(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs are giving fans even more reasons to visit Clark and Addison. In addition to Cubs baseball, Wrigley Field will be hosting a pair of popular musical acts this weekend in front of the bricks and ivy.
On Friday, July 19, rock band and grunge icons Pearl Jam will grace the outfield stage, and country star Jason Aldean will headline a group of country musicians the following night. The Friendly Confines has been hosting summer concerts for some of the biggest names in music—including Roger Waters, The Police and Bruce Springsteen—since 2005.
“We’ve benefited over the last several years from really great, great artists who wanted to play at Wrigley Field,” said Julian Green, the Cubs’ vice president of communications and community affairs.
The Friday night show, titled “An Evening with Pearl Jam,” made news earlier this year for selling out in roughly 45 minutes—the fastest concert sellout in Wrigley Field history. The Grammy-winning group, which has been touring lightly in 2013 and recently announced they’ll be releasing a new studio album, Lightning Bolt, on Oct. 15, has always been extremely popular in Chicago. Though Pearl Jam was a seminal part of the Seattle grunge scene, frontman Eddie Vedder hails from nearby Evanston, Ill., and is a huge Cubs fan.
Country star and Grammy Award winner Aldean, who has been touring since mid-February, headlines the 2013 Night Train Tour, featuring American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, Jake Owen and Thomas Rhett.
“[The concerts] bring significant economic impact to both the city and the state,” Green said. “At the same time, it allows us to put more economic resources into the organization. The ability to have an additional two, three, four concerts a year works really well for us.”
The following is a feature from the July issue of Vine Line.
Though the Cubs have made strides on the field in 2013 behind some outstanding starting pitching and veteran acquisitions like Nate Schierholtz, it seems like this season has been all about facilities, buildings and permits. No matter what is happening between the white lines, the majority of the recent press has gone to the restoration of Wrigley Field and the accompanying community development adjacent to the venerated ballpark.
In fact, the chorus surrounding the Friendly Confines’ rather unfriendly debate has nearly drowned out the other significant progress the organization has been making on the facilities front—namely, the impressive new Spring Training complex in Mesa, Ariz., which will be ready for the 2014 spring slate, and the multimillion-dollar training academy in the Dominican Republic that celebrated its grand opening on May 20.
The new Dominican complex is part of an effort to improve and professionalize all aspects of the Cubs system to ensure the team has the resources to compete at every level and bring a championship-caliber team to Chicago.
“Think about where we’ll be in a couple of years,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts. “The organization is going in the right direction; we’ll get [Wrigley Field] fixed; we’ll have the best Spring Training facility, the best Dominican facility. We’ll have the infrastructure to be one of those consistently great teams.”
With new collective bargaining restrictions limiting how teams can build through the draft, it’s becoming more important to make inroads into the international market. And a great deal of major league talent comes out of Latin America. Though the Dominican might be nearly 2,000 miles away from Wrigley Field’s doorstep, the new facility—located in La Gina, just outside of Santo Domingo—is a major component to building the kind of lasting success the Cubs brass has repeatedly talked about.
“We’re in such a competitive industry, and the great organizations throughout baseball history have built a strong foundation for sustained success starting with their minor leagues up through the majors,” said President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “To become the organization we aspire to be and win multiple World Series titles, we have to build a foundation that can last—a solid infrastructure that puts our ballclub in a competitive position year in and year out.”
The Dominican Republic has always been a hotbed of major league talent. Of the 856 players on the 30 big league rosters, the disabled list and the restricted list at the outset of the 2013 season, 89 came from the Dominican. That makes the Caribbean nation the best-represented country outside of the U.S., which claims 615 players. In 2013, the Dominican also became the first undefeated team to claim the World Baseball Classic title, behind major league stars such as Edinson Volquez, Hanley Ramirez, Robinson Cano and Wandy Rodriguez.
The Cubs currently have eight players on their 40-man active roster who hail from the Dominican, including Welington Castillo, Starlin Castro, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Villanueva. This glut of Dominican talent is why every big league team is looking to improve its scouting and player development in the area.
“The competition for scouting talent in the Dominican Republic is high,” Ricketts said. “With the most major league players per capita here, it was no surprise all 30 baseball organizations run facilities in the country. We quickly realized that we had frontline talent here in the Dominican and needed a world-class facility to develop these players in order to achieve our goal of winning a World Series.”
