Constable: Looking for hope not as sporting as it used to be
This is not the news we need in a bleak world beset with war in Ukraine, climate change ravaging the globe and a new Kardashian reality show coming in April to Hulu: Baseball's scheduled Opening Day, the annual rebirth of hope, has been canceled.
For most of my life, I welcomed Opening Day as a ritualistic cleansing, a forgiveness of my foolishness for thinking the past year's Chicago Cubs team was going to end the drought and win the World Series, and the embracing of my perfectly plausible prediction that this would be the year the Cubs win the championship.
Baseball, the Cubs and Wrigley Field always gave me hope. That feeling has evaporated. Today marks 887 days since I last saw a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, my longest absence since I saw my first game there as a grade-schooler. I surrendered my share of a season-ticket package that I have been part of for 20 years after watching the Cubs drop the 2019 season finale 9-0 to the hated St. Louis Cardinals. That move beat COVID-19 to the gut punch of the 2020 season, saved me the heartache of the 2021 losing season that saw the Cubs trade away the most beloved names from that glorious 2016 championship season and spares me the anguish of losing out on Opening Day 2022.
"The concerns of our fans are at the very top of our consideration list," pledged Rob Manfred, the MLB commissioner who announced the Opening Day cancellations by explaining that the billionaire owners will continue to lock out the millionaire players until somebody agrees to let the other keep more money. I don't believe Manfred, but there was a time when I believed one of those billionaire owners.
"This is the guy, Cubs fans," began my column on Halloween Day, 2009, after getting a chance to interview Tom Ricketts, the spokesman for the billionaire Ricketts family, who had just purchased the Chicago Cubs. "I see Tom Ricketts, his new 'World Champion Cubs' hat dripping champagne onto a smiling face already wet with tears."
It took seven years, but I got that part pretty much right. However, I naively accepted the other side of Ricketts.
"We are real fans, and we have been for a long time," Ricketts assured me. He told me in 2009 that he wanted to make those bathrooms better, the food options tastier, the ramps and corridors easier to maneuver and "tidy up" the entire ballpark.
He wasn't keen on installing a new level of corporate suites with a view of some Jumbotron.
"I'm not sure how you'd be able to work that in," Ricketts told me then. "Obviously you don't want to change the character. We understand the feel. We understand the vibe. ... It is 100% the intention of me and the family to preserve and improve Wrigley Field. ... It's not our goal to make it a more corporate place."
For the canceled home opener on Monday afternoon, April 4, against those hated Cardinals, Ricketts and Wrigley Field were offering fans the choice of 16 luxury suites, with the cheapest starting at $13,600 for 15 people. The 11 neighborhood rooftops, where I once watched games for free, were starting at $119 a ticket. A pair of tickets in front of my old upper-deck seat were selling for $99 each on StubHub. But the once leisurely stroll from my seat to the press box hit a roadblock a couple of years back when the Ricketts inserted the Catalina Club, one of the five premier clubs for fans willing to pay much more than that for an all-inclusive day at the ballpark with padded seats and big-screen TVs in a climate-controlled environment. Fans who can't afford the new Wrigley can always stay home and pay to watch games on the Sinclair Broadcast Group network that replaced free games on WGN and other stations.
All those changes can't erase the wonderful moments I've enjoyed at Wrigley Field during the past half-century. Besides, it's only baseball, and I'm more worried about the war in Ukraine and whether the world really is getting the upper hand on the pandemic.
"The news about what's happening can seem alarming to all Americans. But I want you to know, we're going to be OK," President Biden assured us during his State of the Union. "We're going to be OK."
Biden sounds as optimistic about our nation as I did about the Cubs for all those Opening Days in the past. But that's where I'm investing my hope this spring.