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- More from Burt Constable
When the Ricketts family bought the Chicago Cubs, family spokesman and team Chairman Tom Ricketts set three goals for the franchise:
1. Win the World Series.
2. Preserve and improve Wrigley Field.
3. Be a good neighbor.
"Today," Ricketts says Friday as he kicks off a tour of Wrigley Field, "is all about number two."
When it comes to No. 2, the No. 1 question of Cubs fans is about the old, dank and grimy bathrooms in the 96-year-old ballpark. Yes, the new bathrooms are roomier, brighter and cleaner. And no, the Ricketts family didn't get rid of a Wrigley men's-room tradition.
"The Ricketts and the Cubs are pro-trough," says Wally Hayward, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for the Cubs, whose first home game is Monday.
While the privacy-minded owners added nine, individual urinals ("We've even got dividers!" gushes Mark McGuire, executive vice president of business operations) and seven sinks to an expanded men's room along the third-base side, it kept the original stainless steel troughs where men and boys jockey for position to answer nature's call. The Wrigley speculation is that there may not be anyone selling, or granting permits, for new urine troughs, so once these come down, they probably are gone for good. So the new-and-old men's bathrooms should please 21st Century fans and Wrigley traditionalists.
The new women's restroom along the first-base side should please everyone, including males tired of waiting for girlfriends, wives, moms and daughters. Plagued by long lines, that larger, roomier restroom now boasts 15 new additional stalls. The club found the room by replacing a long ramp with a staircase.
The whole ballpark seems roomier as the new owners removed many precast concrete panels around Wrigley and replaced them with new, green wire fencing that allows fans to see out, and people on the street to see into the stands. The breeze might make it a bit chilly for fans standing against the back wall, but the wire fence lets in more sunlight.
Also open to fans this year is the Sheffield Grill, which used to be exclusively for private parties. In addition to the standard baseball fare of hot dogs, nachos and Buffalo wings, Levy Restaurants executive chef David Burns is whipping up everything from jambalaya to buffalo burgers. In a nice bit of cross-promotion, the buffalo burgers (no relation to Buffalo wings) come from the Ricketts' ranch in Little Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The High Plains Bison All-Natural Franks will be offered at grill carts throughout Wrigley and sell for the same $5.25 as a regular hot dog. The bison cheeseburger is $8.00 and available only at Sheffield Grill.
"It's not just your dogs and brats," Burns says of his menu, which includes lots of new sandwiches, salads, gluten-free options and "homestand specials" catered to the visiting team. When Houston is in town, barbecue will be offered. When Arizona visits, look for a Southwest Tex-Mex offering.
Popular items, including the fancier ones, will be rotating among the concession stands to bring the best offerings to every fan, Burns says. For details on what food is available where, go to www.cubs.com and click around on the Wrigley Field tab.
If you are one of 71 new season ticketholders who dropped $48,600 on a pair of tickets to all 81 home games in the new PNC Club of Chicago suite, you can lounge in a plush club that occupies six former luxury suites down the left-field line. Those fans (some tickets are still available) will be treated to everything from grilled rack of lamb to lightly smoked sea scallops with wild mushrooms and truffle essence while they dine in padded chairs with lush wood trim and big-screen TVs. Even the outdoor patio is heated.
The more modest fan might be satiated with a new $15 Big Slugger Nacho (2 pounds of chips and toppings to feed four fans) that comes in a souvenir Cubs batting helmet, or the North Side Twist, a super-size pretzel that also boasts two pounds of dough for $15.
The team resurfaced the back of the historic scoreboard, glassed one wall of the batting cages under the right-field bleachers so fans can watch, and applied fresh coats of paint everywhere.
Among the more than $10 million improvements at Wrigley is one that raises a question. Construction crews replaced the brick wall along the left-field foul line because it was "off center by 3 inches," right about the spot where Cubs left-fielder Moises Alou was inches short of catching a foul ball during the 2003 playoffs in what has become an infamous Wrigley moment. If that wall was off by 3 inches, does that mean that same ball might have been caught against a straight wall?
"I think it would be a big stretch to say it would change history," McGuire says politely, after the question trickled from Ricketts down through the management chain to land at his feet.
New public relations and marketing specialist Kevin Saghy calls back later with an update to say the wall actually bowed 3 inches into the stands, meaning Alou actually had a skosh more room than he should have had. Not that it matters.
"I know this organization is not revisiting that particular moment," McGuire says.
In the delicate balance of preserving the past and improving the future, that's one painful bit of history that can be flushed away.