The Cubs’ new Dominican complex spans 50 acres, making it the largest such academy in the country. It will be open year-round, complete with baseball fields, training facilities, and housing for minor league players during the season as well as major league players in the offseason. The goal is to serve athletes from across Central and South America, including Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Aruba, Curaçao and Mexico, in addition to the Dominican Republic.
The new complex, which has a comfortable on-site dormitory that can house up to 80 players and eight staff members, strives to give young players every resource to succeed. It features three fields, including one with artificial turf, four covered batting cages, eight bullpens, a weight room, a cafeteria and kitchen, two locker rooms, two meeting rooms, a large classroom that can be converted into four smaller classrooms, a theater and a video room.
“If you’re going to search for the best of the best, you want to give them everything they need and create the right kind of atmosphere and environment,” Epstein said. “We know our players and staff are putting in an enormous amount of work, and providing quality facilities is just as important as teaching the fundamentals of baseball.”
But the academy is about more than just churning out quality baseball players; it’s also about nurturing quality people. The Cubs are putting an emphasis on education, health and nutrition throughout their organization. To that end, the facility will also serve as an educational center equipped with classrooms and staff to teach English and Spanish, and players will be able to earn their GED high school equivalency.
The opening ceremony for the new Dominican facility drew a pedigreed crowd, including the Ricketts family; President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and other members of the Cubs front office; Dominican President Danilo Medina; Hato Viejo Mayor Reynoso Hichez Telleria; and former Cubs players and Dominican natives Moises Alou, Amaury Telemaco, George Bell and Henry Rodriguez.
“I think the fans really do understand that what we’re trying to do is build an organization that has a strong foundation and is going to be consistently successful at some point,” Ricketts said. “Hopefully soon, but the point is not to take shortcuts, but to do things the right way.”
Coach Joel Quenneville of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will be throwing out the first pitch and singing the seventh-inning stretch on Saturday, July 6—and he’ll be bringing the Cup with him. (Photo by Stephen Green)
After a long West Coast road trip, the Cubs finally head back to the Friendly Confines Friday for a nine-game homestand with the Pirates, Angels and Cardinals. If you’re headed out to Wrigley Field, of if you just want a chance to see the Stanley Cup in person, here are your first pitch and seventh-inning stretch lineups:
Friday — 7/5
Bryan Bickell, Patrick Sharp and Brandon Bollig (Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks)
Saturday — 7/6
First Pitch: Coach Joel Quenneville and the Stanley Cup (Chicago Blackhawks)
Stretch: Jim Cornelison (singer at Chicago Blackhawks games)
Sunday — 7/7
John Groce (University of Illinois head basketball coach)
Tuesday — 7/9
First Pitch: Neil Flynn (actor, Scrubs and The Middle)
Stretch: Cast of the Goodman Theatre’s The Jungle Book
Wednesday — 7/10
Jeff Garlin (actor, producer, comedian)
Thursday — 7/11
First Pitch: Jeff Larentowicz (Chicago Fire) and Bo Pelini (University of Nebraska head football coach)
Stretch: Jeff Larentowicz, Mike Magee and Gonzalo Segares (Chicago Fire)
Friday — 7/12
Jerrod Niemann (Country music artist)
Promo Item: Cubs cowboy hat
Saturday — 7/13
Dutchie Caray (Harry Caray’s wife)
Promo Item: Harry Caray statue
Sunday — 7/14
Gary Fencik (former Chicago Bears player)
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Wednesday, May 8, was a beautiful afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The game time temperature was 60 degrees, the wind was blowing gently in from right field, and the sun was shining brightly as the division rival Cardinals were in town for a two-game set with the homestanding Cubs.
Though the bullpen would ultimately let a well-pitched game by Carlos Villanueva slip away in the late innings, things were looking good in the bottom of the fourth. After Luis Valbuena walked and Anthony Rizzo singled off starter Jake Westbrook to lead off the inning, Nate Schierholtz cracked a sharp line drive to right field to drive in two. Groundouts by Ryan Sweeney and Dioner Navarro would plate one more to give the Cubs momentum and a 4-2 lead.
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, standing just to the fair side of the right-field pole near the entrance to the bleachers, stopped for a minute to catch his breath and cheer on his team. He appreciated the chance to see this momentary offensive outburst because, despite being the team’s owner, he often misses such things.
“Generally, if there’s any great action in a home game about the fourth or fifth inning, I probably don’t see it,” Ricketts said.
