Walking through Wrigley Field, you stepped on new concrete and could smell fresh paint. You saw stadium workers raking the dirt and dropping the Cubs on-deck circle by the dugout. The ivy had already begun to turn green before Opening Day.
The second-oldest ballpark in the majors behind Fenway Park will begin its 99th season of professional baseball on Thursday, and 97th for the Cubs. The team has made several upgrades for this season, while waiting for the big renovation.
The Cubs didn't seem to be the only ones surprised when Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Tuesday that negotiations over the financing have advanced to the final stages. The renovation plan has been a primary focus for the Ricketts family and business operations.
We continue to have discussions with the city, the county and the state to ensure Wrigley Field remains a viable stadium for future generations, said Julian Green, the teams vice president of communications and community affairs. Were hopeful that we can reach a consensus soon. Well continue working with all parties to make sure we get something that works for all of Chicago.
In the meantime, the Cubs have added the Budweiser patio deck in the right-field bleachers. It basically recreates the rooftop experience and can host groups of 50, 100 or 150 guests. It sits behind a new 75-foot LED board that blends surprisingly well into the scenery.
The Cubs have also listened to the players concerns about the facilities, and cleared out what used to be storage space behind the left-field wall and turned it into an area where hitters can swing away at soft toss.
Theres no excuses for us as players not to be ready, utility man Jeff Baker said.
Last month, team personnel moved into a new administrative building on Clark Street near Waveland Avenue. Essentially a converted warehouse with high ceilings, theres a miniature Wrigley Field marquee by the main entrance and a Golden Tee video game in the break room.
Theres space for up to 155 employees, a key development for what has historically been one of the smallest front offices in baseball.
Or, as new general manager Jed Hoyer joked, No mice, so thats a good start.
As workers put finishing touches on the old ballpark, it didnt sound like there was a huge, imminent announcement planned with the mayors office for Opening Day. But on a crisp, sunny day, you knew that baseball was back.
It looks so much different here in the spring than it does in the winter, Hoyer said. The whole place looks fantastic. Its such a magical place, a place I loved coming to as a visitor. For the first time, it feels real. (I) get to watch 81 games a year here. Thats pretty special.