Chicago is a quirky place. I’ve lived here almost a quarter of a century, so I can authoritatively make that observation. And for baseball fans in Chicago, loyalty to your team (Cubs or White Sox, but never both) runs very deep. It defines you, really.
As a Cubs fan, I’m psychologically wedded to Wrigley Field, where the Cubs have always played and, hopefully, always will play. And yet, as I look around at the rest of the NL Central, and the rest of baseball itself with only a couple of exceptions (Fenway Park, of course, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles), I realize how special that is. And the upcoming celebration of 100 years of baseball in Wrigley Field drives that point home.
The ballpark is, predictably enough, festooned with signage to remind everyone of this year’s significance. If you’re a Cubs fan, you’ve never seen — and likely cannot imagine — the team playing anywhere else. If you’re not a Cubs fan, but you still love baseball, you have either been to Wrigley before or the ballpark is on your proverbial bucket list. Or you’re a White Sox fan, but I’m not writing this piece with them in mind.
The Ricketts family has drawn up plans to renovate Wrigley Field, which would add amenities the modern fan expects at a ballgame. Most notable among these amenities is a Jumbotron or two, to provide in-game stats as well as signage revenue. But the rooftops overlooking the park have a contract with the team, and they have threatened legal action if any of the new signage interferes with their views. There’s political infighting aplenty with the alderman and the mayor — this is Chicago, after all, and the temptation to throw up their hands and start afresh with a new ballpark must seem quite appealing to the family that owns the team.
But all of that can wait for another day. It will likely get resolved, because Wrigley is a cash cow when it comes to baseball, concerts and historic importance. That could never be replicated in the city or the suburbs, and everyone knows this. Every new ballpark wants to recreate what Wrigley Field already has. Nobody will be dumb enough to try and discard that.
Changes will have to be made, and those changes won’t come cheap. In many ways, this year will be the final year of old Wrigley Field, before the hammers start swinging and the park is remade for the 21st century. If the future arrives on the field, in the form of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and others, that would be great, but the ballpark itself will provide for Cubs fans and anyone who appreciates attending baseball games in person. After all, it has always done so before.