when they are not actively eating or drinking and social distancing will be enforced. Cromwell noted that Wrigley will be staffed for “well over” the 25 percent capacity it is set to open at (note, even as of the meeting that number was stated as 20 percent, but it appears to have gone up as Al wrote here.) That will help the Cubs manage the additional responsibilities of enforcing COVID protocols, including social distancing, in the stands and the concourse and in-seat concessions.
There was no new information on any events that might or might not happen at Wrigley Field and/or Gallagher Way this season. Cromwell said the Cubs are focused on 81 home games and currently have no plans for other announcements. That does not mean concerts, farmers’ markets and food trucks will never return to Wrigley Field, but the Cubs want to make sure they’ve got the baseball part of the equation right first.
The vast majority of this meeting is usually an update on baseball’s impact on the neighborhood followed by a question-and-answer period from residents focusing on their most pressing concerns. With such a limited 2020 schedule those updates were not really relevant or helpful, although Ald. Tunney did request 2020 numbers on parking tickets in the neighborhood and those should be up on the 44th Ward website soon. I have no idea why this information is helpful, unless Tunney would like to know what it would look like if the Cubs ever stop playing baseball in the 44th Ward. He should probably ask the businesses in the neighborhood how they feel about that before going too far down that road, but I digress.
One change visitors to the area should be aware of revolves around signage. In previous years Wrigley Field night game and event dates were posted on signs in and around the neighborhood. Those dates were not available when the signs were printed, so that signage will not exist in 2021. If you plan to drive down to the ballpark and will be parking in Lakeview or Uptown you’d do well to check the parking regulations before you arrive.
There will also be additional oversight of bars and restaurants near Wrigley to ensure they are complying with capacity and social distancing requirements. Even as Chicago slowly expands capacity and reopens the city wants to be clear that local establishment owners will be diligent as (limited) crowds return to Wrigley Field.
Notes from the Q&A
At this point the question and answer period of this meeting is basically always the same. Someone will ask about trash cleanup, the Cubs will tout their additional investments into cleaning up the neighborhood. Someone will ask about street closures, the Cubs and/or the city will discuss the standard procedures there. None of this changed in 2021.
There are still a lot of concerns about delivery trucks arriving early in the morning on Waveland. As a person who routinely walks by Wrigley Field in the morning I can attest those trucks are loud, although since I’m not an early morning person (unless I absolutely have to be) I can neither confirm nor deny that those trucks are routinely there before 7 a.m. as some residents claim.