By Chris Emma-

CHICAGO (CBS) — Hours before Jon Lester’s first pitch of the 2015 season, they gathered outside Clark and Addison. They took selfies with the backdrop of Wrigley Field’s famous marquee, bought shirseys with Rizzo and Castro on the backs and dreamed big for a new year of baseball promise.

READ MORE: CVS Installs Time-Delay Safes At All Illinois Pharmacy Locations To Deter Would-Be Thieves

They are the embattled fans of the Chicago Cubs, meeting Opening Day with the renewed optimism it provides each season. Given the lofty expectations for this season — coupled with a primetime contest with the rival Cardinals — Sunday brought playoff-like hype. It ended with a thud, as St. Louis stole the night with a 3-0 victory.

After three years of rebuilding since Theo Epstein took office in October of 2011, the Cubs are ready to be competitive. Heck, even Marty McFly found this was the year when he went back to the future. Too many of those 35,055 fans who packed Wrigley’s grandstands (not the tarp-covered bleachers) filed out to Wrigleyville’s streets with a sobering reminder Sunday — be patient.

“We’re trying to make this magic occur,” new Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before the game.

On such a special night on the North Side, with a palpable buzz in the April air, the highlight of the night wasn’t supposed to be Fallout Boy performing before the game. This was to be the unveiling of a new direction. Instead, the Cubs went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

Something was missing. OK, more than a few things were missing. There weren’t 4,500 fans in the unfinished bleachers. Kris Bryant and Javier Baez were watching from afar. And the Cubs’ offense was nowhere to be found. Each could be seen — or rather, unseen — as a microcosm for the team’s reality.

The organization shouldn’t be taken to task for a ballpark under construction and young team still preparing for its future. No, this is simply the byproduct of rebuilding, an imperfect process which requires time and patience.

Like their 101-year-old ballpark, the Cubs are far from a complete product. There’s a long way to go for that magic that Maddon referred to before his first game in Chicago. Bryant will need time for maturation at the big league level. Baez must work out his swing in Triple-A before returning to the majors. Meanwhile, Addison Russell, Albert Almora and so many other top prospects need more time in the minors.

I predict Jorge Soler will be National League Rookie of the Year, but first must come the learning curve that meets any rookie in the month of April. Even if he plays at such an elite level, will the Cubs have enough to complement?

READ MORE: Jussie Smollett Trial: Lead Detective In Investigation Explains On Witness Stand How Smollett Went From Victim To Suspect

The new ace, Jon Lester, surrendered three earned runs in 4 1/3 innings of work, and his team was trailing before leadoff man Dexter Fowler could grab a bat for his first plate appearance of the new season.

Adding to the urgency, Chicago is in arguably the toughest division in baseball, the NL Central, and faces an uncomfortable home climate for games in April and May. Victories must come early in the season, and the Cubs must piece together the puzzle pretty quickly.

“We have more talent this year, and we have a more realistic chance to go do some damage and really compete this year,” Epstein said. “But the start is really essential — especially when you’re in a really competitive division.”

For the first time since Epstein brought a long-suffering organization in a new, shrewd and correct direction, the Cubs are in position to make October meaningful. “Is this the year?” is something that deserves an actual response, not a laugh. But expectations should be tempered, because plenty must go right for a run to the division crown.

The Cubs can be expected to win anywhere from 75 to 85 games this season. Anything more is a tremendous season, less would be a disappointment. For the record, my meaningless personal prediction is 84-78 and missing the playoffs to these Cardinals. What matters most is continued progress toward sustained success — developing the top-ranked farm system in baseball into a top team in baseball over time.

However, the concept of patience and time would be just wrong on a night in Chicago where the Cubs’ bright future was presented to a national audience. Fans filled Wrigley Field with such high hopes for what’s to come in 2015 and where this new direction is heading.

They left the old ballpark, a construction zone in more than one way, with the optimism of Opening Day crushed like a plastic beer cup in the upper deck.

Be patient — still — Cubs fans.

MORE NEWS: Retailers Worry That Repeated Organized Thefts Could Scare Shoppers Away From Mag Mile, Other Districts This Holiday Season

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.