Since the Ricketts family took ownership of the Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has made a point of flying out to Mesa, AZ, the first day the entire team works out together prior to spring training games. This year was no exception. He addressed the players before they began working out. This year he had three points he wanted to emphasize.
“Number one, be professional on and off the field,” he said. Though the Cubs haven’t had any recent problems off the field in a long time, like other sports, he wanted to remind them to have respect on and off the field.
“I reminded them it’s important to us because it’s a family business and, in fact, the team’s a family, too; Don’t embarrass yourself, your teammates or your organization.” Ricketts told them.
“Secondly, I always remind the players that the most important people in the ballpark are the fans. Our guys have been great about that. There are time pressures on them but where they can spend a little extra time with a kid. it’s crucial so I remind them about that,” he said.
“And everything is community. We’ve taken Cubs Charities from a roughly small effort to a very large effort and a lot of that is players taking their time or energy to causes. I just remind them if they have some time to sneak out to a school or hospital [do it]. Our players are great about that, but I remind them how important that is,” Ricketts said.
While it’s true that many of the players do give a large amount of time to various causes, many their own foundations, some still have to learn to stop and take some extra time to make a kid feel special. Unfortunately, the day after the talk, some players did not stop on their way to practice to say a quick hello to any of the kids. The disappointment on one child’s face was clear, but then Chris Bosio came out and did stop and say hello and the child was smiling again. As Ricketts tries to tell his players, it’s a small gesture that goes a long way.
Other points Ricketts covered the other day included confirmation that the new Cubs clubhouse will be ready by Opening Day. Ricketts called it “the best in baseball.” He emphasized that most of the improvements being made this off season to Wrigley Field will be infrastructure that fans will not be able to see, but will allow the ballpark to survive for a long time.
There are some changes the fans will see. The center field bleachers, which were largely untouched last off season will be finished. Fans will also see the protective netting extended to the far end of each dugout. Ricketts said the netting that has been chosen is the least intrusive they could find. Fans may balk and say the netting will get in the way, but if you’ve ever attended a Blackhawks hockey game and had the opportunity to sit behind the goalie, eventually you forget the netting is there. This should be the same at Wrigley and other ballparks. But Ricketts stressed that even with the netting, fans should be focused on the game, not on talking to their friends or texting on their phones.
The biggest change fans will see concerns security. Last year all ballparks were instructed to have metal detectors installed at every entrance. The Cubs were given a one-year pass due to expansion and renovation. But the metal detectors will be in place by Opening Day. Just like at concerts or the airport, fans will walk through the metal detectors. Bags will still have to be checked, as well. Ricketts admits it could be a rocky start as employees and fans get used to the new security measures. He asked for patience while any problems that arise get ironed out. Ricketts is concerned about the fans that wait until the National Anthem or first pitch to enter the park. He suggested instead of waiting until the last minute fans come earlier to ease long lines just before game time. He said many problems attributed to long lines should be alleviated at the beginning of the 2017 season when a new gate on the western side of the ballpark will open.
Ricketts touched on a few other points such as the request to extend the footprint of the ballpark, especially along Addison Ave. He said it was mostly for security reasons. This is still being discussed. He also said that the McDonald’s across from the ballpark will be coming down the beginning of March to get ready to build the hotel his family is building on the McDonald’s site. A new McDonald’s is scheduled to be housed inside the hotel.
It is no secret that the Ricketts have been buying some of the rooftop club buildings. Ricketts said they now own nine buildings and plan to keep using them as rooftop clubs and apartment rentals.
At the end of the season, the Marquee was taken down for some cosmetic work. A question arose about the LED board underneath the iconic Marquee. The Cubs would like to install an LED board in that could show animation, but the Landmarks Commission has questioned that desire. What it comes down to is that the Marquee is designated as a landmark, so any changes to the Marquee itself needs Landmark Commission approval. The LED board just below the Marquee is NOT a Designated Landmark, therefore, discussions are ongoing over whether the Cubs can put in a new LED board that could show animation or not. Ricketts did assure the group that the Marquee will be back up by Opening Day and that it will be the red fans have known since the mid-1960s. One estimate is that there are at least 24 coats of paint on the Marquee that need to be stripped off before the new coat of paint can be applied.
“Ultimately, the biggest thing that drives me is I want to pay back all the fans who have been so patient. When we came in had the worst record and oldest lineup. That’s a pretty bad mix. We wanted to create an organization that could sustain success, which means you have to invest the right way,” he stressed.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t know how many people were going to not come to ballgames or how people would react. It’s never been done this way. I told Theo, don’t worry about fans. That’s our job You just worry about building a team and organization that [can win], however long that takes and whatever resources you need.”
Ricketts said he thinks now is when he and the fans will see the payoff.
He said he believes his family approaches ownership different from other owners. Ricketts walks around the ballpark just about every game. He talks to the fans. He listens to their praises and their disappointments. And he is a fan himself.
“I think we’re closer to fans than most owners. We just hope that all the building blocks we’re putting in place will get us over the hump sooner.”
The bottom line is that everyone wants a World Series win.
“Since WWII we’ve only had 20 winning seasons. The Cardinals have had only 21 losing seasons. So one team’s doing it the right way, one team’s not. We have to be a team that’s being consistent and trying to get to the playoffs every year.
“The key to winning the World Series is to get into the playoffs. It doesn’t matter how many games we won during the season, you just have to get there and you have to get there as often as you can.”
Ricketts clearly wants the team to contend for a long time. He is appreciative of those fans who have stayed with the team as it was torn apart and restructured. He asks for a little more patience as the expansion and renovations of the park and the team are completed.