Wrigley Field empty to start the season – are the fans boycotting?

T-shirt’s are sold outside of Wrigley Field before the Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates Opening Day game in Chicago on April 1, 2011. The Pirates won 6-3. UPI/Brian Kersey

It was rather surprising to see a half-empty stadium when I turned on the Cubs-Diamondbacks game today (a 6-4 Arizona victory).

If these two teams were playing in Arizona and the D’Backs were 20 games out of first place, then this obviously wouldn’t have caught my eye. But Wrigley Field? That place has been jam-packed for decades, regardless of how miserable the Cubs have been. Going to a Cubs game might as well be like going to the movies for many Chicagoans – it’s viewed as pure entertainment.

As it turns out, the announced attendance for Monday’s Cubs-D’Backs game was 26,292, the lowest attendance the ballpark has experienced since 2002. Granted, the weather has been cool in Chicago and with other sporting events to watch (the NCAA finals, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, the White Sox, etc.), it’s not a stretch to think that fans are waiting until May or June to show up to watch their “Cubbies.” (That nickname, by the way, makes me want to punch myself in the kidney.)

But Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times hopes that the empty seats are a sign that Cub fans have finally had enough.

Not showing up to the ballpark is the only power fans have. I’m not sure if they fully understand how much influence they have. When they come to the ballpark in droves year after year, they have no say in whether ticket prices increase or whether the player payroll declines. Their collective voice is heard only as a whisper when the conversation turns to publicly funded stadium renovations.

When fans don’t show up, owners get very, very nervous. Cubs fans rarely flex that muscle. But now? Is that a bulging biceps I see?

Imagine if this were a win-or-else ultimatum from the fan base. Think the Cubs might feel some urgency?

Eh, maybe. The only question I have is: Why now? Why after decades of losing would Cub fans pick this year to finally put their foot down? The Reds have started off strong, but the injuries in St. Louis and the slow start in Milwaukee gives Chicago fans a sliver of hope that their Cubs might be able to do something in the NL Central. I think most true fans are realistic about the Cubs’ chances but even the biggest doubters will still attend the games.

It’s early. Once the weather warms up, Wrigley will be jam-packed again. Besides, even if the fans were boycotting the organization, what is the front office going to do? Thanks to all the bad contracts that they’ve acquired over the years (Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, etc.), they couldn’t change the situation even if they wanted to. This team is stuck right now whether the fans like it or not.

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