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Inside Baseball: Wrigley Field ready to go the Fenway route

People ask me all the time where my favorite places are to go watch a game. For the modern-day fan, it’s hard to beat PNC Park in Pittsburgh, AT&T Park in San Francisco, Safeco Field in Seattle or Camden Yards in Baltimore.

I still regret having not made it Dodger Stadium, largely because I’m pretty partial to the old-school places. I got huge responses during the World Series when I wrote about my thoughts regarding a return to the site of Tiger Stadium. And I’m floored by the amazing renovations the Red Sox have done at Fenway Park to keep the place thriving as it turns 100.

Then there’s Wrigley Field. Simply put, I love it. Lots of fans do. I’ve been there maybe a dozen times and if I could go every year, I would. But players hate it, especially the visitors. So do reporters (tiny press box, tinier clubhouses). But this much is clear: It’s not long for the big leagues without some major work.

Wrigley is about where Fenway was in the mid-1990s, with a decision needed to either go forward with some major makeovers or to start anew. And it looks like the Cubs are making the right play by giving the nod to history with an eye on the future.

The team announced a $500 million renovation plan for both the park and the surrounding area last week that should make Wrigley viable for years to come. There are still some public meetings to come and owners of the iconic rooftops nearby must be appeased.

Among the additions planned are a 6,000-foot video scoreboard in left field to complement the famous manually operated board in center field. This is a necessity in this day and age, mostly for advertising, but it still saddens me.

A day at Wrigley is pastoral, like something out of the 1950s. There’s mostly organ music and little blaring rock. There’s no “Call Me Maybe” and no fans fighting to wave to get on the jumbotron like you get everywhere else.

“I like Wrigley Field, and I’m very traditional,” said Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts. “But the fact is when you look at what fans are asking for now to improve their game-day experience, and you add the economic value of a video board, it becomes obvious that it’s the next best step for us.”

Rangers veteran Lance Berkman, a veteran of many trips there with the Cardinals, gave Wrigley a pretty good tweaking last week before Texas’ first visit there since 2002.

“It’s one of the worst places in baseball for, well, just about anything,” Berkman told Dallas reporters. “ I really don’t like it. I read where they got approval for some more upgrades. Count me in the group of people extremely happy to see that. I guess I’m just spoiled.

“There is a tremendous history associated with it and there is something special about playing on the same field that guys like Babe Ruth did. But really, what kind of history is there? It’s not like there has been one championship after another. It’s mainly been a place for people to go and drink beer.”


The Cubs want to change all that. They want to give badly needed renovations to both clubhouses, including batting cages. New restaurants, new team stores.

The big news is turning the streets into a Fenway-style carnival. Much like the Red Sox have done with Yawkey Way, the Cubs will incorporate portions of Waveland and Sheffield Avenues into the ballpark – and will block Sheffield off entirely for two hours before games.

The Yawkey Way street carnival is one of the most successful facets of the Fenway renovation. It added all kinds of revenue streams and cut down dramatically on the crowding inside the park. The Cubs could certainly use a similar effect.

As for winning the World Series? The Red Sox finally got there in 2004, but had been there multiple times before.

The Cubs, remember, haven’t even played in one since 1945. A better facility could go a long way to help GM Theo Epstein work the same magic in Chicagoland that he did in Beantown.

JoeyBats keeps mum

Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista is one of the game’s biggest social media users, with a Twitter account that has more than 315,000 followers and even prompted his widely-used nickname “JoeyBats”. Bautista has tweeted nearly 1,800 times and it’s pretty obvious he’s a reader of social media in general and his own feed in particular.

That was clear to Jays watchers anyway and was confirmed when there was plenty of derision thrown his way this week about not playing because of a bad back. Bautista returned to the lineup Friday night as the designated hitter against the Yankees and after not answering any of his critics on-line.

“The professional in me has to be polite and do things right,” Bautista told Toronto reporters. “So I’m just going to let my playing dictate what I bring to the city and to this team. Hopefully I get healthy as soon as possible.”

Bautista’s back tightened Sunday in Kansas City during a stint at third base for the infield-challenged Blue Jays, who were playing without Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie. Seems like he’s only going to play the outfield or DH from this point forward.

Bautista has already had a sprained ankle and thus missed seven of the Jays’ first 16 games. The back spasms seemed to intensify overnight, leaving Bautista unable to play the next day.

“If you have had muscle spasms in the past, you’d probably know what it feels like,” he said. “If you haven’t, then I recommend you look it up and check. It’s the body’s mechanism to protect a certain area of your body that might have got disrupted or threatened by some trauma. I don’t know exactly what it was.”

The Blue Jays are taking the cautious approach by getting Bautista back in the lineup at DH. He seemed to be taking a similar approach to social media.

Tweeted Bautista late Friday afternoon: “Sometimes the best comments are the ones you don’t make.”

Big dealing

Leader in the clubhouse for best pitching duel of the season has to be Max Scherzer vs. Felix Hernandez in Wednesday’s 2-1, 14-inning Tigers victory over the Mariners at Safeco Field. Both allowed one run, pitched eight innings and struck out 12.

“Those guys were dealing, weren’t they?” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Sure were. It was just the fifth time since 1900 that opposing pitchers each had at least 12 strikeouts while allowing no more than one run. The last time was Sept. 16, 1992 in a matchup between left-handers Randy Johnson of Seattle and Mark Langston of California.

Not enough info

Mega Mets catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud is out eight weeks with a fractured foot suffered Wednesday in Las Vegas, an injury that was not noted on the website of the Triple-A 51s or in the articles about the game by either Las Vegas newspaper.

It left some Mets fans on Twitter bemoaning the loss of Buffalo and The Buffalo News for Amazins’ info. Funny how they come around after the fact.

Around the horn

• The Nationals, Blue Jays and Rays all opened the season as postseason contenders and have all endured a shutout loss of at least 13 runs. The Nats were blown out, 15-0, at Cincinnati while Toronto and Tampa Bay were 13-0 losers to Boston and Cleveland, respectively.

• The Mets had back-to-back games wiped out due to snow Sunday in Minneapolis and Monday in Colorado for the first time since 2001. And in the five games they played around those two postponements, the temperature never got over 40 degrees – topped by Thursday’s game-time temp of 28 in Denver. Brrrrrr.

• Astros veteran Rick Ankiel stunned Rangers veteran Derek Lowe for a pinch homer on Opening Day. In his next 13 at-bats, Ankiel struck out 12 times – including nine in a row after a line out.

• There’s not much action on it yet but Hank Aaron has established a verified Twitter account with the feed name @HenryLouisAaron.