Results tagged ‘ Tom Ricketts ’

Hot off the Press: The March issue featuring a tribute to Ernie Banks

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On Jan. 31, 2015, the Cubs organization laid to rest the most beloved player in franchise history, Ernie Banks. For our special March issue, we talked to former players, front office members, fans and many others whose lives Ernie touched to find out what made Mr. Cub so special. We also have our 2015 season preview and a Q&A with new bench coach Dave Martinez. But, really, March is all about Ernie. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts opened Banks’ memorial ceremony with a touching tribute. In lieu of our usual opening remarks, this month we let Ricketts, who got to know Mr. Cub well over the years as both a player and a man, kick things off. The following is a slightly condensed version of his speech from the service. I couldn’t have said it better myself.  – Gary Cohen

Hitting: good. Running: good. Attitude: very good.In 1953, baseball scout Hugh Wise typed these words into a report describing a 22-year-old Negro League baseball player named Ernest Banks. When asked on the scouting form how long it would be until the young shortstop was ready to play in the majors, Wise succinctly stated, “Can play now.” And while it was Mr. Wise’s intent to describe Ernie Banks the baseball player, he may as well have been describing Ernie Banks the man when he wrote in that very same report, “No outstanding weaknesses.”

Wise saw Ernie Banks play only three times that year, yet he knew he had found a special player and a special person. Later that summer, Ernie debuted as a Cub, and he went on to play 2,528 games over 19 seasons and collect 2,583 hits, 1,636 RBI and 512 home runs.

While those are incredible stats, never in history have numbers fallen so far short in describing the true greatness of an athlete.

Perhaps more so than any other great player in history, Ernie Banks was known as much for his off-the-field demeanor as for his on-the-field performance. Ernie was a model of decency and humility and was defined by his sunny, optimistic outlook on baseball and life.

Ernie was, of course, known as Mr. Cub. But you don’t get to be called Mr. Cub because you play in a lot of games or hit a lot of home runs. You become Mr. Cub because you love the game, the team, and the ballpark in a truly honest and sincere way.

After he retired, Ernie was asked if he missed going to work, to which he famously replied, “Work? I have never worked a day in my life. I always loved what I was doing.”

Ernie Banks was the most kind, sincere man I have ever known, and despite his fame and high profile, he always had time for everyone. The thing that sticks with me is how hard it was to get Ernie to talk about himself. He would say, “How are you doing? What do you do for a living? Do you have kids? Where do they live? How are your parents?”

Ernie was a warm, friendly human being who truly cared about those around him. I talked to dozens of people who dropped by the visitation yesterday, and almost everyone had a story in which Ernie somehow touched them in some small but meaningful way.

As we all know, Ernie Banks is not Mr. Cub because the fans loved him. Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub because he loved us back. It turns out Ernie became Mr. Cub through no other magic than just being himself. The bond he created with this city and with Cubs fans had no precedent in sport, and it will never be replicated.

For everyone who knew Ernie, and particularly for those of us who work at the Cubs, the thought of a summer at Wrigley Field without the smile of Ernie Banks, the laugh of Ernie Banks, the singing—and, sometimes, dancing—of Ernie Banks is just too painful to consider.

But the pain of the loss will always be balanced by the smiles that are only a memory away and the joy that will always be in our hearts, for we were all truly blessed to have known such a wonderful person.

So as we gather today to pay our final respects to this good and great man, I speak for all fans when I say, “Ernie, thank you. We love you, and we already miss you. And while we miss you dearly, we also know that as the Cubs take the field on a bright, sunny afternoon at Wrigley Field, you will be right there with us.”

2015 Cubs Convention: Ricketts Family Forum

As it does every year, Saturday at the Cubs Convention kicked off with the Ricketts Family Forum. Heading into their sixth season as owners of the Chicago Cubs, the Rickettses have made significant progress on the organization’s goals to win a World Series, preserve Wrigley Field for future generations and be a good neighbor in the community. Tom, Todd and Laura Ricketts were on hand with host Len Kasper to discuss the strides the team has made in support of these goals over the last year. As always, they also took plenty of questions from fans. Here’s are the highlights from this morning’s convention:

Pete couldn’t be here because he is now the governor of Nebraska. I guess that’s a good excuse, but the rest of the family is here.

Tom Ricketts opened things up with a statement about the state of the Cubs now. He started with the Ricketts’ three stated goals—winning a World Series, preserving the ballpark and being a good neighbor in the community. He said they have made a lot of progress on all of them last year.

Cubs Charities donated more than $4.5 million in 2014. Cubs associates donated 100 gifts of service during Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary year.

On the ballpark side, the Cubs had THE year. Ricketts joked about how easy that process has all been.

