Baseball is back. The fans are back.
The sun was out.
And the Cubs and Pirates made it last. And last.
And last. And last.
Nearly four hours after the Cubs season opener at Wrigley Field began with a strange-but-true leadoff walk by Kyle Hendricks, it ended with a 5-3 Cubs loss to a team whose front office has done everything it can since last year to be the worst team in baseball this year.
“Just kind of a crappy game,” manager David Ross said.
And it was glorious.
Nobody at Wrigley has experienced weather this cold for a game in almost two years.
And it was finger-cramping, toe-numbing awesome.
“That was incredible,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.
Because it was baseball in April, with actual people in the stands watching, with promises of 161 more games to come — including dozens sure to come on hot summer days, at least a few that probably will become Cubs victories and maybe even one or two that come in under four hours.
“I took an extra moment when I took the field to appreciate [fans] being here and their cheers and being able to play in front of them,” said Rizzo, who took a moment postgame to remember the eerie difference when baseball resumed without fans last summer.
“It was definitely something I’ll never forget, taking the field today.”
It wasn’t close to capacity, with Thursday’s “sellout” officially recorded as 10,343 in attendance.
And the game was as ugly as the weather from a Cubs perspective, with Rizzo’s first-inning double the only Cubs hit until Eric Sogard’s double in the eighth — and eight Cubs pitchers combining for 11 walks and hitting a guy.
“Hopefully, we learned some lessons today and we’ll try to be better,” Ross said.
But as Hendricks also added: “It was really awesome.”
If Opening Day is about hope and optimism, look at it this way: It’s probably only going to go up from here for the Cubs.
And they did get seven of their nine relievers some work ahead of Friday’s off day. And two of their four bench players got in the game. And nobody got hurt.
“I just set a terrible tone for the group,” said Hendricks, who refused to blame the cold for the rare three-walk game. “The good news is we have 161 more.”
And as much as every Opening Day is about that kind of sentiment, the feeling was deeper this time around, palpable — a day as warm to the heart as it was cold to the touch.
A day that felt like the first thaw after a 16-month winter.
“Walking out there on the field and seeing the fans in the stands again, that was such a huge positive of today,” Hendricks said.
The size of the crowd was a reminder that we still live in a COVID-19 world with protocols and risks and even death rates that persist as many of us try to vaccinate, survive and seek a return to a semblance of normal.
If that effort doesn’t continue in the right direction, it won’t matter how much better the Cubs get at throwing strikes and hitting baseballs.
But this was one step, if not a giant leap, for anyone who appreciates baseball and ballparks and sunshine after the longest night of the year.
That was what the annual dose of optimism — the annual renewal of season and spirit — was about on this Opening Day, in this new world.
“Just feeling that energy,” Hendricks said. “You could tell how excited [the fans] were, how happy they were just to be there. I was able to soak it in for a second when I walked out on the field.
“And it was really, really cool.”