Confines unfriendly to Cubs
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com June 14, 2012 10:30PM
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 14: Austin Jackson #14 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates with Manager Jim Leyland after hitting a two-run home run off of the Chicago Cubs scoring teammate Don Kelly #32 in the ninth inning of their MLB game at Wrigley field on June 14, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:37AM
The Cubs proudly are touting the fact that the series against the third-place Detroit Tigers set a Wrigley Field attendance record for a midweek three-game set. Never mind that it appeared more than half the fans were from Detroit.
‘‘I was pretty shocked to see as many orange shirts as I saw out there,’’ first baseman Bryan LaHair said after Justin Verlander beat the Cubs 5-3 on Thursday to put them back on a 108-loss pace. ‘‘They were definitely loud, and they definitely came in bunches.’’
Wait till you see the numbers this weekend for Theo Epstein’s old team, the Boston Red Sox. The series is considered so compelling that Fox and ESPN are all over the broadcast coverage, despite both teams being in last place.
The Cubs’ suits better enjoy it while the homestand lasts. Same for the season-ticket holders fortunate enough to find eager out-of-town buyers for their hyper-priced tickets.
By the time this team returns home again for games against the New York Mets, Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks, it doesn’t figure to be so pretty.
By then, the Cubs actually might long for the days of Charlie Gehringer and Travis Fryman jerseys in the stands, grandstand-shaking cheers when the opposing starting pitcher takes the field and chants of ‘‘Let’s Go Tigers!’’ drowning out Cubs fans and causing postgame altercations in the concourse.
That’s the kind of stuff usually reserved for places such as Cincinnati and Milwaukee, where Cubs fans have overrun the other team’s stadium. It’s a phenomenon longtime Cubs personnel can’t remember happening in such large numbers at Wrigley.
‘‘Very surprising,’’ Alfonso Soriano said.
Even Verlander tweeted an enthusiastic shout-out to the invading Tigers fans after the game.
‘‘Obviously, it’s a little bit strange,’’ Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘Today it seemed like quite a bit more, actually. That’s kind of the adage of interleague play — people spend a lot of money to take their vacations and come to a landmark stadium like this and pay a lot of extra money for the tickets.’’
There usually aren’t that many tickets available in these parts. What about when the Red Sox visit this weekend?
‘‘It could happen, but I think they’re probably a little bit different, to where our fans will probably keep our own tickets,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘You hope so anyway.’’
If you’re in Cubs business operations, you hope. You hope irritated fans keep buying tickets into the second — third? fourth? — season of growing pains.
If you’re in Cubs baseball operations, you hope those realities don’t start forcing their way into your reconstruction plans.
During his Boston media reunion tour in recent days, Epstein said that came into play with some of the bad free-agent signings saddling the Red Sox (31-32), players such as John Lackey (five years, $82.5 million) before the 2010 season and Carl Crawford (seven years, $142 million) before last season.
The Red Sox were coming off a 95-win playoff season before the Lackey signing, and Epstein told the Boston Globe recently that business pressures to make a splash caused him to veer from his team-building philosophy.
‘‘I kind of kick myself for letting my guard down and giving into it,’’ he said, ‘‘because that might be a better team in some ways and resonate more with the fans than what we ended up with.’’
He told the Globe that he feels bad about it, but also that he believes his regime left the franchise ‘‘better than we found it.’’
LaHair, a native of the Boston area and a lifelong Red Sox fan, believes in the Epstein legacy. He also said it has nothing to do with the free-agent misses or the team’s beer-and-chicken collapse last September.
‘‘His legacy is reversing the curse,’’ LaHair said of the two titles in four seasons after nearly nine decades without one. ‘‘They took that down, and then they won again. He’s definitely a legend up there.’’
If you don’t believe LaHair, just listen to the Red Sox fans this weekend at Wrigley.
Then hope that’s not all there is to hear.