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Corrections & clarifications: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Kurt Busch as Kyle Busch.
CHICAGO — On the top row of the rooftop at Murphy’s Bleachers, Michael Bloom and his wife Kristine are staring at pristine Wrigley Field, but the longer they look, the more it defies the senses.
Bloom finally throws his hands into the air, and yells over to the Cubs’ fan wearing a Kris Bryant jersey, holding a beer.
“This is insane,’’ he says, “just insane. How weird is this? There’s no one here. It’s so quiet.’’
The fan, Kurt Busch, looks at him, and says, “Yes, but it’s Opening Day at Wrigley Field! How cool is this?’’
Yes, that Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR champion who drove eight hours from Kansas City after racing Thursday night, finishing ninth at the Kansas Speedway.
“I wasn’t going to miss this, no way,’’ Busch said. “This is my favorite place in the world outside of a NASCAR track – Wrigley Field. Every year since I first came here back in 2000, I made a pact to go to Wrigley.
“I wasn’t going to let 2020 slide by.’’
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So there were Busch and his longtime friend Jason Allen, taking in the sights, knowing they were part of history.
Oh, sure, the view is partially obstructed, but you could still see Cubs star Jason Heyward running out to right field, carrying the Chicago flag.
“I wish I could stick to sports, but I have a family’’ Heyward said. “There are so many times when I don’t have my uniform on and I’m treated like a Black man, not a baseball player.’’
There was Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo pulling out a bottle of hand sanitizer from his back pocket and squirting it into the hands of Orlando Arcia after he singled for the Milwaukee Brewers in the third inning.
“Listen, we’re playing under usual circumstances,’’ Rizzo said. “You know how much I love to have fun and keep it loose. Just one of those things, I’m surprised the cameras got it.’’
And there was Busch yelling and screaming on the rooftop when Ian Happ hit a two-run homer in the third inning, loving Bill Murray’s cameo appearance singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame’’ in the seventh, and singing “Go Cubs Go’’ after the Cubs’ 3-0 victory.
“I grew up in Vegas as a WGN baby,’’ Busch says. “There were only five channels back then. It was soap opera. Soap opera. Soap Opera. Cubs game.
“I told my Mom, ‘These Cubs must be good, they’re the only team they ever show on WGN.’ ’’
It’s this love affair with the Cubs that made the scene in Wrigleyville so eerie. The streets outside the stadium feel deserted. There were nine people inside the Cubs’ team store on Clark Street. There was nobody hanging out and taking pictures at the Harry Caray statue. There was one person on Waveland at the souvenir stand, selling T-shirts inscribed with everything from “St. Louis is Boring’’ to “I miss WGN.”
“It’s very strange,’’ said Vince George, who estimated business was down by 95% compared to a usual Cubs home game. “There’s no energy. No vice. It’s usually so chaotic around here, but it’s boring.’’
The only real activity was the ball hawkers on Waveland, grabbing the home runs hit during batting practice, right in front of Ken Keefer’s house. Keefer sat with two of his buddies in the front yard, knowing this was opening day, but it sure felt like nothing he has ever witnessed in his life.
“There usually is pandemonium on the streets here,’’ Keefer said, “but it’s so quiet, I can hear the outfielders talking and calling for the ball. No one’s selling water. No hotdogs. Pretzels. Nothing.’’
The Blooms, who have had season tickets for the past six years, know they could have stayed home in Lafayette, Ind., and watched on TV, but with a chance to be among perhaps only 1,000 fans to catch the games live on one of the rooftops, they couldn’t stay home.
“Sitting home because of COVID, with no real sports to watch,’’ Michael Bloom said, in between gulps of a Bud Light, “really, really sucked.’’
Said Kristine, who was celebrating her 44th birthday: “Besides, Wrigley is our second home.’’
It just doesn’t look like anything they’ve ever seen. And it was so quiet you could actually hear outfielders call for fly balls.
The bar scene looked like a church social with tables six feet apart, bar stools put aside on tables, with Murphy’s Bleachers manager Freddy Fagenholz walking around with a yard stick to assure that everyone was social distancing, and wearing masks. If you didn’t have a mask, you weren’t getting in.
Murphy’s, with a seating capacity of 700, limited the crowd to just 140 people. The rooftop was limited to just 18 people instead of 70.
“It’s just a weird feeling with no one in the park,’’ Fagenholz, “and the bars limited to what they have, but you want everyone to feel safe when they come in here. I would love for everything to be back to normal next spring, but if there’s no vaccine, I’m not sure we can have normalcy.
“This season opener will certainly be remembered as the most unique in history.’’
And for those that were able to watch the game in person, no matter the rooftop they watch, or how obstructed the view, they’ll never forget it.
They retreated to the bar afterwards, talked about Kyle Hendricks’ brilliant performance. They marveled about Rizzo’s home run. They celebrated manager David Ross’ first career victory. And, yes, they’ll be back.
“You kidding?’’ Allen said. “We may never go home.’’