Now the bullpens are hidden away underneath the bleachers, out of sight and sound.
If walking into Wrigley Field, a national historic landmark in a city that embraces its rich architectural heritage, is much the same as ever, the relocation of the bullpens is the latest in a four-year, $600 million renovation project that aims to usher the ballpark into the future while retaining the character of its past.
Two years ago, the Cubs added two video boards — one is 3,900 square feet and sits atop the left-field bleachers — and additional seats in the bleachers. The work inside the ballpark has been accompanied by construction cranes outside: an adjacent six-story office and retail building is just completed, a boutique hotel across Clark Street is under construction, and pits in the ground along Addison Street are due to become residential and retail buildings.
The changes in and around the ballpark have involved political wrangling, even over the smallest details. For example, the Cubs’ original plan for the bullpen doors was scaled down because the ivy is protected by Wrigley’s landmark status — a distinction that gives the Cubs a tax break.
With the bullpens removed, the Cubs added four rows of premium seating, which for Sunday night’s game against the Yankees were priced as high as $254 on the team’s website. And there seemed to be an appreciation from players and fans that even if it is viewed as a money grab, the new seating — like the other changes — has been tastefully done.
“To come here in June or July for a big series when it’s a hot, warm Chicago weekend, it’s a pretty cool experience,” said Yankees designated hitter Matt Holliday, a former outfielder for the Cubs’ rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. “It feels a lot like what it might have felt like in the olden days.”
Bullpens in the field of play were once a staple of ballparks, but they remain in only three stadiums, in Oakland, San Francisco and St. Petersburg, Fla., where the Tampa Bay Rays play. None, though, are quite the way Wrigley’s bullpens were. Crowds are sparse in St. Petersburg and Oakland, where the mounds face the outfield walls. And in San Francisco, pitchers sit in the dugout and go to the bullpen mound only when they warm up.
Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta said warming up in front of the crowd at Wrigley Field helped get him into game mode.
“At first, no one really liked it, to be honest,” Arrieta said of the new bullpens. “I just thought it was really cool to be that close to fans and have that kind of subtle interactions with them without having a lot of verbal communication — some eye contact, some smiles. People would make some funny comments that I would get a kick out of. It was nice to have that to keep loose before the game. But they did a tremendous job with the ’pens the way they are.”
The new bullpens have modern conveniences: flat-panel televisions, a climate-controlled environment and folding chairs that players can pull up behind one-way windows to watch the game. From the outside, the windows do not look like windows at all, but the usual green doors that were cut into the ivy-covered brick walls. The doors in the home bullpen through which players enter and leave were recently converted to mesh and wire so that the players do not feel so removed from the ballpark atmosphere.
There are cameras in the bullpens with video feeds wired to each team’s dugout.
Now, absent the chatter of fans, pitchers warm up in solitude. The only way fans can watch pitchers get ready is by peering through the one-way windows as if they were visitors at the zoo. A sign on the Cubs’ bullpen reads: “Please do not disturb the Cubs. Please kindly keep your paws off the glass.”
Most of the time, this is not necessary — shades are pulled down over the windows.
When Yankees relief pitcher Tyler Clippard emerged after Friday’s game, he said, “it was like coming out of a dungeon.”
The old bullpens could hardly be described that way.
In a notorious episode in 2000, a fan snatched Dodgers catcher Chad Kreuter’s hat as he sat on the bullpen bench, setting off a melee in which Dodgers players and coaches climbed into the stands. The fight led to suspensions or fines for 16 Dodgers players and coaches. But typically, the interplay involves nothing more threatening than lighthearted heckling.
Steve Nidetz, a former reporter and editor for The Chicago Tribune and a longtime season-ticket holder in the first row along the visitors’ bullpen, recently wrote a remembrance in the newspaper.
He recalled Octavio Dotel explaining how he wanted to be a professional volleyball player while growing up in the Dominican Republic until he was convinced there was more money to be made in baseball. And Randy Myers bringing binoculars to occasionally check out women in the crowd. And Curtis Leskanic responding to a heckler, “Hey, do I yell at you when you’re picking up my garbage?”
Moving the bullpens indoors also put an end to a parlor game introduced two years ago by the bullpen catcher, Chad Noble. The rules prescribed that everyone in the bullpen had to freeze when a foul ball was hit in that direction.
“If it was coming at you, you had to wear it,” said Adam Warren, a Yankees reliever who spent the first half of last season with the Cubs. “No way I was doing that.”
On a day like Friday, when the game-time temperature was 45 degrees with the wind whipping through the ballpark at 25 miles per hour, few pitchers were nostalgic about having to retreat from the bullpen to the clubhouse to ride a stationary bike to stay loose.
“Times like this, when it’s cold, we love it,” Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. said. “But when it’s hot, we’d rather be outside.”
To some, though, the environment can be too comfortable. At Yankee Stadium, for example, where there is a lounge in the bullpen where players can stay warm, the pitching mounds are in the open air. At Wrigley Field, there might be a 30-degree difference between the bullpen and the mound, as there was on Friday.
Hector Rondon, a Cubs reliever, said before Friday’s game that the climatic difference sometimes made for difficult adjustments. “The grip is different — you go in the game and now don’t feel your skin, you don’t feel anything when you throw the ball,” he said, hours before the Yankees’ Brett Gardner hit Rondon’s misplaced slider for a game-winning home run.
There are few such complaints from visiting players.
Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, who began his career as a catcher with the Cubs, was always fearful of a ball getting away and interrupting play, a common refrain.
Yankees reliever Dellin Betances, who pitched at Wrigley in 2014, said: “If you throw one away while you’re warming up, you stop the game, and now it’s in your head. You’re thinking about that instead of your normal routine.”
At Wrigley Field, though, there is increasingly a new normal.
Chris Russette, a fan sitting in the front row along the third-base line Friday, said that while he preferred an up-close look at the bullpen, he understood why the Cubs were making changes. A 30 percent increase in ticket prices and the removal of the bullpens has led some to move farther from the field to more affordable tickets.
Nidetz wrote that he would be keeping his tickets — which are now in the fifth row — “but it won’t feel the same without the out-of-town relatives.”
Others apparently feel the same. Most of the seats around Nidetz’s, particularly the premium ones in front of his, were occupied by Yankees fans. Others sat empty on Saturday night — including his.
An earlier version of this article misstated names of two streets surrounding Wrigley Field. They are Clark Street and Addison Street, not Clark Avenue and Addison Avenue.