There was some doubt, and there may still be some challenges along the way, but for the first time in 306 days, there will be a regular-season game played at Wrigley Field when the Cubs open the season Friday against the Brewers.
Major League Baseball begins a unique journey with the 2020 season finally here. But for the Cubs and 29 other teams starting their 60-game slates — which surely will see twists and turns while the country continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic — anticipation can at last become a reality.
Cubs team president Theo Epstein, who has been consistent in his thoughts on what lies ahead for the Cubs and baseball as a whole over the next three months, took some time Thursday to reflect on a reopening that many thought would be impossible.
“I do think Major League Baseball, the teams, the players, the players’ association, do have a lot to be proud of just for getting through summer camp and keeping people safe,” Epstein said. “It hasn’t been perfect. But honestly, it’s gone better than expected in a lot of ways, and it took a lot of preparation, discipline and cooperation to make it work so far.
“It’s not a time to spike the ball or say ‘Mission accomplished’ or anything like that, because we’re really just starting and there’s so much uncertainty ahead. But you know, as an industry, it’s an accomplishment to get to this point and get to this point safely. So I want to recognize all the parties that contributed to making that happen.”
In a year marked by so much chaos and uncertainty, there might not be a better candidate to lead the Cubs into the season than right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who was
11-10 with a 3.46 ERA over 30 starts in 2019. Making the first Opening Day start of one’s career might bring added pressure for a starter, but Hendricks has handled his fair share during his time with Cubs, including starting Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.
Despite the added excitement of fans around the world witnessing MLB’s return, Friday will be a return to normal in a year that is anything but that.
“It’s just gonna be the same old, same old for me, you know?” Hendricks said. “Another game. Luckily, I’ve pitched a few games here regularly over the past couple weeks. Got to face the White Sox here. So I’ve pretty much treated all those games like real games for me. Hopefully, this is just part of the routine, you know? We go out and it actually counts for something now. So that’s the only difference, but otherwise my whole routine will stay the same.”
With attention rightfully focused on the coronavirus and keeping teams safe, one person largely lost in the shuffle has been new Cubs manager David Ross, who has the task of not only replacing his predecessor, Joe Maddon, but learning on the fly in a weird season.
Ross said he’s looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead, even with all the unknowns. But once “Play ball” is announced, it’ll be business as usual for his team.
“I hadn’t even thought about [my debut] much,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with a lot of other issues on getting to this spot.
“I’m sure [Friday night], as I settle down, those thoughts will start rushing in a little more. I’m excited to get started. I’m happy my family’s here. My kids are here. Yeah, looking forward to [Friday].”