Cubs fans: Save Wrigley tradition, end losing tradition
Not all Cubs fans embrace changes at Wrigley, but all can agree it's time to win
The newest National League ballpark in Miami boasts a retractable roof, palm trees, a 73-foot-tall home run sculpture with moving flamingos and mechanical marlins, and two saltwater aquariums built into the walls behind home plate.
With Cubs owners and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the midst of discussions about renovations and funding options, 98-year-old Wrigley Field kicks off the 2012 baseball season with the addition of a couple of small advertisements on the walls, an upbeat prediction from a comedy legend and a modest 7½-foot-tall LED screen in right field.
"The mini monster," longtime Cubs' season-ticket holder and Arlington Heights resident Jim Bozikis says of the new electric screen that shows player photographs, stats and trivia, but no video replays. Like many traditional Cubs fans, Bozikis, 46, isn't comfortable with changes and the "creep of ads" coming to the league's oldest park. He wants his kids, Grace, 5½, and Jake, 4, to have "the same Wrigley experience I had as a kid." But he realizes some change to Wrigley Field is inevitable.
"I didn't want the lights," remembers Bozikis, a college kid when the debate that brought night games to Wrigley in 1988 was raging. Once he got a day job, he grew to appreciate the lights.
"We've been here so long that any little change is so traumatic for me," says fellow season-ticket holder Bud Sonoda, 46, of Mount Prospect, who winces when asked about the LED screen. "There's a tipping point, but so far they haven't hit it. If the revenue truly goes to improve the product on the field, I can live with it."
Whether he's talking about Wrigley or the Cubs, Tom Ricketts, the lead man for the family starting its third year as owners of the franchise and Wrigley Field, assures fans that "we are excited about the direction we are going."
"Everybody is working pretty hard," Ricketts says before the game to a throng of reporters, acknowledging the talks about finding money to improve Wrigley but refusing to tip his hand on options that include more advertising signs or even one of those giant TV screens found at most sports stadiums. The human-operated scoreboard and the ivy-covered brick outfield walls are protected by their legal landmark status, but fans seem to support, or at least understand, the need for the new ads and the LED screen.
"It's just a sign of the times. I think any opportunity to bring in additional revenue to the Cubs is a good thing," says Carol Stream native Michael Brown, 31, who has season tickets in the bleachers. "I'm kind of split on the possibility of a Jumbotron, but the LED screen is fine. I want them to preserve this ballpark by whatever means necessary."
Brown says Ricketts has done a good job when it comes to preserving and improving.
"He seems to have a good feel for what fans would be accepting of," Brown says.
"It's the good feeling of tradition," says Lauren Geiger, 29, who also grew up in Carol Stream.
For Jerry Pritikin, the legendary "Bleacher Preacher" of an earlier era at Wrigley, that tradition is already gone.
"Last year, I went to one game and I walked out in the third inning because the 'wave' went around Wrigley," says Pritikin, 75 ("the same age as the scoreboard"), scowling at the thought of fans "doing the wave" instead of watching the game. "The wave doesn't belong in a ballpark."
The giant posters of players on the outside of the Friendly Confines also tick off Pritikin.
"I hope the Heavenly Confines don't have any signage," he sighs.
"You won't find a better ballpark," says Rey Shallwani, 32, another Carol Stream native who sits with Amanda Dowdle, 24, of Woodridge, and notes that they both prefer the old-time bleacher life. "It's like if you go to the movie theater and your feet don't stick to the floor, it's just not normal. We could sit in better seats and get better food, but that's not why I'm here. I'm here for baseball."
Much about Wrigley is the same as it was in 1976 when Randy Coakley got out of third grade in St. Charles to go to Opening Day with his mom.
The aquariums and homer tower in Miami are "a little over the top" for any baseball stadium but would be absolutely "crazy" in Chicago, says the 42-year-old Coakley. He says he wants the Ricketts family to do just enough to bring in the money needed to improve the team but not so much that it changes the character of Wrigley.
"Sometimes it's fun to go someplace that never changes so you can reflect about how you've changed," Coakley waxes philosophically.
Every Cubs fan agrees on the need to improve on the fifth-place finish in each of the last two years.
"I don't need a bigger gift shop or more lights in the men's room," Bozikis says. "I need a better team."
In the seventh-inning stretch when the Cubs are winning 1-0, funnyman and Cub fan Bill Murray predicts, "We're going to win today! We're going to win every single game!"
After singing and chatting it up in the TV booth, Murray talks about seeing Wrigley for the first time when he was 8 years old and going to a game with his big brother, Brian.
"He walked me up the steps with his hands over my eyes," Murray says, marveling at the memory of seeing the green grass and the scoreboard he'd only seen on a black-and-white TV. "It was amazing."
Murray appreciates Wrigley tradition.
"I'm still upset that they took away the Smokey Links in the aisle," says Murray, remembering when vendors cooked up the little sausages on the move. "I'm still not over that change."
Murray, who notes that he's always "in favor of fireworks," says Wrigley will be "beautiful" no matter what cosmetic changes are made.
"No one owns the game. The game is still the top. It's the pinnacle," Murray says. "No one is looking at the signs if somebody hits a two-run homer in the ninth."
But nobody hits a two-run homer in the ninth Thursday, and the Cubs lose by a run.
No fan wants to keep that tradition.
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