I think the Ricketts family forum is held at 9 a.m. after a "party night" for convention goers so that fewer fans will show up, thus letting the Cubs-owning family off the hook for the possibility of a liquored-up afternoon crowd. Or they could just be morning people. Either way, I am not a morning person after a "party night", but I was there at 9 a.m. Saturday to hear "the message." I put "message" in quotes here, because I felt like I didn't hear anything too new at the sessions. Then again, the questions the front office gets seem to always be the same.
Mostly what fans heard were talking points. The same talking points you can hear on any interview that fall under one of three categories: Rebuild Wrigley, be a good neighbor, charity work. At least there were some, ahem, interesting fan questions to break up the monotony within the Ricketts Family Forum, the Baseball Management Seminar, and the Business Operations Update Forum which I attended successively.
Here are the takeaways.
My friend Crawly asked Tom Ricketts what the hold-up was with signing a contract extension for Theo Epstein. Tom quipped that he "needs all hard questions in email format," but also, "not to worry". When pressed by my impatient friend. Tom repeated. "Don't worry."
There were a few questions about television blackouts, but there was no new info here. It seems it's all up to MLB and what the recent federal court litigation that Al posted about last week will bring. Plus, both the Ricketts and Crane Kenney, who presided over the Baseball Operations update, keep hope that there is a pot-of-gold under the television rainbow after the current contract expires. I for one am doubtful. Broadcast TV is a dodo bird. But Tom Ricketts said: "We know it's a problem. We have a lot of legacy contracts to work through."
He also said they are working on the sound system at Wrigley, which I have publicly complained about along with many other fans. Tom Ricketts says it may not be better this coming season, but by the year after. Oh... and thank you for your patience.
There was quite a bit of thanking fans for their patience, culminating in Crane Kenney making us all stand up to give ourselves a standing ovation for our patience, which felt kind of like one of those icebreaking exercises before some long PowerPoint presentation. Which is exactly what Crane proceeded to give.
There was also quite a bit of thanks given to the Ricketts by fans who love the renovations and especially the team. In fact, there were so many pre-question "thanking statements," or Cubs fan bios given before each question that I wondered if they had changed the definition of "question."
Both Tom and Crane gave details about the new bleacher bar in, you guessed it, the bleachers. And how they had to replace hundreds of tons of steel and concrete. Tom reiterated what he's said in the past: "You can't have a first-class organization with third-class facilities". And he exalted in the fact that the Cubs clubhouse and Dominican training camps had been the worst in the league, and now they're the best.
Laura Ricketts outlined the Cubs charity mission, which is one of the main tenets of "the message" and also spoke of being treated well by Pittsburgh fans during the Wild Card Game. I don't think I sat in that section. My story from that night? I had a full can of beer thrown at my head.
Todd Ricketts is a history fan of World War II and brought vets to the Cubs-Tigers series last year. He would like to go back on Undercover Boss. Meanwhile, Todd's wife, a French-Canadian hockey fan, really hates the Mets culminating in her screaming "Screw you, Matt Harvey!" at the television.
Much to everyone's delight, Tom Ricketts also said there would be 56 percent more women's bathrooms, and 40 percent more men's bathrooms. Also, they will be expanding from two to eight elevators, which is great news for disabled fans, including my buddy Matt who I was sitting with. I will go into more detail about handicap accessibility in a future article about Matt, because he complained to me that the facilities for the disabled are inadequate. It was a complaint that was echoed by other disabled fans at the Ricketts forum. But elevators are a good start.
Tom Ricketts was asked what Ryne Sandberg's new job as ambassador will entail, to which he replied: "Golf outings with corporate partners, shake hands with dignitaries at Wrigley and Spring Training." Sounds like a great job! I wonder if they're hiring?
Finally, when Tom Ricketts was asked about Sammy Sosa, a fan in the audience yelled "No!", but Tom repeated what I had heard him say on the Score: "Things need to happen and we can welcome Sammy back." What things, you ask? I would guess he has to come clean about PED use, among other things. He might as well. The statue of limitations should be over on his Congressional testimony.
