Dawn of new century: Wrigley ready for makeover

Cubs, fans, opponents reflect on upcoming renovations for hallowed ballpark

Dawn of new century: Wrigley ready for makeover

CHICAGO -- The Cubs played their final home game Wednesday, capping the year-long celebration of 100-year-old Wrigley Field, which on Thursday will begin its most extensive makeover since adding lights in 1988.

The four-year renovation starts with the expansion of the bleachers and the addition of a video scoreboard in left field as well as six additional advertising signs. That is all scheduled to be ready by Opening Day 2015.

"Change is going to come," Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams said. "They put the lights in, and first everyone fought it, and now everybody enjoys it."

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he's "anxious" to see the additions from a game preparation standpoint. Modern accommodations will be updated in both clubhouses when the renovation is completed in 2018. A below-grade batting tunnel will be added, and dugouts will be expanded as well as the clubhouse and training rooms. It's tough for opponents to get their work done at Wrigley, and visitors will welcome the changes.

"There's a lot of positives, obviously, with the nostalgia of this place, and we've had a lot of games like [Tuesday] night -- tough, hard-fought games," Matheny said. "But it's a great atmosphere, and hopefully the changes they're making increase that."

The Cubs players are looking forward to the new amenities, although the home clubhouse won't be completed until Opening Day 2016.

"I know Wrigley Field is very historic," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "but it'll still be historic with the ivy and everything."

Rich Buhrke, a "ballhawk" well-versed on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues, came out early on Wednesday in hopes of catching one final fly ball. The new signage and scoreboard plus the extension of bleachers will assuredly stop most balls from leaving the park.

"It'll eliminate it, just about," Buhrke said. "It's sad. There's no doubt about it. I've been doing this 55 years. I don't want to stop, although my wife keeps saying, 'It's time. It's time.'"

Buhrke, featured in the 2010 documentary "Ballhawks," considers his hobby among the timeliest traditions in baseball. A version of the film that highlights their history is stored in the Hall of Fame archives in Cooperstown.

"In a roundabout way, we're in the Hall of Fame, which is a baseball fan's dream," said Buhrke, 68. "It's a roundabout way coming in the back door, but we're in there. When you're a part of this, you're a part of the extension of the ballgame itself."

Laura Dean, 28, ventured from Virginia Beach, Va., to catch one final glimpse of the Friendly Confines before the renovation.

"I don't know what I think -- half of this stuff wasn't here years ago anyway, all the rooftops, the whole deal," Dean said. "So I don't know. But I love Wrigley and I love the Cubs, and I'm glad I got here in time for the 100-year celebration."

Fans can follow the renovations at wrigleyfield.com, which will be relaunched in a few weeks, Cubs spokesman Julian Green said Wednesday. There will not be a "construction cam" providing a live look-in at the work, but there will be video updates posted from time to time.

Daniel Kramer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.