Results tagged ‘ Wrigley Field ’

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

RICKETTS-T-062612-SG-03

(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

Cubs announce four Friday 3:05 p.m. starts

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

Now Playing: Stretching Out with John C. McGinley

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.

Now Playing: Tom Ricketts, Man of the People

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), Cubs Chairman Tom 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. For the June issue of Vine Line, we spent a few days following Ricketts around the Friendly Confines to get a sense of what it’s like to be the Cubs owner for a day.

Now Playing: Crosstown Cup, A House Divided

Ernie Banks or Luis Aparicio? Sammy Sosa or Frank Thomas? Anthony Rizzo or Paul Konerko? When it comes to Chicago baseball, loyalties run deep. Every year, Chicagoans are divided by their ties to the Cubs or the White Sox, as they fight for bragging rights and a claim to the Crosstown Cup. And allegiance isn’t always a matter of geography. Vine Line was out at Wrigley Field Wednesday for Game 3 of the Cubs-Sox home-and-home series to talk to friends and families who are divided by their split baseball loyalties.

First Pitch/Seventh-Inning Stretch Lineup: 5/29-6/2

Brenly

(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)

Series 18 Preview: Cubs vs. White Sox

SoxRain

The Cubs jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the White Sox Tuesday, before the game was postponed due to rain. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

A home-and-home series—in baseball? Welcome to the crazy scheduling world of year-round Interleague Play. Though the South Siders have surprised analysts with their ability to outperform forecasts, they didn’t make any major additions to a roster that lost a late-season lead to the Tigers in the AL Central last year. While the Indians and Royals made big moves to catch Detroit, newly minted Sox GM Rick Hahn had to settle for signing super-utilityman Jeff Keppinger and set-up reliever Matt Lindstrom. Losing longtime catcher A.J. Pierzynski to free agency amplifies concerns about the aging lineup’s ability to score runs, and power lefty John Danks missed the opening weeks of the season as he continued to recover from left shoulder surgery. The Sox may again upset expectations and finish above .500—they’re currently one game below—but they haven’t won 90 games since 2006. The last time the Cubs won 90 was in 2008.

HITTING: 3.6 RS/G, 26th in MLB
Losing Pierzynski was a surprise, but so were his 27 home runs last year. The Sox couldn’t have expected that to happen again. Instead, this lineup will rely on its power trio of Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios. It remains to be seen if Dayan Viciedo will make it a core four. If the team hopes to contend, Dunn will need to continue his rebound from 2011, arguably the worst year ever for a designated hitter (.569 OPS). So far, he’s off to a typically Dunn-like start. His power numbers are strong (12 home runs, 27 RBI), but he’s hitting just .156 with 66 strikeouts. The Sox also need leadoff man Alejandro De Aza to repeat his breakthrough performance from 2012. The good news is Rios got off to a hot start, leading the team in almost every statistical category. Still, the Sox will be better off if some of his teammates start challenging his numbers sometime soon.

PITCHING: 4.0 RA/G, 9th in MLB
Much of how well the 2013 season works out on the South Side rests on the Sox’s frontline pair of power lefties. Chris Sale is off to a good start (especially with Welington Castillo’s two-run blast from Tuesday wiped off the stat sheet) and hopes to follow up on his near Cy Young-worthy 2012 campaign, while today’s starter Danks is trying to bounce back from shoulder surgery. Thursday’s starter Jake Peavy has lived up to the veteran ace label in his first starts of 2013, posting a 6-2 record with a 2.97 ERA, but Gavin Floyd has already been lost for the year with an elbow injury. The good news for the Sox is the bullpen looks like a source of strength. Closer Addison Reed seems to have overcome last year’s wildness, and Jesse Crain is off to a fast start.

Help the Cubs “Pink Out” the Bleachers for breast cancer awareness

PinkBat

(Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty)

Celebrate Mother’s Day a little early this season by joining the Cubs and Advocate Health Care on Wednesday, May 8, for Chicago Cubs Charities’ first “Pink Out” in the Bleachers. Each fan attending the game in the Budweiser Bleachers will receive a “Pink Out” hat, which will be handed out at the gates by Cubs players’ and coaches’ wives, to celebrate survivors and promote breast cancer awareness.

