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Wrigley Field renovation would aid Cubs players

Executive Vice President   General Manager Jed Hoyer speaks during panel discussi'Restoring Wrigley Field' front Cubs faithful SheratHotel Saturday

Executive Vice President & General Manager Jed Hoyer speaks during a panel discussion on "Restoring Wrigley Field" in front of the Cubs faithful at the Sheraton Hotel on Saturday, January 19, 2013. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 21, 2013 6:58AM

During their first tour of the Cubs’ clubhouse, general manager Jed Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein stopped at one end of the cramped confines to ask about the heavy black net that hung across the ceiling.

It’s where players take swings before at-bats, business operations president Crane Kenney told them. A hitter releases the net so it hangs from the ceiling, grabs a tee and hits balls into the net.

‘‘We thought it was a joke,’’ Hoyer said.

As the Cubs unveiled details Saturday of their $300 million ‘‘restoration’’ plan — pending the easing of city zoning restrictions — they made it clear that the laughable player facilities will be part of the first wave of improvements.

The five-year project, which the Cubs hope to begin this fall, will start with the clubhouse and players’ workout and practice areas, Kenney said Saturday.

‘‘When we decided to come to Chicago, when we talked through it, the promise of this project was a huge plus for us,’’ said Hoyer, who compared the project to what he saw in Boston nearly a decade ago. ‘‘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.

‘‘There was one batting cage out in center field, 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 an organization.’’

Some of the highlights of the Wrigley Field renovation project:

◆ The Cubs say no home games will be lost to other sites, with all the work being done during offseasons — though the baseball people are bracing for the possibility of an 11-game road trip to open next season to help accommodate the work, a source said.

◆ The players would get an underground batting tunnel, expanded weight room and swanky new clubhouse.

◆ Fans would get a 42 percent increase in restroom capacity, more concession outlets and variety and bigger, better suites.

◆ Early seating models project 70 fewer seats, but the team is trying to recoup those.

◆ The LED display board under the center-field scoreboard will be removed, but larger video displays are likely to be added.

◆ A ‘‘fan deck’’ will be added to the seating area in the left-field corner.

◆ Six elevators will be installed throughout the ballpark.

◆ Some of the exterior and interior features will have their original characteristics replicated. ‘‘We will essentially be rebuilding Wrigley as it was in the ’30s, with modern amenities,’’ Kenney said.

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