The Baseball Management seminar was paneled by Randy Bush, Shiraz Rehman, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Basically, the focus is on winning eight more games this year and they are focused on winning them in a variety of different ways given Wrigley Field's unpredictability as a pitcher's or hitter's park, depending on the weather. When asked about Jorge Soler's apparent uncomfortability in cold weather, Jed Hoyer was hopeful that "El Nino will help us out."
Theo spoke of the Starlin Castro trade and said they had the same trade in place at the trade deadline, but the Yankees had balked. New York apparently then rethought the transaction this off-season.
Hoyer says he sees an international draft sooner than later and claimed they have been very aggressive in Cuba as they have just had an entire new baseball league open to them.
Speaking of aggressive. Theo said that the reason they were so aggressive this winter was that next winter's off-season "doesn't look so great, so it was like we had to do two off-seasons in one."
In reference to Kyle Schwarber, there are no indications that a DH will be coming to the National League soon according to the panel. But they wouldn't mind it with so many hitters on the way.
Then there was #CrazyHatLady who was roundly booed by the crowd when she complained that Theo had traded Jeff Samardzija to the South Side and broken up the core of the team. She couldn't remember Shark's name, though, and her statement that Jeff was traded to the White Sox is factually incorrect. Yet, Theo Epstein answered her question with grace saying "Get to know our young players, because they will be here for the better part of a decade.
When asked about Jake Arrieta's contract, Theo basically said he "doesn't like the arbitration process," but "we are Jake's biggest fans and want to see him get a big raise."
The final takeaway from this session was how the Cubs draft players. They seek overall good human beings who have faced and triumphed over adversity. Sure, they look at the sabermetrics, reports and stats, but what really moves the needle is how "this young man is going to project in new circumstances and challenges." I thought that was pretty cool.
Finally, there was Crane Kenney's baseball operations PowerPoint presentation which showed some pretty cool videos of the renovations. There was a also a fair amount of thanking fans for their patience at this seminar. Crane Kenney's Baseball Operations seminar seemed more like a rehearsed Ted Talk than an interactive fan talk back session.
The session started with Crane asking us to stand up to give ourselves a standing ovation which proved to be a somewhat awkward icebreaker.
When he talked about the audio levels at Wrigley last season the crowd knowingly snickered a collective ironic laugh. But Crane barreled through, describing in a failed "drop the mic" moment that "renovating Wrigley is like flying a plane while building it."
Crane bragged of Cubs televised games garnering a 4.8 rating during the season -- which is the same rating as all the TBS playoff games.
He said 300,000 more people came to Wrigley last year and Spring Training sales have doubled.
Cubs Charities raised $3.4 million and Cubs wives and players collectively gave 1,300 hours of their time.
Crane said the renovation crew is now budgeting for a 20-week work cycle and not 26 because of the Cubs' likelihood of being in the playoffs. Unfortunately, that will result in the renovations taking longer and being more expensive.
The Cubs will be replacing all of the seats at Wrigley within the next five years, and 7000 new seats will be installed the left field terrace any day now. Season ticket holders will be able to purchase their old seats. There will also be old-school planter boxes in the bleachers, and Cubs great moments from history lining the ballpark walls. Netting will be extended to the home plate side of the dugouts. The brick pavers that were all around Wrigley's exterior are already replaced and laid outside the bleachers. There will be metal detectors next year as well and the Cubs are seeking to extend their reach 100 feet in all directions and shut down traffic on game days, as Al posted about on Saturday. Feel safer?
When asked about the Ricketts family's purchase of more rooftops, Crane directed the crowd to Wrigley Rooftops Website to buy tickets.
The Cubs are seeking to improve the flow of the concourses by giving the upper deck the same food and beverage choices that downstairs has, and by removing obstacles.
As Al already reported, 3:05 starts on Friday are no more. And if that chaps your hide, blame Joe Maddon. He wanted consistency in the scheduling.
When asked about rising ticket prices, we were told: "Listen, we didn't raise them for four years. We had a meeting. We raised 'em."
Starbucks and 7-11 will soon be a thing of the past, making way for a mixed-use shop/eat/live building.
My friend Crawly complained that there was no moment of silence for Ernie Banks. In fact, there was no extra video for Mr. Cub or special remembrance. Crane admitted that they had dropped the ball on that one.
Finally, there were some cool videos within the seminar -- here they are. I'll have more from the Convention -- the fun stuff -- tomorrow.