That’s because Ricketts does the same thing during the middle innings of every game—something that’s all but unprecedented in the world of fabulously rich, highly inaccessible professional sports owners—he talks to fans.
And he doesn’t summon them to the owner’s suite like a king calling his subjects. Nor is he chaperoned by a phalanx of security guards as he makes his way to the upper deck or the bleachers. He just pulls on his Cubs fleece, slings a bag full of baseballs (each inscribed with that day’s date and opponent) over his shoulder and heads out into the stands like a common fan. Even though he embarks from the owner’s suite, he actually mingles, shakes hands and poses for pictures—even with Cardinals fans. It’s downright strange behavior for a man of his stature.
“As Opening Day was coming up in 2010, my first year with the team, I was like, ‘What am I going to do, just stay up in the box behind the plexiglass?’” Ricketts said. “That just wouldn’t feel right. I decided if I do that, every time I start walking around the concourse, it will be a big deal, and I didn’t want that to be the case. I just want to be part of the scenery. So I basically just built it into the routine to be around.”
In an era in which professional sports owners tend to make news for all the wrong reasons (see: Loria, Jeffrey) or are faceless corporations that acquired their team as an asset in a larger deal (see: Liberty Media), Ricketts is something of a throwback. He has always seemed more like a fan than a high-powered, cold-hearted executive. Perhaps that’s why he relates to Cubs fans so strongly.
The stories of Ricketts’ ties to the team have been repeated ad infinitum since his family acquired the Cubs in 2009 from the Tribune Company for $845 million. By now, most Cubs fans know the Omaha, Neb., native first moved to Chicago at age 18 to attend the University of Chicago—just in time for the Cubs’ 1984 playoff run; that he and his brother Pete lived above the Sports Corner bar across from Wrigley Field; and that he met his wife, Cecelia, in the bleachers.
Though the organization is owned by the Ricketts family and all four siblings sit on the board, Tom is the chairman and the public face of the franchise. Before he and his family acquired the keys to the kingdom, he attended hundreds of games at Wrigley Field, so he understands what it means to be a fan. Of course, it’s one thing to relate to the fan base and share in their collective ups and downs; it’s quite another to be responsible for the fate of the franchise and the happiness of millions of fans worldwide.
“I feel a ton of pressure,” Ricketts said. “I literally wake up at three in the morning and feel like 15 million fans are standing on my chest. I feel a lot of responsibility. But we know what we’re doing is very important to a lot of people, and we have to get it done right. Any time you’re sitting in that kind of situation, you feel the pressure.”
THE MAN IN CHARGE
When Sam Zell and the Tribune Company announced their intention to sell the Cubs in 2007, Ricketts, whose father founded the investment company TD Ameritrade and is worth upwards of $1 billion, couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
The family officially acquired the team in 2009, just one year removed from an NL-best 97-win season. but the organization’s shaky foundation was beginning to crumble. The old baseball ops department had mortgaged the future in an attempt to “win now,” and Wrigley Field was in need of structural and cosmetic repairs.
In his introductory press conference, the new chairman announced three goals for his family’s stewardship of the franchise: win a World Series, preserve and improve Wrigley Field, and be good neighbors in the Chicago community. Though they have made good progress on the latter objective—in each of the Ricketts family’s three years of ownership, the Cubs have increased charitable donations—the first two have proven complex. But Ricketts is undeterred.
“He’s a very earnest person,” said longtime Cubs television broadcaster Len Kasper. “I think there’s a lot of trust in what he’s told people. Everything he’s talked about since the day he bought this team, he’s followed through on. That’s really, really important for not only the public trust but also for morale within the organization.”
Ricketts has spent much of his time in the last year locked in a very public debate with rooftop owners and city politicians over his proposed restoration of Wrigley Field, which would include improved player facilities, a 6,000-square-foot scoreboard in left field, new signage around the park and additional community development. The goal is to bring in more revenue for the team and improve player facilities that are woefully below league standards. Wrigley will turn 100 years old next year—the next-oldest stadium in the NL Central was built in 2001.
“The fact is it doesn’t matter who bought the team three years ago, someone had to solve these problems and fix them,” Ricketts said. “The can has been kicked down the road for 60 years. So it’s time to make sure we address all the structural issues and make sure that it’s going to be there for the next generation of fans.”
