Cubs pushing Wrigley Field into 21st century

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Cubs pushing Wrigley Field into 21st century

This will bother the traditionalists, but might appeal to anyone who cant put down their BlackBerry. The Cubs always seem to provoke strong reactions whenever they make changes to Wrigley Field.

Trying to steal some business away from the surrounding rooftops, the Cubs will build a patio deck in the right-field bleachers and install an LED board thats roughly 70-feet wide.

Team executives unveiled the plan on Saturday at the Cubs Convention and expect everything in place by Opening Day. The LED signage will show game information pitch count, player pictures and statistics but probably not instant replay.

President of business operations Crane Kenney said it would be challenging to play video there. Budweiser, the patios name sponsor, will be part of a rotating series of advertisements. These changes will not require approval from the city.

This isnt touching really a landmarked feature, Kenney said. The contours of the bleachers arent really impacted and it really doesnt touch the scoreboard or the ivy or any of the other aspects that are protected.

The Cubs intend to collapse six rows of bleachers into three and raise the seats, to improve the obstructed views into center field that slowed ticket sales there.

Marketing chief Wally Hayward said the area will be available for corporate outings and birthday parties and can accommodate up to 150 guests. The tickets will include food and drinks.

This reconfiguration wont change the distance to hit a home run and shouldnt impact wind patterns. These arent exactly the Green Monster seats dropped on top of Fenway Park. The bleachers will stay at the same height.

The Cubs will also experiment with dynamic pricing in the bleachers this season. This is a method used in the airline industry, where the earlier you buy your tickets, the better deal youre going to get. The team wont allow it to drop below the season-ticket price.

Chairman Tom Ricketts said the Cubs are not lobbying to add more night games to the schedule, though they would like to get some flexibility from the city that would allow them to play on Friday nights.

Approaching the ballparks 100th anniversary in 2014, the Cubs still havent secured the financing for their grand renovation plans. In the meantime, the Ricketts family recently purchased the McDonalds lot opposite the Wrigley Field marquee for a reported 20 million.

We just decided that property in Wrigleyville doesnt come up for sale that often, Ricketts said. I think one of the things the previous ownership (Tribune Co.) maybe missed on was making sure they bought some of the land around Wrigley to better control the environment.

The restaurant will remain there for the time being. Long term, Ricketts said he wont know what his familys developers will do with the land on Clark Street until the stadium renovation plans are finalized.

It could be everything from parking, shopping, dining, hotel use, Kenney said, all the things that we think (are probably) a gap in the Cubs ecosystem for new amenities.

Until Wrigley Field gets renovated, the Cubs do not expect to be awarded an All-Star Game. With a few modern touches, the place wont look the same in April. Team officials know Cubs fans wont be shy letting you know what they think.

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Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”