“Baseball’s back, baby,” screamed a fan going down the stairs at the Addison Red Line station, provoking a joyful chant from the crowd headed to Wrigley Field just before noon Thursday.
It was a sea of blue and red as fans flooded Wrigleyville bundled up in their Chicago Cubs gear.
After a contentious 99-day Major League Baseball lockout that delayed the start of the regular season by a week, fans were jubilant about the return of baseball.
“(The MLB lockout) was very depressing and took too long, but I’m glad that it’s back,” said Kaitlyn Chamberlain, 40, who took a 7 a.m. flight on game day from New Orleans with her dad. “It definitely feels like it put a damper on the beginning of the season. I was ready to start baseball again and get back to normal. I think that’s like the best part of going to the ballpark: It’s just normal.”
A Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native, Chamberlain and her dad are attending four games before returning home Sunday. She said she has been a Cubs fan since she was 6 when she and her brother began playing T-ball and chose the Cubs as their MLB team — and there was no going back.
“I’m excited about a fresh new team and I’m excited to be here. Well, a little strange because we started in New Orleans this morning where it’s like 80 degrees out, and now it’s this,” Chamberlain said as the first flurries of snow fell on her.
Fans may not have had to dodge the weather, but those taking the Red Line had to navigate a construction hallway on the south side of the stadium.
Construction of the DraftKings sportsbook is underway. The three-story building, which will be open year-round and feature an open-air rooftop deck, is expected to open in 2023.
While some fans were not interested in gambling, Aidan Doyal, 25, and Austin Liptrot, 25, said they are excited about the sportsbook.
“I don’t know why they didn’t start it earlier,” was Doyal’s main critique. “Obviously, we pass it every day that started at like a month and a half ago, but I feel like they could have started it like five months ago and have it done by the beginning of the season.”
Both live in Wrigleyville, and Doyal is a Chicagoan and Cubs fan, but Liptrot — who is a New York Mets fan from Connecticut — decided to be a “Cubs fan for a day.” Liptrot is also looking forward to seeing former Met Marcus Stroman pitching for the Cubs. “(Stroman) is awesome. He’s gonna be a blast to watch. He plays mind games,” he said.
Meanwhile, inside Wrigley Field, the mask and vaccination mandates have been lifted. But William González wore a different kind of mask.
González, a South Sider who was born in Durango, Mexico, was sporting a Cubs lucha libre mask. This was his 45th mask, and he said his father makes them for him and sends them from Mexico City.
González has lived on the South Side since he was 3 and he became a Cubs fan in 1990. “My mom put me in the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago, and we had field trips to go to White Sox games and Cubs games, but for whatever reason, I never got to go to the White Sox games — I went to the Cubs ones,” he said, adding that’s how it began.
He said there are a lot of people on the South Side who like the Cubs, but his friends who like the White Sox also give him “grief.”
“We have a very good lineup this year,” González said. “I am a little more concerned about the pitching. Stroman’s good, I like him; (Kyle) Hendricks is always the ace; and the other guys will eventually catch up.”
Chris Hendriksen, 44, and his family — like many Cubs families — never miss an opening day. He is a Chicago native who lives in Cincinnati. They have attended every year for as long as they can remember, and their kids, Audrey, 7, and Daniel, 9, have come every year of their lives. Daniel was even in attendance when his mom Susy, 42, was pregnant with him.
Daniel said he was disappointed the Cubs traded first baseman Anthony Rizzo last year to the New York Yankees because he was his favorite player. “To me, they are not the Yankees now, they are ‘the Rizzos’,” he said. Now, Daniel and his father share the same favorite player: catcher Willson Contreras.
“I like (Nick) Madrigal,” Audrey said, and then her mom started laughing.
“It helps that ‘Encanto’ just came out. She was like ‘Is he in the Family Madrigal?’ ” Susy said, referring to the Disney animated movie.
The Hendriksens reached Wrigley from another direction so they didn’t notice the construction along Addison. But Chris Hendriksen said he thinks the sportsbook will be cool and he’ll check it out next year because he likes to gamble on sports. “I hope it doesn’t diminish the look and feel of Wrigley Field, but I’m OK with the Cubs being progressive on that kind of stuff,” he said.
“They did such a good job with the family Gallagher Way zone that we probably have faith in the team to build stuff that feels like it’s really additive for the fans,” Susy Hendricksen added.
Cousins Kleiber Gutierrez, 36, and Oscar Ramirez, 40, are big baseball fans originally from Caracas, Venezuela, who have called Chicago their home for six years. Ramirez won tickets to opening day.
“This is the city that opened their doors to us, so we have to support their Cubs,” Gutierrez said. “The lockout, however, was a bit tough on us because it is our main distraction in these tough times, but we’re glad they reached an agreement.”
Last year they went to many games and this year they want to make it to at least 10 more games. Their favorite player is also their compatriot Contreras, but “we gotta support all the Venezuelans on the team,” they said.
Ukrainian flags also flooded Wrigley.
Larissa Magajne, a first-generation American from a Ukrainian family and Cubs fan, proudly wore her flag on her back.
She and her family were supporting her daughter, who is with the Ukrainian American Youth Association Choir, which sang the Ukrainian national anthem before the first pitch.
Another supportive parent was Scott Kraud, 49, who is a lifelong fan from northern Indiana. “I bought these tickets to bring my son up, who just turned 21 in November,” he said. “This is his first trip to Wrigley Field as a 21-year-old, so he had his first Old Style at Murphy’s today.”
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How were this father-son duo feeling about the Cubs after leaving Murphy’s before the game? “We’ll see,” Kraud said with a hint of doubt. “Optimistic? I don’t know.”
“Look, he’s watering it down,” his son, Jackson, intervened. “We’re gonna make it to playoffs, OK? Our pitching is a little shaky, but our offense is super underrated. I think everybody is going to be surprised with the outcome this year, even this guy right here.”
Jackson Kraud might be on to something.
Seiya Suzuki, the newest Cubs outfielder, finished 1-for-2 with two walks and strikeout in his MLB debut. And the Cubs beat their neighbors to the north 5-4.
Here’s to a year of surprises.