After a day spent trekking across both Illinois and Iowa on a journey back home to Des Moines, I finally find myself back in front of my laptop – feet kicked up on an ottoman, ready to try and put my Opening Night experience at Wrigley Field into words.
It’s a tall task, given I got to the ballpark seven hours before first pitch – and was the first in-line at the Friendly Confines (See that tall guy on the left side of the photo above? – Yeah, that’s me) – so there’s plenty to talk about.
Along with hundreds of other fans, I was inconvenienced by the unsightly lines created by restroom issues throughout the game. I quickly decided that beer was not going to be a staple of my diet during the game (a travesty, no doubt) – after losing an inning-and-a-half to the shorter of two lines in the concourse.
Old Style, which has been largely phased out at Wrigley since the club signed a massive deal with Anheuser-Busch, has been oft-labeled as ‘stale piss in a can’ – which is pretty accurate. However, it wasn’t Old Style that was left in cups all over the concourse. It was, instead, actual human urine – and that’s tame compared to the people who felt the need to let it hang off the upper deck, relieving themselves into the construction site below.
For me, personally, once I dealt with the lines in the third, I was good to go. Then again, most people don’t even consider not drinking at something like Opening Night, so I can see why it’s such an issue for so many fans. For me, the biggest issue at the game was the fans themselves.
As the pregame festivities wore on (I have to say that the Fall Out Boy bit was a nice thought, but a poor performance by the aging sound system took a lot of the ‘pop’ out of the three-song pregame show) – the anticipation and excitement in the stands was palpable.
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Fans were buzzing – and when first-year manager Joe Maddon was introduced, a sly smile popped up on his face as the 35,000-plus fans in the under-construction Confines erupted in a raucous cheer for their beloved skipper. A similar reaction came when Jon Lester‘s name came across the PA system – but from there, things changed.
During the first, the fans were more excited than I’ve ever seen them. A groundout was enough to make people go crazy. We were slapping hands and screaming like we were mere outs from a pennant. Once Adam Wainwright settled in and it was clear that the Cubs’ ace wasn’t at his best, the hope and excitement was sucked out of the crowd instantaneously.
It was then that I realized something. Cubs fans don’t know how to handle a contending team – let alone a winner. Once the team fell into an early 2-0 hole to the Cards, the thought was there: “We’re going to lose this game.”
You could see it on the faces of countless people. Beer consumption went up and scattered attempted at chants of “let’s go Cubs,” died within seconds of beginning. And, while Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have given us plenty of reasons to be optimistic in the form of prospects and free agent signings, it’s going to be up to us – the Cubs faithful – to change what playing at Wrigley Field means moving forward.
The biggest issue at Wrigley Field isn’t the unfinished bleachers or the new video board. It’s a fan base that doesn’t know how to win.
Sure, the unsightly bleachers that were largely covered in tribute banners to Ernie Banks could be considered an eyesore – especially down the lines where plywood and a steel skeleton were plainly evident – and the new video board in left field takes some getting used to, it’s not these superficial improvements that will make the Cubs a winner – it’s us, the fans.
If you go to St. Louis and watch the Cardinals play, it doesn’t matter what the score is or which team is doing battle with the Redbirds. The fans are always into the game. They know that they can come back late. They know that they can go toe-to-toe with any club in the league. And, most importantly, they don’t hope – they know.
It’s not going to be easy. The Cubs have won 90 games just one time in the last 16 years. The last time the team won a postseason game, George W. Bush was still in office and the popular sitcom ‘Friends’ was just about to come to a close. Chicago hasn’t even appeared in the postseason since 2008 – when the team was swept out in the first-round for the second straight year.
But, just like the rebuild of the last five years took time and is close to producing results, we – as a fan base – must do the same thing. We have to change the way we look at the ‘Lovable Losers’ – and help turn Wrigley Field into a place opponents fear playing – and for more reasons than just the swirling Chicago winds.