Yesterday was my 15th straight Opening Day, and if I recall correctly, the 15th straight year I have frozen my ass off at Wrigley Field for the first game of the year. To be fair, I'm sure there has been a somewhat warm Opening Day among those 15 years, but I sure as hell can't remember when they happened. Yesterday was even halfway decent if you happened to be in the sun and not in direct line with the 25 mph wind that was howling in off the lake, so it turns out it might have actually been worth it to sit in the centerfield bleachers at $100+ per ticket. But enough about my bitching about the weather, there is plenty left for me to bitch about.
Kris and I started our day by meeting up with her cousin and husband at Yak-zies. I have normally avoided Yak-zies ever since they accused me and my friends for not paying for a round of drinks, that we not only did pay for, but we paid for them and tipped the waitress on the full round even though she had forgotten two of our drinks when she originally brought them, but that's where they had set up camp so we headed into the lion's den.
By the time we got there a little before 11:00, it was already a clusterfuck in there with a line to get in. This is why the Ricketts want so desperatley to get some development going around the park that goes into their pockets. There was a line to get into fucking Yak-zies. People will literally go anywhere and pay anything to get their drink on for normal game days, and this was Opening Day, which is basically a holiday on the North Side.
We got in pretty quick (it is still Yak-zies afterall), and made our way over to meet our friends, who had made other friends by now. Everybody was very nice, but clearly already drunker than anyone should probably be at eleven in the morning. While we were there, I engaged in some small talk and tried to gauge what the fans were expecting out of the season. One guy who told me his name was Moe, was very optimistic. He bet me a dollar that Soriano would finish the season batting .300 or better. He also expected Samardzija to suck, so he wasn't just vomiting rainbows. Moe thinks they will win 76 games and he's going to owe me a dollar.
Another guy was happy to see "kids" like LaHair and Mather get chances on the team.
I heard another woman who was glad that Dempster would have a chance to be an ace without Zambrano "in the way."
There was lots of talk about how the Cubs could surprise a lot of people by being competitive in the division. Ah, drunk talk. Sweet Opening Day drunk talk.
We had a couple of drinks (and paid for them) and headed on out to get our hats for the year. We walked down Clark and as we went, you could practically smell the hope emanating throughout Wrigleyville. Hope, as it turns out, smells a bit like puke.
As we reached Clark and Addison, we saw The Noodle in its new spot in the McRickett's parking lot. It had a lot of brown crap all over it, and I thought it was there to keep people from sliding on it. It turns out the brown metal stuff nailed to the noodle is supposed to be bacon. I didn't think there was a way to make bacon sound unappetizing, but peppering metal representations of it onto a giant noodle that drunk people will be climbing all over managed to do the impossible.
Of course, that corner is also the new home of the Rickett's new souvenir shop that was hastily erected over the winter to draw in customers that normally would have shopped at SportsWorld, Wrigleyville Sports, or any of the other multiple souvenir shops scattered around Wrigley. Tell us again how you want to help your fellow Wrigleyville business owners by building more competition to all of their business, Tom.
Of course, I don't really care who gets my money as long as I get a good hat for the year so we went in and checked it out.
It turns out it is pretty nice in there. They had a wide variety of items and the staff was far friendlier than most of the staff that I've encountered in the actual ballpark. I found myself a fitted 1934 replica hat.
Kris found herself a gray-greenish hat with a pink C on the Clearance rack that she liked for $10. So we had our new hats for the year and the Ricketts now have more of our money. You're welcome, Tom.
So now we were ready to go into the ballpark. God help us.
The lines went smoothly, including the bag inspection for Kris (which is a welcome change from situations we have experienced in the past).
We headed on up and decided to partake of the ballpark's food offerings out on the sunny patio before settling into our freezing cold seats. I had boycotted paying for food or beverage in Wrigley almost two years ago when I decided the Ricketts weren't going to get any extra money of mine until they did something other than just follow the Tribune's playbook like nothing had ever changed, so this was actually a fairly momentous occasion for my fandom, though I doubt anybody reading this gives a shit.
I went with a hotdog and a brat, and they were pretty much exactly as I remembered them being. That's not a bad thing, but it isn't a good thing either. Wrigley food will probably never be anything that tantalizes taste buds, but they were hot enough and the buns weren't stale, so they met the minimum requirement I have for stadium food.
Now it was time for the introductions. We missed the Nationals getting introduced and I didn't hear any big crowd noise, so I'm not sure what other people have been talking about that DeRosa got a rousing ovation. He might have, but I didn't hear it so it was quiet enough that it didn't carry out to the upper deck patio area.
Then it was the Cubs' intro time. Most of the players got tepid polite applause. Kerry Wood probably got the biggest ovation. Garza, Dempster, and Castro were the next largest. Soriano actually got cheers, and I didn't hear more than a couple of knuckleheads boo anybody. I'm not sure if what surprised me more, the lack of booing for Soriano or the significantly rousing cheers saved for Jeff Samrdzija. I don't know what he has done to enamor himself with the people of Chicago, but there is a large group of people who really like him. Enjoy it while it lasts, buddy.
