The Rundown: Fans to Return to Wrigley Field, Davies Has Efficient Outing, Rizzo Hot, Strumpf Strong
What’s it going to sound like when 8,274 Cubs fans sing “Go Cubs Go” after their hometown heroes win their season opener against the Pirates on April 1? Probably a lot like May 4, 1994, when the North Siders finally notched their first Wrigley win of the season that year, apologies to any Tom Trebelhorn fans still among us.
With yesterday’s announcement that the Cubs and White Sox will be allowed to fill their stadiums to 20% capacity starting Opening Day, it’s hard not to think about the times when the Cubs and Wrigley Field weren’t the draw they’ve been for the last three decades. I remember watching games on WGN in the late 1970s when you could hear individual hecklers through the microphone of Jack Brickhouse. Then there were the chants of “We want a hit!” by the ever-hopeful no matter how lopsided the score and those loud popping noises when kids stomped on empty beer cups during “The Tenth Inning” recap segment.
Oh for the days of “Good Kid” Lou Boudreau recapping those games when on-field failures were as common as a copper penny. A win back then meant spelling “CUBS WIN” with empty cups through the left field fence holes rather than a playful ditty sung by 41,649 strong, plus the thousands in the local bars, electrifying all of Lake View. True Picasso-wannabes could compose the message backwards so the local passersby and souvenir hawks could read them out on Waveland Avenue.
Yes, we’re glad baseball is back, and doesn’t it feel that way now that teams are making plans to reintroduce themselves to their fans? Call last season whatever you’d like, but to me, professional and amateur sports in 2020 will always have an imaginary asterisk attached to them. In my mind, the current offseason has lasted since the Cubs were eliminated from playoff contention by the Cardinals in 2019.
I’m causing a lot of repressed negative memories to resurface this morning, aren’t I? Again, I apologize. I truly have hope that the Cubs will be the surprise of the National League this year, which seems odd considering we’re talking about a franchise that is 505-365 (.580) since 2015. If not for a string of season-ending disappointments starting with the 2017 NLCS, we might be talking about a dynasty. The team is certainly playing well this spring, combining timely hitting with strong pitching, at least so far.
Báez 💣 pic.twitter.com/MBy8qnkDRa
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 8, 2021
In fact, over the past six seasons, only the Dodgers (628-343) and Astros (510-360) are better, and, like the Cubs, each has just one championship during those years. Though the Dodgers, Padres, and Nationals look much better on paper this season, the Cubs appear to be the strongest team in the NL Central. If David Ross can guide his team into the postseason, maybe the North Side baseballers can reverse some of the more recent end-of-season trends.
Even if they fall short, at least we can (hopefully) put that barnstorming-like 2020 season behind us. It was a novelty and even a little fun at times, but not much more. It will be fun to see Wrigleyville start to come back to life and with Opening Day just a little more than three weeks away, things are starting to feel normal again. Fingers remaining tightly crossed with each hopeful exhale.
Cubs News & Notes
- The players and coaches are just as excited to see fans at Wrigley Field as the rest of us. I’ve said it previously, but I truly believe we will be back to full capacity, mask-optional home games before the end of July.
- Ross is personally thrilled that fans will be attending the home opener.
- The team announced a lottery-type distribution for season ticket holders. Assuming all available seats are accounted for, many Cubs fans will have to look to ticket brokers or the Wrigley Rooftops for opportunities to see the team live until capacity restrictions are relaxed a little more or lifted altogether.
- Ross said Pedro Strop does not owe an apology to his teammates for violating COVID-19 protocols.
- Strop should be able to resume baseball activities with the rest of the team before the end of the week.
- New starter Zach Davies displayed Kyle Hendricks-like efficiency in yesterday’s 9-0 win over the Rangers. Davies pitched three hitless innings on 25 pitches before he was lifted.
- The most puzzling part of camp for Ross and the front office may be projecting fatigue and injury risks as teams make plans for the unprecedented leap from 60 games to 162.
- Anthony Rizzo is off to a strong start and has two home runs already. The first baseman didn’t hit any in last year’s abbreviated exhibition schedule and was slowed by a back injury during the summer preseason reboot.
- Second base prospect Chase Strumpf hit his first career Cactus League home run in yesterday’s game.
- If you’ve forgotten that Jake Marisnick is a Cub, the backup outfielder has been working back from a strained calf and took some batting practice. He is hoping to get into the lineup this weekend.
Odds & Sods
I can’t tell if this photo reflects the gracefulness of gently aging or something far more dark and dangerous. All I know is that for some strange reason I just can’t look away.
I’ve got some ideas for the dugout in 2021 @cubs pic.twitter.com/ur0vVJBbEC
— Nick Offerman (@Nick_Offerman) March 9, 2021
Cubs Insider EIC Evan Altman has made the trip to Mesa and he and Jon Strong aired yesterday’s “The Rant Live” from Sloan Park. Hopefully the two will produce a couple more broadcasts while Evan is enjoying the 80-degree Arizona weather.
Spring Training News & Notes
Though the Cardinals expect a big offseason from Nolan Arenado, the third baseman also improves the team’s infield defense.
Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain has been completely shut down with a quad strain, though the team believes hopes he may be ready by Opening Day.
Cain’s injury will temporarily sort out Milwaukee’s outfield. The free agent addition of Jack Bradley Jr. gave the Brew Crew four starting outfielders. The others are Christian Yelich and Avisaíl García.
Jon Lester is back in camp with the Nationals after undergoing thyroid gland removal surgery in New York on Friday.
Dodgers starter David Price is willing to work out of the bullpen this year if needed.
Royals prospect Bobby Witt Jr. hit a mammoth 484-foot tater yesterday.
Former Red Sox left-hander Rheal Cormier, a fixture on a pair of postseason teams in Boston, died of pancreatic cancer Monday at age 53.
Take Me Out to The Ball Game
ESPN has the full list of capacity restrictions and other fan limitations to start the season for all 30 teams.
I think Mark Grace was the last of the big time dugout smokers, at least as far back as I can remember. It’s difficult to fathom athletes endorsing these cancer sticks, especially Stan Musial, but it was a big thing back in the day.
Stan Musial for Chesterfield pic.twitter.com/hQzkYpLc3l
— CirclinTheBases (@CirclinTheBases) March 9, 2021
They Said It
- “As a diehard sports fan myself, I’m personally excited to have Chicago take its first, cautious steps toward safely reopening our beloved baseball stadiums to fans this season. We’re able to do that thanks to the commitment of our city’s two great baseball franchises who continue to work in close partnership with Chicago’s public health officials to find solutions that are not only safe, but offer a path forward toward safely increasing stadium capacity as we move closer into our COVID-19 recovery.” – Mayor Lightfoot
- “Hopefully, we’re able to slowly get back into a situation where we can get close to capacity at Wrigley and get back to normal.” – Jake Arrieta
- “That’s my game. I know I’m not gonna strike out a lot of guys like today. If I can command the ball or if I can get early or weak contact, I’m happy because the faster they get out, the more innings I throw [and] the deeper I can get into the ballgame.” – Zach Davies
Tuesday Walk Up Song
I’m going to switch things up a little and give you a Spotify link this morning to a baseball playlist I’ve been working on since the Cactus League started. It was inspired by Ken Burns’ Baseball, and I hope you enjoy all the old-timey stuff as much as I do. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Clubhouse Stomp by The New York Hawks, a song that was recorded specifically for the series and produced by Burns himself.