Wrigley Field gets facelift while waiting for big renovation

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Wrigley Field gets facelift while waiting for big renovation

Walking through Wrigley Field, you stepped on new concrete and could smell fresh paint. You saw stadium workers raking the dirt and dropping the Cubs on-deck circle by the dugout. The ivy had already begun to turn green before Opening Day.

The second-oldest ballpark in the majors behind Fenway Park will begin its 99th season of professional baseball on Thursday, and 97th for the Cubs. The team has made several upgrades for this season, while waiting for the big renovation.

The Cubs didn't seem to be the only ones surprised when Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Tuesday that negotiations over the financing have advanced to the final stages. The renovation plan has been a primary focus for the Ricketts family and business operations.

We continue to have discussions with the city, the county and the state to ensure Wrigley Field remains a viable stadium for future generations, said Julian Green, the teams vice president of communications and community affairs. Were hopeful that we can reach a consensus soon. Well continue working with all parties to make sure we get something that works for all of Chicago.

In the meantime, the Cubs have added the Budweiser patio deck in the right-field bleachers. It basically recreates the rooftop experience and can host groups of 50, 100 or 150 guests. It sits behind a new 75-foot LED board that blends surprisingly well into the scenery.

The Cubs have also listened to the players concerns about the facilities, and cleared out what used to be storage space behind the left-field wall and turned it into an area where hitters can swing away at soft toss.

Theres no excuses for us as players not to be ready, utility man Jeff Baker said.

Last month, team personnel moved into a new administrative building on Clark Street near Waveland Avenue. Essentially a converted warehouse with high ceilings, theres a miniature Wrigley Field marquee by the main entrance and a Golden Tee video game in the break room.

Theres space for up to 155 employees, a key development for what has historically been one of the smallest front offices in baseball.

Or, as new general manager Jed Hoyer joked, No mice, so thats a good start.

As workers put finishing touches on the old ballpark, it didnt sound like there was a huge, imminent announcement planned with the mayors office for Opening Day. But on a crisp, sunny day, you knew that baseball was back.

It looks so much different here in the spring than it does in the winter, Hoyer said. The whole place looks fantastic. Its such a magical place, a place I loved coming to as a visitor. For the first time, it feels real. (I) get to watch 81 games a year here. Thats pretty special.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Fremd's Grace Tworek

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Fremd's Grace Tworek

This week's Wintrust Athlete of the Week is Fremd senior Grace Tworek. 

Tworek has led the Vikings on and off the court this season. Last week, the Harvard commit put up a career-high 29 points in a win over Wheeling. 

Learn more about Tworek's success in the video above.