Thursday, February 11, 2010

A potential solution lurks in the Wrigley Field night-game saga

I'm disappointed it took me so long to come up with this.

The Cubs need more night games--eventually up to 55 home games at night per season, up from their current limit of 30. The Cubs' neighbors who forced through the city ordinance banning night games at Wrigley Field, with the help of former Ald. Bernie Hansen, want the Cubs to stay in the neighborhood. (The Cubs receive permission from the city to play a limited number of night games per season, but the ordinance does ban night games at Wrigley Field. That limited number stands at 30.) So the Cubs call Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) for a friendly meeting. Then the Cubs, in a respectful, polite way, will tell the alderman: If we don't start playing as many night games as we want, whenever we want (including Fridays and Saturdays), beginning with the 2011 season, we won't play a full schedule in Wrigley Field anymore.

With a little planning, the Cubs could probably implement this plan this season. Owner Tom Ricketts places a call to his crosstown colleague, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Would it be all right if we used your ballpark for a few games? Uncle Jerry would be delighted. The decision wouldn't really be up to him; it would be up to the government agency that runs the taxpayer-financed and -owned ballpark. It would also need MLB commissioner Bud Selig's rubber stamp. But I'm sure everyone would be agreeable. Reinsdorf would love to show off his ballpark to a fresh audience of Cubs fans, most of whom would only venture to Bridgeport to see the Cubs anyway. With the current interleague schedule of just three Cubs games per season at U.S. Cellular Field, very few Cubs fans have ever visited the South Side ballpark because those tickets are in such high demand. Reinsdorf and the White Sox would enjoy additional revenue from Cubs games, which they would share with the Cubs.

Happily, several White Sox road trips and Cubs homestands coincide in the heat of the summer this season. Here's a sample itinerary:

Thurs. July 15 - Sun. July 25: the Cubs add another two night games to their schedule.
Tues. Aug. 2 - Mon. Aug. 9: the Cubs add another two night games to their schedule.
Mon. Aug. 16 - Mon. Aug. 23: the Cubs add another three night games to their schedule.

In three stretches, that's an increase of 7 night games--23 percent over the Cubs' permitted limit of just 30 night games in that dump Wrigley Field. But moving these games 8.1 miles south poses serious consequences for Wrigley's Lakeview neighborhood, commonly known as Wrigleyville. Moving so many games in the heat of the summer--which is the whole point, to give the players respite from the brutal sunshine. This is also the most profitable time of year for businesses that depend on Cubs fans spending time and money in the neighborhood. If the Cubs aren't home for this critical period, that would be devastating for numerous bars and restaurants.

And I think the Cubs should go right ahead and do it. The night-game limit is keeping the Cubs from their goal of bringing a World Series championship to Wrigley Field. If the Cubs convince their Wrigley neighbors the night-game limit makes it impossible for them to be competitive, and that they will seriously consider and act upon alternatives, the neighbors will knock down Ald. Tunney's door, demanding that he give the Cubs the night games they want.

Working this out with the fans is really a minor issue. The Cubs could provide bus service to U.S. Cellular Field from Wrigley Field and the Wrigley night parking lot (Lane Technical High School). Fans could convert their Wrigley seats to U.S. Cellular seats at the Cubs' website. Once Cubs fans visit Sox Park for the first time and enjoy the wide concourses, plentiful concessions, plentiful on-site parking, and unobstructed views of the action, they may not want to go back to Wrigley Field.

Then Uncle Jerry would have the last laugh.

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