Fifteen-year-old Natalie Adorno has attended more than 100 Cubs games at Wrigley Field in her lifetime. But Monday was her first chance to experience a ballpark area that looked very different from the last time she went to a game.
Natalie, who had been named the 2016 Major Baseball League Cubs fan of the year, was one of the hundreds of fans attending Monday’s opening ceremony of The Park, an outdoor area just west of Wrigley.
The triangular spot features a Starbucks and a store selling Cubs merchandise. The plaza also has stations offering beer and wine.
“Since I’ve seen it from where it used to be, to where it is now, I just wanted to get the full experience now,” said Natalie, who was there with her father, Carlos Adorno.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts attended, families sat on the grass and the benches surrounding the park as children bounced a basketball and played with other kids. A live band entertained attendees with songs such as, “Go Cubs, Go” and set the scene before tonight’s game.
Natalie believes The Park, which is scheduled to host movies and farmer’s markets over the summer, is a great family-oriented addition to the neighborhood and to the “Cubs game experience.”
“Once you’ve come here, you’ll never get a different experience at a different ballpark,” Natalie said. “The atmosphere tonight is going to be just like how it was on one of the World Series games.”
A set of additional projects around Wrigley include: a seven-story hotel, scheduled to open next year; a new two-story Wrigley annex at the corner of Addison and Sheffield, expected to open in 2020; and a major project at Addison and Clark, which will include apartments, parking and commercial space.
It’s all part of a construction boom that has some fans excited.
But not all fans.
Matt Mchale, 34, a Wrigleyville resident and an employee at a consulting company, sat on a bench surrounding The Park with his pug, Daisy, unable to enter the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“It’s worse than I could have ever expected,” McHale said. “Even with this, I can’t bring this dog into a park. The Cubs won’t let you.”
After reaching out to the Cubs multiple times to express his concerns, McHale said he is still awaiting for a reply.
McHale appreciates the family-oriented park, but said neighbors have had to pay a high price for the new additions.
“It’s been three years of horrible construction [and] a complete mess with no real regards with the neighbors,” McHale said. “They’ve taken baseball, which is supposed to be something very simple, and made it very commercial and all about the money.”
Still, the new stores were appreciated by some fans who were at Wrigley bright and early on Monday.
Cubs employees handed out rain ponchos and worked fruitlessly to dry off rows of folding chairs laid out for a 10 a.m. ceremony to mark the opening of The Park at Wrigley – a grassy knoll flanked by a brick plaza just west of the ballpark.
Mike Schmidt, 20, of Villa Park arrived at 8 a.m. to get in line for first-come-first-served bleacher seating.
“It’s opening day. I’ve got to be here,” he said Monday morning.
About a dozen ticketless fans stood outside a box office window, hoping to be the first to scoop up extra tickets the ball club sells on game day.
Around the corner, a 32-year-old fan who asked not to be named stood outside Murphy’s Bleachers at Waveland and Sheffield sipping a beer.
“It’s going down pretty good for 8:45 a.m.,” he said. “Breakfast beer. I’ll probably go to Starbucks after this.”
When the plaza was first proposed, community leaders referred to the project as “the Midwest’s largest beer garden” and opposed the sale of alcohol in that space.
Hector Abeldano, 31, a Westchester resident and an employee at a chocolate company, differs with Mchale and believes this is exactly what Wrigleyville needed.
“It looks brand new [and] like a totally different ball park,” Abeldano said. “I don’t know what [some neighbors] are complaining about. They should feel really lucky to have this all added to their neighborhoods. Compared to other neighborhoods, what are they complaining about?”
Contributing: Mitch Dudek