Cubs play home opener Friday

April 1, 2011 4:13:30 PM PDT
It's one of the best days of the year for Cubs fans. Chicago's North Siders open the season at home at Wrigley Field Friday.

As ABC7 was interviewing one Cubs fan and his girlfriend, he threw out a question - a wedding proposal. His girlfriend said 'yes'.

"I can't believe it. Thank you honey. I love you so much," said Katherine Sandoval, the bride-to-be. "This is amazing. I had no clue. No clue whatsoever."

A real "Natural" was on hand to throw out the first pitch - movie star Robert Redford.

Redford, a Cubs fan, recalled his 1984 film, "The Natural", in which Redford, playing a baseball hero, shot a scene in what is supposed to be Wrigley Field.

"I think there are two great stadiums in America: Fenway Park and Wrigley Field," said Redford. "Wrigley is a great stadium, and you know what I feel about Wrigley? It's that it represents Chicago."

Redford is in Chicago for the premiere of his latest movie "The Conspirator," which opens nationwide April 15.

As always, there was a lot of excitement from Cubs fans, as well as hope. "Maybe This Year" read one woman's sign.


"I am 62 years old, and I've never been to an opening day," said Cubs fan Joe Verdico. "So this is my first one and I've been a lifelong Cubs fan and it's great to be here."

Inside Wrigley Field, the energy was palpable. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel helped carry the 9/11 flag onto the field.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, who greeted fans as they came into the stadium Friday morning, said he was getting good feelings about the team.

"Everyone is really pumped. Good vibes down in spring training. Everyone feels good about the team. Everyone is healthy," said Ricketts.

It was an emotional game with a tribute to Ron Santo and his son Ron Santo, Jr. Came out to sing take me out to the ballgame during the seventh inning and his number 10 flew from inside the flag pole at Wrigley Field.

Cubs players themselves spent the morning warming up on the field. Their opponents arrived about 10 a.m.

"Opening day is the day where there's hope, there's excitement, there's the chance -- a small chance, but a chance that we can go 162-0 for the year," said Cubs fan Erin Weissenborn.

Some haven't missed an opening day at Wrigley in decades.

"They're the Cubs. One of these years they're going to win it," said Cubs fan Michael Hausman.

Art Hanley brought his six sons to the game against Pittsburgh. They've all been raised as Cubs fans.

"My dad was a Sox fan, but my uncle taught me to be a Cubs fan, and we've just always loved the Cubs," said Hanley.

Emanuel was at the ballpark early Friday morning. Chicago's first North Side mayor in a long time says he will be walking to Cubs games with his family this season.

"I know all the rivalries, the great crosstown rivalries, but when one of the teams shows their capabilities, everybody rallies behind them," he said.

Cubs legend Ernie Banks was also on hand for pregame festivities.

"Opening day is the beginning of everything," he said. "Our team is ready, got new manager, new coaches, and everybody's ready to go."

"The whole season is going to be dedicated to the memory of Ron Santo, culminating with the dedication of his statue on August 10. So it's very special to us to have them here with us today, and as a reminder we always have Ron with us," said Ricketts.

Santo died in December at the age of 70. The Cubs are wearing No. 10 patches on their uniforms in honor of the legendary Cubs broadcaster and third baseman.

A lot of fans say it will not be the same without him and without his voice.

"Obviously, Ron meant so much to Cubs fans and family across the country," said Wally Hayward, Cubs managing director. "We're doing a lot to remember Ron all season long. It was only fitting to have them come here like their dad, who spent so much time in that booth singing the 7th-inning stretch."

The Cubs also start the season with new general manager Quade.

"He is well liked. I hope he is his own guy," said Joe Aguilar, of ABC7's news partner, the Daily Herald. "The team is still Soriano and Ramierez and Zambrano, and they're going to challenge him probably, just being the way they are. and they can be lackadaisical at times. I like Mike Quade, a local guy, and I think he understands what it takes to win and how people will react, whether they win five in a row or lose five in a row."

On the team itself, there are some new faces, like Carlos Pena at first base, and some familiar ones, like Kerry Wood, the former fan favorite, anchoring the bullpen.

The team arrived in Chicago from Arizona Thursday. Players said the cold air kind of hit them in the face.

It's not just Cubs fan that are optimistic. The manager and the players say, look, we like this team, and we think there's a reason to be optimistic, not just in April, but all season long.

"I think we have chemistry going into the first game of the season on opening day. We feel great. You know, I like the way we're working together, the way we're getting along, and I'm excited about it. You know, I'm looking forward to it," Pena said.

"I think every team thinks they're going to be in the World Series when spring training starts, and your goal is to stay healthy, and I think we did a fairly good job of that this spring, and all the talk is over," Wood said.

Fans also heard a new voice over the loudspeakers at Wrigley, as the Cubs brought in a new stadium announcer, Andrew Belleson. He was chosen out of 2,954 applicants from 48 states and Canada.

"My sister called me. I did some broadcasting work in college and then at the minor league level, and she said, 'Maybe you should submit a tape,'" Belleson said. "I figured there would be a lot of applicants but figured, why not? Then they broke it down to 25 and then four of us, and I came for some live auditions. And last Friday they called and said that I got the job."

The Cubs' organization also does fundraising throughout the season, and on Friday, the Cubs will be raising money for people in Japan.

"Cubs Charities has given away more than a million dollars the last six years. This will be our seventh year. We hope to top it again this year," said Mike Lufrano, executive VP of community affairs, citing the annual Race to Wrigley, a 5k run that will take place this year on April 16. "We've done things like build baseball fields throughout the city, helping places like Hamlin Park and Humboldt Park with new facilities that really share our passion for baseball with those that want to play. We have helped so many different deserving organizations in Lakeview and around the city."