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, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

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AP

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

The sports world woke up to some tragic news on Sunday morning.

Former major leaguer Andy Marte and Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura were both killed in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic within an hour of each other, according to multiple reports. A Royals representative confirmed the death of 25-year-old Ventura.

The Cubs and White Sox took to Twitter to give their condolences:

Ventura was a member of the Royals from 2013-16 and won a World Series title in 2015 with Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis, who the Cubs acquired this offseason for Jorge Soler. Ventura also played with White Sox pitcher James Shields in 2013-14.

Marte, 33, played a majority of his seven-year career with the Cleveland Indians. He was teammates with Todd Hollandsworth (Atlanta 2005), Kerry Wood (Cleveland 2009-10), and Miguel Montero (Arizona 2014).

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."