CHICAGO (Reuters) - Rooting for a baseball team that has not won a World Series since 1908, the Chicago Cubs’ famous bleacher bums have at least always had a chance to party in Wrigley Field’s outfield stands.
But when the 2015 season opens on Sunday, the more than 5,000 general admission bleacher seats will not be there for fans who like to come early and engage in beer-fueled speculation over how the Cubs will lose this time.
Weather-related delays in rebuilding the bleachers, part of a planned $375 million renovation of the 101-year-old ballpark, means its left-field benches will not be ready until mid-May and right-field seats until mid-June.
Many bleachers season ticket-holders say they will not go to a game until the outfield benches are back.
“I go by myself. When I get there, there will be people I like to spend time with,” said Holly Swyers. “The fact that it won’t be there in April - it makes it not feel right.”
The Cubs have offered bleachers ticket-holders a chance to get a credit while the section is unavailable, or relocate. Cubs spokesman Julian Green, who called the bleacher reconstruction “a small inconvenience,” could not say how many have taken other seats and how many will wait out the construction.
Wrigley’s ivy-covered outfield walls, hand-operated scoreboard, bleachers and rooftop spectators across the streets are familiar images to audiences watching games televised from the stadium, a city historic landmark. The bleachers have been celebrated in books and the 1977 play “Bleacher Bums.”
The Cubs say they need to modernize Wrigley to stay competitive, but some of the planned renovations have drawn criticism, and owners of rooftop bars have sued the team because they say a new video board will block their customers’ view into the stadium.
Swyers, author of “Wrigley Regulars: Finding Community in the Bleachers,” said the experience cannot be reproduced elsewhere in Wrigley and fears other changes like a noisy Jumbotron could mar the atmosphere of the “Friendly Confines.”
“The things that made it a cathedral and an attraction in and of itself are kind of getting eroded,” she said.
But another bleachers season ticket-holder, Al Yellon, 58, editor of the Bleed Cubbie Blue blog, compared the uproar over renovations to the controversy over lights being installed for night games in 1988.
“It’ll be kind of different, but it’s still baseball,” said Yellon, who will sit somewhere else until his old spot is ready.
Jerry Pritikin, known as the “Bleacher Preacher” for his habit of converting out-of-town spectators into Cubs fans, said the park changed for the worse starting with night games and accelerating because of overpriced seats.
“The majority of people like me can’t afford to go to games anymore,” said Pritikin, 78, who will spend opening day walking around outside the park in one of his propeller-topped hats.
The Cubs had the third-highest average ticket price in baseball last year, at $44.16, after the Boston Red Sox, who last won the World Series in 2013, and the New York Yankees, who last won in 2009, according to the Team Marketing Report.
Cubs fans like Pritikin have learned to be patient. When the team last won the National League pennant 70 years ago, Pritikin’s father told him he was too young to see the World Series, but they would go next time.
“I heard the expression ‘wait until next year’ for the first time in 1946,” Pritikin recalled, laughing ruefully.
Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Mohammad Zargham