By Mark Weyermuller -
This week marked a great American tradition, Major League Baseball's Opening Day 2014. I attended both the White Sox and Cubs home openers. Everybody was optimistic with the warm weather of spring and the start of a new season. Last week, I wrote about the Sox, now the Cubs. The Cubs are celebrating one hundred years at historic Wrigley Field, built in 1914.
Patriotism was alive and well at Wrigley Field with all the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day. On this extremely cold spring day, it started with all the players announced and standing at attention on their baselines. Then a military squad presented the colors followed by 21 school children from nearby Blaine Elementary School leading the Pledge of Allegiance. Wayne Mesmer then belted out God Bless America and the National Anthem. Meanwhile, about 35 members of the military unrolled a hundred foot American flag in the outfield.
Next in an unusual move, the opposing manager threw out the first pitch. This is unheard of in baseball, except that the opposing manager was Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, who is now managing the Philadelphia Phillies. He was accompanied by Cubs legends Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Fergie Jenkins. Of course, the always loyal Cub fans booed Ryno.
While all this all was going on, politics was in full throttle in the lower deck where I had slipped in (my seat was in the bleachers with regular folks).
First I ran into U.S. Senator Dick Durbin soon followed by Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton. As I moved about I saw Cook Country Board President and possible mayoral candidate Toni Preckwrinkle. Later in the second inning Mayor Rahm Emanuel slipped in to sit in the front row with this group. Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts was also in those seats, who by the way is a big President Obama supporter. I would have loved to have heard what they all were talking about.
The Cubs are trying to get some government money and approval for upgrades and a huge jumbotron (5700 square foot TV screen) in left field. This is where the politics mix with the baseball. The Cubs are a huge economic engine for Chicago with employees, tourism, construction and taxes. They pay gobs in employment taxes, property taxes, and that darned 12% amusement sales tax on every ticket sold.
The rest of the Ricketts clan were around on Opening Day, including Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts who has tried to stay non political although I did see see him at the Bruce Rauner Victory Party two weeks ago. Other family member owners, brothers Pete and Todd were also on hand. Pete is running for governor of Nebraska as a Republican. Todd is an active Republican fundraiser. The dad, Joe Ricketts, king of the Republican super PACs, may have been there, but I didn't spot him.
I'm personally torn on the Wrigley Field proposed expansion and Jumbotron issue. I like the park retro look with a focus on baseball with less ads. On the other hand, I support the free market. The Ricketts own the joint and they should do what they want. I do feel a Jumbotron will have a negative effect with a backlash from older fans and neighbors. It will also block the rooftops that have a contract till 2023 - and they have been key in holding up the construction project.
The TV news show 60 minutes featured both sides in the rooftop dispute on Showtime this week. The rooftops represented by Beth Murphy (owner of Murphy's Bleachers) was interviewed along with Tom Ricketts. Beth is also president of the Wrigleyville Rooftop Association of about a dozen buildings and bars on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues. Currently, the Cubs get 17% of ticket sales from the rooftops that overlook the field with an agreement of no obstructions being built like a mega jumbotron.
I am somewhat biased as a bleacher regular and occasional ballhawk. Ballhawks are crazy folks who stand on Waveland during the game and batting practice to catch home runs hit out of the park. They catch balls much like a bird (hawk) nabs its prey. The new proposed jumbotron will block 80% of the balls from leaving the park. Ballhawking is a nonpartisan issue. People of all political beliefs love to get a baseball, a great tradition of Wrigley Field.
Baseball is America's pastime but so is politics. So much of both revolve around money. If the Cubs can just win a World Series, maybe all problems will be solved.
By the way, the Cubs lost 7-2 in the the opener. Play Ball!
Opening Day 2014 at 100 year old Wrigley Field
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