Paul Sullivan: Opening day at Wrigley Field melds Cubs’ past with future

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — Every opening day brings a reminder of something from the past, and the past is a prologue when it comes to the Chicago Cubs.

The yin and yang of Cubs baseball was in evidence again Thursday at the season opener at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 4-0, in the first game of the pitch-clock era.

Winning pitcher Marcus Stroman made history in the third inning with MLB’s first pitch-clock violation, new shortstop Dansby Swanson finished with three hits and drove in the season’s first run and the Cubs played stellar defense on a cold and sunny afternoon.

It was their 8,368th game at Wrigley since April 20, 1916, when the Cubs moved into the ballpark at the corner of Clark and Addison streets, an afternoon the Chicago Tribune called “another epochal day in the history of baseball.”

Wrigley has changed quite a bit since that 7-6, 11-inning win against the Cincinnati Reds. Even the old center-field scoreboard wasn’t around back then. But Cubs fans have stayed pretty much the same. A packed house of around 20,000 hung around until the end of that inaugural game 107 years ago, even though it lasted past 6 p.m.

“There might have been some wishing to leave after the seventh inning had been played,” the Tribune reported. “But the joy and excitement of the last four rounds made them forget home and dinner and dignity.”

Some things never change.

Most of the 36,054 in attendance Thursday stayed for the finish of the opener, which lasted 2 hours, 21 minutes. They sang that Steve Goodman song before departing and were home in time for dinner.

The new pitch-clock rules former Cubs President Theo Epstein helped MLB institute could lead to more fans watching all nine innings again.

“Unless it’s a bad game one way or another, I feel we’re pretty fortunate that way,” now-President Jed Hoyer said of Cubs fans. “Around the league you may see that more and more. I thought it was awesome all spring. Theo called me after one game and said ‘1:57, oh, God.’ He was so excited.”

Eric Karros once said “every player should be a Cub for one year,” and Hoyer, whose roster shuffling the last two seasons appears destined to make that a reality. The Cubs added several players this offseason, and only Ian Happ, Patrick Wisdom and Nico Hoerner were holdovers from last year’s opening-day lineup.

Before the game, Hoyer inadvertently conjured memories of the late Ron Santo when he leaned forward from his seat in the dugout to avoid having his perfectly coifed hair singed by an overhead heating lamp.

It was 20 years ago at the 2003 opener against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium that Santo stood in the radio booth for the national anthem and had his hairpiece burned by an overhead heater. Cubs broadcaster Pat Hughes and producer Matt Boltz taped a photo of Santo on the heater to mark the occasion, and the faded photo was still there for the bitter end of the ballpark in 2007. Santo’s standing invitation to push the button to implode Shea Stadium, however, had been rejected.

Hughes threw out the ceremonial first pitch Thursday and has been busy writing his speech for this summer’s special day in Cooperstown, N.Y., where he’ll receive the Ford Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting. The Cubs also paid tribute on the video board to heroes of the team’s past who died since last season, including Bruce Sutter and Joe Pepitone.

Also honored were former Sun-Times baseball writer Joe Goddard and WXRT-FM personality Lin Brehmer. You don’t have to be a ballplayer to call Wrigley Field home.

Hoerner, who agreed to a three-year, $35 million extension Wednesday, helped bail Stroman out of a third-inning jam by starting an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded and finished 1 for 4.

Hoerner understands what Cubs history is all about, having spent a minute or two under former manager Joe Maddon at the end of 2019. Hoerner revealed he pays tribute to former Cub Anthony Rizzo, whose locker he inherited after Rizzo was traded to the New York Yankees in the 2021 sell-off.

“I have a pair of his little batting gloves with his dachshunds on it,” Hoerner said. “Just a little reminder of what was there before. Stuff like that, it does matter and it changes fast. It’s not something to forget.”

Hoerner said “one of the most satisfying things” he could do would be to go from a rebuild to a championship with the same team, just as Rizzo did.

“Seeing Rizz at the end of that and knowing he’d been through the entire story of it was as inspirational as it gets, honestly,” he said.

You look for inspiration wherever you can find it, and this Cubs team will be looking to replicate the magic that Rizzo & company created a few long years ago, when it looked as if the run would last into the 2020s.

It didn’t turn out that way, but if they can succeed now, fans just might be able to forget home and dinner and dignity once again.

History has a way of repeating itself at the corner of Clark and Addison.