Wrigley transformed for Northwestern-Illinois

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Wrigley transformed for Northwestern-Illinois

Monday, Nov. 15, 2010
8:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Watching Northwestern and Illinois play football at Wrigley Field should be disorienting and entertaining, like seeing Ryne Sandberg in a Lehigh Valley IronPigs uniform.

On the same day the Philadelphia Phillies announced Sandberg will manage their Triple-A affiliate, the Cubs painted their iconic marquee purple. Everyone is curious to see how this will turn out.

The vision for Jim Phillips began with the Blackhawks skating at Wrigley Field on New Years Day 2009. The Northwestern athletic director wanted to create a bowl game during the middle of the season. It is coming into focus.

ESPNs College GameDay will set up outside the stadium. Illinois alumni are said to have rented out most of the rooftop buildings. Northwestern players dressed in coats and ties will ride the El from Evanston to the Addison stop.

Saturday marks the first college football game at Wrigley Field since 1938, and its first football event in almost 40 years. Mondays media tour revealed a bricks-and-ivy space that was at once familiar and different.

The field runs east-to-west instead of the north-south alignment used when the Bears played at Clark and Addison. One end zone is in front of the Cubs dugout, while the other goes to the right-field wall. There is no net beyond the uprights, so field goals and extra points could fly into the bleachers or onto Sheffield Avenue.

That end line runs right up against the Under Armour sign in right field. At the back of the end zone, near the batting cage area, players can only take a step or two before momentum will have them crashing into the wall.

The Cubs, Northwestern and Illinois assembled a team of engineers and risk managers that concluded this is the safest way the field plays. One Cubs official mentioned how 5-foot-10-inch, 175-pound outfielder Sam Fuld dives at the wall without pads (or a middle linebacker driving him into the bricks).

Hopefully its just not like Arena (football) where youre running into and over the billboard signs, Northwestern wide receiver Demetrius Fields said.

This is about marketing, at a time when the Cubs are trying to convince the state to float up to 300 million in bonds to help finance renovations at Wrigley Field.

Chairman Tom Ricketts told the Chicago Tribunes editorial board on Monday that he doesnt have a Plan B if the proposal is rejected. On Tuesday Ricketts and a group of union leaders and business owners and residents from the Lakeview neighborhood are expected to hold a news conference at Wrigley Field to shape their economic message.

The Cubs are trying to grow revenue. Northwestern is hoping for more exposure. In a sense they need each other. Cubs president Crane Kenney along with Phillips will wait before committing to stage future games.

For us, this is a way to stretch our creative skin a little bit. And after hockey and concerts, well see where football fits, Kenney said. There are other events that were held here in the past soccer for sure, the circus, rodeo and everything else.

We want to see this one go well and if we still feel the same way Saturday as we do today, well look at other events.

Logistically, Northwestern will use the Cubs clubhouse, which struggles to accommodate 25 baseball players, much less some 85 scholarship athletes. The two teams will share the same sideline and be separated by some sort of barricade.

Tickets have been divided three ways. Northwestern received around 30,000, with the Cubs and Illinois almost equally splitting the remaining 10,000. One side of the scoreboard will show updates for Saturdays other Big Ten games.

The Cubs brand did a lot for Sandberg, just not as much as the Hall of Famer hoped. Now Northwestern wants its share. School flags are flying all around the stadium. Eight Northwestern panels flank the sides of the marquee.

Phillips who grew up on the citys Northwest Side and graduated from Illinois hustles to make the Wildcats what they bill themselves in front of the building: Chicagos Big Ten Team.

Our fans have been abuzz since we made the announcement back in the spring, Phillips said. Tickets (were) gobbled up pretty quickly and Ive found a few distant relatives that I hadnt heard from and some long-lost cousins and friends from high school I havent talked to in awhile. But I think thats been the case for everybody.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Catch first pitch at 6 p.m. with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks (15-8, 2.06 ERA) vs. Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA)

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David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

CHICAGO — David Ross got fired up when Cubs manager Joe Maddon walked to the mound with two out in the seventh inning, ready to argue for Jon Lester to stay in the game.

Maddon and Lester had a different plan.

"Joe looked at him and said 'Have you ever been a part of where the catcher gets taken out of the game before the pitcher?'" Lester said, describing the scene with a big grin. "You can just see him, it's like the kid at the candy store when you tell him he can pick out whatever he wants.

"It was just like the disbelief in his face and slams his mask back over his face and all he can say is 'I love you guys. I love you guys. I love you guys.'"

Ross then walked off to another standing ovation from a raucous crowd of 40,859 at Wrigley Field, part of a heartwarming Sunday night for the backup catcher in his last season. He also hit his 10th homer and teamed with Lester for another scoreless performance, helping the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It was an amazing night," Ross said.

Ben Zobrist had three hits and scored two runs as Chicago finished with a major league-best 57-24 home record. It's the most home wins for the Cubs since they went 58-19 at the West Side Grounds in 1910.

The Cardinals lost for the third time in four games, wasting a chance to improve their playoff positioning. They remain a half-game back of San Francisco for the second NL wild card after the Giants lost 4-3 at San Diego earlier in the day.

"I think we're in a good position right now," pitcher Carlos Martinez said through a translator. "I also think we have a great shot at winning the World Series."

Ross, Lester's regular catcher, was greeted with a long standing ovation when he came to the plate in the second inning. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina walked halfway to the mound, forcing the unassuming Ross to take in the moment, and he took off his batting helmet to acknowledge the cheering crowd.

Ross then struck out, but he got another chance in the fifth and drove Martinez's second pitch over the wall in left for 1-0 lead. Ross clapped his hands as he rounded first on his 10th homer and the cheers continued after he reached the dugout, prompting a curtain call.

"It was just fitting that David would hit a home run, isn't it?" Maddon said. "I mean it had to have happened tonight."

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Lester (19-4), one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander allowed three hits and walked one while improving to 10-0 with 1.34 ERA in his last 13 starts.

It was Lester's idea to pull Ross in the middle of an inning.

"He's like a brother to me and for him to give me that was pretty cool," Ross said.

The Cardinals pulled within one on Jhonny Peralta's two-out RBI single in the eighth, but Brandon Moss flied to center with runners on the corners. Willson Contreras responded with an RBI single in the bottom half and Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 16th save with the NL Central champions and No. 36 on the year.

Martinez (15-9), pitching with a heavy heart after the death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked four.

"He had lots of juice," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's probably the hardest sinker I've ever seen him throw. A couple of those were 97 (mph). He was locked in. He wanted it bad today, and he was good enough for us to win."