UPDATED 04/05/12 – 4:47 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — No matter how you feel about the Cubs, Opening Day at Wrigley Field is special. Even though the Cubs lost to the Nationals, Thursday was no exception.
As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, comedian and die-hard Cubs fan Bill Murray ran the bases before tossing the ceremonial first pitch, then led the Wrigley Field faithful in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch.
While “Ivy Man” made his rounds outside Wrigley Field, the real ivy on the outfield walls was already turning green, the first time that’s happened on Opening Day in decades.
“Because of the weather, the great weather we’ve had, the ivy’s even coming in early, so it’s just a great day for baseball,” said Cubs communications VP Julian Green.
That wasn’t the only thing new for Opening Day this year.
Wrigley Field has a new LED scoreboard in right field to provide all kinds of information for stats guys, like Kevin Showalter. The manually operated scoreboard in center field remains.
“I do like how they kept the old scoreboard. You’ve got to at Wrigley Field, but the new info’s gonna be good,” Showalter said.
Also new is the Budweiser Patio, just above the right field scoreboard. The Cubs had to remove about 150 right field seats to install the scoreboard and party area.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, there was plenty of energy around the ballpark long before the first pitch as fans, Cubs employees and even team owner Tom Ricketts looked forward to the first game of the 2012 season.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports
“Of course I’m excited. It’s Opening Day. Hope springs eternal – that’s the whole point, isn’t it?” said fan Andy Lerner. “Opening Day is the best day of the year.”
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts was also excited about Opening Day, and about some of the new features inside and outside Wrigley Field.
“We have a video board in right field that will be giving information, which looks great,” Ricketts said. “The other thing you’re going to notice is your cell phone works, because AT&T worked with us to put a whole bunch of infrastructure in.”
There’s also a new seating area in right field, called the Budweiser Patio. While it was just as cold on the Budweiser Patio as it was in the cheap seats, the fans lucky enough to get one of the premium seats were in for a real treat.
“It accommodates groups of 50, or 100, or 150 people; all-inclusive food and beverage package,” Green said.
Also, across Clark and Addison streets from the ballpark is a new official Cubs store.
The point of all the changes at the stadium is to make the fan experience as worthwhile as possible, said Cubs board member Laura Ricketts.
“I think change is key – that’s the key word. We’ve had significant changes in our baseball staff, significant changes at Wrigley Field, and I think fans are going to be really pleased this year,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are planning ahead for some more sweeping upgrades to the 98-year-old ballpark. Aides to Mayor Rahm Emanuel said earlier in this week that a deal is in the works — but not finalized — that could help the Cubs undertake a major renovation project at Wrigley without hurting taxpayers.
“The mayor’s comments this week were wonderful. We’re not finished. We have a lot of work to do. We’re listening as much as we reacting to what he said, but we’re very hopeful,” Cubs President Crane Kenney told CBS 2’s Kris Gutierrez Thursday morning.
The Cubs put between $10 million and $15 million into the ballpark every year, Kenney said. The money goes toward everything from structural maintenance to cosmetic improvements.
Perhaps most importantly, the Cubs have a new skipper in Dale Sveum. Fans will have at least 161 more games to figure out how to say his last name. It’s pronounced “SWAYM,” by the way.
However, opening Day could have ended better for the fans, with the Cubs wasting a fine performance by starting pitcher Ryan Dempster and blowing a 1-0 lead in the 8th inning to eventually fall to the Nationals 2-1.
As for the rest of the season, CBS 2’s Megan Mawicke says many prognosticators expect the Cubs to come in fourth or fifth in the NL Central. But new Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer says he thinks the team can contend.
“I really love the attitude here. I think Dale (Sveum) has done a wonderful job,” Hoyer said. “You know, in my first year in San Diego, we were predicted to win 70 and we won 90. And so the experts, they put it on paper, but what they can’t measure is the heart of a team. I think we have a lot of good players, and I think if things break right, we can compete.”