By Laurence W. Holmes--
(CBS) Opening Night at Wrigley Field was a mixed bag. That's probably the best way to put it. The baseball itself was a little disjointed and sloppy, but it's the first game of the season and most of the indicators about the Cubs future are pointing up after a 3-0 loss to the Cardinals.
On the other hand, when it comes to the fan experience of Sunday night, the Cubs have plenty to work on.
I was one of the 35,055 in attendance at Wrigely. The conditions were pretty good for a night game in Chicago in April. The temp dropped into the 40s by first pitch, but the winds were light, so it made for pleasant viewing. The beginning of the night was almost pitch perfect for the Cubs. They covered the eyesore of the bleacher construction with a tarp comprised of Ernie Banks pictures. It gave the ballpark a decorative feel.
There was a moving tribute to Banks and moment of silence for Oscar Tavaras, the Cardinals' promising young outfielder who died in a car crash shortly after St. Louis was eliminated from the playoffs last season. The team introductions were raucous, with the biggest ovation for new manager Joe Maddon. Fans were excited to see this year's team and some of the new additions. The Cubs had somehow mixed a somber memorial for Banks with the the Mardi Gras feel of a new season. When you think about it, that's totally appropriate considering Banks' zest for life and Cubs baseball.
While construction continues in the bleachers, the new video board was put in. I was expecting it to feel foreign, but it didn't. There were some minor technical glitches with it, but overall, it felt like it belonged. They keep balls, strikes and outs off of it, referring that to the manual scoreboard. It's nice to have replays, and I didn't find the board intrusive to the character of the ballpark. There's more they can do with it from an informational and advertising standpoint, but I think the goal for Sunday was to just get it working.
That wasn't the case when it came to concessions and the bathroom situation. A fan sitting behind me missed three innings of the game waiting for the bathroom. Another fan I talked to was allowed to leave the ballpark, go to the one of the bars across the street to use the bathroom and then was re-admitted (I'm still waiting to hear back from the Cubs if that is team policy while the ballpark is under construction). The stories of what people did in lieu of making it to the bathroom are horrifying. I'll spare you the details, but it's definitely not how the Cubs wanted Opening Night to go.
The team was conciliatory after complaints came flooding in.
"With 35,000 fans showing up in the ballpark tonight, we were simply not prepared to handle guests during peak periods," Cubs spokesman Julian Green said. "We have high standards for service and we missed the mark tonight. We want to apologize to our fans for the inconvenience tonight."
Besides the bathroom nightmare, the Cubs also had concession issues. In the section that I was in, I didn't experience any problems, but there were reports of stands running out of hot dog buns, popcorn and pretzels.
I can't imagine the Cubs didn't expect a full boat on Opening Night against their most hated rival. Most Cubs fans would concede that they expect some hiccups during this transition, but the team can't have another night like Sunday. It lends credence to those who thought playing in Milwaukee or on the South Side for this year made more sense. Keeping the games at Wrigley is the right move, but you have to take care of the fan base, at least with the the bare essentials: enough food, drink and a place to cleanly and quickly go to the bathroom.
That's not a lot to ask. Fans are excited to see this team grow, which means there might be more fans coming to Wrigley than expected. Let's hope as interest grows, the Cubs won't miss the mark again.
Laurence Holmes hosts the Laurence Holmes Show on 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @LaurenceWHolmes.
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