With Cubs advancing, spotlight shines on Wrigley

CHICAGO (AP) Will Byington sat at the counter in the Starbucks across Addison Street from Wrigley Field editing pictures on a laptop.

A freelance photographer, his work lines the walls. One of his favorite subjects? Of course, it's the ballpark.

''I joke that this Starbucks is my local art gallery,'' Byington said.

If anyone understands the quirky nature of the 101-year-old ballpark and the surrounding neighborhood, he sure does.

After all, he lives one long home run from the batter's box. The apartment building he has lived in the past 10 years lies just beyond the right-field foul pole, and the front door is 461 feet from home plate. Or so it says on his lease.

Where else but in Wrigleyville would a lease say that?

It's just another characteristic that sets the fabled stadium apart, along with the famed marquee, the manual scoreboard, the ivy-covered brick outfield walls and the ballhawks in the surrounding streets chasing home runs.

With Joe Maddon's Cubs advancing in the playoffs for the first time in 12 years and igniting hope that - at long last - a World Series title is in reach, the Friendly Confines are getting a rare moment on a big stage. The NL Championship Series shifts to Chicago for Game 3 after the Mets grabbed the first two in New York over the weekend.

When they take the field Tuesday, the spotlight will be shining on two teams with young stars along with one very old ballpark.

The Cubs had never clinched a playoff series at Wrigley Field until they knocked off St. Louis in the division series, and when Kyle Hendricks unleashes the first pitch, it will be the latest they have played a game in the ballpark. They lost at home to Philadelphia on Oct. 23, 1910, giving the Athletics the World Series in five games. But back then, they played at the old West Side Park. And they were a mere two years removed from winning the World Series.

Wrigley Field did not open until 1914 and the Cubs did not start playing there until 1916. Over the years, it has hosted everything from boxing to soccer to pro wrestling to the circus to the rodeo and even ski jumping.

It's a ballpark that while viewed as a throwback today has in fact played a big role in changing the way fans view sports. It was the first to let them keep foul balls. It was the first with organ music. And it was the first to be cleaned up in an effort to attract women and children.

The manual scoreboard and ivy were added in 1937.

Lights? Not until 1988, after every other ballpark got them.

Now, the ballpark is in the early stages of an overhaul designed to bring it into the 21st Century, one that added expanded bleachers this year along with large videoboards in left and right field. The one in right figures to get some air time Tuesday, considering the ball that Kyle Schwarber launched for a home run to help knock out St. Louis in the division series is encased where it settled on top.

Add that to the list of odd moments in a ballpark full of them.

Where else have players been known to hide balls in the ivy just in case they need to find one quickly to throw out a runner?

It's a place where a Bear was allowed on the field for the first National League game in 1916. A billy goat, however, got ejected during the 1945 World Series along with its angry owner, who placed a curse on the Cubs. And they haven't won the pennant since then.

But when Maddon was asked about the quirks of Wrigley Field, he didn't mention the ivy or the scoreboard or any of those unusual moments. To him, it's about looking out from the third-base dugout at the fans way back in the upper deck in right.

''Whoever sits in that last seat up in that corner, I'm impressed every night because the view cannot be the best,'' he said. ''The overhang has got to get in the way. There's got to be all these obstacles, but you still want to be there. So that's just a part of the allure of this ballpark.''

Part of it, too, is the neighborhood.

At Starbucks, supervisor Allie Murphy said it's not unusual to see fans and TV cameras milling about outside on game days hoping to catch a ballplayer.

''I try to make it a place that maybe they (the players) can get away from it a little bit,'' she said.

Sometimes Byington will peer across the street from Starbucks and see opposing players exercising on the ramps outside the visitors' clubhouse. He has run into Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and executive Theo Epstein at the cafe, and he said he was there in August several Atlanta Braves rookies in uniform made a coffee run for the veterans.

''That is what's very unique about the intimacy of Wrigley Field,'' Byington said. ''It's very cool.''