“We are going to preserve and improve the best ballpark in the world,” Tom said.

On the field, it doesn’t all happen at once. They have been spending a lot of time, energy and resources to build best organization in baseball. The new facilities in the Dominican and in Mesa, Arizona, have been big steps. They broke all Spring Training attendance records at Sloan Park/Cubs Park in 2014. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been adding talent through minor leagues, trades and the draft. It was rewarding seeing people say the Cubs had the top minor league system in baseball.

“When you add all those things up, we feel like last year was a real inflection point in the history of the organization, and we look forward to the year ahead,” Tom said.

Next came the question-and-answer session:

  • The first question is not a question, but a huge pat on the back from a fan. He complimented the Ricketts family on the care they’ve put into their ownership.
  • The second “questioner” brought a prepared, written statement. It started with an audible audience groan, but it was actually pretty complimentary. And not as long as you’d expect.
  • Another compliment, but we do finally get a question. She has heard the ivy and outfield wall are down and wants to know if they will be up for Opening Day. Tom says the ivy has been taken off the wall and laid on the ground, so they can work on the wall brick by brick. They keep what they can, and replace the damaged bricks. The wall is actually still standing right now. They will always keep the same ivy. Also, this isn’t the first time the ivy has been removed.
  • Laura takes a minute to thank the fans for their patience with this process. It’s a lovefest so far.
  • When are the bathrooms going to be done? They can’t say exactly when each thing will be done in the restoration. It’s a process. They can’t do everything at once because they want to play at the ballpark in the summers, so they can only work in the winter. The Cubs contemplated trying to play at the Cell or in Milwaukee for a year to get the renovations done faster, but quickly decided against it.
  • How hard is it to balance profitability with the other three main goals? Tom talks about the context of making money in sports. You generate as much as you can, you pay your expenses, then you take the remaining dollars and allocate them to the organization. That’s why the restoration is so important. That money goes back into the team.
  • A question about the three new rooftop properties the Ricketts family recently purchased. Tom talks about doing what is best for the Cubs to generate revenue and do what’s right for the team. They intend to run the buildings as rooftops for the time being. It’s what’s right for the team and what’s best for the organization.
  • Here’s the long-awaited question about the new broadcast deal. The questioner is now out of market for many games. Is there anything that can be done for people in Peoria, Rockford, etc.? Tom says the Comcast games are still on Comcast, but he talks about how the WGN Superstation—or the idea of a superstation in general—is going away. Tom says it’s a high priority to make sure people have access, but he doesn’t have many answers to offer yet.
  • If the bleachers aren’t ready on Opening Day what’s going to happen? Tom says it looks like it’s going to be a challenge to get that done. It could take through April. They do have a contingency plan in place for season ticket holders, and that will be discussed in detail in the Business Ops panel at 2 p.m. Renovating this ballpark is a big challenge, and there may be delays here and there, but it’s well worth it to continue to play at Wrigley Field, Laura says.
  • There’s a lot of talk about making the park more kid friendly. The Ricketts are working on it. Clark was a big step in that direction. But a 100-year-old ballpark wasn’t built with kids in mind. The restoration will add more kid-friendly aspects. Quote of the panel: “If you’re bringing your five best friends from college, Wrigley Field is built for speed,” Tom says. “But for kids, it’s a little bit more of a challenge.”
  • A question from a local resident about what fans will see at Wrigley on Opening Day and what the parking situation will look like. It will be similar to years past, Tom says. There’s the free remote lot. But things really won’t be that different from a parking perspective.
  • A fan who grew up in the 1990s asks a question about Sammy Sosa and whether a reunion is in the works. Sosa is the main reason he became a fan. Tom says there are a few things that have to happen before Sosa comes back. It was a pretty vague answer, but that’s been the answer for a while now.

That’s it. Off to the Baseball Ops panel. Stay tuned for more. We’ll be blogging all day today and tomorrow.

Now Playing: Cubs ring in the holidays with 100 Gifts of Service

The Cubs welcomed the Lake View community to their annual tree-lighting ceremony Thursday to celebrate the holidays and conclude the team’s 100 Gifts of Service initiative. The 100 Gifts of Service projects were part of a yearlong program featuring Cubs players and associates engaging in community service in celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday season. Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins was on hand along with Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, Cubs Charities Chair Laura Ricketts, President of Business Operations Crane Kenney and representatives from many of the organizations that benefited from the team’s charitable acts this year. The large tree, donated by Christy Webber Landscapes, is located in front of the Cubs Store at the northwest corner of the Clark and Addison intersection. We were at Wrigley Field last night to help ring in the holiday season. And look for a feature story on the 100 Gifts of Service project in the January issue of Vine Line.

