Few hardcore Cubs fans near the action for empty Wrigley opener

Chicago (AFP) –


Outside Major League Baseball's second-oldest ballpark on a most unique opening day, the mood was subdued.

While some fans were in the area, most bars near iconic Wrigley Field were sparsely populated and memorabilia vendors were planning to close early.

After all, the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers were playing in the historic venue without spectators allowed to watch due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans would normally fill the bars and restaurants around the stadium before going to see the game.

Raymond Garcia and his 15-year-old son Angelo were on the street outside the park and said it did not feel like opening day.

"Traditionally, I take my son out of school because opening day is usually during the school year," the elder Garcia said.

The father and son drove from suburban Berwyn to soak in the atmosphere, but were disappointed by what they found.

Typically, teams are in the thick of the pennant race by late July, but there is nothing typical about this year.

Because of the pandemic, the season, originally slated to start in April, did not begin until Thursday and teams will play 60 games instead of 162. An expanded 16-team post-season tournament will begin September 27 with the World Series to start October 23.

Up until Friday, Cubs fans were not even sure how they would watch the games on television, as the team moved games to a new network owned by the club. It was not until Friday that a deal was announced to broadcast them on the Chicago area's largest cable television carrier.

The Cubs increased advertising around the ballpark for television cameras to help make up for revenue losses from the lack of gate receipts, and also set up cardboard signs in centerfield written by children in support of the players.

But the team owners aren't the only ones losing money because of the pandemic.

Ridvan Mustafa, co-owner of Clark Street Sports, which operates two stores and two large street stands selling merchandise near the ballpark, was set to close minutes after the first pitch was thrown. Usually the stands stay open until an hour after the games end.

"It's peanuts today," Mustafa said. "We gave it a shot, but there's not many people out here."

Street vendor Charles Lewis, who sells pins adorned with player images for $2 each, said he only made 15 sales in 90 minutes and was packing up his supplies for the evening as the players inside the ballpark were being introduced to empty seats.

Before the Cubs play, especially on opening day, bars in Wrigleyville, as the neighborhood near the ballpark is known, usually have lines of people waiting to enter. On Friday, many had empty tables and only a couple had lines.

"Usually you can't even walk around here. This is really slow," said Tim Kraus, a doorman at Murphy's Bleachers, a popular bar located directly across the bleacher stands entrance of Wrigley Field.

- Rooftop access -

The rooftops across from the park, with their own bleachers, are the only place fans can watch the action live, but even those were sparsely populated.

Inside Wrigley Field, fake crowd noise was piped in to try and create a more normal environment for players and fans watching on TV, but most fans around the ballpark said it didn't change the odd feeling.

"Opening day usually is winter coats and throngs of people," Cubs fan Kim Horvas said. "This is weird."