Cubs lay out their new vision for Wrigley Field

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Cubs lay out their new vision for Wrigley Field

As Cubs executives tried to figure out ways to renovate Wrigley Field, they visited Fenway Park, Lambeau Field and the Rose Bowl. They wanted to get a sense of how those iconic stadiums changed with the times without losing its charms.

Beyond lobbying City Hall and figuring out how to pay for this $300 million project, that will be the trick in restoring Wrigley Field, which will be 100 years old in 2014.

The renderings put up on big screens inside the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers on Saturday became the story at Cubs Convention. The plan would remove 50 million pounds of concrete and steel. In its place could be a completely different experience.

Here are some of the bullet points, drawn from 30 focus groups and almost 23,000 total surveys: rooftop patio; party decks in left and center field; expanded luxury suites; new LED board in left field; Jumbotron-like video screen; club lounge; restaurant where the old administrative offices used to be.

But the driving force will be player facilities that president of business operations Crane Kenney called the worst in Major League Baseball. Beginning to address that will be the first priority if construction begins in October or November and is phased in across five offseasons.

When general manager Jed Hoyer first toured the Cubs clubhouse in the fall of 2011, he thought it was fit for a Double-A ballpark. This vision will include a much bigger clubhouse, batting tunnels, a video room, a new weight room and a physical therapy/rehab center.

This helped the recruiting pitch as team president Theo Epstein walked away from the Boston Red Sox and Hoyer chose to leave the San Diego Padres.

"When we talked through it and decided to come to Chicago, the promise of this project was a huge plus for us," Hoyer said. "We both started with the Red Sox before any kind of renovation to Fenway Park. I can assure you that the facilities were every bit as subpar for the players as they are at Wrigley Field right now.

"There was one batting cage out in center field, which sounds familiar, a tiny clubhouse that was infested with a lot of rats. It was certainly not good enough for a big-market team. Theo and I both saw how it changed the organization."

You cant draw a straight line to the Red Sox winning two World Series titles within the past decade, but a new Wrigley Field could be a game-changer.

Hoyer recalled one of his first days on the job, when he went on a tour with Kenney and Epstein and saw the home clubhouse.

"We looked up at the ceiling and there was a net," Hoyer said. "Were like: 'Oh, whats the net for?' Crane said: 'Oh, that's where the players warm up during the game.' Both of us laughed. We thought it was a joke.

"He goes: 'No, no, guys, Im serious. Before a guy pinch-hits, we actually drop the net. We put a wooden slab over the TV and guys take swings in the clubhouse.'"

As Kenney said: "We were smart. We didn't tell Theo about that when we were hiring him."

But the possibilities clearly intrigued Epstein. In theory, this will generate more and more revenues to pour into the on-field product. Kenney said personal seat licenses are not on the table now.

The Cubs project that their concession capacity could increase by more than 100 percent. Restroom capacity would rise 42 percent. Changes would be made to the electrical, plumbing and telecommunication systems. A new press box would also be created.

These plans have been about three years in the making.

The Cubs have been working with several influencers, including: DAIQ Architects, a force in modernizing Fenway Park; Gunny Harboe, a historic preservation architect who worked on The Rookery and Sullivan Center in the Loop; VOA Associates, which helped design Navy Pier; and Gensler, the firm with a portfolio that includes L.A. Live and Roland Garros, the home of the French Open.

Now chairman Tom Ricketts will have to live up to the promise his family made to Cubs fans.

"The character of the Wrigley that we all love will be retained," Ricketts said. "It will be the same place you always loved, the same place you went with your grandfather. But the amenities for the players, the fans, everybody, will be dramatically improved."

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Gift Ngoepe might not have had the weight of the world on his shoulders but he felt like a continent was counting on him.

Ngoepe, the first African to reach the major leagues, singled in his first plate appearance and Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the first with a home run Wednesday night to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Ngoepe was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and entered the game in fourth inning as part of a double switch and finished 1 for 2 with a walk. The 27-year-old South African, who signed with the Pirates in 2008 as an amateur free agent, led off the fourth with a hit off winless Cubs ace Jon Lester.

"To accomplish this only for me but for my country and my continent is something so special," Ngoepe said. "There are 1.62 billion people on our continent. To be the first person out of 1.62 billion to do this is amazing."

It was so special that Ngoepe nearly broke into tears when he trotted from the dugout to take his positon at second base.

"I told myself not to cry because I'm in the big leagues and I'm a big guy now," Ngoepe said with a smile. "(Catcher Francisco) Cervelli hugged me and I could feel my heart beat through my chest."

A year after winning 19 games in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908, Lester (0-1) is still looking for his first victory after five starts. The left-hander was tagged for six runs - five earned - and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"It's probably the best I threw the ball all year," Lester said. "That's baseball."

Wade LeBlanc (1-0), who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of rookie Tyler Glasnow, got the win.

The fifth leadoff home run of Harrison's career keyed a two-run first that included an RBI double by Cervelli. Andrew McCutchen and Phil Gosselin hit run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that pushed the Pirates' lead to 5-1.

After the Cubs got within two runs, Josh Bell gave the Pirates a 6-3 lead with a solo home run in the sixth inning off Lester. The rookie first baseman has reached base in 11 straight games.

Anthony Rizzo's two-run homer deep into the right-field stands in the eighth inning off Daniel Hudson drew the Cubs within 6-5. Tony Watson then got the last four outs for his seventh save in as many chances.

Glasnow remained winless in nine career starts, allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings and requiring 89 pitches to get 10 outs.

Rizzo had four RBIs and Kris Bryant had three hits as the Cubs lost for just second time in eight games while stranding 13 runners. The Pirates won for the third time in nine games.

Cubs bullpen finding its form after early-season struggles

Cubs bullpen finding its form after early-season struggles

It was just over a week ago when Cubs fans were freaking out about the bullpen's struggles in a weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It was understandable, given Cubs relievers allowed 11 runs in the course of blowing two late leads to end that three-game sweep at the hand of the Bucs.

But since then, the Cubs bullpen has been fantastic.

In eight games entering Wednesday night's series finale with the Pirates in Pittsburgh, the Cubs bullpen is working on a stretch where they've posted a 1.56 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over the last 28.2 innings.

In that span — in which the Cubs are 6 — relievers have allowed six runs (five earned) while striking out 33 batters and surrendering just one homer.

They've been especially stingy over the last three games, allowing just five baserunners in eight shutout innings, including three straight scoreless frames to close out a 1-0 victory Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Wade Davis has been the anchor at the back end of the bullpen the Cubs were hoping he'd be when they traded Jorge Soler for him over the winter. Davis is a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities and has not allowed a run in 9.1 innings, allowing just three hits and a pair of walks in the season's first month.

Setting up in front of Davis, Hector Rondon and Carl Edwards Jr. have combined to allow one run and three hits in 15.1 innings.

Brian Duensing — who started the year on the disabled list after a back issue sapped his spring training — is still searching for a rhythm and has surrendered six runs and 10 hits in 6.1 innings on the season. Over the last week-and-a-half, the 34-year-old southpaw has allowed more runs (three) than the rest of the Cubs bullpen combined.

Take Duensing's numbers away from that same eight-game stretch and the Cubs bullpen has been even more fantastic — 0.73 ERA and 0.81 WHIP.

Of course, it's still not even May yet, so this stellar stretch is just another small sample size. 

But just like that, the Cubs suddenly have a Top 10 bullpen, tied for the Colorado Rockies for ninth in Major League Baseball with a 3.07 relief ERA.