MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs are teaming up with Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management to conduct a survey involving kids' experiences at Wrigley Field, asking selected fans to help provide the "right opportunities for your kids to connect with the team and grow as the next generation" of fans.
The business operations department has sought input from fans about their 99-year-old ballpark. Despite continued political squabbling, it's expected to go through a major nip 'n' tuck operation when the $300 million renovation plan gets underway.
"We've done a couple things just with trying to get better research on our fans, and just being smarter about what our fans want," Cubs senior marketing director Alison Miller said. "We've done a lot of focus groups in the last couple of months."
Among the kid-friendly topics fans were asked about were batting cages and radar gun zones, kids apps for smartphones and tablets, a kids section, a new Cubs song and "interaction with a mascot."
A mascot at Wrigley Field? In the ballpark that still boos the Wave?
It may sound like heresy to some, but Darwin Barney is intrigued.
"What would it be?" he asked. "A Cub? A Bear? I think it could go either way. There's something fun about having that at the ballpark during the game. Especially with just organ music, there's not much to keep fans into the games at time.
"Incorporating something like that wouldn't hurt. But it's not a dire need."
The Cubs are one of only a few teams that eschew the marketing ploy, joining traditionalists such as the Yankees, Dodgers and Angels. The idea of a mascot brought pitcher Jeff Samardzija back to his days as a minor league pitcher at Class-A Daytona, where he said fans, players and vendors abused the Cubs mascot on a near daily basis.
"That didn't go over too well," Samardzija said.
But would it work at Wrigley?
"Probably not," he replied. "People aren't going to go to Wrigley Field and want to see a mascot. There are other things people want to see."
Samardzija wasn't just talking about baseball.
Other Chicago teams have mascots without an uproar, including Stanley the Hawk, Benny the Bull and Southpaw, a second generation White Sox mascot that followed in the furry footsteps of the much-reviled Ribbie and Roobarb from the 1980s.
It took some time for the South Side to accept mascots existed, and Sox fans weren't ready for one in the Disco era. When the White Sox banned longtime, self-appointed mascot Andrew Rozdilsky, aka, "Andy the Clown" from performing in old Comiskey Park to accommodate the new mascots, local sportscaster Al Lerner repeatedly railed against Sox management.
The outcry eventually forced the return of Rozdilsky and his signature cheer, albeit in selected areas of the ballpark, far away from the mascots.
Traditions vary from place to place. Boston, where the Cubs get most of their marketing ideas -- not to mention President Theo Epstein and his cast of Red Sox refugees -- introduced Wally the Green Monster to tepid reviews in 1997. But the mascot is still around, and Fenway Park is more iconic than ever.
So are the Cubs in danger of becoming a generic entertainment product wrapped in a cozy, neighborhood setting, or should they simply adapt to the times?
"The tradition is in the organization already as it is," Barney said. "You look at what the Red Sox did with their stadium and just the whole experience of going to Fenway. It hasn't been tarnished it at all. It's still a special place to go, and Wrigley will be a special place to go no matter what you do.
"Whether there's a mascot or music or whatever, it's not going to change the fact you're looking at the ivy, you're looking at the Chicago Cubs on the field. Anything to make the experience better, go for it."
Samardzija is more old school than Barney. He believes the Wrigley experience doesn't need much fine-tuning.
"The tradition is in coming to the game at Wrigley Field with your family, your friends," he said. "Traditions are great, but it's being somewhere you really love. They have modernized Notre Dame Stadium, but inside it feels the same."
All the marketing ideas in the world, whether new or borrowed, won't mean a thing if the Cubs continue to flounder on the field.
But even the young players know who the real star is.
"I feel like Wrigley will sell itself," Anthony Rizzo said. "It's just such a beautiful park."
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