Rozner: Cubs fortunes rise and fall at Wrigley in opener

  • Starlin Castro walks back to the dugout after striking out in the eighth inning in Sunday night's season opener at Wrigley Field.

    Starlin Castro walks back to the dugout after striking out in the eighth inning in Sunday night's season opener at Wrigley Field. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/5/2015 11:30 PM

The very new and the very old ran headfirst into one another Sunday night at Wrigley Field in an inevitable collision designed not to offend those who instinctively balk at change, but instead to further the cause of winning while bringing a crusty franchise and its occasionally intransigent fan base into the modern world.

Kicking and screaming all the way.

 

No, there weren't any two-ton concrete blocks falling on patrons on Opening Night, but Fall Out Boy -- the standard sports festival act these days -- bellowed out hit after hit, seen on a sparkling new Jumbotron in front of the brand-spanking-new Cubs, while the old ball yard looked in so many ways centuries behind the times.

But Tom Ricketts and friends are working on it.

Just like the team needed to be rebuilt from the bottom up -- an irresistible reconstruction that's nearing its completion, perhaps a year away from being able to light 'em up -- the ancient ballpark also needed to be taken down and rebuilt for the immortals.

That project is far from over, and many will argue with merit the notion that it could have been done faster and cleaner had the Cubs abandoned the North Side facility for a year or two.

But what's done is done -- with apologies to Uma Thurman -- and now it will be some time before Wrigley is done.

Notwithstanding the blasted bleachers and crippled concourse, the baseball gods shined on Cubs fans all day and gave them perfect weather for the opener, hardly to be expected and snow a better bet after the last two miserable, interminable months.

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Though Kris Bryant could only be found on a nearby billboard mocking Theo Epstein, starter Jon Lester rushed to be ready after a dead-arm phase late in camp, and Joe Maddon was in all his glory, basking in the beauty he still sees in Wrigley despite the hard hats and rubble.

These were the unexpected upgrades, Epstein capitalizing on opportunities to invest in the future, a well-placed wager on 2016.

Likewise, Ricketts is investing in the ballpark's future, the shiniest new example a videoboard that hardly trumps the ballpark's quaint nature, only a third the size of Seattle's and half the size of Kansas City's.

Not only is it spectacular but it could easily be twice as big and no one born after the invention of television would complain, unless complaining is an occupation accompanied by compensation.

Still, there are serious ballplayer comforts missing for a while, the simple things like a secluded parking lot where the players can sneak in and out unmolested, and the necessary, like batting cages.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So Sunday was certainly no picnic for the players, who had to play an exhibition game in Phoenix before flying home late Saturday, the opener moved up a day to accommodate national TV.

Not only was there no traditional off-day workout, giving players -- new and old -- a chance to acclimate, but even batting practice was moved up to facilitate a pregame concert.

For Maddon, the pomp was a matter of circumstance, the inconvenience understandable, the novel necessary, and it was all he could do to keep from singing, "Thanks for the Memories."

"For me, it's a new beginning," Maddon said. "The fan base has been energized. That's what I've been hearing. They're all jacked up, and that's good.

"If there's anything I want to be able to change, it's the definition of the word 'pressure' this year. I do talk about not permitting the pressure to exceed the pleasure of the moment. I really think pressure is a positive word. I really do. Everybody seems to think it's not."

It wasn't so much the pressure Sunday night as poor Cubs defense that cost Lester in his first Chicago start, a 3-0 defeat, but that was part of the reason Maddon lobbied for Javy Baez at second base. Three pop flies landed in front of Jorge Soler, and Baez might have had them all.

Offensively, the Cubs stranded four leadoff runners, including 3 doubles, and went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position while managing to get shutout in Game 1, but the Cubs also knew runs might be hard to come by this season.

Bad baseball, long toilet lines and general discomfort left no shortage of opportunity for cheap shots and clichés, and it was no small miracle if one could avoid taking the obvious and insipid route Sunday night.

But it was a single game. Sunday's opener will soon be forgotten and only days from now will be revealed as nine innings in an eight-month long season.

Historically speaking, it was also clear a new day had broken. It was palpable for anyone retaining a pulse, and it won't be long before even the most sophomoric critics see the on-field and off-field reconstruction for what it is:

Overdue.

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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