WRIGLEYVILLE — For the first time in over 500 days, the Friendly Confines was open to fans as the Cubs hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates for the season opener Thursday, the first game with fans since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the city last spring.
Wrigley Field reopened to 20 percent capacity for Opening Day, with the majority of seats reserved for season ticket holders as the city tries to gradually allow more outdoor activities but maintain safety precautions to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Strict new procedures are in place at Wrigley to preserve social distancing, like self-service ticket scanners, cashless payments and restricting fans to specific gates where they have to enter and leave the park.
With an hour until the first inning, the plaza under the marquee was packed with throngs of eager baseball buffs, meandering between selfies to reach their respective gates. In passing, an employee called the process a “smooth operation.”
The sunny weather was as Midwesterners describe it best: “It wouldn’t be so cold without that wind.” The Cubs didn’t exactly add to the warmth, though, falling to the Pirates 5-3 in a slow home opener.
Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan tweeted that the game’s attendance was 10,343 spectators – a fraction of its standard seating size.
Reveling with longtime friends before the game, Richie Gracia was ecstatic to be back. Thursday marked the 20th consecutive home opener the Bridgeport resident attended. This ritual is so deeply rooted he even showed up last year, despite fans not being allowed to enter the stadium.
“It was very disappointing but you know what? We’re here today, it is a new day,” he said.
Gracia said he felt withdrawal not being able to enjoy baseball like normal over the past year. Almost triumphantly he stood under the marquee, flanked by his friends and cheering, “I made it! I made it! Standing here, I’m standing strong.”
Rich Jordan and Jamie Cook disembarked from the Red Line around noon, decked out in Cubby colors head-to-toe for their 22nd annual opener. Jordan hoped for a win, but more realistically for the scents of “hot dogs and lukewarm Old Style.”
The Downtown duo — who recently had been vaccinated — were thrilled to be back in the presence of fellow fans.
“More than anything, we’re looking at to see people we know, see some friends and stop by some of the bars … the familiarity that we’ve been missing in our life,” Jordan said.
Once the game began, the streets of Wrigleyville remained rather quiet — fitting for a brisk Thursday afternoon in the wintery stage of spring. Lines to enter bars and restaurants were sparse and patrons mostly kept their distance.
The unfamiliar quiet throughout the neighborhood allowed for more sounds from within Wrigley to be audible outside, such as the announcers’ voices that usually fill the airwaves of the concourses and the fans booing Mayor Lori Lightfoot before the opening pitch.
Nisei Lounge regular Roger Butler sat at a bench in the bar’s patio down the road from Wrigley, enjoying a Heineken as the game played out on the screen. He lauded his favorite dive bar for their strict adherence to COVID safety protocols, saying they shine in comparison to the practices of other nearby establishments who “let their guard down.”
“It feels like home,” Butler said.