Credit: mandywarhol/Flickr

The seller used to set the price for Cubs opening day tickets. Paying way above face value for a ticket and feeling lucky to snag one at all was part of the ritual – along with the beers thrown back at Murphy’s and the burger at Bernie’s before the game. Then there was the opening-day prayer that WXRT’s Regular Guy updates annually and reads live at Yak-Zie’s. He always ends it with, “From Tinkers to Evers to Chance, Amen.”

This year, Cubs ticket sellers could have used a prayer of their own. Opening day attendance at Wrigley Field last Friday was officially capacity, 41,358 people, but the number of bodies actually in seats looked to be at least 10 percent lower. Official attendance dropped Saturday to 35,0000 and Sunday to 30,000, and the Tribune reported Tuesday that the crowd at the Cubs’ Monday game was announced as a little more than 26,000 – making it the smallest crowd since 2002 – and in reality was about half that.

Seth Sharrin, manager of Gold Coast Tickets at 950 W. Addison, says last year’s Cubs “started out as a bad team and were bad the entire year. If they start out good this year, and the sun shines, things will be good, tickets will sell well.” But the Cubs didn’t start out good – they dropped two of their first three games to the Pittsburgh Pirates – and Monday was cold.

The Cubs’ own Wrigley Field Premium Ticket Services likes to price its tickets about 30 percent over face value. But manager Leo Sosa says the afternoon before the Cubs’ opener, the Cubs’ box office still had standing room and single seats for sale for the game. “So our secondary market has not been moving that great,” says Sosa. “We are probably down about 20-30 percent in volume.”

He tells me, “I think the face value has reached about what people are willing to pay. For us in the secondary market, there hasn’t been the demand as in the past.”

On Clark Street before Sunday’s game, I spotted a female scalper who always hawks from the same corner. She said her opening-day tickets went for face value. On Sunday, half an hour before the game, she found herself asking $40 for third-row tickets with a face value of $100.

Then there’s me. Uncharacteristically, I wasn’t dying to be in Wrigley Field on opening day. I had work piled up and no one to go with, so days before the game I posted my two tickets on Craigslist. Face value was $33.60, tax included. After receiving zero offers at $50 each I lowered the price to $40. One buyer dropped out after finding cheaper tickets. The second e-mailed me 40 minutes before we were supposed to meet. “A financial setback causes me to cut back. Sorry, but at face value, you’ll sell them, no problem.” I wish. When I had to leave town for a few days the tickets still hadn’t moved, so I turned them over to a friend with a store. He thought he could unload them to a customer. He couldn’t.

The day before the game I was asking $35 a ticket and no one was biting. Finally a friend arranged to get the day off so we could go to the game together. And sure enough, before I could take my ad off Craigslist I got an offer and I had to say they were gone. “You shattered my dreams,” the prospect e-mailed back.

Considering all the empty seats I would witness on opening day at Wrigley, I doubt his dreams stayed shattered long. Will 2011 turn out to be the next year that Cubs fans have finally lost interest in waiting for?