Hot off the Press: May issue featuring the new-look catching corps

Maddon_ON

(Photo by Stephen Green)

There’s nothing like Opening Day (or Night) to get you excited for the season. I’m in my fourth year with the team, and I can truly say I haven’t seen the kind of buzz at Wrigley Field that I saw on April 5 at any point during that stretch. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve seen it here since the playoff runs of 2007-08.

Of course, there was a lot to recommend the game.

The North Siders are coming off a huge offseason, and this was many fans’ first opportunity to see new manager Joe Maddon, prized free agent Jon Lester, leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler and the rest of the team in person. Plus, the Cubs were the nationally televised Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN2 and the only contest on the major league slate. To add to the atmosphere, the Cardinals were in town, and it was Lester toeing the slab versus St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright.

Then, of course, there was Wrigley Field. As everyone knows by now, the Cubs began their multi-year 1060 Project restoration of the venerable ballpark this winter. Opening Night was the coming-out party for the new, 3,990-square-foot left-field video board, which debuted to rave reviews from players and personnel—even those who were a bit skeptical at first.

“When I saw the mockups, I was mildly concerned,” said baseball president Theo Epstein before the game. “Then when I saw the photos when I was in Arizona, I was extremely concerned. I felt like—you ever hang a flat-screen on your wall and your wife is telling you it’s way too big and you’re arguing that it’s not too big, even though you know it’s probably too big? That’s how I thought it would be. But then I got here, and it’s perfect.”

Still, it wasn’t the game or the stadium or the many luminaries in attendance that made the night so special. It was the fans. These are the four memories that stick out most in my mind weeks later.

  • Watching the teams do their traditional Opening Day lineup on the basepaths from behind home plate. At one point, I turned around to take a picture, and it was striking. There were no empty seats stretching to the farthest reaches of the upper decks. The fans were on their feet, raucous and, well, Cubs fans.
  • The spontaneous “Ernie, Ernie!” chant that shook the Confines before the tribute to Mr. Cub ran on the video board. Electrifying.
  • The roar of the crowd when Maddon was introduced for the first time.
  • Coming down from the press box in the top of the seventh inning on a 44-degree night with the Cubs trailing 3-0. As I walked behind the 200 Section, it was still standing-room only.

There’s nothing like a playoff atmosphere at Wrigley Field. As I’ve said many times before in this space, things are starting to get interesting at the corner of Clark and Addison. It was great to feel that energy again. It reminded me of everything that’s special about the national pastime and why we’re lucky to be part of the single greatest pursuit left in professional sports.

It has also been fun to watch the 2015 Cubs come together, including new catching tandem Miguel Montero and David Ross. Both joined the team this offseason, both are great with the glove, and both might be even better in the clubhouse. We take a look at what they add to the offense, the defense and the pitching staff.

We also check in with some of the organization’s top young players, including No. 1 prospect Kris Bryant, to see what they learned at major league camp this spring. Finally, we honor the legacy of one of the true trailblazers in baseball history, Margaret Donahue, the former Cubs executive who helped pave the way for women throughout professional sports.

We’ll be there for Games 1-162 (and beyond) at vineline.mlblogs.com and on Twitter at @cubsvineline. Let’s keep this energy going all season long as the team and the ballpark evolve into something truly special.

By Gary Cohen

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