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Ex-Cub Byrd: Wrigley needs batting cage

CHICAGO -- Former Chicago Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd said the biggest problem with Wrigley Field from a players' standpoint is the lack of a batting cage.

"With all the day games it is hard to get in any extra work," said Byrd, whose New York Mets opened a series at Wrigley Field on Friday. "The only way to hit is walking across the field into the right field cage and hit before BP or on a rainy day. In every other ballpark you can hit in a cage by your own dugout before during and after games."

At Wrigley, players have to go up in the clubhouse and hit a ball off a tee into netting as the only way to get ready to hit or get loose.

"During the game in all the other parks you can get in a cage and take a few swings to get ready," said Byrd, who played with the Cubs from 2010 through early 2012. "Pinch hitters can't get loose or see any pitching before they hit here. They can't see a live arm or work on hitting a certain pitch that a reliever throws. In the cages elsewhere you can hit off of a slider machine and get ready."

Free agents look at workout facilities as a key for preparation in their prospective home park.

"Look at the state-of-the-art spring training facility (the Cubs) are building in Mesa," said Byrd, who is batting .271 with the Mets this season. "I think it will be a huge letdown for the guys coming from their beautiful new facility after spring training to this older field type of clubhouse with cramped quarters."

Byrd said former hitting instructor Rudy Jaramillo was promised a batting cage when he was recruited as hitting coach before the 2010 season.

"He was excited about plans to have a batting cage," Byrd said. "They told him he would have one next to the home dugout. It didn't happen the three years he was here, and I am not sure what happened. I think it would have helped him and our hitters be better."

Byrd and Jaramillo were moved out in 2012. Jaramillo was fired before the All Star break, and Byrd was traded to the Boston Red Sox in May 2012 after suffering through a horrendous slump to start the season. He was eventually suspended for violating baseball's substance abuse program and served a 50-game suspension. Byrd went to Mexico over the winter and played himself back into shape.

"It wasn't humbling at all," Byrd said Friday. "It was something that needed to be done. I am not afraid to work. Things happen for a reason and for some reason it was meant for me to go to Mexico and play. The 50-game suspension I had was unfortunate but at the same time it took me down on a path I needed to go down. I walked every bit of it and came out on the right side."

Byrd is a big fan of Cubs ownership and still considers Tom Ricketts a friend.

"They are trying to get this ballpark up to date for the fans and players as well," he said. "Free agents go to visit cities as part of the process of deciding where they want to play. Look, guys come through Citi Field, they see that is an amazing facility. If I was a player right now and had to choose between New York and Chicago based on facilities, I would choose New York all of the time."