CHICAGO – Wrigley Field, the last big league stadium to install lights, will be the first to go wireless.
Starting Tuesday, when Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker needs to communicate with his bullpen during games, he'll call on a wireless handset designed by Motorola Inc. (MOT) rather than reach for the corded phone on the dugout's back wall.
Juan Lopez, the Cubs' bullpen coach, will be sure not to miss the call — he'll have one of the i580 phones strapped to his belt and it will vibrate and produce a loud ring.
The Cubs and Motorola, who announced the arrangement Monday for both the home and visiting dugouts and bullpens, said it will be the first wireless bullpen phone system used by a major league team.
Cubs officials approached Major League Baseball with the idea last November after watching a playoff game in which a team had problems communicating with its bullpen, according to John McDonough, the Cubs' senior vice president of marketing and broadcasting.
"It's just an idea whose time has come," he said. "What better place in major league baseball to debut wireless communication than 92-year-old, beautiful Wrigley Field."
Besides providing faster access to the bullpen, McDonough said, the new system provides the league with new revenue opportunities from fees that Motorola and other phone companies will pay to have teams use their branded phones.
Fans needn't get ideas about learning the phone numbers so they can give their input. The push-to-talk phones operate on a private channel and can communicate only with partner handsets.
Motorola said the phones have been tested to satisfy the security concerns of Major League Baseball, and of Baker himself.
Tom Crawford, director of global sports marketing for the Schaumburg, Ill.-based mobile phone manufacturer, said the system cannot be disrupted by competition from 40,000 fans using their own phones and handheld devices.
The existing phones will remain in place for the rest of the season, but the new system means managers and coaches won't have to be tethered to the wall for calls.
"I don't know that there's anything wrong with a land line per se, but it's kind of ushering the team into the wireless era," Crawford said. "For us, it shows a creative and unique way to apply our technologies."
Besides pursuing similar systems for other ballclubs, he said, Motorola might be able to take advantage of Bluetooth technology and wearable communications for other off-the-field innovations in the future — such as enabling Baker to communicate through a device embedded in his trademark wristbands, or coaches through their caps.
Wrigley Field's first night game was Aug. 9, 1988 — more than 40 years after other teams began playing under the lights.