Chicago Cubs

Hammond: The lonely view from Wrigley Field on what should've been Opening Day

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” –Rogers Hornsby

The man snapped a photo of a family of four, then watched as they walked away. He turned his back to the Wrigley Field marquee and raised his cellphone for a selfie with the famous red and white sign.

The man wore a protective mask over his mouth and nose. If there was a smile underneath it, the world will never know.

He walked away from the marquee and left behind a deserted corner of Clark and Addison on what should've been Opening Day 2020.

Wrigley Field was eerily quiet Thursday morning. It was a brisk, cloudy day with rain in the afternoon forecast. Low-hanging clouds obscured taller buildings in the distance. This was one of those chilly early-season baseball days where you knew you should bundle up before heading out to the bleachers.

All 30 MLB teams were supposed to play Thursday. The Cubs should've opened their season at Miller Park in Milwaukee, with the Wrigley opener Monday. On the South Side, the White Sox should've began a promising 2020 season against the Kansas City Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Instead, we are left to wonder when – dare I say, if? – this season will be played.

Signs of COVID-19 are everywhere around Wrigley Field, as they are ever-present in our daily lives. There were paper signs taped to restaurant windows imploring patrons to order online. Restaurants underneath the Hotel Zachary across Clark Street were dark, stools rested upside down atop tables. The hotel itself was quiet.

The park at Gallagher Way outside Wrigley was blocked off. The drink stand beside it was shuttered closed. A single bottle of hand sanitizer sat on a ledge inside the window of the Marquee Sports Network’s Studio Experience near the park.

Inside the Wrigley Field gates, metal detectors lay on their sides, still hibernating. Right now, not even the metal detectors could keep Wrigley Field patrons safe from the dangers circulating through our cities and neighborhoods.

“Today is unlike any Opening Day in Major League Baseball’s long history,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement released Thursday morning by MLB. “We need to call on the optimism that is synonymous with Opening Day and the unflinching determination required to navigate an entire baseball season to help us through the challenging situation currently facing us all.”

Opening Day hasn’t been delayed since 1995, when the 1994 players’ strike stretched into early 1995. Other than for various labor disagreements over the years, MLB hasn’t shortened a season since World War I. Even during World War II, when hundreds of ballplayers left their teams to fight overseas, teams still played a full 154-game schedule, which was the norm back then.

This is uncharted territory.

It has now been how many days since we had sports? I’ve lost track, and frankly I don’t want to know. All those games that used to play such a big part in so many lives are simply gone. Newspapers, like this one, have stopped publishing sports TV schedules because, well, there’s nothing to watch except old reruns.

Sports have become insignificant. Yet, they still hold a certain place in our hearts.

Something drew me out of my Chicago apartment Thursday on a mile walk east to Wrigley Field. I maintained proper social distancing along the sidewalk and counted this as my brief exercise for the day. I saw no gatherings of any kind along the way.

The only sound outside the old ballpark – which itself has been here since World War I – was the clanking and clattering of construction from the lot that used to be the old Taco Bell. Nothing, not even the coronavirus pandemic, stops the progress of Wrigleyville gentrification.

Stadium workers operated a forklift to place large flower pots around the area outside the marquee, preparing for … Opening Day, I guess?

At the corner of Waveland and Sheffield, Murphy’s Bleachers cut a forlorn figure outside Wrigley Field’s famous bleachers. The sign outside Murphy’s read: “Stay safe and sane until we meet again.”

It spoke to Cubs fans, yes, but it spoke to baseball, and to sports, and to all of us. Stay safe and stay sane. Until we meet again.

Brighter days – and the crack of a bat, we hope – lie ahead.

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