Though the team might still be far from winning a World Series, Ricketts has accomplished a lot in his short time with the club, from hiring proven baseball men like Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to getting a new Spring Training facility built in Mesa, Ariz. And though things are just starting to develop at the major league level, the minor league system has made great strides. In 2009, ESPN’s organizational expert Keith Law ranked the Cubs farm system 27th out of 30 teams. In 2013, he had the team ranked fifth.
“In general, I think the fans really do understand that what we’re trying to do is build an organization that has a strong foundation and is going to be consistently successful at some point,” Ricketts said. “Hopefully soon, but the point is not to take shortcuts, but to do things the right way.”
When the Cubs are at home, Ricketts has a standard routine for every game. He usually spends his mornings working on the business side of things. That could mean meeting with a sponsor, checking in with the ticket office or doing work in the community. These days, his mornings are generally spent facilitating the Wrigley restoration, which has necessarily pushed him out into the spotlight. But Ricketts, who comes across as every bit the Midwesterner, would rather not be the one generating headlines.
“You want the focus to be on the players, what’s happening on the field,” he said. “I think it’s a function of our circumstances. We have to do a lot to get this organization caught up to where other organizations are, and that means being out in front. Getting a new Spring Training facility, getting down to the Dominican to build a new facility there, doing what we can to get Wrigley where it has to be, I think those things push the owner out a little bit to the forward. Hopefully, over the next couple of years, all those stories are behind us, and we can be much lower profile.”
Sometimes Ricketts will get to the game early to meet special groups—on May 8, it was breast cancer survivors on hand for the Cubs’ “Pink Out” in the bleachers—but he’ll always try to be up in his suite for the first pitch. Once there, he grabs a bite to eat, makes a phone call or two, and watches the beginning of the game.
By about the second inning, he grabs his bag of baseballs and maybe a few extra front-row tickets, and heads out for his daily constitutional.
During the Cardinals game, things started out slowly. As he moved down from the suite level, a few people recognized him and asked to shake his hand. Others, seeing the commotion, tried to figure out who he was. Absent a security detail or any other telltale status giveaways, Ricketts truly could be just another fan.
As he worked his way down through Section 208, heading toward the bleachers, he spotted kids in the stands and handed out baseballs. The kids, just happy to have a ball to play with, had no idea they had just interacted with the Cubs’ owner. The parents invariably whispered conspiratorially and pulled out their cell phones to take a quick photograph.
Eventually, Ricketts got waylaid talking with a young mother of two, Jessica McCall, who was sitting under the grandstand with her two sons, Dylan, 6, and Sawyer, 3. May 8 was one of those chameleonic spring days at Wrigley Field where it feels like it’s 80 degrees in the bleacher sunshine but is relatively chilly high up in the shade. The family, thinking their seats were going to be in the sun, was underdressed in shorts and T-shirts.
“Hold on,” Ricketts said, as he moved quickly away to talk to a Wrigley Ambassador down in the outfield club boxes. “I need to move these kids into the sun. They’re freezing up there.”
Soon, he made his way back up to McCall and asked the family if they wanted to move down, which, of course, they did. The joke was, McCall’s husband, Rick, had gone into the concourse to get food for the family, so Ricketts and the group moved down by the tunnel to intercept him when he came back up.
“My 6-year-old asked if we could go move in the sun, so we were standing in the sun for a while,” McCall said. “[What Ricketts did] was really awesome. I was so shocked. It’s funny because I’m so clueless, and Rick is a huge Cubs fan. I called him and said, ‘Some guy named Tom is trying to move our seats.’”
As Ricketts patiently waited with McCall in plain view of the Wrigley faithful, he began to get swarmed—individual fans, families, even a high school group on a senior trip all stopped by to take pictures, shake his hand and ask him to sign something. Finally Rick arrived, said a sheepish hello, and the whole group moved en masse down to their new (infinitely better) seats.
What’s surprising, especially given the recent media scrutiny of the Wrigley restoration, is how overwhelmingly positive the reactions to the owner are. Of course, there’s a snide remark here and there (“Down in front, Ricketts, I paid good money for these seats”), but those are drowned out by a sea of “God bless you’s” and “I really appreciate what you’re doing around here’s.”
“I think we’re getting stuff done,” Ricketts said. “I feel really good about the direction of the team. We’ve accomplished a lot in a few years, and we’re really kind of taking all the issues head-on. I’m looking forward to getting through this part of our discussions on what happens at the park, but I think we’re really building the foundation for a great future here.”
