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Enjoy classic Wrigley before changes begin

4/4/2014
Wrigley Field could look and feel a lot different by Opening Day 2015. Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports

Cherish this moment, Cubs fans.

Yes, your team stinks. No, it's not going to win more than 70-something games this year. Yes, tickets are overpriced.

If you're a die-hard, you'll be glued to Twitter feeds and MILB.com and any morsel of news you can get out of Iowa, Tennessee, Daytona or Kane County.

Younger players are coming. Modernity at the ballpark is coming. A video board as big as Antonio Alfonseca's "deadly belly" is coming, likely in 2015.

More private clubs. More premium.

Outside of Wrigley, there will be a boutique hotel. A boutique hotel! Tens of thousands of square feet of advertising. Clutter. Money.

More of everything is coming. And that's not a bad thing. The world moves on. Wrigley needs the renovation. It needed it years ago. Decades ago, even.

But this is the calm before the storm. It's the time to enjoy Wrigley Field before the changes really begin.

The Ricketts family can market your nostalgia, sell it piece by piece. But it's still the people's ballpark.

Right now, it's still relatively -- almost foolishly -- unscathed. It's still charmingly authentic, a good crummy. Chicago crummy.

Walk around a little. Get there early. Put your phone away.

Listen. Watch. Drink. Tip your vendor. Repeat.

The upside about the team's lousiness? There will be plenty of seats available. Plenty of room to kick back and enjoy the only park not dominated by commercials, replays and noise, for another year, at least.

Yes, even during the 100th anniversary celebration, goofily marketed as "The Party of the Century." Even with the arrival of Clark the Cub, the so-called ambassador of the youth.

Clark is a fine mascot, I'm sure, but the whole notion that he'll attract young fans is nonsense. Chicagoans know how you make a Cubs fan. You bring kids to the park. You buy them giant pretzels and hats and point out players. Walking them up to the park, the grandness of a stadium in a city block, is enough.

And the most real way you make young fans is to put a winner on the field. I got my son interested in my hometown team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, last season. As they won, for the first time since I was in middle school, we enjoyed the Pirates together. In September, he walked around the Strip District in Pittsburgh, telling vendors to "raise the Jolly Roger."

My wife, like tens of thousands of her peers, became a Cubs fan because of the 1984 team. Jody Davis is still her favorite player.

The Cubs could use some new young fans. Some old ones, too.

They lost 240,000 fans in paid attendance from a 101-loss season in 2012 to a 96-loss season in 2013. Empty seats are the norm for much of the season.

The addition of Mike Olt, exciting as it might be, won't bring them back. Javier Baez, if he comes up as expected this summer, will cause a minor stir. And then one by one, two by two, the Cubs will see talent trickle in and fans will rededicate themselves to the major league team.

But until then, Wrigley remains the draw.

I laughed at the rumors of the Cubs moving to the suburbs. So did executives at other teams. Every team that builds a new stadium tries to re-create Wrigleyville. (See Ballpark Village, St. Louis.) But it can't be done. Given the quality of some of the new bars around Wrigley, perhaps it shouldn't be.

But enough of the old school remains. And when the Cubs are good, the vitality of the neighborhood could light the park.

If you're in from out of town, thanks for your amusement tax dollars.

If you're from Chicago, treat yourself to a few games, especially if you can get tickets for free from sad-sack season-ticket holders.

And make sure you look around once in a while. Because, as a famous fictional Cubs fan once said, "If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."