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Article posted: 6/23/2013 8:00 AM

Wrigley renovations should be embraced, not feared

By

I have seen what Wrigley Field wants to be.

You've heard Cubs owner Tom Ricketts drop the Fenway name myriad times as the example of what a successful ballpark "restoration" can yield.

It's the model for good reason.

The correlation is obvious; an historic ballpark thought of as a dump is rejuvenated by modern convenience. The main goal is also realized: greatly enhanced revenue streams.

But it is the way Fenway did it, with the perfect balance of old and new, that should be aspirational.

I went to college in Boston, and attended 25-30 games a year between 1988 and 1992. I sat virtually everywhere available in the park at the time.

Some other day maybe I'll write about seeing Nolan Ryan duel Roger Clemens from the very back of the center-field bleachers. It was the most memorable game I'd ever attended, until Mark Buerhle's perfect game at The Cell.

But I hadn't been to Fenway in 15 years. Last week a fortuitous off night appeared in the midst of a "business" trip to Boston for the Stanley Cup Final.

We settled into the grandstand about 50 rows behind home plate, a great spot to take in all of the outfield signage, a spectacular HD video screen and three smaller LED screens.

Even to a Fenway veteran's eye, and to a baseball romanticist's heart, none of the park's charm is diminished. Nothing has been lost.

It's the same quirky, cozy bandbox it has always been. I could still visualize the presence of Ted Williams, Jimmy Foxx or Jim Rice.

A Wrigley video screen won't devalue your connection to Frank Chance, Ernie Banks or Andre Dawson. It won't make the ivy wither or turn the brick walls plastic.

Whether the neighborhood allows it, and at what size, is the real story.

Boston's Yawkey Way, the street along the first-base side of the building, is within the confines of Fenway now. Souvenir stores, sausage stands and open space are all fan options once their ticket has been taken.

If you've been to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, that kind of layout is clear to you. And you've seen it in the Wrigley blueprints. It's sensible.

The best opportunity I had was a tour of the suite level, enabling views of the high-priced EMC club, skyboxes and the left-field Green Monster seats.

These luxuries were built with still preserving the ballpark's integrity in mind. It's possible. Slate hallway floors, sparse décor and muted colors help maintain an industrial, classic feel.

A Red Sox Hall of Fame, with plaques for players and specific moments, covers the walls with a connection to the past.

The Monster seats and a large right-field roof-deck bar, showcase worthy options that Wrigley can't model. The rooftop agreement, as it stands, won't allow much of this vertical expansion. The video screen itself presents a battle.

So on that front, the Ricketts family will have to find another way.

But the point is this: stop fearing progress.

There have been several columns in recent weeks bemoaning the coming of technology to the pristine, uninterrupted sweep of the ballpark.

Eleven years ago, Red Sox ownership was grappling with the notion of tearing down Fenway and starting again next door or in the suburbs.

Now, revamped Fenway has helped elevate the franchise value over the $1 billion dollar mark. The renovations helped the park get added to the National Register of Historic Places. That designation has been worth nearly $40 million dollars in tax credits, with more to come.

And the added revenue has not come with some great loss of tradition.

Wrigley, like Fenway, is worth updating and preserving simultaneously. And it can be done.

It has been.

ŸMatt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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