CHICAGO – This has been a day in the waiting for so many reasons.
For one, there is always the anticipation for Opening Day along with the opportunity to do so at home. That’s a feeling that many people have had in year’s past, but it’s not quite the same in 2021 thanks to the pandemic.
Thursday’s game with the Pirates will be the first for the Cubs with fans since September of 2019. It won’t be a full house – with right around 10,000 being let in – but the fact that spectators will be in the park brings electricity that’s even a little uncommon for Opening Day.
“A lot of fun waking up to that,” said outfielder Jason Heyward when asked about the prospect of having fans in the stands. “I think a lot of us as players, getting out to Arizona, being around the baseball field, having that feeling that we haven’t been this excited to play baseball in a long time.
“That’s times a thousand now coming back to Wrigley knowing that we get to open up at home with our first game, get that out of our way, and then invite fans back to the stadium. It’s going to be awesome.”
David Ross can share that feeling since he’ll manage a game in front of fans at the “Friendly Confines” for the first time in his career.
“This feels more exciting; the fans, the music, the routine,” said Ross. “Funny little snippet you guys don’t get to see, but like there’s finally food in the food room that’s a spread. I eat a nice, big breakfast this morning, it was awesome. I think every step is getting a little closer to normal, to what we know and this season.
“Fans will add to that when we step out there and get the anthem and the introductions and all the fun stuff that comes with Opening Day.”
While having the fans will bring some added joy to the moment, there is also pressure on this Cubs’ team that’s in a unique situation during this era of the franchise. The future is very much up in the air as the team begins their 162-game schedule against Pittsburgh, with a number of key players entering the final year of theri contracts.
Anthony Rizzo couldn’t get an extension done and neither could Javier Baez or Kris Bryant, so each enter what could be the final year in Chicago. That’s a major part of a team that’s made five playoff appearances and won a World Series over the last six years.
Jed Hoyer will have plenty to think about as the team continues through the season, but Heyward says the club’s not going to stress about it.
“Like we always do, play every game like it’s our last,” said Heyward. “We really enjoy that, to be honest. Trade rumors, talks about ‘what if’ or what’s gonna happen, in my opinion, I feel like that’s all really filler time. You know at some point one day, the buisness is gonna to be the buisness. But I also feel like people have made it a business to talk about that ‘what if’ day and if and when that day comes for like four or five years now with this group. So someone is getting paid for a lot of ‘what if’s’ with this group.
“We’re not really buying into that. We understand what it’s gonna be. We’re all gonna push for each other like we always do, even more so probably because we want guys to be established, we want guys to be taken care of, get what they’ve earned. There’s a lot of special players in this group. I think it’s exciting.”
“Rossy talked about it yesterday in our opening meeting. A lot of people have things to prove as individuals, but that’s a fun thing when you talk about a group pulling together to towards trying to win a championship. So it’s very easy to root for your guys.”
At least they’ll have others to do the same on this Opening Day.