The 1060 Project breaks ground at Wrigley Field

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The restoration of historic Wrigley Field is officially underway. On Saturday, Oct. 11, the Chicago Cubs and the Ricketts family hosted Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig, former Cubs pitchers Milt Pappas and Kerry Wood, city and state officials, community and corporate partners, and representatives from the project team at the groundbreaking ceremony for Wrigley Field’s long-awaited expansion and restoration, now titled The 1060 Project.

More than 200 people joined the team for the event, which included a ceremonial dig with special Cubs-themed shovels and a backdrop of construction already underway in the outfield.

“After years of working on a solution to save and improve Wrigley Field, we are thrilled to break ground on The 1060 Project,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts. “This day marks a significant milestone in our quest to provide our players and fans with the best facilities in baseball.”

The 1060 Project will ensure the viability of the 100-year-old ballpark for future generations of Cubs fans, while preserving the beauty, charm and historic features fans have come to know and love.

“When you think of a baseball park that embodies its city, its community and its fans, there is simply no more powerful example in baseball than that of Wrigley Field and the profound bond it continues to inspire with Chicago, Illinois,” Selig said.

The four-year plan—which includes structural updates; improved player facilities; new signage, including video boards in left and right field; expanded concessions; new and improved restroom facilities; and much more—will be rolled out in four separate phases, beginning in the 2014-15 offseason. This privately-funded, $575 million project will create approximately 2,100 jobs and generate $1.2 billion in net new revenue to the local economy over the next 30 years.

“This restoration project is a significant private investment that will create thousands of jobs, ensure Wrigley Field can be enjoyed by Chicagoans for generations to come, and help the Cubs toward their goal of giving their fans a long-awaited World Series championship,” Emanuel said. “With this project, the Cubs are investing in more than just their historic stadium. They will continue to be a good neighbor by investing in the surrounding area for traffic flow, security and public parks. This is a great step for the Cubs and for all of Chicago.”

The 1060 Project team includes Pepper Construction, a Chicago-based firm that has nearly a century of experience on large-scale projects such as the Merchandise Mart, Marshall Field’s and the Shedd Aquarium; VOA, a full-service international architectural firm that designed many high-profile projects in the Chicago area, including Navy Pier, the Old Town School of Folk Music and Prentice Women’s Hospital; D’Agostino Izzo Quirk Architects (DAIQ), a full-service architectural firm instrumental in restoring Boston’s Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium and The Rose Bowl; ICON Venue Group, a project management company that has produced more than $4 billion worth of home venues for franchises in each major professional sports league, and has worked on Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field, Toyota Park in Bridgeview and the Cubs’ new Spring Training complex in Mesa, Arizona; and Harboe Architects, led by nationally known, Chicago-based preservation architect Gunny Harboe, who has had oversight of major restoration projects such as the Sullivan Center, the Chicago Board of Trade and the Field Building.

The primary focus of the project’s first phase, to be completed this offseason, is infrastructure work. The ballpark’s structural steel and foundation will be strengthened, and much of the concrete in the Budweiser Bleachers will be replaced. More than 50 million pounds of new concrete will be poured at the Friendly Confines during the course of the restoration.

The first phase also includes the expansion and improvement of the left- and right-field Budweiser Bleachers. This expansion will provide more room for fans in the concourse, additional concession areas, and new group terraces where fans can congregate during Cubs games and other events. Several new outfield signs will be added this offseason, including a 3,990-square-foot video board in left field and a smaller 2,225-square-foot video board in right field.

Subsequent phases will address the improvement and expansion of player facilities; new bullpens and batting tunnels; new restrooms, concessions, seats, luxury suites, clubs, restaurants, and retail and entertainment spaces for fans; additional commissary space for food preparation; and an improved press box. A separate Ricketts family development will feature a hotel, a fitness club, a retail space and an open-air plaza adjacent to the ballpark.

For additional information about The 1060 Project, please visit www.wrigleyfield.com. And watch for the November issue of Vine Line, which will have a cover feature with details on all four phases of the restoration.

Now Playing: The Cubs kick off the Party of the Century at Wrigley Field

Despite typical April temperatures in Chicago and a 7-2 loss to the visiting Phillies, the Cubs still managed the kick off the Party of the Century in style. Friday’s home opener began a yearlong celebration of Wrigley Field, which turns 100 years old on April 23. The gametime temperature hovered in the high 30s—and a strong wind made it feel colder than that—but that didn’t stop 38,283 fans from packing the Friendly Confines. Cubs Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams were on hand to throw out the first pitch, and Ernie, Fergie and Billy sang the stretch (Sandberg was otherwise occupied with his job as Phillies manager).

