Cubs break a few more hearts

Danny Espinosa of the Washington Nationals leaps over Jeff Baker of the Chicago Cubs as he turns a...

Danny Espinosa of the Washington Nationals leaps over Jeff Baker of the Chicago Cubs as he turns a double play during the opening day game at Wrigley Field Thursday. (GETTY IMAGES)

Ken Fidlin, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:07 PM ET

SPO - Two hours before first pitch, gridlock reigns supreme in the emotional centre of the baseball universe. The corner of Clark and Addison is a scene of happy chaos.

The bars are full, the sun is shining, the Cubs are back and, somewhere, comedian Bill Murray is doing windsprints or pushups or whatever the ceremonial first-pitch thrower does to warm up.

Murray didn’t just throw out the first pitch, but ran the bases, sliding into home plate. When he stepped up to the microphone during the seventh-inning stretch to lead the crowd in Take Me Out To The Ballgame he screamed “We’re going to win today and then we’re going to win every single game.”

Okay, maybe next year.

The hoary old bromide that insists “hope springs eternal” is no where more a reality than on this day, in this place. There are better teams than the Chicago Cubs. Probably about 25 of them, actually, but none more beloved because, I guess, the world is full of masochists.

It has been 103 years since the north side of Chicago has won a World Series. In the intervening century-plus, they have at least been in the World Series seven times, losing each one. The most recent occurred in 1945.

As if on cue, the Cubbies broke a few hearts Thursday in classic Cub fashion. It may have been opening day for the Theo Epstein Era but this was business as usual. They took an early lead while Ryan Dempster was putting up a steady string of zeros, building hopes, leading by a run with four outs to go. Then Kerry Wood came out of the bullpen, dealing a brutal dose of reality. Wood walked three, including one with the bases loaded to tie.

Washington Nationals got to Carlos Marmol for another run in the ninth to take the lead but the Cubs weren’t done torturing their fans. After Ian Stewart’s one-out triple in the bottom of the ninth, he was thrown out at the plate on a ground ball, letting all the air out of the Wrigley balloon.

No matter what Murray says, few people believe this is Chicago’s year.

What they do believe is that, with Epstein running the show now in concert with general manager Jed Hoyer, there is reason to hope for the future.

Epstein was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, after 86 years of nothing.

As far as Epstein is concerned, his greatest asset in pursuit of success in Chicago will be thick skin.

“I can go ahead and write your stories for you now if you want,” Epstein told a group of reporters.

“At some point you’re going to wake up and write about ‘Oh, the honeymoon is over. We’re not seeing enough progress.’ I don’t know when that’s going to be. It might be two years from now, it might be three years from now, it might be two months from now, it might be two weeks from now.

“But because progress as an organization isn’t linear, that’s coming, and we just don’t let it bother us. I think it’s important to just focus on what we’re doing internally and understand that everything outside is really, no offence, just noise. Whether it comes from (the media) or even comes from some fans who are deservedly upset at a given point, it’s really just noise and if we let it affect our decision-making, shame on us.”

While Epstein and Hoyer try to build something on the baseball side, owner Tom Ricketts has a grand $400-million renewal plan for the venerable old “Friendly Confines” as well as a number of the businesses on the streets that surround Wrigley.

The idea is to preserve the second-oldest ball park in the country while adding some modern features. A “Cubs Alley” pedestrian thoroughfare with Cubs-themed shops and restaurants is slated for the stadium’s west side.

A development on the east side with parking, retail, concessions, dining and possibly a hotel is in the works. A couple of rooftop patios will crown the stadium’s south and west sides.

New clubhouses to replace probably the grottiest inner sanctums, both for the Cubs and the visitors, in all of baseball will be dug below ground.

Just how extensive the renovations will be will depend upon how deeply Ricketts is able to drink from the public trough, an issue yet to be decided.

But Thursday was about another kind of renewal, the renewal of the oft-painful love affair between the Cubs and their fans, who left shaking their heads in dismay. Epstein will be hearing about it, plenty.

“We’re not going to be deaf to the concerns of the fans and to what’s going on around the club,” he said. “But we also will recognize, especially with respect to the media, that it’s primarily just noise and we have to continue to focus on what we’re trying to do despite the occasional cacophony.”

As the lead disappeared, Murray was watching on a TV in a room adjacent the press box, crestfallen.

“This is the Cubs’ year,” said Murray. “I say that out of fear that one year I won’t say it and that will turn out to be the year.”

 


Photos