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.

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

The Cubs keep raking in the accolades.

Theo Epstein is the latest to be honored, with Fortune naming the Cubs president of baseball operations No. 1 on the newly-released list of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders.

Epstein — the architect of the Cubs team that ended a 108-year championship drought — beat out such names as Pope Francis, John McCain, LeBron James and Joe Biden.

Fellow Chicagoan and White Sox ambassador Chance the Rapper also made the list at No. 46.

The rationale for Epstein includes:

In his book The Cubs Way, Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci details the five-year rebuilding plan that led to the team’s victory. The Cubs owe their success to a concatenation of different leadership styles, from the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts to the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of club president Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox. In the following passages, Verducci describes how a deeper understanding of important human qualities among his players—the character, discipline, and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders—­enabled Epstein to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports.

For more on why Epstein and the Cubs topped the list, head to Fortune.com.

Epstein had a classic reaction to the honor, texting ESPN's Buster Olney:

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house. That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball - a pastime involving a lot of chance. If Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

MESA, Ariz. — Now what? Ryan Dempster believes these Cubs are young enough, hungry enough and talented enough to become the first group to win back-to-back World Series since the three-peat New York Yankees built a dynasty with titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

But Dempster already understands the expectations at Wrigley Field this season, especially after pitching on disappointing Cubs teams that got swept out of the playoffs and working as a special assistant in Theo Epstein's front office.

"Nothing can top it," Dempster said. "You can win 162 games and sweep everybody in the playoffs and it won't be as exciting for people, other than maybe the guys playing it."

That's why Jon Lester isn't putting up the "Mission Accomplished" banner at his locker, even though the Cubs had the parade down Michigan Avenue in mind when they gave him the biggest contract in franchise history at the time. Dempster — who also earned a World Series ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox — had given Lester a scouting report as the Cubs went all-out in their pursuit of the big-game lefty.

There are still four years left on Lester's $155 million megadeal. It has been less than five months since the Cubs finally won the World Series and unleashed an epic celebration.

"Now the hard part is you don't get complacent," Lester said Wednesday after throwing six innings against an Oakland A's minor-league squad at the Sloan Park complex. "I talk about these young guys — that's where that helps. Even though you've accomplished things personally, you still want these guys to accomplish things.

"That's where that drive still gets you. You don't want to let your teammates down. You still want to be accountable for what you do. And that means showing up and doing your work in between starts and in the offseason."

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Lester believed so much in Epstein's vision, the pipeline of talent about to burst and the lure of Chicago that he signed with a last-place team. The Cubs needed a symbol to show they were serious about winning, a clubhouse tone-setter and an anchor for their rotation.

A new comfort level in Year 2 of that contract helped explain how Lester performed as an All Star, a Cy Young Award finalist and the National League Championship Series co-MVP. But Lester wants to make sure that the Cubs don't get too comfortable — or feel like they're playing with house money.

"You enjoy that, you learn from it," Lester said. "The biggest thing is not getting complacent with yourself and with your teammates. That's what drives me, making sure I'm prepared to pitch.

"I'm called upon every five days, and I have to be there. That's where that goal of 30 starts and 200 innings comes into play. I feel like if I do that, then I've done my job, for my teammates and this organization.

"The championships and the World Series — that's stuff you can't predict. It's stuff you strive to do every single year. So that's all we're going to focus on again. Our team goal again is to win a World Series."