Vine Line talked to Cubs players and personnel about Opening Day at Wrigley Field and celebrating the venerable stadium the Cubs have called home for 98 years. There’s no better place to be than Wrigley Field—in April or September.

Now Playing: Cubscast Mesa, Inside Cubs Park

Building a model organization is about much more than just acquiring the right players. Those players also need world class facilities in which to practice and train. Following the opening last year of their new training facility in the Dominican Republic, the Cubs took another step in the right direction this spring when they unveiled their new Cubs Park complex in Mesa, Ariz.

The facility includes Cubs Park—which seats 15,000 people—a two-story player development facility and a rebuilt Riverview Park. It all sits on a 146-acre site, making it the largest facility in the Cactus League.

“There are two things that all our baseball operations people have been saying since we walked in for the first time,” said baseball president Theo Epstein at the park’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “One is no more excuses. This place is as good as it gets. And the second is related to that. If we can’t get better here, we can’t get better anywhere. We will work extremely hard to put that World Series flag on top of this complex to finish it off.”

If you didn’t get a chance to head out to Mesa, this spring, we give you an inside look at the Cubs spectacular new Spring Training facility, inside and out.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park throughout the spring, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa with Rick Renteria and the 2014 coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part One
Cubscast Mesa: Meet the new guys
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Two
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Three

Live at CubsCon: Meet the Ricketts forum

After a slight delay, Tom, Laura and Todd Ricketts took the stage, with Cubs voice Len Kasper serving as forum host. Pete was not in attendance as he continues to run for governor of Nebraska.

Tom Ricketts opened up the ceremony, recapping the work done in both the Dominican Republic and the Spring Training facilities in Mesa, Ariz. He stated that roughly 20 percent of major leaguers are from Latin America, and the majority of which are from the Dominican. The modern facilities, with state-of-the-art ballfields as well as modern computer labs and classrooms will attract the best of the best in the Latin America to the Cubs organization.

The family was also very proud and excited to discuss the new Spring Training facilities in Mesa.

“Mesa is the best place for players to train in the offseason, and best place to rehab in the offseason,” Tom Ricketts said.

Ricketts also highlighted the work done to the minor league system, noting that Baseball Prospectus named it the No. 2 farm system while ESPN has said the organization has four of the top 30 prospects in all of baseball.

After a quick introduction, Ricketts let the fans ask questions. One of the first topics asked included the Wrigley questions with the rooftop group.

Possibly the highlight of the panel came with Tom Ricketts’ metaphor for the rooftop issues, relating it to watching Showtime’s “Homeland,” while a neighbor is watching your tv through the window. He continued that the neighbor then charges other neighbors to sit outside and watch.

“You close the windows and the city tells you to open them,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts said he wants to work something well before the 2023 contract arrives, and that they look to “control” the situation. On numerous occasions the trio stated they wanted to get more progess done in the near future. They made it seem as if they will do what they want after the contract expires.

Once a deal does go through, Ricketts believes that they can speed up the process to a four-year plan with the original five-year plan serving as a worst-case scenario.

Banks awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

President Barack Obama today announced Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks has been named a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“I am humbled and honored to receive this great award and to be among such distinguished honorees,” Banks said. “I have spent my life trying to help others enjoy and appreciate the sport I love. I thank President Obama for all his efforts. The Chicago Cubs and Cubs fans everywhere share in this award, as their support makes me proud to continue to work on behalf of America’s greatest game.”

According to the White House, The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor awarded to civilians in the United States. It was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy and is presented to those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

“This honor is well deserved for a man who has done so much for the game of baseball,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts.  “His contributions on and off the field have made a monumental impact to society. He is a great American ambassador who continues to spend his time and effort helping others love and appreciate America’s pastime.”

Banks joins a distinguished list of baseball players to receive this prestigious award, including Hank Aaron (2002), Roberto Clemente (2003), Joe DiMaggio (1977), Stan Musial (2011), Buck O’Neil (2006), Frank Robinson (2005), Jackie Robinson (1984) and Ted Williams (1991).

Ricketts to serve as honorary parade marshal

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts will serve as the honorary parade marshal of the 84th Annual Bud Billiken Parade on Sunday, Aug. 10. Ricketts becomes the first honorary marshal from the Cubs organization. The parade has long served as a way to get Chicago students excited about going back to school.

“I am honored to serve as honorary parade marshal in support of our city’s youth and education,” Ricketts said. “The Bud Billiken Parade is one of Chicago’s greatest traditions, and I am happy to join the thousands of talented youth who will be providing an atmosphere of excitement and family fun.”

Both the Cubs Trolley and the Cubs RBI team will also participate in the event.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Tom Ricketts, Man of the People

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(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.”

CROWDSOURCING
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.”

—Gary Cohen

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