CHICAGO -- It was Baez Day at the ol’ ballyard, and even with a Chicago Bears preseason game to cover Friday night, how could I miss it?
Sources told me happy days are here at Wrigley Field again, so I had to see this for myself.
Javier Baez is the first of the Chicago Cubs' so-called Core to make the majors, the last first-round draft pick of the pre-Theo Epstein regime. And after three home runs in his first three games -- the only other time that’s happened was in 1954 -- Baez's Chicago arrival was met with the proper anticipation.
The Cubs don’t want unreal expectations on Baez -- though his start made that fairly impossible -- but they do want fans to enjoy this moment.
“It’s great for the fans,” Cubs president Epstein said before Friday's 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. “Our fans have been awful patient with us and with the entire organization. It’s a nice day for them to get to see a player in person they’ve read a lot about. It’s great for our players, too. The clubhouse has had a little bit of a buzz the last three games.
“Our fans deserve to get excited. I’m just happy for them that there are things for them to get excited about.”
Baez singled off former Cubs prospect Chris Archer in the first. He moved to third on a towering double off the wall by Anthony Rizzo, who watched it soar like Alfonso Soriano, and scored on Starlin Castro's single.
Just like you draw it up, right?
Baez struck out four times after I left. Sorry, Cubs fans, but I had to go.
Baez -- and, next month, outfielder Jorge Soler -- should bring some extra eyeballs to a team that has seen serious attrition in attendance and ratings.
However, through one game, there was not much of a Baez Bump at the gate.
While there was a lot of movement on the secondary market, with season-ticket holders trying to get top dollar in another down season of trading, only 34,937 paid for this game (which was priced in the second-highest tier).
That’s down from 41,534 in the Cubs’ previous Friday home game, July 25 against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was only the sixth-best crowd out of 10 Friday home games, even with the team giving away a very cool “first night game” bobblehead of Rick Sutcliffe, complete with working lights.
One of the fans in the house was the general manager who signed Baez, Jim Hendry. I ran into him on my way out of the park to walk around and soak up the atmosphere.
The crowd outside was busy, with plenty of Rays fans milling about. I saw one dad and son in Rays gear ask rogue mascot Billy Cub for a picture. Not sure if they tipped him, though.
Baez jersey shirts were stacked neatly at the concession stand outside the home clubhouse Friday morning, on sale for $28.
While Baez shirts weren’t available yet (“By the end of the homestand,” a stand worker told me) at the independent stands outside the park, they were selling OK at Sports World Chicago on the corner of Clark and Addison.
“People are coming in and asking about them,” a Sports World employee said.
Baez’s authentic jersey was front and center when you walked into the Cubs’ team store across the street.
For the next month, the Cubs will be trying to walk the fine line of promoting an exciting player but not overselling him.
It’s a nice problem to have. The Cubs again have something to sell besides Wrigley Field.