New home clubhouse opens to rousing reviews from Cubs

CHICAGO (AP) The Chicago Cubs are looking good. And with a spiffy new clubhouse, so is their beloved ballpark.

Players gave their fancy digs glowing reviews before Monday's home opener against the Cincinnati Reds, the latest addition in the transformation of Wrigley Field.

''It's much appreciated,'' NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta said. ''The organization's been through a lot. This has been a long time coming. It's been a long process. We were told to stay patient because the end result is going to be very special.''

Everything is looking better at the moment.

The Cubs were off to a 5-1 start on the heels of a run to the NLCS last year that came after a lengthy rebuilding process. Their 102-year-old ballpark is in the middle of a multiyear transformation designed to bring it into the 21st century and make it a viable home for years to come.

That new clubhouse is quite a change.

It's among the most spacious and modern in the majors, a sharp contrast from the Cubs' old cramped quarters.

''It exceeds expectations immediately,'' manager Joe Maddon said.

Players got a look at the clubhouse during the Cubs convention in January, but they did not see the finished product until they arrived at Wrigley on Sunday night after returning from a season-opening trip. In a video posted by the Cubs, players wore wide grins and snapped pictures as they took in their new surroundings.

With everything from TVs and couches to strength and conditioning as well as training facilities, the new clubhouse sure is an eye-opener. There's even mood lighting and a party room for those postgame celebrations after wins.

The circular design of the locker room encourages interaction among players. And they won't have to worry about bumping into each other - or members of the media - any more.

At 30,000 square feet, the Cubs' clubhouse is second only to the New York Yankees', and it's nearly triple the size of their cramped old one underneath the left-field seats.

''Just unbelievable,'' shortstop Addison Russell said. ''I saw the lights, all the TVs, all the couches, the whole locker room - the space is just enormous. It's going to be a great thing.''

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein called it a ''special place,'' saying: ''I think the clubhouse fits our identity as an organization and a club pretty well. We believe in youth, young players. And the clubhouse obviously has a young, energetic, fun feel to it.''

The new clubhouse was not the only change at Wrigley Field this offseason.

The Cubs also replaced slabs of concrete and chain-link fencing with ornamental fencing and terra cotta on the facade. They restored statues of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Harry Caray as well, while the famous marquee underwent structural and cosmetic repairs.

All that comes after some big changes a year ago. And the work is far from finished.

It started with the addition of video boards in left and right field - a first for Wrigley - as well as new bleacher sections.

The coming years will see a hotel across the street as well as more concessions, club spaces and a new visitors clubhouse.

Constructing the home clubhouse was quite a job.

The Cubs tore out a parking lot on the west side of the ballpark along Clark Street and built it below street level. A plaza and office building are being constructed where the lot once was.

''It is comfortable,'' Maddon said. ''But I think it's also very useful the way it's been formulated.''

Maddon often rails against players spending too much time at the ballpark. He has encouraged them to arrive later. But that might be a tougher sell.

''I'm probably going to have to step back from my statement about guys coming here too early or too soon in the day,'' he said. ''You might want to encourage that from now on. It's really going to draw the boys in sooner.''

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