Cubs lay out their new vision for Wrigley Field

985633.png

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."

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.