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Telander: Mend but don’t break the magic of Wrigley Field

Chicago Cubs Chairman owner Tom Ricketts attends ceremony unveiling RSansculpture August 10 2011 Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Chicago Cubs Chairman and owner Tom Ricketts attends the ceremony unveiling the Ron Santo sculpture August 10, 2011 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 15, 2012 10:54AM



What do we do with Wrigley Field?

And I say ‘‘we’’ because it is likely to be the Chicago taxpayers and fans of the Cubs who shoulder a fair portion of the cost of keeping the historic place from crumbling into rubble or becoming just a dingy dump from another century.

Wrigley is that oddest thing: It is, at the same time, a gem from antiquity that stuns visitors with its quaint brilliance and a patched-together wreck whose charm is also its greatest flaw.

Escalators, plush skyboxes, fancy restaurants, unobstructed views, wide aisles, a video scoreboard, a vast interior, lovely out-buildings, comfortable seats, quality parking, civilized restrooms, comfortable and spacious locker rooms, media rooms, executive lounges and even bullpens, batting cages and training rooms?

Not a chance.

But the very lack of such amenities is the mystical key.

Every new ballpark in the major leagues has everything. And comfort is, eventually, boring.

Where else can you find a baseball field tucked into a city neighborhood the way Wrigley Field is folded into the place known as Wrigleyville?

Yes, Fenway Park in Boston is interesting and actually two years older than Wrigley, which was built in 1914. But the area around Fenway is not like the residential area around Wrigley.

There is nothing like Wrigley anywhere.

Trust me. You have not been to every major-league ballpark in America and to places such as the Tokyo Dome in Japan or Hiroshima Municipal Stadium in Hiroshima, home of the Nippon Professional Baseball League Toyo Carp, a stadium that closes every Aug. 6 in remembrance of the atomic bomb that was dropped on its city.

I have.

And so I believe I know the unique qualities of the Cubs’ home park.

I lived in Wrigleyville, just three blocks north of the stadium, for several years in the mid-1970s. The wafting beauty of the organ music would come through my open window and lure me to the park (with my easy-to-duplicate press pass) the way the Pied Piper’s magic pipe lured children out of the ancient city of Hamelin.

I (and three of my friends) had moved into the neighborhood solely because the Cubs were there. Current citizens who gripe about traffic and the like in Wrigleyville are frauds who knew what they were getting into, why their home values were high, when they moved into Cubs territory in the first place. I don’t want to hear their bleats. They deserve decency but not exclusivity.

Years ago, I wrote that what you have near the ballpark is ‘‘Six Flags Over Wrigleyville.’’ And it is true. It’s only that the flags haven’t been planted yet.

The Ricketts family owners should not scam Chicagoans with pay-later bonds and the implementation of dubious financial instruments that even experts (except for the Rickettses and certain aldermen) can’t understand.

But somehow these things should be built or be done near or within Wrigley: a ‘‘Triangle building’’ on the lot at Clark and Addison that can house such things as a Cubs museum and perhaps limited parking; a boutique hotel on Addison (low-rise, with not many rooms) for fans and businesspeople year-round; a JumboTron screen that can show replays and the like erected near but not in a fashion that overwhelms the wondrously primitive green scoreboard in center field; a few more in-stadium ads that do not block the rooftop viewers on Waveland and Sheffield; underground facility expansion for locker rooms, batting areas, etc.

And then there must be some way to fold the rooftop arenas into the main structure of Wrigley itself, perhaps through the erection of more ad signage on those buildings, thus increasing Cubs revenue. The club already gets funds from the rooftops, but not that much, and nowhere else is there anything like the virtual stealing-of-product that the rooftop entrepreneurs engage in. It’s kind of crazy, really. Like spying that has become accepted.

Back in June 1987, I spent time on four rooftops along Sheffield during a single Cubs game against the Pirates. The views were all good. And the entrance fee was . . . nothing.

At 3637 N. Sheffield, I simply knocked on the door and asked if I could go up. No problem. I climbed up and watched with a few young folks seated on cheap picnic chairs. The breeze was lovely on this hot afternoon. The park spread below like board game.

After the third inning, I moved to the rooftop at 3645, climbing a ladder, for free, to join a party that was more like a frat-house blast. Up there on the roof was a 24-year-old hitchhiker named Shawn O’Connor, a quiet lad from Redondo Beach, Calif., who was on a pilgrimage to every major-league park that summer. His entrance fee? A six-pack of cheap beer.

So the amusement-park evolution of Wrigley Field should continue onward. Closing a street or two for festivities on game days won’t kill residents. They know where they live.

Wrigley Field is like a national park, a shrine.

Keep fixing it, and they will come.



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