Yesterday was an unusually busy off-day at the “Friendly Confines,” which was officially named host of the 2009 NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.
All it took was seeing the outline of a rink just beyond second base, dwarfed by the entire diamond, to visualize how memorable this event will be.
I think Cubs chairman Crane Kenney said it best: “We have a motto around here, and that is, ‘The best games are played in October.’ So maybe for one year we’ll have to suspend that and say maybe the best games are played in January, as well.”
As much as yesterday’s on-field press conference was a media event, NHL officials and Blackhawks players and front office staff took tours of the stadium and repeatedly said how amazed they were by the lush grass.
It was great to see former Cubs president John McDonough, who was beaming the whole morning. It was his first time back inside Wrigley Field since he jumped to the Blackhawks in December. “It’s surreal to be back,” John told me. “I got chills just walking into it.”
I asked him about what he hopes this event will offer to Wrigley Field and the neighborhood, which also stand out as one of the best in sports. He said that he envisions it really incorporating the packed crowd and enthusiasm that Cubs fans offer on a daily basis but that Blackhawks fans will make their mark with their signature applause-filled National Anthem.
The big question remains where the rink will go. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that architects and engineers will “spin” the rink all over Wrigley Field to ensure the best sightlines. No location has been ruled out, and he said that it could even be placed over the pitcher’s mound by constructing an elevated platform. Looking at the upper deck seats, McDonough reminisced about sitting in the balcony at old Chicago Stadium.
And in that way, it’s amazing that a first-time event can feel so classic, so at home at Wrigley Field.
? Hawks players wearing Cubs hats and grabbing bats in the home clubhouse, squeezing the grips and taking some slow half-swings.
? Bobby Hull saying “Go Cubbies!” as he walked on stage with fellow greats Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito. Someone in the crowd pleaded that the trio not sing, referring to their rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” earlier this summer. A smiling Hull responded, “Thank you for that sitting ovation.”
? Several players saying they were ready to start playing on the Wrigley Field grass right now.
? A posed face-off between young phenoms Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane at home plate.
The Winter Classic logo, draped across the centerfield bleachers, incorporating the trademark Wrigley Field marquee as the top half of the log.
– Sean Ahmed