Cubs insist Wrigley Field will be ready for opener
The Cubs insisted Tuesday that all systems are go -- even if they are imperfect -- for the regular-season opener Sunday night at Wrigley Field.
In a teleconference with reporters, during which no questions were taken, team spokesman Julian Green shot down "wild and baseless accusations" that the Cubs had considered moving games to U.S. Cellular Field or that Wrigley Field is unsafe for Opening Night.
The St. Louis Cardinals will open the season against the Cubs Sunday night in a nationally televised game that begins at 7:05 p.m. (ESPN2).
The ballpark currently is in the early stages of a multiyear renovation project that will cause the famed outfield bleachers to be closed for the beginning of the season.
"At no time did Major League Baseball intervene in our construction project," said Green, vice president of communications and community affairs for the Cubs. "They're not concerned, mad or disappointed in the team or the pace of construction. Rather, they have been supportive of our efforts since this project got under way last year.
" ... There have been no discussions with the Chicago White Sox about playing our home opener at U.S. Cellular. Since we made the decision to play baseball at Wrigley Field throughout the length of the construction project, at no time did we consider U.S. Cellular Field as an option.
"The rumors about the upper deck and grandstand not being safe are absolutely false and are simply reckless. Those have been the most disturbing, and reached an all-time low for Wrigley Field rumors and myths. Our fans can be assured as responsible stewards of this ballpark, one that invested tens of millions of dollars each year on maintenance, there is no higher priority than to assure that our fans enjoy baseball in the safest environment possible.
"Following our completion of significant infrastructure work this off-season, we have prepared the ballpark for the next 100 years of Cubs baseball. We've said it time and time again: We will not cut corners on this project. We're going to do this project right and responsibly. Certainly, as many of you know, the city of Chicago will not put its stamp of approval on anything less."
The Cubs began work on the renovation project last fall and hoped to have the first phase fully complete by Opening Day, but team officials said that was dependent on all things going right.
However, a rough winter and water-main problems forced a delay in the opening of the expanded outfield bleachers. The Cubs reiterated that the left-field and center-field bleachers will open May 11 and that the right-field bleachers will be ready in mid-June.
The large video board beyond left field also will be ready by Sunday night with the right-field board -- which is smaller -- ready by the all-star break in July.
For Opening Night, Wrigley Field gates will open at 4:35 p.m. for a pregame concert by Fall Out Boy.
Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, who died in January, will be honored during pregame ceremonies. His sons, Joey and Jerry, will throw out ceremonial first pitches and lead fans in singing during the seventh-inning stretch.
Carl Rice, the team's vice president for ballpark operations, said that with work being done on the outfield brick walls, "fans are going to notice some gaps in the ivy on Opening Night."
"We expect to see the ivy back in full bloom by midsummer," Rice added.
With adjoining parking-lot space gone because of construction, the Cubs are encouraging fans to use public transportation and/or to use the remote parking lot at 3900 North Rockwell. Rice said the Blue and Brown parking lots will not be available for cash parking during the season, but the Green lot on Grace Street (two blocks north of the park) will be open.