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updated: 4/6/2012 1:59 AM

Change in Cubs no laughing matter

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At 10:47 a.m. Thursday, Theo Epstein moved from the back of the batting cage to a spot 20 feet southwest, directly above the "Opening Week'' painted in white above a grass far too green for early April.

To the surprise of many, Epstein did not walk on water.

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He did, however, bloom the ivy and part a sea of reporters, who formed a watertight circle around Epstein, no less than five deep.

Dressed neatly in a pricey, dark suit, replete with commanding tie, the savior was about to hold court, and the media breathless to discover any wisdom he might impart.

Near the dugout with a solitary scribe, GM Jed Hoyer smiled a becoming smile.

"People are just attracted to him," Hoyer explained. "The people here really want to win and they've been waiting a long time, and they see in Theo someone who has won a couple World Series and has a great track record."

And the large group surrounding Epstein?

"That's hope," Hoyer said. "Theo represents hope and it's exciting.

"It's going to take time and patience to build an organization that breeds lasting success, but the reaction to Theo is trust that he knows how to get that done."

But the big grin …

"It's finally time to stop the press conferences and play baseball," Hoyer said. "We lead the league in press conferences and we haven't done anything yet, but now it's Opening Day and we're finally at Wrigley Field ready to play.

"We're thrilled to start the games. We're very happy it's baseball season."

It would be impossibly simple and sufficiently cynical to suggest that once the game was played, Hoyer could no longer have been smiling, that the misery of a 2-1 loss to Washington Thursday must have ruined his afternoon.

But the reality is the Cubs played a bad game because they are a bad team, and that's not news to Hoyer and Epstein, who watched Kerry Wood live up to expectations with 3 straight walks and a blown save.

His act is as old and tired as the one offered by Bill Murray, whose pregame trot around the bases and subsequent first pitch to Wood was about the only thing more embarrassing than the eighth inning.

That's when Wood, a Tom Ricketts signing at $3 million, ruined a terrific outing by Ryan Dempster, and preceded a Carlos Marmol defeat in the ninth.

It all felt very much the same as the last couple years, as did some bad baserunning, odd fielding and an approach at the plate one might take with the wind blowing out at 18 mph, not straight in over the scoreboard.

On top of that, in his first game as Cubs manager, Dale Sveum made a couple questionable calls -- though understandably trying to manufacture offense with a weak lineup -- and he did the right thing in pulling Dempster, who did not balk when Sveum came to get him.

"Ryan Zimmerman had about 900 feet of home runs off me if the wind's not blowing in,'' Dempster said. "(Sveum) knows what he's doing. I have complete confidence in him."

Now that's definitely change, and perhaps even some hope. Last season, it didn't take long for Dempster to show up Mike Quade and embarrass him on the mound and in the dugout.

So there's that.

Otherwise, it looked every bit as ugly as last season, but the Red Sox weren't built in a day, not even 9 innings, and the Cubs are going to need at least three years to construct something that is long-lasting and sensible.

In the meantime, they will struggle, they will sell and they will sell hard.

Ricketts on Thursday called David DeJesus a "great player," which makes you wonder if he really thinks Sveum will become a "great manager," which is precisely what he said about Quade a year ago.

But Ricketts needs to sell to keep his head above water while the Cubs put in place something significant, and that will require patience and a sense of humor.

They got the latter Thursday from clubhouse loon Matt Garza, who surveyed a postgame clubhouse filled with reporters but nearly void of players and poked fun at the silence, whispering, "Why is it so quiet?"

He then hopped aboard a chair by the stereo system, reached up and turned on some reggae, yelling, "It's like a morgue in here. (Bleep), it's one (bleeping) game."

That brought smiles from the few players sitting at their lockers.

No, there wasn't much different about the Cubs on the field Thursday, at least not that fans could recognize during the game.

But music in the clubhouse after a loss?

If nothing else, the sound of change was loud and Marley clear.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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