Fans urinate in Cubs merchandise as season starts woefully for franchise

·MLB columnist

CHICAGO – On the bright side of the 30-minute-long bathroom lines at an under-renovation Wrigley Field that forced desperate patrons to relieve themselves in empty cups and corners of the venerable old ballpark, at least they didn't have to watch what unfolded on the field beneath them.

This is what progress looks like. It is ugly, it is unseemly, it is bumpy and it is uncomfortable. Rest assured: The ascendant Chicago Cubs will have plenty more nights like Sunday, when they opened the 2015 baseball season with a 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals that saw them strand 13 runners in scoring position with nary a hit to show for it. Turning from an also-ran into a contender, which the Cubs assuredly will be in the coming years, does not follow a linear path.

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon stands for a tribute to Ernie Banks before Sunday's game. (AP)
Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon stands for a tribute to Ernie Banks before Sunday's game. (AP)

Fixing the bathroom issue, on the other hand, is priority No. 1 as the Cubs begin the 2015 season trying to convince this city to love this team again after a lean half-decade of rebuilding. Even if the construction delays on the new Wrigley are troublesome, its unveiling – from the 4,000-square-foot video board to the tarp featuring Ernie Banks that shielded the renovations in center field – was supposed to be momentous.

Instead, the stands buzzed with the same conversation throughout the upper deck and lower concourse: How long did you have to wait?

A 35-year-old fan named Daniel Diaz tried to take a picture of the crowd outside the men's bathroom in the upper deck. "If I used panorama mode," Diaz said, "I couldn't have gotten the whole line in it." Diaz and his girlfriend, Lynda Gallico, ran into the same issue: Bathroom closings created a bottleneck at open ones, causing them and others to miss multiple innings at a time waiting in line.

"We don't need marble walls, marble floors, white-glove attendants handing you gum and perfume and towels," Diaz said. "No, just give me a hole to [pee] in. A mud hut."

During the game and after, fans lit up social media sites with complaints, cognizant that Wrigley never has been the friendliest place for fans in search of comfortable bathroom experiences. The $575 million renovation hopes to change that and much more about the stadium, coinciding with the Cubs' expectations of success on the field.

 Perhaps a more fruitful effort in that end might have mitigated the complaints, not to mention the stray cups filled to the brim with something that looked like beer but wasn't. This was little more than one of 162, of course, nothing to get in a lather about, even if their new $155 million ace Jon Lester wasn't his typical self and the offense sputtered along and lent the give-us-Kris Bryant-now set a data point to unnecessarily extrapolate.

A photo from inside a bathroom at Wrigley Field on Sunday. (Yahoo Sports)
A photo from inside a bathroom at Wrigley Field on Sunday. (Yahoo Sports)

The Cubs ran into Adam Wainwright, one of the finest pitchers in baseball, and he did what he does to teams good and bad: throw up zeroes. Six innings, no runs, no walks, six strikeouts, a tidy little palindrome for his first start of the season. This wasn't their best lineup, not with Lester's personal catcher, David Ross, starting over new acquisition Miguel Montero, and surely not with Bryant's bat biding its time at Triple-A until the Cubs get themselves an extra year of his service. And it looked the part, with the baker's dozen of chances frittered away, lengthening the Cubs' hitless streak with runners in scoring position on opening day to 34 at-bats, dating back to 2012.

"I want us to see the best pitchers," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Bring 'em on. Bring 'em all on, man. If you want to get to the playoffs and win the World Series, you've got to beat some good folks. We're not going to shy away from anybody."

Bring 'em on. Playoffs. World Series. This is how the Cubs think today. And it's not hubris so much as understanding the climate of baseball with enough parity that a close-but-maybe-not-quite-there team like the Cubs can be right there with a little bit of luck.

Lester needs to be better than he was Sunday, and he understands as much. A dead-arm period in spring training pushed back his work, and while scouts said his stuff looked the same as toward the end of last season, his finest as a major leaguer, his command was off. It showed: The Cardinals tagged him for eight hits and three runs in a 4 1/3-inning, 89-pitch outing. Though it wasn't the sort of start he envisioned, the atmosphere Lester anticipated when he signed revealed itself early.

"Everything I expected it to be, probably plus some," Lester said. "Especially without any fans in the bleachers. It was awesome."

Yes, the bleachers are empty. The tarp honoring Banks covers most of them. And the ones down the left-field line are shrouded in plywood. Mmm hmmm. Plywood. If it sounds bad, it is, and its ugliness is even starker when so close to the stunning video board.

The plywood. The brown ivy on the outfield wall. The bathroom fiasco. Certainly in its 101 years Wrigley has seen worse, more unsightly moments. In the grand scheme, opening night was but a blip. At the same time, it was telling.

Jon Lester couldn't even make it through the fifth inning of his debut with the Cubs. (AP)
Jon Lester couldn't even make it through the fifth inning of his debut with the Cubs. (AP)

No longer are the expectations for the Cubs to act like a team that's rebuilding, either with its stadium or its team. The Cubs charge the third-highest for tickets in baseball. Parking is ridiculous. Beer is expensive. The product needs to match the cost, and that goes for in the stands and on the field. Anger, in this case, was a good thing. People still care about the Cubs. For so long the organization took that for granted. Addressing the complaints immediately would go a long way to allaying fears that's still the case.

Over the plywood in left hung a slim, horizontal advertising banner. All sorts of inspirational messages have adorned Wrigley throughout the years, and this was no different. "ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE," it read, sentiment fueled by the excitement over these Cubs, by the hype of opening night, by the impending arrival of Bryant and Addison Russell and the excellence of Lester and the growth of Jorge Soler and the steadiness of Anthony Rizzo and the maturing of Jake Arrieta and the bullpen with arm after power arm and, sure, if you really want to dream, maybe October baseball.

Anything's possible. Even bathrooms that work.