Cubs lay out their new vision for Wrigley Field

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Cubs lay out their new vision for Wrigley Field

As Cubs executives tried to figure out ways to renovate Wrigley Field, they visited Fenway Park, Lambeau Field and the Rose Bowl. They wanted to get a sense of how those iconic stadiums changed with the times without losing its charms.

Beyond lobbying City Hall and figuring out how to pay for this $300 million project, that will be the trick in restoring Wrigley Field, which will be 100 years old in 2014.

The renderings put up on big screens inside the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers on Saturday became the story at Cubs Convention. The plan would remove 50 million pounds of concrete and steel. In its place could be a completely different experience.

Here are some of the bullet points, drawn from 30 focus groups and almost 23,000 total surveys: rooftop patio; party decks in left and center field; expanded luxury suites; new LED board in left field; Jumbotron-like video screen; club lounge; restaurant where the old administrative offices used to be.

But the driving force will be player facilities that president of business operations Crane Kenney called the worst in Major League Baseball. Beginning to address that will be the first priority if construction begins in October or November and is phased in across five offseasons.

When general manager Jed Hoyer first toured the Cubs clubhouse in the fall of 2011, he thought it was fit for a Double-A ballpark. This vision will include a much bigger clubhouse, batting tunnels, a video room, a new weight room and a physical therapy/rehab center.

This helped the recruiting pitch as team president Theo Epstein walked away from the Boston Red Sox and Hoyer chose to leave the San Diego Padres.

"When we talked through it and decided to come to Chicago, the promise of this project was a huge plus for us," Hoyer said. "We both started with the Red Sox before any kind of renovation to Fenway Park. I can assure you that the facilities were every bit as subpar for the players as they are at Wrigley Field right now.

"There was one batting cage out in center field, which sounds familiar, a tiny clubhouse that was infested with a lot of rats. It was certainly not good enough for a big-market team. Theo and I both saw how it changed the organization."

You cant draw a straight line to the Red Sox winning two World Series titles within the past decade, but a new Wrigley Field could be a game-changer.

Hoyer recalled one of his first days on the job, when he went on a tour with Kenney and Epstein and saw the home clubhouse.

"We looked up at the ceiling and there was a net," Hoyer said. "Were like: 'Oh, whats the net for?' Crane said: 'Oh, that's where the players warm up during the game.' Both of us laughed. We thought it was a joke.

"He goes: 'No, no, guys, Im serious. Before a guy pinch-hits, we actually drop the net. We put a wooden slab over the TV and guys take swings in the clubhouse.'"

As Kenney said: "We were smart. We didn't tell Theo about that when we were hiring him."

But the possibilities clearly intrigued Epstein. In theory, this will generate more and more revenues to pour into the on-field product. Kenney said personal seat licenses are not on the table now.

The Cubs project that their concession capacity could increase by more than 100 percent. Restroom capacity would rise 42 percent. Changes would be made to the electrical, plumbing and telecommunication systems. A new press box would also be created.

These plans have been about three years in the making.

The Cubs have been working with several influencers, including: DAIQ Architects, a force in modernizing Fenway Park; Gunny Harboe, a historic preservation architect who worked on The Rookery and Sullivan Center in the Loop; VOA Associates, which helped design Navy Pier; and Gensler, the firm with a portfolio that includes L.A. Live and Roland Garros, the home of the French Open.

Now chairman Tom Ricketts will have to live up to the promise his family made to Cubs fans.

"The character of the Wrigley that we all love will be retained," Ricketts said. "It will be the same place you always loved, the same place you went with your grandfather. But the amenities for the players, the fans, everybody, will be dramatically improved."

Brett Anderson’s main takeaway from Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio

Brett Anderson’s main takeaway from Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio

MESA, Ariz. – The pitching section of The Cubs Way manual might not be spelled out this way, but it can be summed up in five words: Have 'em work with Boz.

Or at least that's how it sounds whenever the Cubs add another fading prospect or injury case, rolling the dice on raw stuff, change-of-scenery psychology and the wizardry of pitching coach Chris Bosio.

While the Theo Epstein administration is still waiting on the drafted-and-developed pitchers to put around the Wrigley Field marquee next to the images of sluggers Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs already have the infrastructure in place that helped turn Jake Arrieta into a Cy Young Award winner and transform Kyle Hendricks into an ERA leader.

One of Bosio's ongoing projects is Brett Anderson, who underwent surgery to repair a bulging disc in his lower back last March, yet another injury in a career that hasn't lived up to his own expectations.

"It's one of those things where he's not trying to reinvent the wheel," Anderson said. "It's more trying to limit the pressure on my back and mild mechanical adjustments where I don't land on my heel as much and kind land on the ball of my foot or my toes, so it's not such a whiplash effect.

"He's had a good track record with health, especially the last couple years, and hopefully I can fall in line there, too."

Anderson made it through his first Cactus League outing, throwing a scoreless first inning during Monday's 4-4 tie with the White Sox in front of another sellout crowd at Sloan Park in Mesa. The Cubs are taking a calculated risk here with a one-year, $3.5 million that could max out with $6.5 million more in incentives if Anderson makes 29 starts this season.

[MORE CUBS: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic]

The Cubs can put the best defensive unit in the majors behind a lefty groundball pitcher and don't need to make a dramatic overhaul with a guy who grew up around the game. Anderson's father, Frank, is an assistant at the University of Houston and the former head coach at Oklahoma State University.

"I've been going to the field since I could walk and talk and annoy college kids," Anderson said. "I could take that one of two ways: I could get burnt out quick and kind of shy away from baseball. Or I could eat it up. Fortunately for me, I've eaten it up all the way through."

