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updated: 4/4/2014 9:18 PM

Cubs get chilly reception on Opening Day

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  • Cubs reliever Wesley Wright reacts after giving up a 2-run homer in the eighth inning Friday.

      Cubs reliever Wesley Wright reacts after giving up a 2-run homer in the eighth inning Friday.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Hall of Famers, from left, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg prepare to throw out the first pitch prior to the Cubs home opener against Phillies on Friday at Wrigley Field.

       Hall of Famers, from left, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg prepare to throw out the first pitch prior to the Cubs home opener against Phillies on Friday at Wrigley Field.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

Ryne Sandberg bounced out of the Phillies' dugout early Friday morning at Wrigley Field, looked up at the flags and shook his head.

"Does it feel familiar?" Sandberg laughed, repeating the question. "Yeah. It feels like a .220 career batting average in April."

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Actually, he hit .235 the first month of the season over a Hall of Fame career that saw him bat .297 the other five months.

It only felt like .220 because of the cold and wind, the ever-present reminder that Arizona is a distant memory and winter will be over at a moment of its choosing -- clearly not any time soon -- and rarely at any time during the first month of the baseball season.

Friday was no exception, not on another frigid day during The Winter That Would Never End.

The game-time wind chill was an unpleasant 28 degrees, with winds whipping at 23 mph and gusting to 30, conjuring up memories of Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day," when he proclaimed, "It's gonna be cold. It's gonna be gray. And it's gonna last you the rest of your life."

Cubs fans know the feeling -- on so many levels.

The worst Chicago winter in four decades raged on Friday, howling through Wrigley Field on Opening Day, with the Cubs (1-3) playing a game that looked familiar, felt familiar and -- in reality -- was familiar.

They pitched well for 6 innings, made mistakes in the field and failed to secure a hit after the third inning as the Phillies (2-2) defeated the North Siders 7-2.

The best moment of the day arrived before a pitch was thrown in anger, when Sandberg joined fellow Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins for a ceremonial first pitch to begin Wrigley's 100th birthday, the one they're calling, "The Party of the Century."

The Cubs asked the Phillies' manager to wear a Cubs hat and jersey, an odd request considering he currently wears another uniform, and would have had his players and ownership wondering about his loyalties.

There's also the small matter of him being passed over for a managing position here -- twice -- not to mention the Cubs' claim at the Convention that Sandberg was invited, which turns out to be on the opposite side of true.

Rest assured, Sandberg has moved on emotionally and geographically, and by the fifth inning Friday so had a majority of the fans, as much a result of the game as the weather.

"Fans come here to see a good ballgame and see the team play well," said new victim Rick Renteria after his first game at home. "They have every right to be dissatisfied, as are we in the clubhouse."

Starlin Castro (2-for-17) was booed twice, once for a misplay in the field and again after hitting into a double play to end the eighth, a surprisingly impatient response to what nearly everyone knows will be another rough season amid a lengthy, but necessary rebuilding process.

"We're going to have a great year," owner Tom Ricketts said before the game. "I don't want to put a number on it, but I just know we're going to be a better team, and we're going to have an exciting summer on the field."

Ricketts might actually believe that, but he's the same guy who said David DeJesus was a tremendous player and Cubs fans would fall in love with him.

In any case, another 95-loss season would surprise no one, and with Opening Day bringing only 38,283 to the yard -- 3,000 under a sellout -- it's fair to wonder if failing attendance will test Ricketts' patience.

"It's obviously been a long time (without) a title," said GM Jed Hoyer. "I think with that is the patience. People want to be here Opening Day and feel like they're watching a team that they can be buying playoff tickets for.

"They wouldn't be fans if they didn't do that. I want the fans to want that possibly sooner than we can provide it."

There remains no timeline for that to occur.

"I feel really good about where the organization is," Hoyer said. "We're on the right track. I think it will be very soon that we're sitting here on Opening Day and we're talking about a team that can play deep into October."

Cold as it may seem, that day was not Friday.

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.

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