CHICAGO (CBS) – It will be 46 degrees and rainy when Cubs take to the mound for their home opener at Wrigley Field, but the conditions aren’t putting a damper on the buzz at the Friendly Confines.
The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates at 1:20 p.m. at Wrigley Field.
Kerry Wood is back after two years, and he told the Associated Press “there’s a buzz.” As the team put on ski caps and hoods and headed out for practice Thursday afternoon.
“They always give us a good fight,” said Ryan Dempster, who will start for the Cubs against Pittsburgh’s Kevin Correia.
Carlos Pena, who signed with Chicago as a free agent after playing for Tampa Bay the last four years, is looking forward to playing in the second-oldest park in the majors. He played briefly with Boston in 2006 and spent four seasons in the AL East, so he’s already spent time in the oldest, Fenway Park.
But once he arrived to Wrigley on Thursday, he had to see for himself.
“I walked in this morning and I walked up on that concourse and got the fans’ perspective and all I said was, ‘Thank you.’ I’m pumped to be here,” he said.
Pena’s performance will be a pivotal one for the Cubs. He batted just .196 last season for the Rays but he has the left-handed power and the great glove at first base that Chicago needs.
Like teammate Matt Garza, who also came over from Tampa — his arrival via a trade — he’ll have to adjust to the weather, a new league and a home schedule heavy with day games.
“He’s going to be fine. He’s the kind of guy I think he’ll love it,” Cubs manager Mike Quade said.
Pena and Garza are newcomers and Wood is making his return after two seasons with Cleveland and the Yankees, but it’s Quade who really has a new task. He is going to run the team for the first time as the full-time manager. He was the skipper on an interim basis for the final 37 games a year ago after Lou Piniella retired in August. The Cubs responded with a 24-13 record.
Quade, who managed more than 2,000 minor league games and was Chicago’s third base coach before being promoted last season, brought along a familiar companion with him — his fungo bat.
“I always feel like a little kid,” he said, looking forward to Friday. “I think there will be a million emotions and I’ll deal with them however I do. My folks will be there, that’s great. Long journey and all that stuff.”
He has got a lot of work to do to improve on the Cubs’ fifth-place finish of last season. And no one needs to bring up that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, a record of futility that always surfaces.
Also among the new faces is Andrew Belleson, who will announce the starting lineup as they tape the field. Belleson won the contest last week to become the new public address announcer at Wrigley Field, after working as the announcer and radio broadcaster for the Rockford RiverHawks for five years.
Meanwhile, new to the broadcast booth is Keith Moreland, the former Cubs right fielder who helped lead the team to a division championship in 1984. Moreland replaces the late Ran Santo.
“You cannot replace an icon who is irreplaceable as Ron Santo.” Moreland said last month. “All I can do is be me.”
Ryan Dempster will be the starting pitcher, followed by Carlos Zambrano, then Garza.
Acting legend Robert Redford will throw out the first pitch, and singing “Take Me out to the Ballgame” for the seventh-inning stretch is the late legend’s son, Ron Santo Jr.