One of the more interesting parts of going to Cubs games is seeing the daily work, both on the field and on the renovation of Wrigley Field.
The projects are on similar tracks – it’s clear work needs to be done but just as obvious progress is being made.
A section of seating benches has appeared in the left-center field bleachers in another sign that those seats will be usable on May 11. A beer advertisement in right field is now perched above the yet-to-be-built video board, overlooking the still-vacant bleachers.
“The construction workers have been at it pretty diligently. The weather has been a little bit better for them to do that,” manager Joe Maddon said Friday before the Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 1-0. “It’s going to be spectacular. We’re all looking forward to it.”
Of course, there have been bumps in the road to the century-old ballpark becoming modern.
Those empty bleachers are still a sight that needs getting used to, and the opening-night bathroom shortage caused some red faces and uncomfortable bladders and won’t be forgotten anytime soon. And as you walk around the third-base concourse in front of the porta-potties brought in after that memorable Sunday night, there’s an unmistakable feeling of unfinished work.
“When you have a project as massive as this, you’re going to have little bumps in the road,” commissioner Rob Manfred said after he met with the Cubs and Brewers. “I think the Cubs did a really good job of making the necessary adjustments and move forward.”
Though he wasn’t talking about it, Manfred’s answer would have worked in response to a question about the Cubs’ on-field product. More specifically, about their $155 million ace.
After an April with bad results but strong peripheral numbers, Jon Lester pitched seven scoreless innings for his first Cubs victory and the team’s fifth in six games. Entering Friday, Lester was 0-2 with a 6.23 earned-run average but had struck out 24 batters while walking only five.
It needed more than a cursory glance to see, but there was proof Lester (1-2) was coming around before Friday. If that progress continues like it did Friday, it’ll only add to the excitement he’s feeling in the ballpark.
“You can tell in the crowd, you can tell everybody’s into every pitch,” Lester said. “They want us to do well.”
Lester got his first win because of Addison Russell’s first major-league home run. A prominent part of the Cubs’ rebuilding plan, Russell was hitting only .179 and was out of the lineup Wednesday so he could watch the game and see he belongs.
Whatever he saw worked, and perhaps fittingly his third-inning home run off Wily Peralta wentover the bricks in left-center and into the newly installed bleacher seats, albeit empty bleacher seats.
“I think that I deserve to be here,” Russell said.
For Russell, one of the cool parts of hitting his first home run Friday was at Wrigley Field. He relished “the fans jumping up and down, just hearing the crowd roar like that” and said it was an awesome feeling.
Nobody needs reminding that in a couple months from now there will be a few thousand more people reacting like that, and a few in the bleachers fighting over the home run ball.
“When you start getting the noise coming back in from the outfield, that’s kind of a cool vibe, too,” Maddon said. “Really, really spectacular vision the Cubs have created and we’re all looking forward to seeing it in fruition.”
And that’s true for more than the stadium.