Cubs get city's OK to play at Wrigley

Saturday, July 31, 2004

CHICAGO -- Cubs fans accustomed to seeing their team's chances for reaching the World Series fall apart no longer have to worry about their beloved Wrigley Field crumbling, too.

Chunks of concrete have plummeted from the ballpark's upper deck on at least three occasions since June, forcing stadium officials to install nets to protect fans from the debris. The situation raised fears that the Cubs might have to cancel games as the stadium worked to fix the problem, but Chicago inspectors deemed the 90-year-old stadium safe Friday.

The concrete problem hasn't fazed Cubs fans, who have been showing up to the historic ballpark in record numbers this season.

Chicago bartender Tony Pavic was selling fake hardhats for $10 each outside the stadium before Friday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies. But there were few buyers.

"I'll take my chances," said Bill Vaniter of Jacksonville, Ill., a longtime Cubs fan who was prowling the streets outside Wrigley in search of a ticket for the first home game since the netting went up.

The taut black netting is confined mostly to areas under ramps that lead to the upper-deck seats and is expected to stay up through the rest of the season. It is designed to withstand the fall of a 350-pound chunk of concrete from 50 feet, although there were no indications that would happen, said Chicago Buildings Commissioner Stan Kaderbek.

The only things flying around and out of the old ballpark Friday were homers. On a day when a relatively calm wind was hardly a factor, Aramis Ramirez hit three home runs in the Cubs' 10-7 win against the Phillies.

Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux bids for his 300th career victory Sunday at Wrigley Field.

Cubs president and CEO Andy MacPhail said structural engineers spent the entire week scouring the stadium's upper deck to make sure there were no safety violations. The city could have canceled Friday's game if inspectors concluded that the nets didn't adequately protect fans, he said.

MacPhail said possible alternate locations would have been Milwaukee, an away game at Philadelphia or U.S. Cellular Field on Chicago's South Side, home to the rival White Sox.

"This is an old building, it's a real old building, it's one of the oldest buildings," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Anybody ever have an older house before? You've got an older house, sooner or later you've got to do something to it."

Jon Phillips, of Burlington, Iowa, making his first trip to Wrigley, had a seat Friday in the lower grandstand on the third-base side underneath the netting.

"It doesn't bother me. I think safety has got to be the No. 1 priority. If a fan were to get hurt, it would be blown out of proportion," he said. "And it would be a tragedy if somebody got really hurt."

MacPhail said that the team spends millions of dollars every year on the stadium's infrastructure and there are no near-term plans to build a new ballpark.

Still, some Cubs fans hanging out in Wrigleyville before Friday's game said they're most worried about Wrigley Field's future.

"Wrigley Field is part of the Cubs," said Billy Armstrong, a Chicago-area native visiting the city on his honeymoon from Oklahoma with his wife, Kate. "They wouldn't be the same without it."

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