CHICAGO -- The Opening Day butterflies were the same, but different. The hours before first pitch were longer, with most Brewers players holed up in the hotel. Once at Wrigley Field, the venue was familiar, but different, too.
“There's definitely changes, but it is what it is, and we just have to deal with it for a few months,” Christian Yelich said. “We're not really supposed to [go out to eat]. We can get stuff to go but we're not really supposed to hang out in restaurants or anything like that.
“It's kind of on us to stay healthy and make sure we keep passing our COVID tests every other day. We owe it to each other, to our teammates, to take responsibility for this shortened season, and make sure we all make it through.”
Early reviews of the setup at Wrigley Field were positive. The visitors' clubhouse is too small to accommodate social distancing, so coaches are dressing there while players were moved to a large adjacent space that was originally constructed to be a club for fans. The dugouts, already expanded a couple of years ago, were further expanded for 2020 to include covered areas with chairs.
Because players can’t arrive more than five hours before the first pitch -- believe it or not, that’s significantly later than many players arrive in a typical year -- and space is at a premium, the weight room was moved to Wrigley Field’s open-air concourse, according to Corbin Burnes, Saturday’s scheduled starter for the Brewers. The dining room is also on the concourse, just like at Miller Park. At the team hotel, the Brewers set up a portable video room and even a training room for players in need of treatment, Burnes said.
Before the Brewers departed for Chicago on Wednesday, manager Craig Counsell set some ground rules for team travel in 2020. He said travel would be a “test” this year.
“We're going to have to make sacrifices on the road,” Counsell said. “We're going to have to stay in our rooms a little more, and the process of getting to the park is going to change a little bit. But at this point, we've become accustomed to doing things differently, so it's not going to come as a surprise to the guys that we're going to have to make some changes.”
The circumstances are suboptimal, since Burnes is starting Saturday against the Cubs only because left-hander Brett Anderson is on the 10-day injured list with a blister. But Burnes is nevertheless grateful to reboot in 2020 as a member of the Brewers’ starting rotation.
He broke camp in the rotation last year, but it did not go well. Burnes was demoted to the bullpen, and later to the Minor Leagues, after posting a 10.70 ERA and allowing 11 home runs in four starts before the end of April.
“That was definitely good news,” said Burnes of getting to start games again. “Unfortunate, the way it happened with Brett going down with a blister; we want to get him healthy and back as fast as we can. Getting him on the mound and healthy makes us that much better a pitching staff.
“But they were able to keep me stretched out through most of camp, whether it be for the fifth spot or if something did happen with COVID or injuries. It was definitely something I had prepared for throughout the offseason and quarantine.”
• The Brewers initially had expected to announce the club’s three-man taxi squad before each road trip, but since MLB regulations do not require teams to do so, they opted against it. The taxi squads were implemented to cut down instances of players requiring commercial travel in the event an active player is injured or falls ill, but teams’ choices are not limited to those three players. One of the extra players on hand Friday at Wrigley Field was catcher Jacob Nottingham.
• The Brewers’ Opening Day lineup brought one surprise: Lorenzo Cain, who has mostly served as Milwaukee’s leadoff hitter since returning to the team in 2018, was the No. 8 hitter. He had not started a game in the eight-hole since September 2014 with the Royals.
• Counsell had some tough conversations this week with players who didn’t make the 30-man opening roster, but there were some good conversations, too. One was with J.P. Feyereisen, who is the 10th Wisconsin native -- he hails from River Falls -- to play for the Brewers.
“Being able to tell a kid from Wisconsin that he’s going to make his Major League debut for the Brewers certainly felt really good to do,” Counsell said.
Feyereisen pitched the ninth inning of Friday's loss, tallying one strikeout and allowing a solo home run from Anthony Rizzo.