Let’s hit the bar and talk Cubs on Opening Day. Hey, where is everybody?

There are a couple of drinkers near the back of the place. Surely they’ll be delighted to speak with an aimless reporter on a frivolous expedition.

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The front room at Murphy’s Bleachers sits empty on what was supposed to be Opening Day in baseball.

The front room at Murphy’s Bleachers sits empty on what was supposed to be Opening Day in baseball.

Steve Greenberg/Sun-Times


It’s a calendar notification:

‘‘Opening Day.’’

Hallelujah. Oh, joy. Insert eye-roll here.

It’s supposed to be Opening Day, but baseball saw to ruining that. Instead, it’s just another duller-than-dishwater Thursday. Thanks to the lockout, the season won’t start until next Thursday, April 7.

What to do, then? To the nearest ballpark!

Why? Absolutely no idea!

The Cubs were supposed to be in Cincinnati, so it’s not as though Wrigley Field and the streets surrounding it would’ve been hopping. But this? Who died? When did this neighborhood become a sleepy suburb? It’s eerily quiet for early afternoon. How strange to walk a lap around the entire park and not pass a single person who’s looking at it, interacting with it in some way or wearing so much as a stitch of Cubs gear.

It’s cold and gloomy, with a light rain turning into a light snow. We’re doing a better job of holding on to winter than the Cubs are of holding on to a championship era.

That settles it: A barstool beckons.

Alas, the Cubby Bear is locked. Bernie’s, also closed. Slugger’s, same. Casey Moran’s, negative. The Nisei Lounge, no dice.

Murphy’s Bleachers, jackpot. Wait, though, is this place empty?

There are a couple of drinkers near the back of the place. Surely they’ll be delighted to speak with an aimless reporter on a frivolous expedition.

‘‘Nah,’’ one of them says. ‘‘I’m getting ready to move anyway. No more Opening Days for me.’’

‘‘Can’t,’’ the other says. “I’m ‘working.’ ’’

Ah, understood. Wink, wink. Nothing like outing yourself to your boss at the office by foolishly letting your name get into the paper.

Better order a beer. Besides, there’s basically nobody here. This might take awhile, whatever ‘‘this’’ is. What was the reason for coming here again?

The bartender is not as busy as she would like to be.

‘‘We would’ve had a lot of people in here watching the game on TV, cheering it on,’’ Nic Stang says. ‘‘All the tables would’ve been full; the seating would’ve been full. Maybe 150 people.’’

This will be her sixth season at Murphy’s. On the day of her first home opener, the Cubs raised a World Series banner.

‘‘It feels less exciting now,’’ she says. ‘‘I feel everyone’s a little less excited around the neighborhood. But we’ll see.’’

The lockout didn’t help. The trades of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez — ‘‘El Mago,’’ Stang’s No. 1 Cub — left a lingering pain.

‘‘I guess I still have to find a new favorite player,’’ she says.


Bartender Nic Stang: “I feel everyone’s a little less excited around the neighborhood.”

The staff at Murphy’s was ‘‘freaked out,’’ she says — and ticked off at MLB’s owners — when the start of the season was pushed back. The Cubs were supposed to host the Cardinals on Monday and Wednesday of next week, and those games would’ve been huge for all the surrounding establishments.

Emmet Hynes is Murphy’s social-media manager. He’s a South Sider. A White Sox fan?

‘‘South Sider,’’ he says with a wry smile. ‘‘Let’s just leave it at that.’’

Hynes, seemingly an optimistic sort, is looking forward to seeing all the Cubs’ new players. He’s on board with the Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki signings and predicts fans in the neighborhood to be ‘‘very welcoming — especially when they start to win.’’

But then caution creeps in.

‘‘There was such a love for the 2016 team and all those guys and, obviously, the three main guys they traded,’’ he says. ‘‘It was like losing a bit of a family. Everyone kind of has to relearn the team here now. There’s probably not going to be the same kind of love and devotion.’’

Behold, a new patron! Eric Midlock is on a house-hunting visit from Los Angeles, planning to move into the neighborhood of the team he loves. Just last week, Midlock and his brother, Joliet natives, were at Cubs spring training in Mesa, Arizona. They dejectedly had canceled their original travel plans a day before owners and players reached a new agreement; fortunately, they were able to scramble and reschedule.

‘‘We go almost every year,’’ he says. ‘‘It was fun, but I consider myself a diehard Cub fan, and I could only recognize, like, five guys on their roster. I knew [Willson] Contreras, of course.’’

Sore subject. Contreras soon might be going the way of Bryant, Rizzo and Baez.

‘‘That’s frustrating,’’ Midlock says. ‘‘You’ve got this guy who’s one of the top catchers in the game, and you’re going to try to get rid of him? I don’t know about that.’’


Fan Eric Midlock describes the lockout as “the millionaires against the billionaires.”

Midlock was ‘‘extremely bummed’’ by the lockout and is far from the first to describe it as ‘‘the millionaires against the billionaires.’’ He doesn’t think either side was genuine during negotiations and refers to ownership as ‘‘hypocritical.’’ That goes for the Cubs’ first family, too.

‘‘How poor the owners cried over the past couple of years,’’ he says, ‘‘yet the Rickettses are able to go bid on Chelsea Football Club? That and just the whole, ‘Oh, we can’t play on March 31 because we need a whole month of spring training.’ Yet here we are, not having a full month of spring training, and we’re still opening up next week. I thought that was disingenuous.’’

Midlock’s fandom isn’t wavering, but things just feel a little off.

‘‘Even all those years the Cubs were bad,’’ he says, ‘‘I was always optimistic for no reason at all, except it’s the Cubs. But I don’t think they’re going to be good at all. I don’t think they have enough players. They have so many holes in their roster.’’

There must be something to which to raise a glass. Days gone by? Better ones to come?

‘‘I love the Cubs,’’ he says. ‘‘Frustrated a little bit, but I’m still here. Still coming back.’’

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