Mix of past and future makes present tense for Cubs fans
The first Opening Night in Wrigley Field history centers mostly on the standbys of the past that are missing. No bleachers, no Mr. Cub, no frigid Monday afternoon, not enough bathrooms.
One Wrigley staple doesn't change: The 3-0 spanking by the rival St. Louis Cardinals marks the fifth straight year that the Cubs have lost the Wrigley Opener.
But the first Opening Night in Wrigley also features hints of the future, with a new video screen looming over where the left-field bleachers are under construction, a new ace on the mound, a new manager and talk of sluggers to come.
Until then, the ballclub and its 101-year-old ballpark are experiencing the growing pains of rebuilding projects. The sign outside a boarded-up bathroom reads, "Future Home of a Better Men's Restroom (Long Live the Troughs)."
This pleases fans who can't imagine their 21st century ballpark without a 19th century urinal. Some men among the 35,055 in attendance, tired of long lines for the restroom apparently find an alternative use for beer cups.
Throughout Wrigley, the much more pleasant smell of freshly cut lumber and new paint is as prevalent as signs with the old-school Cub logo advising fans, "Under Cubstruction. Bear With Us."
The left-field corner of the bleachers is covered in plywood.
The right field corner features exposed steel beams.
The rest of the bleachers, which are scheduled to open later this summer, are covered with a large photographic tarp showing a series of images of Ernie Banks, who died in January at age 83.
The previous 30 straight years, Debra Hruby of Wheaton has celebrated Opening Day in the bleachers with her son, Sean.
In those early years, she had to sneak him out of school.
For the last six years, they've had to sneak Sean's 10-year-old son, Cal, out of school in extending the tradition to a third generation. This year, with no bleachers, Hruby, her son and grandson had to scramble to find seats in the upper-deck behind home plate.
Gazing out on the closed bleachers where they always sit, the only thing for the Hrubys to see is the new video screen towering above the construction zone.
"The first thing I said when I saw it was, 'I don't hate it,'" Debra Hruby says, explaining that she understands some changes need to be made to keep the old ballpark viable. "If it (the video screen) keeps Wrigley Wrigley, I'm fine with it. And when we get our bleacher seats back, we won't even know it's there because it will be behind us."
Most fans, including Sean Hruby of Geneva, say the modern screen adds to their enjoyment in the old ballpark.
"It's about time," Sean Hruby says. "I've been sick of arguing with people next to me about whether he (a runner) is safe or out. It's good to be able to see a replay."
Next to a sign reading, "Refugee Bleacher Bum," Todd Robel of McHenry County says he's fine with giving up his season tickets in the bleachers for a couple of months if it means the Cubs become a better team.
"They are upgrading. It will all work out in the long run," Robel says.
"I'm mesmerized," Mount Prospect resident Bud Sonoda admits, as he finds himself looking at the new video screen more than he would have imagined.
"I love it," agrees Jim Bozikis, an Arlington Heights resident and season-ticket holder spending his 19th straight Opening Day with Sonoda. "But it's weird, especially with the rest of the bleachers being dead. It will be better when the bleachers are alive again."
Bozikis and Sonoda figure other additions will be coming soon, with the addition of prospects such as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Addison Russell. But there is something they miss even more than prospects and bleachers.
"You know what else we're missing?" Bozikis says, as the Cubs' batters meekly move through the order without generating much excitement. "Runs."