The entire question with Anderson revolves around health. He won 11 games for the Oakland A's in 2009 – finishing sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting – and hasn't topped that number since. There's been a Tommy John surgery and disabled-list time for a stress fracture in his right foot, a broken left index finger and a separate surgery on his lower back.

"If you dwell on the negative, you're going to worry yourself sick," Anderson said. "Pitching's fun – good, bad or indifferent – (so) you have to have a positive outlook, because otherwise you just walk around with a black cloud over your head."

The only other time Anderson hit the 30-start mark would be 2015, when he threw a career-high 180.1 innings, put up a 3.69 ERA and led the majors with a 66.7 groundball percentage. He couldn't repeat that performance with the Los Angeles Dodgers, accounting for 11.1 innings last year and not making the roster in either playoff round.

The "hybrid" fifth/sixth starter idea manager Joe Maddon floated sounds good in theory and we'll see how it works with Anderson and Mike Montgomery and a veteran rotation with strong opinions and clear ideas about routines. But the Dodgers needed 15 different starting pitchers to survive the 162-game marathon last year and seemed to run out of gas by the time the National League Championship Series returned to Wrigley Field.

"You can't have too much depth coming from where I was last year in L.A.," Anderson said. "We used so many starters. Obviously, that wasn't really the case here, which you can't really bank on year in and year out. But if I'm healthy, everything else will work itself out and I'll take my chances.”

Cubs: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic

Cubs: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic

MESA, Ariz. – During an escalating prank war, Ryan Dempster once arranged for a camera crew to shadow Will Ohman in spring training and sell the journeyman reliever on being the star in a TV special.

But Dempster isn't trying to punk anyone by playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic – even though he's almost 40 years old and hasn't pitched in a competitive environment since Game 1 of the 2013 World Series at Fenway Park.

Don't let the Harry Caray/Will Ferrell impersonations fool you. Dempster always had a different side to his personality, an edge that allowed him to recover from Tommy John surgery, transition from 30-save closer back to All-Star starter and throw nearly 2,400 innings in The Show.

Still, it sort of felt like a reality show or a time machine or a spin-off from a Kris Bryant Red Bull ad on Monday at Field 1, the most secluded spot to throw live batting practice at the Sloan Park complex. On a cool, gray day, Dempster looked the same with his reddish beard, glove waggle, white pinstriped pants and blue Nike cleats.

Before stepping into the batter's box, Cubs president Theo Epstein tried to talk a little trash with Dempster: "I know I can't hit big-league pitching, but I'll see if I can hit you."

Besides Epstein, the eclectic group of hitters included Tommy La Stella and minor-leaguer Todd Glaesmann. Dempster threw roughly 50 pitches to Lance Rymel, a former farm-system catcher who will manage a Dominican summer league team this year. The audience included one reporter, six fans, a group of curious Cubs staffers and reliever Jim Henderson, who is in camp on a minor-league deal and will also pitch for Team Canada.

"I'm not going to be disrespectful to the whole process," Dempster said. "I'm not just like playing in a beer league and then decide: 'Eh, I'll throw against the Dominican team. The U.S. looks like they're pretty stacked, but I'll be all right.' I know what it entails going into this.

"At the end of the day, I'm not so worried about velocity. I'm worried about command and my ability to change speeds. It has been pretty funny to see the reactions, and I can understand why people would see it as far-fetched. But I always liked a good challenge."

Dempster first hatched this idea during a Fourth of July vacation, somewhere around Sequoia National Park in California. The group included Ted Lilly – another pitcher who got by with guts and became a special assistant in Epstein's front office – and former bullpen catcher Corey Miller.

"I just said: 'For old times' sake, why don't I throw a side?'" Dempster recalled. "I thought for sure when I woke up the next day I wouldn't be able to lift my arm up. And it felt really good."

Dempster continued with a throwing program – even through a trip to Hawaii after the World Series – and contacted Greg Hamilton, the head coach and director of Baseball Canada. As a Cub, Dempster had been the one leading runs up Camelback Mountain and showing younger pitchers like Jeff Samardzija how to train for 200 innings.

"I wasn't sure if he was serious or not," said Epstein, who did make contact against Dempster. "And then when I figured out he meant it and had a plan, I knew he'd be fine, because he's such a hard worker and he's really smart. If he's going to put the time in to get ready, I knew he'd be fine. He'll be competitive, for sure."

Dempster understood how to put together his own program with a focus on his legs, strengthening his core and shoulder exercises. To be clear, this isn't setting the stage for a comeback, the way game-over closer Eric Gagne is hoping to use Team Canada as a launching pad (after not pitching in the big leagues since 2008).

"This is just a chance to represent my country," said Dempster, who grew up in British Columbia and played on junior national teams in the 1990s. "Sometimes – I'm not bored – but a challenge in life or an opportunity presents itself. (And) it's a good lesson to teach my kids: If you work hard at something, you can do (it) and hopefully it pays off."

Dempster went out on top as a World Series champion, walking away from $13.25 million rather than pitch for the Boston Red Sox in 2014. He signed on with MLB Network and rejoined the Cubs as a special assistant in baseball operations. If he had to pick a lane, it would probably be entertainment and building off his Cubs Convention late-night format and sketches like "The Newlywed Game" with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

But Dempster still needs a fix. The star-studded cast from the Dominican Republic – Robinson Cano, Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre, Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz – will be waiting on March 9 at Marlins Park.

"Major League Baseball, professional sports aren't a normal job," Dempster said. "How do you go from that extreme high, the adrenaline rush of going out there and pitching in front of 40-grand every day to…now what do you do that satisfies you? I'm trying to find that, make my way towards that. I feel like I will eventually get there."