Friday, April 1, 2011

Cubs excited to start season at Wrigley

CHICAGO -- Actor Robert Redford will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, Ron Santo Jr. will lead the crowd during the seventh-inning stretch, and the team will collect donations for victims of Japan's earthquake and tsunami on Opening Day at Wrigley Field on Friday.
Santo will lead the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," something his late father did more than anyone else. Ron Santo Sr. died in December at the age of 70. The Cubs are wearing No. 10 patches on their uniforms in honor of the broadcaster and third baseman.
Besides Redford, the Ricketts family will select a family of Cubs fans to throw a ceremonial first pitch prior to Friday's season opener between the Cubs and Pirates.
On Thursday, the Cubs warmed up for the opener with a workout at Wrigley Field. Matt Garza, who will start on Sunday, his first game at the Cubs' home ballpark, threw some pitches off the mound.
"People tell me there's nothing I can possibly do to prepare for something like this," first baseman Carlos Pena said. "Chicago is a very special place, Wrigley Field is a very special place. The fans are very intense. I'm excited about it. I'm very blessed, and I don't take this for granted.
"I walked in this morning and walked up that concourse and got the fans' perspective and all I said was, 'Thank you,'" Pena said. "I'm pumped to be here."
Kerry Wood knows his way around Wrigley better than anyone, having called the ballpark home from 1998-2008. Prognosticators have tabbed the Cubs to finish in the middle of the field in the National League Central, but Wood just shrugs that off.
"I think tomorrow, the sun's going to come up and we're going to get dressed and play a baseball game," he said. "All the experts are always wrong. Their early picks are never right. If we focus on what we have to do and go out and do what makes us good, we'll be all right."
Actually, the sun may not come up. The forecast for Friday calls for rain and snow mix with temperatures in the 40s. The forecast for the Cubs is brighter as far as the players are concerned.
"I've picked us and that's all that matters," said Ryan Dempster, who will make his third career Opening Day start and first with the Cubs. "We've picked ourselves to go out and win ballgames and do well. I saw that CC Sabathia yesterday picked his team to win it all. Isn't that what you're supposed to do? I think if we listened to the experts as kids, a lot of us wouldn't be in the big leagues. I know there are some really great teams on paper, but it's about wins and losses."
Also part of the Cubs' Opening Day festivities: The national 9/11 flag will be on display in the outfield. The flag was destroyed in the aftermath of the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and stitched together seven years later by tornado survivors in Greensburg, Kan.
The Cubs also will have a moment of silence before the game in honor of those affected by the natural disaster in Japan. They will conduct a collection to raise funds for UNICEF to help children affected by the earthquake and tsunami.
Redford, who starred in the baseball classic "The Natural," is in Chicago for the premiere of his latest movie, "The Conspirator," which opens nationwide April 15. The movie tells the story of the woman charged in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the young lawyer who defended her.

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