Whenever my mother wants to do yet more work on our house, she gently tells my stepfather that she wants to do, "a little remodeling." Of course, "a little remodeling' can mean many different things; it can refer to a couple new potted plants in the backyard or six months of temporary relocation after blowing up the basement and kitchen. The latter option-the blowup version-is what the Chicago Cubs are currently trying to sell to their fans and the fans are right to be concerned: a "little remodeling' could quickly turn Wrigley Field into Old Yankee Stadium.
If you are from Chicago-the Northside of the city that is-you understand that Wrigley Field is a city institution. It is not just a big building gracing the landscape, Wrigley Field is the center of one of the city's most eclectic neighborhoods and is one of the finest examples of Chicago history that still survive. Even more importantly, Wrigley Field is right at the center of the Cubs' appeal and legend; without it they would still be an iconic team but would be in serious danger of losing much of their luster and appeal to their widespread, devoted fan base.
Why? Wrigley Field is, to put it mildly, an experience. The second oldest ballpark in the nation, it stands at a four way intersection in the center of a fun residential neighborhood filled with small stores and restaurants. It was once the home of the Bears as well, which makes it the city's most influential ballpark by far. It is not isolated in the least-like the United Center (Bulls) or US Cellular Field White Sox) and is part of the fabric of the neighborhood. You can hear it creak under you as you walk up the ramps to your seat but the creaks are charming rather than menacing; they remind you that old charm can sometimes trump new luxury. When you sit down in the seats and cheer for the Cubs, you get lost in time and can feel the history and magnetism of the stadium swirl around you as it transports you into the past, present, and future.
The experience is so powerful and moving for fans that they continue to come in droves regardless of the teams' on field performance. The Cubs certainly have an appeal and mystique as a team and would undoubtedly survive without their home venue. But anyone who thinks that Wrigley Field's beauty and mystical appeal don't help to mitigate the team's losing ways clearly has not been to a lot of Cubs games. The action on the field is often snooze-worthy but when you are sitting in those seats, cheering with those fans, and staring at the field's ivy walls, it masks the heartbreak of loss. Even when you watch the team come up short again and again, you always want to come back.
So, rebuild or remodel? There is no denying that Wrigley Field needs renovations. There are parts of the stadium that are falling apart and downright unsafe. But remodeling for safety and, in certain spots, aesthetics is very different than demolishing much if not all of the historic stadium and replacing it. The team's new owners, the Ricketts, are mired in debt and seem to have a vision of a much larger, more modern venue paid for by the city that would replace the Cub's venerable and historic home. But, if they have the teams' and their own best interest at heart they should scrap those ideas. The Cubs are not about winning; their appeal is in love, mystique, beauty, history, and tradition. Wrigley Field is at the center of all that and, if you take it all away, who knows what will be left?
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