Monday night is the home opener for the World Champion Chicago Cubs. Dan Shulman will be on-hand with ESPN’s Monday Night Baseball broadcasting the ceremony and game.
The night has finally arrived. It is the day that Chicago Cubs fans have waited 108 years to see. World Series championship banners will be raised at Wrigley Field for the first time. It will be an exciting night for everyone. But there is also a game against the Cubs’ NLCS opponents from a year ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Dan Shulman, the 2011 National Sportscaster of the Year, joins Aaron Boone, Jessica Medoza, and Buster Olney as ESPN covers the ceremony and the Monday night game.
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On Sunday, we had the opportunity to speak with Shulman about the home opener, the Chicago Cubs’ performance and how the Dodgers stack up as challenger for the National League crown.
Opening days are special. Many times, fathers take their kids to these games to experience the excitement. Shulman has experienced many of these exciting events as a broadcaster, but his fondest Opening Day memory came 40 years ago.
"I tend to think about games I’ve broadcast toward the end of the year than opening day. If I had to think of one, it would not be as a broadcaster. It would be my first game I went to. That would be the first game ever for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977. That will be my best memory for Opening Day because I was a 10-year-old kid, it was my first game and I was with my dad. So, that will be my biggest memory."
There is no reason to think Opening Day 2017 is going to supplant that memory, and no one would blame him for that. But, even as a broadcaster, Shulman is a fan of baseball – and its longstanding history.
"As a broadcaster, I believe tomorrow night is going to top it all. You know, usually in the hour leading up to first pitch, I am filling out my score card and getting my notes together. But I want to get there extra early to get everything out of the way. I just want to sit there and be able to watch the ceremony, just like everyone else there and those watching on TV. I want to be sure I get to soak it all in."
Most, if not all, of us will be watching or listening to the events that transpire Monday at Wrigley Field. I, for one, wish I could be in the middle of it all. The sights and sounds are going to be something we have not witnessed in our lifetime, and may not again. Of course, we know the streets will be crowded and the cold beverages flowing. But, as Shulman says, after 108 years you have earned that right.
"I think it will feel a lot like it did last year in the postseason when the Cubs had home games. When you wait more than a century for something, you get the right to let off a little steam, and people will let off a lot of steam."
With all the pomp and circumstance of the day, there is still a baseball game that needs to be played. The Chicago Cubs enter the game scoring 18 runs in two days. After a few days of struggles, the offense is starting to click. It is a long season, but Shulman believes the Cubs are on solid footing.
"I think that you can’t draw too many conclusions from a first week of baseball. It is a very small sample size. They’ve still got a really good offense, we saw that (Saturday) when they scored 11 runs. They got five in the first two innings (Sunday). They have a ton of flexibility and versatility. The rotation is virtually the same as last year, and they figure to be really good. And the bullpen is deep. I do not see any reason why the Cubs shouldn’t have a great season this year."
With any team, initial impressions are set during the first week. Most reactions range from patient to “the sky is falling,” especially for fans of the Chicago Cubs. Kris Bryant had a rough start to the week, and people were writing him off for the year. A few games later, and he moved his average from .000 to .269. To this point, Shulman believes that Jason Heyward‘s performance is the most surprising.
"Maybe Heyward swinging the bat as well as he has because he did not have a great spring. We all know he reworked his swing in the offseason. The numbers were not there in the spring, but in the first week it looks like he is having a lot more success than he did last year."
The Dodgers made it to the NLCS last year, taking the Cubs to six games in the series. Not only did they retain Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen, their rotation is mostly healthy. That makes the Dodgers dangerous in Shulman’s eyes.
"it is really early, but if I had to pick and NLCS right now it would be the Cubs and the Dodgers. I know Washington and a certain number of other teams can get in on it as well. And the Dodgers not only retained the guys that you mentioned, but they had so many injuries in their starting rotation last year. They used 15 different starting pitchers. If they just have reasonably good health from their starting rotation, they are going to be a really, really good team. They won the NL West four years in a row, made it to the NLCS last year. They are definitely going to be a threat."
It is a long season, and we are just getting started. The performance of Heyward, Albert Almora, and others is encouraging. The series against the Dodgers means little in terms of what is to come, but the teams are poised for a NLCS rematch.
All eyes will be on Wrigley Field on Monday. Here is hoping the Chicago Cubs give us many reasons to celebrate.