By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — You may have heard the Wrigley Field bullpens are now located under the bleachers.
For the first time in the history of this fabled ballpark, bullpen members are now watching the game on video and having the broadcast piped into the secluded under-outfield location.
It’s been no problem for Cubs manager Joe Maddon or pitching coach Chris Bosio.
“No, not an issue,” Maddon said. “We have monitors right behind us. The biggest thing for me was how the players were going to feel coming into the chaos of a game from this insulated environment. I think they are getting used to it. At the beginning, they may have been a little bit impacted by that. I am not getting any negative feedback.”
Relievers now watch the game on a big video screen. The entrance to the bullpen is still from the field. Once you are in there, you’re in there for the entire game. A Cubs bullpen member now can go an entire nine innings without actually being out on the field or being seen in public — or even by teammates.
The pitchers are assisted in the underworld of Wrigley by bullpen coach Lester Strode and assistant Frank Font. The inside area has its big benefits, which include the latest in data and comfort at the fingertips of the coaching staff. There’s also exercise equipment to get loose on.
Warm and cold weather won’t impact the readiness of the bullpen. Heat and air conditioning are part of the new luxury atmosphere in the hidden caverns.
“I like some of the things in the new bullpen,” Cubs reliever Hector Rondon said. “The freaky part is coming out of the door to pitch and hearing the noise and feeling the weather for the first time. You were more a part of the game before. Now, you feel like you just got out of a train in a big city when you come out to pitch. The Cubs did a great job to make it work for us, though. There are real good things about it.”
Strode has to be both the caretaker and boss of the new bullpen area.
“When we first started out in the new pen, it felt like you were not part of the game,” he said. “That is because you could not hear the fans or ballpark sounds. They were great about it and put in a chain link door so we can hear, with some weather getting inside. It made all the guys feel much more a part of the atmosphere.”
The consensus is this new area is great for preparation and being ready, regardless of the elements.
“It is different than any other bullpen in baseball,” reliever Mike Montgomery said. “It took some getting used to. We have shelter from the weather, which is nice. The difference is we are watching the game on TV. It is kind of tough not being outside. You just throw and hear the mitt. It gets kind of dead in there. It has its perks. Very nice when it is cold out. It goes both ways”
The former bullpen area in foul territory at Wrigley Field now has three new rows of seating on both the home and visitors’ side. The new rows also have thus reduced the foul territory down both lines, so the smallest foul area in baseball has gotten even smaller. That foul ball area may get even smaller when the Cubs move both dugouts down the lines next season.
The Cubs’ dugout will move 40 or 50 feet toward the left-field foul pole to accommodate the new American Airlines Club. The wraparound luxury seating will be at dugout level and offer food and beverage as part of its normal service. Seats sold as a season package will begin at $400 per game. There will be dynamic pricing, depending on the opponent and series.
Weekends, night games and holiday dates will have an upcharge from normal face value in this unique new seating formation.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.