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MUSICK: Wrigley’s blemishes embraced

Caption
(Nam Y. Huh)
People walk outside Wrigley Field before Monday's Cubs home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers.

CHICAGO – Kenny Clelland stood outside of a men’s room in the Wrigley Field concourse Monday afternoon and pondered the question.

Before this moment, it was a subject Clelland never had considered.

“I think the only other place I’ve peed in a trough was when I was in the Marine Corps,” said Clelland, 41, who served from 1990 to 1998. “But that was military stuff. This is domestic.”

This is Wrigley Field.

A big announcement about the 99-year-old stadium was expected to arrive before the Cubs’ home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers. It was supposed to do with a $500 million renovation project to fix up the ballpark that opened when Woodrow Wilson was president.

The announcement never came. It’s apparently in a rain delay, minus the rain.

Meanwhile, the ballpark at Clark and Addison streets turned another day older.

I mean this as a statement of fact rather than a snide remark, but Wrigley Field is a dump. It’s a wonderful place to watch a baseball game, but it’s a dump.

So I plunged into the most blighted areas of Wrigley Field to come up with a priority list for renovations. Think of it as a favor for Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, who could use my list whenever the project is approved. We Toms should look out for each other, after all.

I figured that fans would like my imaginary spending spree to renovate the stadium. I figured wrong.

Take first-time visitor Adam John of Kansas City, Mo. He sat in Section 228, which is beneath the upper deck, which meant that black wire netting rested many feet above his head.

The netting was there, in theory, to catch falling chunks of concrete. Hopefully.

But John savored the crumbly character of the stadium. He read about Wrigley’s proposed renovation project, and he decided to visit the stadium before too much changed.

“If it were to collapse on us, it would be kind of a dream come true,” John said with a smile. “The ultimate souvenir: ‘Wrigley fell on me.’ ”

Gosh, I thought that my stand against falling concrete would be a no-brainer.

Maybe John was in a good mood because he had a clear view of the field. The same could not be said for hundreds of fans who sat in obstructed-view seats near giant poles that connect the lower deck to the upper deck.

Surely, these people would be grumpy.

Or not.

Take Derle Rolfe, who could reach out and touch the concrete tower in Section 235.

“It’s unique because you’ve got to lean around it sometimes,” Rolfe said. “But it’s Wrigley.

“There’s always a chance you’ll be behind a big pole. That’s a chance you take coming here.”

It’s a chance worth taking for people such as Rolfe. The 29-year-old grew up in California, but he fell in love with the Cubs on TV and has made several pilgrimages since.

“Actually, Wrigley is part of what made me a Cubs fan in the first place,” Rolfe said. “It was the combination of Wrigley Field and Harry Caray.”

OK, so the poles can stay.

Hey, what about putting in some escalators? Everybody loves an escalator.

I hiked the ramps to the upper deck and waited about 45 minutes until my heart rate returned to normal. Almost every other stadium caters to its customers with those fancy electronic staircases, but at Wrigley, you climb the ramps until you can climb no more.

Once I could breathe, I waited for a couple of people to traverse to the top of the upper deck. I pounced as they reached the final steps of their journey.

So, escalators. Great idea, huh?

“I like the walk,” said Lindsey Cassel, a 26-year-old who was visiting from Toronto. “I feel like you lose some of the feel with escalators.”

Alex Courneya nodded her head in agreement.

“From a tourist perspective, it feels a lot more authentic to have to do this,” Courneya said. “I like that. I like the feel of this place.”

Besides, if they wanted to ride an escalator, they could have stayed home in Toronto. They told me that the Rogers Centre, formerly known as the Sky Dome, is nothing but a gigantic building with zero personality.

“It’s really boring,” Cassel said.

Boring, Wrigley is not.

A howling wind makes every fly ball an adventure. An ancient organ cranks “Start Me Up” before the first pitch. Everywhere, fans stand in bottleneck lines to get to their seats.

And there are the troughs, of course.

I would have renovated those, too, until Clelland made a case for them to stay.

“It would be weird to come here and not pee in a trough,” Clelland said. “You would miss that. I know it’s weird, but you would.”

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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