Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is greeted in the dugout after scoring against the Chicago White Sox on July 25, 2017, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Photo: Brian Cassella/TNS
Photo: Brian Cassella/TNS

If Wrigley Field dugout walls could talk, the stories they would tell

No worries about the bleachers being done, or the bathrooms malfunctioning on Opening Day.

All systems are go, so to speak.

Cubs business president Crane Kenney on Thursday gave a brief rundown of the latest improvements, including more concession stands with grill capability, better cell service (and ultimately faster Wi-Fi), two new elevators and a comfy premium hangout for big spenders called the American Airlines 1914 Club.

But the biggest change at Wrigley will be the new, enlarged dugouts, which will be 28-feet farther away from their old spot, Kenney said.

As far as most fans are concerned, renovated dugouts are probably the least controversial change at Wrigley, which has added video boards, patio sections and new bullpens underneath the bleachers in the early phases of the renovation.

It will take a little getting used to, like the lowering of the brick wall behind home plate years ago, but this is one change that seemingly won't bother even the traditionalists.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon came to the North Side in in 2015 when the new video boards were introduced, ending the video-free era Wrigley Field. He recalled how controversial it was with some fans, adding: "But now they probably can't live without them."

Will the new dugouts make a difference for the people inhabiting it, or are they just another in a series of alterations changing the look of Wrigley Field?

"A good dugout matters," Maddon said. "A comfortable dugout matters. You know I like to stand at the corner (closest to the plate) like I do. I think access guy always showing off vocabulary (and exits are) really important, also. I don't even know what that's going to look like yet. But guys, when you're not on top of each other, it just helps the moment. I'm curious to see what that looks like.

"It's very perceptive and forward thinking, because I would prefer updating an old ballpark as opposed to tearing it down and building a new one because you're never going to replicate the beauty of that place, the ambience there. It's impossible to recreate that."

Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams said a newer and expanded dugout is better for the players, and pointed out it was considered small even back when he was playing in the 1960s and early 70s.

"You had guys coming up in September and they had to sit on the cement near the bat racks," he said. "It was a small dugout, but of course Wrigley had been there 100 years and it was the same dugout."

Williams said he had a regular spot on the far end of the bench and manager Leo Durocher sat next to the water fountain. Everyone knew their spot and protocol dictated no one sat where one of the regulars liked to go on a daily basis.

Williams said he had a good reason for sitting where he did.

"We were playing all day games and I could get a little breeze up there," he said. "Plus the fact I'd get me a cigarette and, in those days I was smoking, so I would bend over and hide from the umpires, hide from everybody. Leo didn't mind, but (owner P.K.) Wrigley saw it one day and he called out to the ballpark and talked to Leo about it.

"If you're having good years you want to stay consistent with that," he said. "Funny story, you know how (Ron) Santo was. One day they put in a tube of six (bat rack) and Santo popped up with a runner on or something, came back and smashed it and the whole thing shattered.

"They fixed it by making a steel one, painted it red so it looked like wood. We come back off a road trip and Santo gets mad at making an out and tries to smash it, and it didn't break. He got mad at that and just threw his bat down."

Of course Santo wasn't alone. We also saw Carlos Zambrano smash the water fountain with a bat, along with the Gatorade dispenser. And there was also an occasion when he punched Michael Barrett in the face, sending his catcher to the hospital.

If only those dugout walls could talk.

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