By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) I encountered an endangered species on Wednesday night.
The Wrigleyville Ballhawk.
While out for a run through Lakeview around 9 p.m., I stopped for a breather at the intersection of Kenmore and Waveland beyond Wrigley Field’s left-field bleachers, and as sounds from the Cubs game spilled out over the outfield wall, I watched a trio of men play catch in the street.
Last month, these Ballhawks – one of Wrigleyville’s best-known traditions – expressed concern that their longtime pastime of snaring home run balls as they sail out of the ballpark is in jeopardy.
Talking to the Sun-Times on Opening Day, 51-year-old Ballhawk George Field said that if the Cubs construct their proposed 6,000-foot video board in left field he estimates it would stop 80 percent of the balls from flying out onto Waveland.
Potentially losing the Ballhawks tradition would be a shame, but it wouldn’t be as earth-shaking as, say, losing the neighborhood’s rooftops tradition – or even losing the Cubs from Wrigley Field completely.
On Wednesday, the Cubs released architectural renderings of what the proposed Wrigley Field restoration would look like – including the giant video board in left field. Team owner Tom Ricketts then upped the ante by threatening for the first time to move the Cubs away from the ballpark if the team’s plans for new signage are not given the green light.
In turn, the rooftop owners – who fear that their lucrative views of Wrigley Field will be blocked by said signage – have dangled the possibility of a lawsuit to ensure that the Cubs live up to the 20-year revenue-sharing contract that the team signed with them in 2004.
Now, I’m a traditionalist, and my preference would be to have no video board at Wrigley Field. But I’m also a realist, and when Mayor Rahm Emanuel vows – as he did on Wednesday – that “there will be a Jumbotron in left field,” I’m wise enough to believe that.
For better or worse, the video board is coming.
But after studying the drawings released by the Cubs on Wednesday morning, and then taking street-level stock of the view from Kenmore and Waveland on Wednesday night, I do have to say that I don’t think the video board will be as bad for the rooftops as has been imagined.
And it could even be that the Ballhawks are the only ones who end up being truly blocked by it.
Judging from the Cubs’ left field drawing, the video board will essentially be placed in the same spot where Wrigley Field’s Toyota sign currently stands. And while the Jumbotron will be much larger than that sign and will not be see-through, it appears that the only rooftop building that it will completely block is the one at 3701 N. Kenmore – and it doesn’t even have a seating structure. Rather, the building only has a giant United Airlines ad splashed atop its slanted roof.
Now, while the owner of that building surely will lose a great deal of money if its ad is no longer visible to the TV cameras behind home plate at Wrigley, that’s hardly a view that’s worth protecting – or filing a lawsuit about.
The other rooftop whose view could be impacted by a Jumbotron is the building at 1032 W. Waveland, located on the west corner of Kenmore and Waveland. It surely would lose at least some – if not much – of its current vantage point. But I’d like to propose a solution that could potentially alleviate such concerns.
The dirty little secret about the Wrigleyville rooftops’ views is that they’re really not very good. The seats are incredibly far away from home plate making it hard to closely follow the action on the field. As a result, many fans on the rooftops end up just watching the game via the club’s array of HDTVs.
So, what if the Cubs set up their own giant HDTV on the reverse side of their proposed video board?
Think about it. The back of the Jumbotron could also feature a sizable video screen, allowing fans on the rooftops along Waveland a much crisper and better view of the game’s action (which the rooftop would essentially pay for with its revenue-sharing agreement). In between innings, the Cubs could also show ads on the video board – producing even more of the revenue the team covets.
To avoid residents’ concerns about Wrigley Field becoming “Times Square,” the Waveland-facing video board also could be shut down when games are not underway.
Now, the details would have to be worked be worked out, of course. And I’m sure there would be other issues that could pop up. But it seems to me that if a Jumbotron has to come to Wrigley Field, making it two-sided only makes sense – and could make dollars.
In fact, it could be a win-win for everyone – even the Ballhawks, who at least could see when a home run ball might still be coming their way.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.