I love Wrigley Field. I love watching games there. I love that it is nestled into the neighborhood and it has become the focal point of the local businesses in the area. I love the absence of a scoreboard that doesn’t tell me when to cheer. I love the minimal advertising that assaults my eyes when watching a game.
People think because I don’t want to ignore the falling concrete, the rapidly aging support beams, the perpetual smell of urine, and the inability to move around the park without experiencing gridlock that makes all but the worst rush hour traffic the Kennedy has to offer seem tame by comparison, means that I hate Wrigley Field. I don’t. I wouldn’t have spent fifty or so games per year for thirteen straight seasons there if I hated it.
But there comes a time when people have to start being honest with themselves and what kind of viability Wrigley Field has left. It’s kind of like trying to decide when a beloved pet nears the end of its life.
My cat is approaching 17 years old. He’s an old cat. He doesn’t jump and play with string anymore. He is the only cat I have ever seen that has grown bored with chasing the laser beam. I have no idea how he can possibly sleep more than he did when he was a young cat, but he does. Sometimes he loses his balance and falls off the couch. He’s an old cat and he has been a companion of mine for basically his entire life (and almost half of mine), but I have no false hopes that he’ll be around forever. At some point, as his health eventually will fail, him being around will be more for my enjoyment than his. I’m not looking forward to that day.
Wrigley is an old ballpark. It can’t keep up with modern stadiums in revenue generation. It is restricted by neighborhood zoning and its landmark status from adding advertisements. Its scoreboard doesn’t provide much beyond the most basic stats that modern fans want to know. Sometimes pieces of it fall off. It is nearing the end of its life and I’m not looking forward to that day either.
While we, as fans, are willing to look past many of Wrigley’s problems because we love the view so much, we ignore how Wrigley Field is currently hurting the Cubs. They have to spend millions per year just in general upkeep to prevent more of it from breaking off than already does. They still haven’t removed the netting that was put in place in 2004 to catch pieces that broke off. You don’t think that if they had fixed it adequately enough to the point where they were 100% sure more wouldn’t break off that those nets would still be there, do you? They are constant and blatant reminders of the park’s age and fragility. They would not be there if the Cubs weren’t worried that they might be necessary.
The facilities are a joke. Take the Wrigley tour if you don’t believe me. The Cubs home locker room is barely on par with my Division III school’s facilities, and we are dead last in our conference as far as athletic amenities. I’ll say that again. The Cubs are struggling to keep up with facilities that are years behind current NCAA Division III facilities.
So they are at a competitive disadvantage from a monetary standpoint and from a preparation standpoint simply because Wrigley Field is old. So why not fix it?
Because the Rickett’s plan to revamp the stadium and dig under the field to increase the players’ facilities is already ballparked at costing $500 million. Would there be anyone shocked if the price tag eventually crept up into the $750 million or even $1 BILLION range? We’re talking about wholesale replacement of foundational supports and girders that are essentially orginal parts of the ballpark. That ain’t going to be cheap. It would almost necessitate shutting down at least parts of the stadium to accomplish, and that is going to cost the team revenue that it can’t spare because it is already in violation of MLB’s debt ratio policies. Where is this money going to come from? The bankrupt state of Illinois?
All the while, the expectation of a good part of the fanbase is that the Cubs maintain a competitive payroll, increase the scouting and development budget, spend their own money to preserve all the parts of the stadium that they love while increasing the amenities, and not raising ticket prices along the way. They would also like a solid gold house and a rocket car.
This would be like asking my cat to climb to the top of the refridgerator to be able to get to his food and water, making him learn to use a doorknob to get to his litterbox, and then using the pooper scooper all on his own.
I simply don’t see how all of the necessary renovations can be made while simultaeously keeping them in the park to keep the revenues stable, keeping ticket prices down, maintaining a seriously competitive team on the field, and not taking money for signage or naming rights. I also don’t see how acknowledging this makes us less of a baseball or Cubs fan.
I will enjoy the time I have left with Schultz for as long as possible. For as long as he wants to curl up on my lap, try to pretend like he’s invisible as he “sneaks” towards my pizza, or headbutts me in the face when he wants me to scratch him behind the ears, I’ll be happy to have him around.
Likewise, I’ll go to Wrigley and enjoy the ivy. I’ll take in the sun and the atmosphere and love every minute I’m there as a getaway from the hum drum of actual life. I’ll continue to hope and pray that somehow, the Cubs can exceed expectations for once while they reside in the park so that we can enjoy a World Series in that building.
But when Schultz gets sick and can’t maintain his health, we’ll have a decision to make, and I hope I am strong enough to make the one that isn’t based on my own selfish desires.
Wrigley is sick. Demanding that the Cubs spend enormous time, energy, and money on something that is probably beyond realistic hope of saving is selfish on our part and it only hurts the Cubs’ abilities to move forward in the new reality of major league baseball.
Do we have the strength to say goodbye when it comes time? I hope so.