Diggin' it: Cubs break ground at Wrigley
Leave it to a former Cubs player to cut through it all with a shovel Saturday.
"I'm really just here to start the dig," said former pitcher Kerry Wood during groundbreaking ceremonies at Wrigley Field.
On a spectacular October Saturday, perfect for postseason baseball, the Cubs officially kicked off their $575 million renovation of Wrigley Field, called "1060 Project," in reference to the ballpark's address of 1060 W. Addison Street in Chicago.
Work already has begun, but Saturday was a day for pomp and circumstance.
Wood spoke for all players, who will get a large and much-needed modern clubhouse out of the deal. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts addressed the gathering, as did business and baseball presidents Crane Kenney and Theo Epstein, respectively, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig also took the podium, which was set up in the middle of the infield.
"Today's groundbreaking is certainly an extraordinary occasion because I saw my first major-league game here in May of 1944, when I was two months shy of my 10th birthday," said Selig, who has been a big backer of the Cubs' plans to move forward on the 100-year-old ballpark.
"Wrigley Field took hold of a special place in my heart right then and there. Frankly, it has held that spot for the past 70 years."
Most likely the happiest guy in the place was Ricketts, who bought the Cubs in 2009 and who has battled the city and the neighbors in trying to bring Wrigley Field from the mid-20th century into the 21st.
"Was there ever a doubt?" he asked. "Yeah, absolutely. Are you kidding me? The fact is there were a lot of days where I was concerned we would never get to here, absolutely.
"But ultimately the mayor stepped up and we worked it out and we found a way to make sure that we could get this ballpark saved. Today, I feel great."
The neighboring rooftop owners have been the biggest thorn in the Cubs' side over the years. The rooftop owners charge patrons to watch games from their buildings, and they've threatened legal action because they contend the coming new videoboard and outfield signs will block their views of the field.
The Cubs are forging ahead.
"I'm extremely confident all the legal hurdles (have been cleared)," Ricketts said.
The project will take four years to complete, and the Cubs will not have to move out of Wrigley Field because of the construction. By next season, the bleachers will be expanded, and new videoboards and signage will be installed. The players will get a 30,000-square-foot clubhouse by Opening Day 2016.
Kenney said the need for renovated ballpark became apparent a decade ago.
"Ten years ago, in 2004, it became clear that Wrigley Field was in serious trouble," Kenney said. "That was when the first piece of concrete fell in the seating bowl, and we learned that Wrigley Field needed more than a facelift at the end of the season."
Back then, the Cubs put up nets under the upper deck to catch any falling concrete, and Ricketts was feeling so good after the formal presentation to joke with reporters that the nets had been landmarked by the city.
The renovations, along with an anticipated new TV contract down the road, are expected to generate millions in revenue for the Cubs, and Ricketts said those revenues will enable the Cubs to procure players for winning teams and some of that October baseball.
That job falls to Epstein, who has finished three seasons of his five-year contract. It's not out of the question that Ricketts soon will entertain the notion of extending the contracts of Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
"Theo and Jed are doing an incredible job," Ricketts said. "I think everyone would agree that the way our (farm) system looks today is just night and day from a few years ago. With respect to (a possible Epstein extension), I'll leave that to be between him and myself."