Cubs players will believe renovated Wrigley Field when they see it

Cubs players will believe renovated Wrigley Field when they see it
May 23, 2014, 1:30 am
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SAN DIEGO — The battle between the Cubs and the rooftop owners is just getting started. The players are taking a wait-and-see attitude, because they’ve been promised upgrades before and most won’t be around for a renovated Wrigley Field.

“We heard this a couple years ago that they were thinking about doing this,” Jeff Samardzija said. “I understand Chicago’s a tough place to get permits. You got to know the right people for that.”

More than 2,000 miles from Clark and Addison and all that messy ward politics, the Cubs beat the San Diego Padres, 5-1, on Thursday night at Petco Park, the kind of stadium with the modern touches and wall-to-wall advertising they covet.

The embargoed media reports hit early that morning, with chairman Tom Ricketts releasing a six-minute video saying his family will green light the Wrigleyville project that could now cost roughly $600 million, picking a legal fight with the rooftop owners in the middle of a 20-year, revenue-sharing contract.

Anthony Rizzo, who hit a two-run homer against his old team, could enjoy playing at the new Wrigley Field (or anywhere without the marine layer). Jake Arrieta, who allowed one run across six innings, might become a nice piece of the rotation puzzle on the North Side. But realistically this is for the Kris Bryants and the Albert Almoras, assuming those prospects make it and the Cubs actually put shovels in the ground.

“It’s exciting,” said Samardzija, who might be the most sought-after pitcher on the trade market this summer. “Same thing with the spring-training complex. Obviously, they’re trying to take strides to surround their players with the best facilities possible to win ballgames.

“In this day and age, (given) how tight all the teams are and the parity of the league, you need any little advantage you can get.”

[MORE: Cubs, Wrigley Field rooftop owners contract revisited]

The baseball operations department had once been promised certain upgrades by Opening Day 2014 — new clubhouse, batting tunnels, weight room, training/medical facilities — as part of the renovation’s Phase 1.

Organizational gridlock — the Cubs are under intense financial pressure — and the threat of litigation killed those plans to begin construction after the 2013 season. By spring training, players were being told the amenities wouldn’t be ready until 2016 at the earliest, because the Cubs were making bigger renovation plans and building a better clubhouse would take two offseasons.

Carlos Villanueva remembered hearing the recruiting pitch from ex-manager Dale Sveum before agreeing to a two-year, $10 million deal in January 2013.

“That’s one of the things that got me here when I was talking to Dale before I signed,” Villanueva said. “He told me it was going to be this year. Obviously, the rooftops and all those things delayed it, but we did get a new carpet this year, so at least I got some parts of the renovations.”

Villanueva — who’s on the executive board of the Major League Baseball Players Association — said this with a smile on his face.

“It’s going to help the team,” Villanueva said. “A guy like Carlos Beltran, if he’s available and you want to bring him in, this is a guy that needs attention from the training staff. He needs newer facilities to keep him in playing shape and get him out there. The fact of the matter is our facility is old. We don’t have room for some of these things, and we don’t have the technologies.

“It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the stadium’s been there for a hundred years, so it’s hard to fix. But the fact that they’re going through with it, the fact that they said if we get sued, we’ll deal with it on the legal side, that should show something for players that are thinking about being pursued by the Cubs.”

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Samardzija is the longest-tenured player on the team. His 1.46 ERA is the lowest in major-league history without a win through the first 10 starts of a season, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He doesn’t think the facilities have been a hindrance for a franchise that hasn’t won a World Series in more than a century, or a last-place team that now has a 17-28 record.

“No, I wouldn’t say so,” Samardzija said. “They’re equal for both teams that are there, so they have to go use our awesome weight room. Actually, they probably have a worse situation than we do (with that visiting clubhouse).

“Maybe for free agents, it might be a little bit easier when you’re talking to guys in their late 20s, early 30s that probably would have enjoyed a nice warm-up facility and some hot tubs and things like that. But as a whole, I think you get kind of into a rhythm of dealing with what you deal with.”

The Cubs have to lead the league in artist renderings.

“We can only dream right now,” Villanueva said. “It’s just exciting to hear that they said: ‘You know what, screw it. We’re just going to go for it, and we’re going to do what’s best for the team and the players.’ That’s how you win players over, and that’s how you eventually win championships.”