Start­ing with a state­ment

Hey­ward’s solo run with city’s flag was an ideal way to be­gin this most un­usual sea­son

Chicago Sun-Times - - CUBS BEAT - BY STEVE GREENBERG sgreen­berg@sun­times.com @slgreen­berg

You want a sym­bol of big-time sports’ re­turn to Chicago? Try the Cubs’ Ja­son Hey­ward run­ning out to right field for the first in­ning of the first game of the sea­son Fri­day, car­ry­ing the city’s flag with him. Hard to top that.

That it was Hey­ward, and that he held that flag, rep­re­sented more than just base­ball, of course. An African Amer­i­can player of promi­nence — the first, and for sev­eral mov­ing sec­onds the only, Cub on the field — would rep­re­sent the team’s stated embrace of the Black Lives Matter move­ment and would do so while show­ing love to a city in tur­moil.

It was pitch per­fect, and it was very much in tune with the sym­bol­ism and metaphors that are ev­ery­where you look in base­ball, whose restart is — viewed with­out cyn­i­cism, inas­much as that’s pos­si­ble in 2020 — a grand em­bod­i­ment of “the show must go on.”

The Show is go­ing on. Ready or not. Sen­si­ble or not. Pan­demic or not. Rec­og­niz­able or not, too.

The Cubs and Brew­ers played be­fore an oth­er­wise empty Wrigley Field, which is not only weird and un­fa­mil­iar but also sadly em­blem­atic of all that’s miss­ing in our pan­demic-hit so­ci­ety, all the things we took for granted that sud­denly are too dan­ger­ous or bur­den­some to share in and put on one an­other.

Fans gath­ered in tiny groups out­side the iconic Wrigley mar­quee in the hours be­fore the game. Ball­hawks — a few of them — waited on Wave­land and Sh­effield Aves. for bat­ting-prac­tice homers. Gal­lagher Way sat va­cant. With Phase III guide­lines re­in­stated by the city as of 12:01 a.m. Fri­day, bars and res­tau­rants sur­round­ing the ball­park did lit­tle busi­ness. The very oc­ca­sion of a Fri­daynight game at Wrigley was an od­dity, too.

With limited seat­ing on rooftops, the fans up there seemed at once part of it all and yet dis­com­fit­ingly far away. If only they could’ve been as close to the ac­tion as Cubs pitch­ers Jon Lester and Tyler Chat­wood, who watched the first in­ning from the left-field bleach­ers — why the heck not? — be­fore opt­ing for a cou­ple of club-box seats in Sec­tion 13, Row 14 be­hind the home dugout.

Lester and Chat­wood were a strange sight. A sym­bolic one, too, as noth­ing about this is nor­mal to the play­ers. It’s “The Twi­light Zone” meets “Stranger Things” meets

“Base­ball Tonight” with a brief­ing by Dr. An­thony Fauci play­ing in the back­ground.

And speak­ing of Fauci, the age­less im­mu­nol­o­gist, in­fec­tious-dis­ease ex­pert and na­tional trea­sure, his pregame first pitch Thurs­day be­fore Game 1 of MLB’s sea­son — Yan­kees at Na­tion­als — was as metaphor­i­cally spot-on as it was wide of home plate. Look, the man sim­ply needs to flat­ten his curve a bit. Be­sides, isn’t it his job to make sure no one catches any­thing?

And then there were the tor­ren­tial rain, light­ning storm and flag­pole-shak­ing wind that forced the Yan­kees-Na­tion­als game to be called early. It was al­most like some­body was say­ing, “Re­ally, base­ball? You’re sure you want to do this?”

This is as good a time as any to point out that pitcher Kyle Hen­dricks was off-thecharts good in the first Open­ing Day start of his fine ca­reer. For nine shutout in­nings, Brew­ers hit­ters were flum­moxed by his mas­ter­ful fast­ball-changeup-curve­ball com­bi­na­tions. Come to think of it, that’s in­ac­cu­rate. They weren’t re­ally hit­ters at all.

See? We can talk just about base­ball, too. The sea­son has started, af­ter all.

One more bit of fig­u­ra­tion, if you’ll al­low it. It in­volves the num­ber 202, which is the chan­nel on Xfin­ity where fans can find the Mar­quee Net­work thanks to a deal that got done in the nick of time be­fore Open­ing Day. I saw that in the news — the No. 202 — and for some rea­son found my­self count­ing 202 days ahead on the cal­en­dar.

How dif­fer­ent might things be then? Well, in that many days, it’ll be late in the sec­ond week of Fe­bru­ary. Very pos­si­bly, it’ll be the day pitch­ers and catch­ers report to spring train­ing in Ari­zona.

God, I hope so. ✶

DAVID BANKS/AP

In a sym­bolic mo­ment, Cubs right fielder Ja­son Hey­ward takes the field car­ry­ing the flag of Chicago.

DAVID BANKS/AP

Fans watch from the rooftops across from Wrigley Field as the Cubs open against the Brew­ers.

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