New bleachers a hit with fans

April 8, 2006

BY DAVE NEWBART Staff Reporter

The renovations to the famed bleachers at Wrigley Field paid off nearly immediately for Cubs fan Kyle Peterson.

Peterson was sitting in the front row of the left-field corner when he snagged the first Wrigley home run of the year off a deflection. Last year, the section where he sat Friday was reserved for families -- and the 28-year-old from Madison, Wis., wouldn't have been able to get anywhere close to first baseman Derrek Lee's first-inning dinger.

"This is awesome," Peterson said.

The souvenir aside, Peterson's assessment of the changes to the bleachers was generally shared by most fans who got their first look at them at the Cubs' home opener.

Fans were not only impressed with the new amenities -- the new concession stands, restrooms and seats -- but were happy the $13.5 million in changes did not alter the feel of the old ballpark.

"They made this look like it's been here forever," said Al Yellon, 49, of Lincoln Park. He was at his 30th home opener and said he liked that bleacher ticket holders are now allowed inside the main grandstand and are able to duck in out of the rain by going under the bleachers in an area that was formerly off-limits.

Attention to detail

There was also plenty of extra room added behind the seats, meaning more room for everybody to spread out in what can be a sardine can of a stadium in places. The extra space was greatly appreciated by wheelchair-bound fans, who now have an elevator and a large area in the middle of center field to watch the game.

Dave Carter, 50, of Bensenville, sat more or less alone in the area, although his friends sat just on the other side of a railing.

"It's nice. I was always sitting in the middle of the row, so people were crawling all over you," he said.

Another new area is the Batter's Eye Lounge, which resembles a large skybox set just behind the juniper bushes in center field. Normally reserved for private parties, on Friday it was full of Cubs executives and others who contributed to the renovations in some way.

Jim Peters, director of planning for the Landmark Preservation Council of Illinois, consulted with the team on how best to preserve Wrigley's historic status. He said the Cubs' attention to little details -- such as maintaining iron fences and dark green colors -- helped the stadium keep its feel. He noted the team even restored an outer brick wall to more closely resemble a Wrigley wall from the past.

"Everything seemed like it fit," he said. "The bleachers are known across the world. You don't want to change it to the point it's something else.''

One group of bleacher veterans wore Old Style T-shirts to protest the stands now being officially known as the "Bud Light Bleachers."

"It's unanimous -- we like the way it looks, but that Bud Light sign has got to go," said Judy Caldow, 56, of West Rogers Park.

Room with a view -- of backs

If anyone's experience was impacted for the worse, it was some fans inside the rooftop clubs across the street from Wrigley. The bleachers are now a little higher, partially blocking some views. At Lakeview Baseball Club, 3636 N. Sheffield, fans said the views from the seats perched on the rooftop were essentially unchanged. But it was tough to see most of the field from an indoor, top-floor lounge area, where most fans remained on a day with winter-like temperatures and winds.

"You used to be able to watch the game here," lamented Sue Fogel, 52, of Hyde Park, as she peered out a window and saw mainly the backs of fans.

On the flip side, a group of about 16 fans huddled behind the outfield fence on Sheffield that now allows a view into the stadium for fans without tickets.

Wannabe ballhawk Patrick Rodriguez, of Lincoln Square, said fans on the street didn't know for sure in the past what was going on inside. "We're not standing around scratching our heads'' wondering anymore, said Rodriguez, 20.

Still, Cubs fans said ultimately what matters most is whether the improvements in the stands -- including the 1,800 additional seats -- would lead to a better product on the field. The Cubs will profit from the sale of 145,000 extra tickets over the course of the year, and some are priced as high as $60.

Said John Buchanan, contributing editor of the Wise Guide Wrigley Field book: "I hope they get a $10 million shortstop out of the extra money."

dnewbart@suntimes.com

http://www.suntimes.com


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