Ricketts, for his part, is patient, talkative and genuinely seems to enjoy interacting with fans. He often remembers the names of regulars and can tell you where specific die-hards sit. He’s game to sign autographs (no body parts, please), pose with large groups or simply talk Cubs baseball.
“Getting out and talking to people just reminds me what it means to be a Cubs fan,” Ricketts said. “Honestly, in three years of walking around almost every single home game, I’ve only met great people. There have been only a couple of instances where I think anyone has said anything inappropriate. Everyone generally is supportive and engaged as a fan.
“There are days where it’s cold and wet and I’m sitting up there in the box, and I’m thinking, ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be a great day to just turn on the space heaters and watch the game.’ But I don’t do it because once you get out and start talking to people, that’s the good part of the day for me. It’s fun.”
But what Ricketts and his family are trying to do is about more than fun. He’s trying to revitalize a franchise and do something no Cubs owner has done in more than a century. When asked what he wants his legacy with the team to be, he doesn’t miss a beat.
“First and foremost, it comes down to winning,” Ricketts said. “I think that’s what this organization needs more than anything else. There are a lot of great things you can do, like the Wrigleys—P.K. and William—they made this park beautiful with a lot of the changes they put in in the ’20s and ’30s. That’s a nice legacy, and that’s something I think is great. But, in the end, it will come down to were we able to do it on the field. And that’s still No. 1.”
Actor Joe Mantegna will be throwing out the first pitch and singing the seventh-inning stretch on Sunday, June 23. (Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs are at home this weekend for a quick three-game set with the former division rival Houston Astros. If you’re headed out to Wrigley Field, here are your first pitch and seventh-inning stretch lineups:
Friday — 6/21
Joel Murray (Actor and emcee for the 2nd Annual Hot Stove Cool Music Chicago benefit concert at the Metro)
Saturday — 6/22
Christian Madsen, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Amy Newbold (Cast members from Divergent, an upcoming film release currently shooting in Chicago)
Sunday — 6/23
Joe Mantegna (Actor, Chicago native)
The Chicago Cubs today announced Friday start times for the remainder of the 2013 season. The four Friday games listed below previously marked as TBD are now scheduled for 3:05 p.m. CDT.
Friday, July 5 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, CSN-TV
Friday, July 12 vs. St. Louis Cardinals, WGN-TV
Friday, Aug. 2 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, WGN-TV
Friday, Aug. 16 vs. St. Louis Cardinals, CSN-TV
Most people who throw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field worry about just getting the ball to home plate. Former Scrubs star John C. McGinley worried about getting the proper movement on the pitch. The character actor and big-time sports fan has been gracing screens big and small for more than 20 years. He recently played iconic broadcaster Red Barber in the movie 42 and was on hand at the Friendly Confines for Jackie Robinson Day on April 16.
To read the entire interview, pick up the June issue of Vine Line.
Rick Sutcliffe (right) will be throwing out the first pitch and singing the seventh-inning stretch next Wednesday. (Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs kick off a seven-game homestand Friday, as they welcome the Pirates and Reds to town. If you’re headed out to Wrigley Field between June 7 and June 13, here’s your first pitch and seventh-inning stretch lineup:
Friday – 6/7
Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern Football Coach)
Saturday – 6/8
Seventh-Inning Stretch: Ernie Banks (Ernie Banks retired flag giveaway for the first 10,000 fans)
First Pitch: Thomas Ian Nicholas (Actor, Rookie of the Year)
Sunday – 6/9
Randy Hundley (Chicago Cubs great, season tickets feature Randy Hundley)
Monday – 6/10
Cast from The Book of Mormon
Tuesday – 6/11
Arsenio Hall (Talk show host)
Wednesday – 6/12
Rick Sutcliffe (Chicago Cubs great)
Thursday – 6/13
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs kick off a five-game homestand Wednesday, with the White Sox and Diamondbacks coming to town. If you’re headed to Wrigley Field over the next week, here’s your first pitch and seventh-inning stretch lineup:
Wednesday – 5/29
Denis Savard (former Chicago Blackhawks star)
Thursday – 5/30
Billy Williams (Cubs Hall of Famer)
Friday – 5/31
Bryce Drew (Valparaiso basketball head coach, former Bulls player)
Saturday – 6/1
Bob Brenly (former Cubs broadcaster)
Sunday – 6/2
Ryan O’Reilly (Bricks and Ivy auction winner)