Wrigley Field (Cubbie Nation/File)
An interesting blurb crossed my desk this morning, with news that a week after suggesting otherwise, Cubs chairman Crane Kenney told a group in Florida that the club would seek to increase the number of night games played at Wrigley Field, from 30 to 50. The article in its entirety is here.
I can't think of many things more counter-productive from a marketing standpoint than the Cubs crossing the magical halfway point on night games. You know, the point in which you pass 41 games played at night, is the point where you go from a special team that plays day games, to everyone else, who happens to play a few in the afternoon.
I mean, when you consider that the bulk of weekend games are played in the afternoon, you're really talking about playing everything else in the evening at that point -- past the rare businessman's special through the summer.
There are just certain things that you associate with Wrigley, and you want it that way, to not only make it a ballpark, but a destination spot for all. Day games are a valuable part of that experience, especially in the summertime, when visitors take in a ball game in the afternoon, and move on to more adult endeavors in the evening. It's a huge part of why fans come; they see that party like setting in the summer on TV, and they want in. At 50 night games, it's a big knock off the luster of the park.
I mean, really. Naming rights were discussed, and still not completely taken off of the table. The ivy has been "decorated" with signage, for an underwear peddler, no less. Bleachers are sponsored, and now day games could be in the rarity. Honestly, if this passes, I say it's time to give up the ghost, ditch the marquee, and start talking new ballpark, because Wrigley will be dead -- or at least dying, as we know it.
And don't get me started on the neighbors, who contrary to the opinions of others, did not all sign up to have their neighborhood turn into a perennial theme park.
Sure, the building owners surrounding the park, and the bars on Clark St. will take it anyway that they can get it, but they're plenty of real neighbors -- and I know plenty -- that just want to be able to run some errands, or doze off to sleep on a Tuesday night without having a few dozen drunks stumble past their window.
Some say that they want the crowds and energy, and that's why they came. Plenty came because the rent is cheap(er), singles and young couples are abundant, there are plenty of people under 35, and the neighborhood is vibrant. Though that still doesn't mean that they want to fight an extra 40,000 people on the Red Line, and in the streets just to get home from work.
Now, I get the wishes of the players; I really do. One need only look to last season, in which the Cubs played in Colorado mid-week, flew to Washington for a weekend set, and as I recall then back to Wrigley, with not so much as a day off to realize that the schedulers at MLB are certifiable, and they're probably losing some competitive advantage by the day games. So, let me make a couple of suggestions as a potential alternative.
1) Increase the night games to 35. I appreciate compromise, and perhaps those games could be aggregated toward the end of summer, and during the stretch run. There are plenty of off-days earlier in the season anyway, so take them when they're needed most -- and when people are most tolerant of the increased noise and traffic.
2) Ditch those games before 2:05. Seriously, retiring the 1:05 games in favor of a few more 3:20 could be a good compromise for the bulk of that remaining 15-game difference. The luster of the ballpark remains intact, the Cubs move closer to a traditional schedule, and everyone is cleared out by after dinner for the locals.
3) Lean on MLB. Face it, bad scheduling is as much a problem as the lack of night games. I know in most towns it's more financially advantageous to play in the evening, but getting a few more games on getaway days started before 5:00 would go a long way toward balancing things out. The Cubs are unique, and while I don't normally believe in practicing favoritism, is it really too much too ask for MLB to get you a few more Wednesday afternoon games on the road? Really. It's not an advantage; it's acknowledging reality, and adjusting to balance the field.
Here's hoping that the idea dies an awful and abrupt death altogether, but if not, let's hope that a productive compromise can be reached.