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It sure is different here, isn’t it?
It’s different at Wrigley Field. It’s the place with those high beer prices, the place where fans sitting in the bleachers talk crap about the ones sitting on the other side, the place where John Vincent will sing the National Anthem and hold the end of the word “free” longer than any of us can talk without taking a breath.
It’s all of those things working in conjunction with a dreary day that featured temperatures sitting in the 40s, rain on the horizon and the ivy still yet to grow on the outfield walls, just like you’d find on April 7 of any year.
“Wouldn’t be Wrigley without a little weather,” Jason Heyward said Thursday morning.
OK, fine, that stuff is certainly not what the Cubs had in mind when they made their season slogan “It’s Different Here.” No, what they meant by “it’s different here” is that it’s a different feeling being at Wrigley Field, watching the Chicago Cubs play baseball. They meant that it’s a different feeling playing at Wrigley Field, running out to perform in front of tens of thousands of Chicago Cubs fans and earning a 5-4 win over the Brewers to kick off the regular season.
And if you want to ask someone to confirm that, there are plenty of faces making up Chicago’s roster who are “different” from the faces fans got so used to seeing dot the field on Opening Days past.
Of the 28 players on the roster on Thursday, 11 weren’t with the Cubs last season. And, as the Chicago Tribune’s Meghan Montemurro pointed out, nine of those 28 had never even been on an Opening Day roster in their careers:
By the time the game ended, six of those new players had made their Cubs debuts and three of those Opening Day newbies had touched the field.
“Now, they must know that this place is special,” said Willson Contreras, who’s now been the starting catcher for six straight Opening Days. “It’s been special to me from Day 1. I encourage them to enjoy it as much as they can, because time goes by and we don’t know how fast it goes.”
There is also another player that didn’t fit either category considering he was on the team in 2021 and was also on an active roster on Opening Day, but since he didn’t play a game for the North Siders last year, it was worth finding out what he thought of making his own Cubs debut.
“It was awesome. I mean, the crowd was just nothing like I’ve experienced before,” said Nick Madrigal, who was acquired by the Cubs on July 30 but didn’t play for them in 2021 due to a right hamstring tear. “It was pretty special today. I felt good overall. I was excited for this one. I waited for this moment for a very long time, and it didn’t disappoint at all.”
Still, it was “different” seeing the lineup Chicago put out for Opening Day 2022, which was missing former staples like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez. In fact, it was the first Opening Day Cubs lineup that didn’t feature any of those three in a decade. Just to spell out how long ago that was, here is that starting lineup from April 5, 2012, against the Nationals:
- David DeJesus, RF
- Darwin Barney, 2B
- Starlin Castro, SS
- Alfonso Soriano, LF
- Ian Steward, 3B
- Jeff Baker, 1B
- Marlon Byrd, CF
- Geovany Soto, C
- Ryan Dempster, P
What was that slogan again? “It’s different here”? You think so?
Even that Opening Day, however, saw an announced attendance of 41,176 (per Baseball Reference). Whether it was the weather, fan resentment over the lockout, fan apathy toward Chicago’s current roster or any other reason, on Thursday, the announced attendance was 35,112.
Without the big names from the past to help, the Cubs didn’t sell out. Fans apparently want to see the team put a winning product on the field before shelling out hard-earned dollars on what can admittedly be an expensive Wrigley Field experience.
That isn’t to say, though, that those running the team don’t see it as a winner.
“We’re going to go out and try to compete every single day,” manager David Ross said prior to Thursday’s game. “I think the goal here is to win championships, as I always say, so we’re going to work towards that. We’re going to be better at the end than we are right now. I’m sure of that.”
However, the only way to draw back those fans, the only way to show that this year will be “different” than the last two months of 2021, is to prove it on the field. And that the Cubs did on Thursday.
With the reigning National League Central champions — and the favorites to win it again — in town, Chicago kicked off the Major League Baseball season with a victory. The Cubs tagged 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes with three runs over five innings, and after the Brewers tied the score at 3, they later used a two-run seventh inning to take back a two-run lead. At the end of the matchup (and before any other MLB games came to an end), Chicago held sole possession of the best record in the majors.
“It’s just so many people that did a lot,” Nico Hoerner said. “A lot of people with things to prove, and I think that’s a really healthy thing. It’s not always going to be a win. Whatever the result is, like, even if we had lost today, there was a ton of positivity in it. Just consistency of at-bats, bullpen arms that threw well. Obviously, Kyle (Hendricks). Those were very real things.”
“Obviously, you want to win them all, but Opening Day, this kind of crowd, against a division opponent, a really good pitcher on the mound for them — just happy for our guys,” Ross said. “They fought to the end. A lot of back and forth resiliency, right? Just fun to see those characteristics come out really early, and guys making big pitches in big moments. Really positive sign so far.”
Sure, it’s only one game, and yes, Chicago will still have to face Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta over the next two games. But after Madrigal fired the ball over to Frank Schwindel at first base to lock down the Cubs’ first win of the season, the home crowd hung around to sing along to the same old lyrics of “Go Cubs Go.”
“Go Cubs Go”?
Hey, maybe this place isn’t so “different” after all.
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