Cubs welcome the bleacher bums back to Wrigley Field


Cubs welcome the bleacher bums back to Wrigley Field

What’s Wrigley Field without any bleacher bums?

The Cubs don’t have to worry about that existential question anymore, now that the left- and center-field bleachers opened for Monday night’s game against the New York Mets, with fans streaming in for batting practice.

“I guess awkward would probably be the word,” leftfielder Chris Coghlan said. “It’s different any time you look out there and there’s not the same hometown crowd. As hectic as they are – and as fun as they are – it’s been kind of a bummer not to have them.

“But we had to go through that process to get more people, more seats, and everything there is now.”

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The 3,990-square-foot video board in left field made its debut on Opening Night. The Cubs have now put up a 2,250-square-foot video board in right field with the Budweiser script on top, changing or blocking the views from the Sheffield Avenue rooftop buildings.

“Every stage that we keep doing here at the stadium is exciting,” Coghlan said. “Guys are like: ‘Man, I heard the Jumbotron’s up.’ Everybody wants to go out and look at it. So we’re like little kids and fans in our own right.”

Joe Maddon, Wrigleyville’s new Renaissance man, pointed out something else at the beginning of the manager’s pregame media session inside the interview room/dungeon.

“How bout the ivy?” Maddon said. “The ivy’s turning green right now. I noticed that. I’m a bit of a gardener from back in the day, so that’s kind of exciting, too.”

The Cubs anticipate opening the right-field bleachers on June 11, when the Cincinnati Reds come to the North Side.

“It will be fun when there’s not boards and nets out in right field,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But I really like the second scoreboard. I think it looks great and adds some symmetry to the ballpark.

[MORE: Bryant sends one into the new bleachers]

“It’s a cost of doing business while we get this done – having empty bleachers – but it will be a lot more fun when the bleachers are full. Hopefully, it warms up and we get some good crowds out there.”

The Cubs hope the promises of the $600 million Wrigleyville development will give them a home-field advantage, from the new clubhouse to the upgraded medical/training facilities to the new revenue that can be poured back into the team to what’s supposed to be an electric atmosphere. 

“I remember coming as a visiting player,” said Coghlan, who rolled through with the Florida/Miami Marlins. “In BP, they were just hammering me. And you’re like: Wow, this is crazy. Even in BP, they were already locked and loaded.

“Any time the crowd makes it difficult for the visiting team, it helps us. Same thing if we’re down by runs late and they give us energy. Sometimes we need that.

“Having more people – and the more rowdy they are – the better for us.”

Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Millions of Americans have lost jobs or taken pay cuts because of the economic impact of a coronavirus pandemic that in this country shows no signs of going away anytime soon, including countless members of the sports media.

So despite some of the more laughably ignorant opinions from the dimmer corners of social media, exactly nobody in the media wants any sport to shut down again.

That said, what the hell are we doing playing games outside of a bubble during the deadliest pandemic in this country in more than 100 years?

With Friday's news that another Cardinals staff member and two more players tested positive in the past two days for COVID-19, the Cubs-Cards weekend series was postponed as officials scrambled to test and retest Cardinals personnel and try to get their season restarted.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since the intake process began in June, have done everything right, from management to the last player on the roster, to keep their team healthy and playing.

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But the operative, most overlooked, word in all of this has always been “playing.”

And the longer MLB pushes through outbreaks, and measures the season’s viability in counting cases instead of the risk of a catastrophic outcome for even one player, the deeper its ethical dilemma in this viral cesspool.

“Ethically, I have no problem saying we’re going to keep doing this,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said over the weekend about asking players to continue working as the league experienced outbreaks involving the Marlins and Cardinals.

“That said, we have to do it the right way,” Hoyer said, citing the extra lengths the Cubs have taken to keep players and staff safe.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

But even he and other team executives understand the limits of all the best-made plans.

“The infection is throughout the country. That’s the reality,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If you’re traveling around, there’s a real risk. Protocols are not perfect. No set of protocols are perfect. They’re designed to minimize the risk as best you possibly can.”

And while the odds for surviving the virus favor young, athletic people such as baseball players, the nearly 160,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 in the last five months include otherwise healthy toddlers, teens and young adults.

Add that to the best-known characteristic of this virus — its wildfire-like ability to spread within a group — and baseball’s attempt to stage a two-month season involving travel in and out of 30 locales starts to look like Russian roulette.

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez, 27, contracted COVID-19 last month and as a result developed myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart — that might shut him down for the season even after multiple tests say he’s clear of the virus.

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, a fit, 39-year-old, recent major-league athlete, had a monthlong case so severe he went to the emergency room at one point for treatment before the viral pneumonia and high fever began to improve.

The vast majority of players insist they want to play, including Rodríguez, even after his heart diagnosis. More than 20 others have opted out because of the risk, including All-Stars Buster Posey, David Price and — in the past week — Lorenzo Cain and Yoenis Céspedes.

Obviously the owners want to play, with more than $1 billion in recouped revenues at stake in a season of deep financial losses.

“Everyone that I know outside of baseball who’s become positive, who’s gotten COVID-19 at some point, did everything right — washed their hands, wore masks, socially distanced — and they still became positive,” Epstein said. “They don’t know where. It could have been the grocery store. It could have been walking down the street.

“And as far as I know that’s the case inside baseball, too,” he added. “This is everywhere in the country and unfortunately going the wrong direction nationwide. It’s a fraught environment out there that we’re operating in, and we’re going to need to do our absolute best and also be fortunate.”


Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

The COVID-19 pandemic finally caught up to the Cubs, who had their weekend series against the Cardinals postponed Friday after the Cardinals' coronavirus outbreak worsened by three positive tests before the teams were scheduled to open a three-game series in St. Louis on Friday night.

The Cardinals, who haven't played since last week because of an outbreak that now includes at least 16 players and staff, scrambled to test and retest personnel Friday as Major League Baseball wiped another series off their schedule.

Cardinals president John Mozeliak said Friday the latest players to test positive are outfielder Austin Dean and pitcher Ryan Helsley. The club announced Tuesday catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong recently tested positive.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since intake testing began more than a month ago, had not lost a game on their schedule because of coronavirus issues.

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The Cubs (10-3) were scheduled to fly home from St. Louis Friday night and are not scheduled to play again until Tuesday in Cleveland. This weekend's series has not been rescheduled yet.

“Based on the information MLB has shared with us, postponing this series is a necessary step to protect the health and safety of the Cardinals and the Cubs,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said in a statement. “Therefore, it is absolutely the right thing to do.

“While it’s obviously less than ideal, this is 2020, and we will embrace whatever steps are necessary to promote player and staff wellbeing and increase our chances of completing this season in safe fashion,” he added. “We will be ready to go on Tuesday in Cleveland. In the meantime, we wish the Cardinals personnel involved a quick and complete recovery.”