Bryan LaHair was surprised to look around Wrigley Field and see so many orange T-shirts.
The Detroit Tigers and the ancient ballpark were the draws that brought 124,782 fans here, the most ever for a three-game series at Clark and Addison in the middle of the week.
The Detroit fans who made a lot of noise went home happy, or out to the Wrigleyville bars, after Thursdays 5-3 win over the Cubs. Expect another invasion for this weekends marquee series against the Boston Red Sox.
But when Theo Epstein left what used to be his dream job on Yawkey Way last October to rebuild everything at Clark and Addison, you probably didnt script it like this.
Does this deserve two games on national television? Yes, because these are two historic franchises with no shortage of storylines. But the Red Sox are 31-32 and tied for last place in the American League East. The 21-42 Cubs are on pace to smash the franchise record for losses.
LaHair was a big Red Sox fan growing up in Worcester, Mass., and will have family and friends in town this weekend. He understands the dynamics between the two markets.
They have that Red Sox Nation thing, and theyre really big-time fans, LaHair said. I still think Cubs fans are the best fans in baseball. Cubs fans will support you whether youre winning or losing. It kind of seems like Red Sox fans will support you when youre winning. But both places usually sellout each game either way. So its good for baseball that the Cubs play the Red Sox.
Feeding that monster wore on Epstein, who seems to be remembered in New England as much for his big mistakes in free agency as his two World Series titles.
When Epstein finally took over as Cubs president after that period of limbo, he joked about feeling like the guy in Office Space locked in the Fenway Park basement with a cubicle and a stapler.
Epstein remains close with many inside Bostons baseball operations department, including general manager Ben Cherington. But it probably wasnt an accident that until the last minute in April, Epstein wasnt invited to Fenway Parks 100th anniversary celebration.
Epstein spent a lot of time this week rehashing his legacy with the Boston media. But for Cubs fans, this is a time to look forward and see what it all means.
Watch how hard Dustin Pedroia plays and remember that he was an undersized guy from Arizona State University before Cubs scoutingplayer development chief Jason McLeod picked the future MVP in the 2004 draft.
See how Starlin Castro responds on the national stage. Bobby Valentine will be on the top step of the Red Sox dugout instead of the ESPN broadcast booth, where Terry Francona now works.
Getting through to Castro is a priority for Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who also emerged as a finalist for the Red Sox job before underwhelming ownership.
Youre just trying to build that whole thing to where preparation is everything, Sveum said. Playing the game the right way is everything and if you dont do it, then well get somebody else.
One player came away from last seasons Cubs-Red Sox series at Fenway Park thinking about how exhausting it was to face that team. Two games lasted close to four hours, and the Red Sox saw 504 pitches that weekend.
This week Epstein fired Rudy Jaramillo, one of the best hitting coaches in the game, to start creating that identity.
You have to make tough decisions when theres a gap between where you are and where you want to be, Epstein said. We felt the importance of getting a new message in here outweighed everything else.
That means Ryan Dempster is almost certainly going to waive his no-trade rights and head to a contender, which in theory could make Friday his final start at Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform.
Dempster could go to a place like Boston, where every night is treated like Game 7 of the World Series.
Its a reality that were setting that tone and building an organization (toward) that day (where) winning every game is life or death to get to the postseason, Sveum said. (Its building) an organization to where when we leave spring training, were going to win 90-plus games every season. Thats what the ultimate goal is, not to have a three-year window and then you got to rebuild all over again.
There will be a lot of noise this weekend, deconstructing what Epstein built in Boston and assessing how much work has to be done on the North Side. Fans in New England have been spoiled, but a kid from Worcester doesnt forget.
His legacy is reversing the curse, LaHair said, or having a lot to do with it. The curse of the Bambino, they took that down and then won again.