CHICAGO – Cubs fan Ryan Jones never imagined he could easily purchase tickets for his favorite team’s home opener 40 minutes before the first pitch.
Yet when Jones, a 31-year-old Wrigleyville resident, approached the ticket window at Wrigley Field, he was pleasantly surprised that tickets were available for the Cubs’ home opener against the Brewers.
“When there was actual talent on the field, no, that wasn’t going to happen,” Jones said. “The White Sox cut prices [this year]; it seems like the Cubs raise them every year.”
Jones was one of what the Cubs reported were 40,083 fans at Monday’s game, which started as a dud with the Cubs falling behind 5-0 to Milwaukee. But by the time Starlin Castro flew out to right field to end the game, leaving the bases loaded in a 7-4 loss, more than half of the fans had left the ballpark.
“Any time you talk about any sort of Chicago team, they’re in it through the end – especially here at Wrigley,” reliever Shawn Camp said. “They’re dedicated fans through and through. That’s something you appreciate as a player.”
Clearly that fan support is beginning to falter as they send a message with their wallets. Wrigley wasn’t overflowing with fans as would be expected for a home opener. The announced attendance of more than 40,000 was generous. There were noticeably empty sections in the upper deck down the left field and right field lines while empty seats littered the lower bowl. Although the Cubs do not officially keep track of sellouts, Monday’s home opener was one of the worst attended home openers in the past decade.
Manager Dale Sveum understands Cubs fans’ patience is wavering. Coming off a 101-loss season, the worst season in 50 years, with an uninspiring 2-5 start to 2013, the plan to rebuild the organization is losing its luster.
“You can only have so much patience,” Sveum said. “Obviously, [the fans] were great to use through some hard times last year and understanding the process of what’s going on in the organization, but there’s only so much you can take.”
Fans’ waning patience ended with Carlos Marmol. Before throwing a pitch at Wrigley this season, Marmol allowed five runs in 1 2/3 innings. His performance Saturday at Atlanta – a blown save and loss after giving up the game-tying and game-winning home runs to B.J. and Justin Upton – ended his run as closer, for now.
Marmol was the only player booed when announced during the Cubs’ pregame introductions. And it didn’t stop there. He again heard the boo birds when he came in to pitch the eighth, which continued throughout the inning. It didn’t matter that Marmol held Milwaukee scoreless or struck out two in the inning.
Cubs starting pitcher Edwin Jackson hasn’t done himself any favors by beginning the season 0-2 with a 5.73 ERA, this on the heels of a signing a four-year, $52 million deal during the offseason. Jackson is known for his bouts of wildness, as was the case in the first inning against Milwaukee, resulting in four runs. He couldn’t locate his fastball, and his secondary pitches weren’t effective. Cue the panic from fans.
“[Cubs fans] are going to magnify things, and that’s just the way it is,” outfielder David DeJesus said.
Marmol’s teammates defended him against the fed-up fans, and Sveum complimented Jackson for getting past his bad first inning. But if they aren’t careful, they all could soon be on the receiving end of pent-up anger directed at a team that seems to find new ways to lose.
“You’re going to get knocked down more times than you’re going to succeed,” reliever James Russell said. “Being a .300 hitter gets you into the Hall of Fame, but you still fail seven times [in 10 at-bats]. It’s a game of failure.”
• Tom Musick contributed to this report