The highlight of the day came next as Bill Murray came out to toss the ceremonial first pitch and proceeded to "sprint" around the bases. As he came down the line towards home, Kerry Wood gestured wildly for him to slide, and bill awkwardly obliged. It's called dedication to a bit. He then proceeded to toss a one-hopper to the plate after going through the standard comedian-pretending-to-be-a-big-league-pitcher gesticulations and left the field without suffering a heart attack.
As the game started, I set the over/under on Cubs hits for the day off Strasburg at 1. Dempster proceeded to match that number on the first pitch as he gave up a leadoff single. Then we all started getting that sinking feeling as he walked the next batter and had Ryan Zimmerman smoke a ball to center that would have left the atmosphere if the wind hadn't been blowing in with all its might.
Strasburg made quick work of DeJesus and Barney before giving up a weak pop-up to the mound from Castro. The problem was that he didn't seem inclined to catch it himself and none of the other Nationals' fielders could get there in time once they realized he wasn't going to try to catch it. So there was the Cubs' first hit and Sandy Koufax's perfect game in September 1965 remains the last time the Cubs were no-hit for at least another couple of days.
After that, neither offense did much on their own accord. The Nationals loaded the bases on an error and two walks in the third, but Dempster wriggled out of it.
In the fourth, Soriano managed a one-out single and the Nationals helped out with a little creative defense when they messed up a force play on a squib by Ian Stewart. Unfortunately, the Cubs are hellbent and determined to add TOOTBLAN-apalooza to our vocabulary so Soriano was thrown out trying to steal third. Jeff Baker followed with a walk, and Marlon Byrd blooped in a hit to left to score a run and the CUBS HAD THE LEAD! HOLY SHIT!
It stayed that way for awhile. The hitters for both teams seemed like they just wanted to go and get warm, and I wholeheartedly on board with that decision. I was wearing a thermal and two fleece sweatshirts and it was getting pretty unpleasant the longer we stuck it out so we couldn't be more pleased with how the game was rolling along.
Somewhere along the way in about the 6th or 7th inning, Kris noticed the right field video board for the first time all day. Now, she is not one of those girls that goes to the games and doesn't pay attention. She was watching the whole game and had completely forgotten the video board even existed. So I think that should indicate how well the new patio fits in with the rest of the ballpark. Traditionalists can rest easy as it seems the old girl can still make whore's glitter look classy.
By the 8th inning, I was counting outs like it was a playoff game just because I was ready to leave the cold. Unfortunately the Cubs wanted to extend the day a little more. Jeff Baker treated an easily fieldable ball like it was radioactive, and Sveum went to the bullpen.
I can't say I disagreed with the move. Dempster was at 108 pitches and we all remember how well he would do last year when he would convince Quade to leave him in for one more batter. So Dempster got a nice standing ovation and Kerry Wood came in to get the last out of the 8th. This prompted Kris to ask how much of the standing ovation was for Dempster and how much was because Wood was coming in the game. I think most of it was for Dempster, but with Cubs fans, you never know for sure.
Wood proceeded to load the bases with two walks, but the crowd was still with him. He got Jayson Werth down 0-2 and the crowd was standing and chanting "Ker-ry, Ker-ry, Ker-ry!" It would have been a great moment, but Wood instead walked in the tying run. He finally retired the mighty DeRosa, but at that point, the crowd had been pretty well deflated. It's pretty depressing to see Kerry Wood being so damn ordinary. The crowd seemed to agree as a good portion started filing out.
The 8th didn't go well for the Cubs and then Marmol came in and surprsingly didn't walk anyone, but also didn't strike anyone out. He gave up two 2-out hits and suddenly the Cubs were losing. The crowd continued their mass exodus.
Kris and I watched Reed Johnson go down swinging on three strikes to Brad Lidge and decided to head for the exits ourselves. Stewart hit his shot off the wall just as we were reaching the rampand we decided we would still go downstairs, but we'd hang around to see what happened. If they tied it, we'd have a decision to make about hanging out in the cold for extra innings.
It turns out we needn't have worried as Joe Mather was gunned down easily at the plate on a grounder to third from Jeff Baker on the very next pitch. As we reached the bottom of the ramp, we entered the realm of angry Cubs fans. Nobody could understand why Mather had been running on contact. These people are going to have coronaries before the end of the season if they react like this every time the Cubs do something stupid on the bases. I just laughed. I couldn't help it. It was all just so Cub.
We continued down and watched Byrd take a called third strike that I called a strike before the umpire had a chance to and we quickly exited the park.
The fans that were leaving were cold, and they seemed to have the wind knocked out of them. It's hard to take a loss like that when you have actual expectations. That's the peril of having hope on Opening Day, but it happens every year. We never learn.
Maybe next year.