Lance Berkman thinks Cubs could do Wrigley bigger and better

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Lance Berkman thinks Cubs could do Wrigley bigger and better

ST. LOUIS – The Wall Street Journal came out with a headline that was certain to generate buzz: “Why Wrigley Field Must Be Destroyed.”

Cubs executives have publicly said that they’d never consider that nuclear option, while privately lobbying government officials for their renovation plans.

The franchise’s identity is so tied up in the real estate at Clark and Addison that chairman Tom Ricketts has dismissed the idea of playing at U.S. Cellular Field – even for a season – while the ballpark gets a facelift.

The Wall Street Journal piece was heavy on first-person accounts from a writer who sat in the stands during the Bartman game. How about some ideas from one of baseball’s most outspoken players?

Lance Berkman has been coming to the North Side for years, first with the Houston Astros and now the St. Louis Cardinals.

He’s an intelligent guy who went to Rice University. He once had ideas about maybe signing with the Cubs – before making a decision that got him a World Series ring.

“Let me say this: I like the way Wrigley Field looks,” Berkman said Tuesday. “But if they said we’re going to bulldoze it and build it new – but to look similar – I’d be all for it. At some point, you’ve got to modernize.

“I know that’s anathema to a lot of Cubs fans, and a lot of people that view Wrigley as sort of this baseball shrine. But the reality is, I think you could accomplish (more). The location of it, the fan base, the ivy on the walls, all of that stuff is not going to go anywhere. That contributes a lot.

“You can improve the fan experience, the media experience, the player experience, everything, by rebuilding it. And you wouldn’t lose any of the mystique that people are afraid of losing.”

Berkman is a six-time All-Star with a .213 career average in 80 games at Wrigley Field. He echoed what many players want out of a renovated stadium – a bigger clubhouse and better facilities, specifically improvements to the batting cages.

“The locker room’s built for guys that are 5-9 max,” he said. “It’s just not that way anymore. The training room is small. Everything about it is antiquated.”

Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry targeted Berkman in the run-up to the winter meetings in December 2010.

Berkman was coming off a down year split between the Astros and New York Yankees, and accepted a one-year, $8 million deal with the Cardinals that looked like a bargain when he hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBI.

Carlos Pena wound up signing the “pillow contract” – $10 million for one season spread over three fiscal years – that had everyone in St. Louis thinking the Cubs were going to make a run at Albert Pujols.

How close did Berkman come to signing with the Cubs?

“It would have been closer if we actually had the meeting,” he said. “I signed with the Cardinals and Jim was flying down to (Houston) to go to dinner (with me).

“It was funny because when he was at the airport, the Cardinals and I were still very far apart. And then it was like as he got on the airplane, I got a call from St. Louis and they doubled the offer. I was like, ‘All right, that’s where I wanted to play.’”

Berkman still enjoyed a night out and ended up going to dinner with Hendry, a very entertaining personality. Recruiting players to Chicago isn’t that difficult. The Cubs are taken care of around the city and the day games open up your nights.

The state of Wrigley Field will again be in the news during this weekend’s crosstown series against the White Sox (even without Ozzie Guillen complaining about the rats).

What should the city and state do for the Cubs? That’s another debate that has to happen, and you can be skeptical about the financial details.

But it’s clear what a renovation could do for the on-field product. It would be a game-changer.

As a free agent, how do you weigh the stadium as a variable?

“It probably is a small factor,” Berkman said. “But I don’t think that’s a deal-breaker – if the money’s right and somebody really wants to come there.

“Certainly, as good as it is now in terms of the fans (and their support), I just think it could be so much better. I think that could be a huge plus that would put Chicago at the very top of the list of desirability in terms of your free-agent signings.”

Fast Break Morning Update: Scott Darling leads Blackhawks to win over Blues

Fast Break Morning Update: Scott Darling leads Blackhawks to win over Blues

Here are the top Chicago sports stories from Sunday:

Scott Darling shines in fill-in duty as Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

White Sox pitchers headed for World Baseball Classic look sharp in win over Rockies

What if… Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s takeaways from epic World Series Game 7

Quick hits: Blackhawks start strong in win over Blues

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

White Sox: Happy with progress, Brett Lawrie tries to clear final hurdles

How Indians regrouped and reloaded after losing unforgettable Game 7 to Cubs

Jim Thome: Getting into baseball Hall of Fame would be indescribable

Kurt Busch steals a monster of a win in Daytona 500

Michigan State gets big win to boost tourney hopes, while Wisconsin loses for fourth time in five games

 

 

 

Scott Darling shines in fill-in duty as Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Scott Darling shines in fill-in duty as Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Scott Darling found out at 8 o'clock this morning that he was starting for an ailing Corey Crawford. Considering he did this back in December for a few weeks, adjusting quick for one game was fine.

"It's kind of my job," Darling said.

And Darling, once again, did his job.

Darling stopped 30 of 32 shots and Patrick Kane scored his 24th goal of the season as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday night. The Blackhawks have won nine of their last 10 games. They're one point behind the Minnesota Wild, who made their splashy trade-deadline move in acquiring Martin Hanzal on Sunday. But the Blackhawks, thanks to veterans regaining their form, a top line finding its rhythm and youth consistently improving, are just rolling right along.

"We had a great start to the game. I thought Darls was excellent all night, great stretch there in the last 10 minutes where we fight through some tough shifts, particularly in the last couple of minutes in our end. But good win," coach Joel Quenneville said. "You look at the nice plays on the goals, it was kind of a comparable ending to the outdoor game: tied and about the same time they scored, we scored (tonight). Big two points for us."

Jonathan Toews scored his 16th of the season and Artem Anisimov scored the game-winning goal with 5:20 remaining in regulation. Tanner Kero added an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds remaining in the game.

The Blackhawks already knew they'd be without Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) for at least a day or two when they found out Crawford couldn't go this morning. As Quenneville said Darling was strong once again, denying the Blues all but twice (a 2-on-1 goal from Magnus Paajarvi and a power-play goal from Alex Pietrangelo).

Toews and Kane (power-play goal) staked the Blackhawks to a 2-0 lead early before the Blues tied it in the second. But late in the third period Anisimov took the feed from Artemi Panarin to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead.

"I saw the puck all the way. It was easy to pick up," Anisimov said. "When you don't see the puck at the last moment and it comes, it's hard to receive and prepare for the next move. But I saw it all the way. Easy to prepare for the next move."

Speaking of next moves, do the Blackhawks make any more before the trade deadline. General manager Stan Bowman said on Friday, following the acquisition of Tomas Jurco, that he'll keep talking and listening but likes the group he has right now. If Bowman's made moves it's for what the Blackhawks have needed, not because of another team's trades. The Blackhawks like what they have right now. Winning nine of 10 and continuing to trend in the right direction, they should be careful not to disrupt what they've got going.

"I think we're, as we've said lately, trending the right way. We're playing solid. I think all four lines are contributing in every which way," Toews said. "I love our group right now. Everyone is getting better individually, contributing more and more and it's a lot of fun to see the way we're playing right now. We know that the ceiling is way higher and we can keep getting better too."