Fans throughout the ballpark are also encouraged to wear pink that day. If your wardrobe is a little light on pink, the Cubs Store, located across from Wrigley Field at the corner of Clark and Addison streets, will display a “Pink Out” section with pink merchandise. Fans will notice other pink touches throughout the ballpark as well, such as a temporary pink ribbon on the outfield wall, pink hats worn by the grounds crew and more.

All fans in attendance on May 8 are encouraged to participate in the Chicago Cubs Charities 50/50 Raffle, as proceeds will benefit mammograms for under- and uninsured women through the Advocate Charitable Foundation.

The Cubs and Advocate will also honor breast cancer survivors during game ceremonies. The ceremonial first pitches will be thrown by a breast cancer survivor, as well as Major League Baseball’s 2013 Honorary Bat Girl Contest winner, who was selected after submitting a story about “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer;” the National Anthem will be sung by 40 members of the Sing to Live Community Chorus, which is comprised of singers whose lives have been touched by breast cancer; and three breast cancer survivors will lead the afternoon’s seventh-inning stretch from the broadcast booth. In addition, Advocate will bring more than 50 survivors to enjoy the game in the stands.

Fans can purchase tickets and find more information at www.cubs.com/pink.

Now Playing: Stretching Out with Fergie Jenkins

Prior to the Cubs’ home opener, starter Edwin Jackson probably could have learned a thing or two from the man taking the mound before him. Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins was on hand, along with fellow Hall of Famer and former teammate Billy Williams, to throw out the first pitch of the season at Wrigley Field. Arguably the best Cubs pitcher of all time, Jenkins tallied six consecutive 20-win seasons for the North Siders and won 284 games in his 19-year career. He talked to Vine Line about the enduring allure of Wrigley Field and getting back on the mound for the first pitch of the season.

To read the entire article, pick up the May issue of Vine Line.

Cubs ready for renovation

RickettsPresser_WrigleyRenovations

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts talks to the media Monday. (Photo by Vine Line)

The Cubs and the city of Chicago reached an agreement on a renovation plan for Wrigley Field Sunday night which will give the historic landmark and the surrounding area a $500 million facelift. The plan calls for all the money to come from the baseball organization, with no public dollars needed. After unveiling the Cubs’ proposed alterations early Monday, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts spoke to the media on the concourse level of the stadium.

“This massive investment will help us generate the resources we need for our baseball operation to develop championship-caliber players,” Ricketts said. “If this plan is approved, we will win the World Series for our fans and our city.”

Ricketts estimated that the renovation will add 1,300 permanent jobs to the area. Much of the Q&A session was spent discussing two major topics: the proposed digital scoreboard and the leniency towards more night games.

The proposal calls for 40 night games, 10 more than the current 30 games. Should MLB or its national television contracts require them to play more than five home night games, it will not count towards the total. While there will be no proposed Saturday or Sunday games (except for national TV games), they hope to get upwards to six 3:05 Friday start times. Wrigley Field will also host up to four concerts a year.

The Cubs also proposed a 6,000 square foot digital scoreboard to be placed in left field.

“We spent a lot of time talking to our fans, about how they feel about a video board at the park,” Ricketts said. “…I like Wrigley Field, I’m very traditional, but the fact is that when you look at what the fans are asking for, to improve their game day experience, and you add to that the economic value of a video board, it becomes obvious that it’s the best step for us.”

In addition, an advertisement similar to the Toyota sign will be constructed in right field. Ricketts said he is trying to be considerate of the nearby rooftop owners and will even cantilever the scoreboard over the street to minimize blocked views.

The renovations will take an estimated five offseasons to complete. The deal is still pending final community and city approval. Other highlights to the proposal include plans to add 1,000 free remote parking spots, new public safety and traffic management plans, closing of Waveland Avenue from Sheffield to Clark before, during and after games, constructing a new two-story Captain Morgan Club for an additional merchandise store and more space in the visitors’ clubhouse, more flexible space in the left and right field corners as well as a hotel next to the stadium.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,157 other followers