A fun night for the Cubs and a lot of room in which to play
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The Cubs have a new training room at Wrigley Field that will aid players and, apparently, advance the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life.
“Hyperbaric chamber, cryotherapy, float pod, underwater treadmill, infrared sauna and steam sauna,’’ president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “It’s everything you could ever imagine to help you get ready for a game and help you recover after a game.’’
The new clubhouse has everything but a hookah bar, and not having gotten a tour of the entire 30,000-square-foot facility, I can’t swear to the lack of one. Having been exposed over the years to enough rust and leaking pipes at Wrigley to make me a walking Superfund site, I was almost brought to my knees by the modernity I saw before the Cubs’ home opener Monday night.
The clubhouse itself is spacious and circular. The old clubhouse wasn’t circular, but it was the size of a thimble, which is circular. See? The past and the present clasping hands.
The new clubhouse has a dance party room for the players to celebrate in after each victory. The past just fainted.
“I’ve seen a lot of clubhouses,’’ Epstein said. “This is by far the nicest one I’ve ever seen.’’
I don’t know if great facilities translate into a great baseball team. If that were the case, the Cubs wouldn’t have won 97 games last season. Or if it is the case, the Cubs are going to win 150 games this season. But enough about David Kaplan’s 2016 prediction.
The Cubs returned home for the first time since last season’s National League Championship Series. It was a chance for fans to thank the team one more time and to ask again how many months until October.
Then the game started, and the Cubs’ offense was temporarily closed for repairs. Reds pitcher Brandon Finnegan had a no-hitter through 6 2/3 innings before David Ross singled to center. The offense woke up in earnest, with a three-run homer by Addison Russell in the eighth helping the Cubs to a 5-3 victory. For a crowd of 40,882, order was restored to the universe.
What the fans won’t see might be the best part of the $500 million renovation at Wrigley. The new clubhouse is beautiful. Recessed blue lighting. A cool, calming atmosphere. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, it makes you want to order a martini. The old clubhouse is now a batting cage. The proper thing to do would have been to bury it, entombing the evil thing in cement casing. But I quibble.
The old interview room, where Joe Maddon and other Cubs managers met often with media members, was about as big as a broom closet. To get to it, you walked in a hall past rakes and bags of dirt that groundskeepers used. The new interview room has about 30 chairs, compared to 12 in the old one.
It’s almost as if the Cubs care about the media now!
The new interview room is where Maddon met us Monday, and he talked about the facilities as a recruiting tool for free agents.
“Last year, I was perfectly happy in my cubicle,’’ he said. “… I was perfectly happy stretching before every game out in that little, dusty weight room. I was fine with even meeting you (media) guys in that little whatever-that-was. If you’re really a baseball freak, you can be happy almost anywhere.
“But moving forward, the way the world’s spinning right now … having this facility now for our players is going to make it even more attractive.’’
As for the rest of the construction, there are still many more hardhats inside Wrigley than batting helmets. Five hours before Monday’s game, workers were drilling holes in concession areas.
But those of us who for years called Wrigley a dump finally are getting some satisfaction via those renovations. The ballpark has always been beautiful when looking from the seats toward the field itself. Now it’s starting to look a little more like the shrine it’s supposed to be.
Some of the ugly chain-link fencing on the outside is gone, replaced by more elegant steel grillwork. The sooner the hideous concrete panels still hanging in some areas on the outside of the stadium are removed, the better.
Inside, the old centerfield scoreboard still needs better lighting. The massive video board drowns it out with pixels. For the history of the park to matter, or for the Cubs to pretend it matters, that needs to be addressed.
But all in all, there’s not much to complain about. They tore down the McDonald’s across the street from Wrigley in anticipation of a planned boutique hotel, and some people are upset. Sorry. It doesn’t exactly reach the threshold of, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’’