The friendly confines of Wrigley Field hosted baseball for the 100th straight year Monday as the Chicago Cubs welcomed fans for the first home game of the 2013 season.
The iconic ballpark opened in 1914 and, aside from electric lights and $7.75 beers, it still has that 20th century feel I’ve relished as a fan for more than four decades. But for the ball team to compete in a 21st-century marketplace, the franchise needs some modern improvements, says Tom Ricketts, the spokesman for the family that bought the Cubs in 2009 and has floated a $500 million rebuilding plan that might include a giant video screen, a parking garage and a hotel complex.
Some fans are willing to go even farther in pursuit of a championship.
“Move the team to Rosemont,” suggests longtime fan Rick Romanelli of Des Plaines, who shows up on Opening Day sporting a homemade sign calling for the Cubs and the Chicago Bears to accept that suburb’s recent wooing attempt. “Rosemont would be ideal. Put a dome over it.”
But what about the Wrigley charm, the ivy, the hand-operated scoreboard, the romance, the leisurely old-school pace that I love so much?
“Wrigley Field is fine. They can use it for soccer,” Romanelli, 59, says as a part of my soul dies and blows away in the 35-mph breeze. “You’ll miss it, but after three or four years, you won’t. You’ll bring your kids here to watch soccer and say, ‘I used to go to baseball games here.’”
Wrigley has had lights since 1988, and I still find night games jarring. How would I ever get used to a giant video screen showing replays, blooper videos and M&M races while playing canned music from this millennium? It might be popular, but a Jumbotron at Wrigley would be as out of place as a belly button ring on a grandma.
“It’s inevitable. It’s 2013, You have to have replay,” counters fan Sheldon Neumann, 31, who grew up in Westmont and took the 7 a.m. train from Hanover Park to the opener. “I understand the reluctance to take away the authenticity, but you’ve got to have replay.”
His bleacher mate Ashley Busker of Bloomingdale says the team is more important than the ballpark.
“I love Wrigley. It’s one of my favorite places to go,” says Busker, 27. But if the team moved to the suburbs, “it’s closer to home,” she says practically.
It is the Rickettses’ team and the family should be free to make smart business decisions, says Mark Weyermuller, a Wilmette businessman who runs a rental property management service in Chicago. While a hotel and other improvements would be good for his business, his hobby would be hurt if the Cubs put a giant video screen in the left-field bleachers. Weyermuller, 53, and his 16-year-old son, Drake, are among the ballhawks who flock outside Wrigley and try to catch home runs that fly out of the ballpark and into the street.
“It will be the end of an era for ballhawks,” Weyermuller says of the quirky bunch that has been a staple on the streets beyond the ivy since the 1960s.
Many fans say the Rickettses should do whatever it takes to bring in money and make the team a winner, and that the city should stop throwing up roadblocks.
“It’s like buying a Mercedes-Benz and being told you can’t put chrome wheels on it,” Romanelli says.
“That might be a little stretch,” quips fellow fan Ron Sershon, who realizes a better Cubs analogy is buying a 1984 Plymouth Reliant and being told you can’t hang an air freshener from the rearview mirror.
Walking around his ballpark, Ricketts doesn’t announce anything concrete, or even some badly needed new concrete. He issues clichés such as, “It’s a process,” “We’re looking at all options,” and “We’re working really hard.”
As much as she likes the current Wrigley, Des Plaines resident Carrie Cappa says she’d welcome a giant video screen.
“I think I would like it because, No. 1, my eyesight’s not so good,” admits the 45-year-old Cappa.
Her son, Nick, an 18-year-old senior at Maine West High School who called in sick to join his mom at the opener, says he still thinks it is possible for his Cubs to win a World Series and do it in good old Wrigley Field.
“I love the old atmosphere, the scoreboard, the ivy,” Nick Cappa says. “This whole modernization phase, I’m not a fan of it. I don’t want a Jumbotron.”
For his mom, the trade-off only works if the Cubs win multiple championships. Desperate for a winner, fans during the 7th-inning stretch cheer Mr. Cub Ernie Banks’ rhyme-challenged and wildly optimistic proclamation that “the Cubs will be supreme in 2013.”
With two outs in the bottom on the 9th inning, when Cubs All-Star Starlin Castro launched a bases-loaded, potentially game-winning homerwannabe, a Jumbotron wouldn’t have given that ball the lift needed to prevent it from being a game-ending out in a 7-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs now are 2-5, same as last year when the team piled up 101 losses.
“If that Jumbotron goes up and they lose 100 games a year,” Nick Cappa says, “it’s really not a trade-off.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.