Wrigley Field renovation a step into the future and the past

CHICAGO (AP) The Chicago Cubs, who have had their share of rebuilding years, open the season with the kind of project that hasn't been seen around Wrigley Field in nearly 80 years.

When fans arrive for the season opener Sunday - nationally televised and against the archrival St. Louis Cardinals - they will get their first real look at the most visible phase of a massive renovation.

Just like in 1937, there will be new bleachers and a new brick outfield wall, just recently adorned with ivy. Even the centerpiece of the project, a new Jumbotron, will harken back to the day when Depression-era fans beheld a state-of-the-art manual scoreboard.

''There will be construction workers, dust, equipment and all of that, like it was then,'' Cubs historian Ed Hartig said.

And for the first time since 1937, the bleachers will be closed because of construction. Back then, the ever-optimistic Cubs started building the bleachers in July so they'd be done by the time of the World Series that they hoped to reach - something they did fairly regularly in those days - only to fall short.

This time, plans to finish the bleachers in time for opening day were foiled by a brutal Chicago winter. The left field bleachers will be closed until May and the right field bleachers aren't expected to open until June.

That means the tradition of fans in the bleachers throwing home run balls hit by opposing players back onto the field will have to wait. And tradition is a key word here for the Cubs, their fans and their critics, since the renovation project has triggered as much angst and argument as when Wrigley became the last park in the majors to install lights for night games.

The Jumbotron in left center field will rise more than 100 feet - high enough to block the wind or change its direction.

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the team has done a wind study to see how the Jumbotron and other planned signs might affect the flight of baseballs. He wouldn't say whether the Jumbotron is good news for hitters or good news for pitchers.

Dennis Torok, a mechanical engineer and expert on the effect wind has on buildings and stadiums, said the centerfield scoreboard and the Jumbotron could affect flows above left and center field. ''You could get some weird wind currents down near the field.''

More likely, he said: ''It's going to affect the players psychologically; they're going to start thinking of this in the back of their minds.''

The $575 million project has taken many twists and turns in the past few years - the meetings, hearings and a legal battle between the team and owners of nearby rooftops who sell game-day access to fans for a unique view.

During the winter, the family that owns the Cubs also purchased at least two apartment buildings with rooftop businesses on top. This season, the previous owner will continue to run them, but for the Ricketts family, according to Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.

Other rooftop owners have gone to court, suggesting the view from the Ricketts-owned buildings is benefiting too much from the construction. Still other local residents complained that rats, evicted when the old bleachers came down, scampered over to their homes looking for a new place to settle.

Inside the park, fans won't see some of what's been done, including the steel pilings driven deeply into the ground to support the park.

They may notice that much of the outfield wall is new, though some original bricks were used in construction. Because the century-old ball park is a protected landmark, the ivy was pried from the old wall before it was demolished and attached to the new one.

''These are the same strands of ivy that go back to 1937,'' Green said.

The Cubs promise Wrigley will be a lot more comfortable once the dust settles, though that could be next season.

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