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A Talk With Tom Ricketts, And The Cubs' First Full-Squad Workout

It was a busy morning at the Sloan Park complex.

MESA, Arizona -- After Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts met with coaches, players and team management Wednesday morning, and following a session with beat writers, he gave some time to me and four other Cubs bloggers (John Arguello from Cubs Den, Neil Finnell from Chicago Cubs Online, Brett Taylor of Bleacher Nation and Miriam Romain of examiner.com).

He said that he told the players three important things:

  • The most important people are the fans. Even understanding the time pressures players can be under with getting their work done, he wants them to spend a little extra time acknowledging fans, signing autographs, etc.
  • He emphasized being professional "both on and off the field." Without mentioning any names or specific incidents, he referred in general to things that have happened with athletes in other sports and he wants Cubs players to reflect well on the team and the organization.
  • He asked players to give time to the community, spending time in schools, hospitals, etc. Many Cubs players do this already, but Ricketts made the point he wants them to do more.

The wide-ranging discussion covered topics ranging from rooftops to TV contracts to the new CBA that'll be negotiated this year to ballpark security.

I asked him about the rooftop buildings the family owns, now nine of them. He said they intend to keep operating them as rooftop clubs, and at least for now, there are no plans to add any other businesses (I mentioned things like bed & breakfast, or retail) to them. The apartments that they now own in these rooftops will continue to be rented out as they are now.

Regarding the ongoing construction project, Ricketts repeated what I've heard, that the clubhouse will be ready for Opening Night and he thinks it'll be the best in baseball. The marquee will definitely be back in place, also, on Opening Night (and it will still be painted red), and Cubs spokesman Julian Green, who was also in the session with Ricketts, said that there are still ongoing discussions with the city and the Landmarks Commission about whether the new LED board that will replace the 1983-era board that was below the marquee will show video, and if so, how much and what kind.

The light towers that are planned for the left-field and right-field corners won't happen this offseason. The nets that are being installed to meet MLB requirements for extended netting will be in place for Opening Night and will be of a type of mesh where it should be easy to see through. If you've been down near the Wrigley dugouts, you know that seats next to the dugout have had plexiglass next to them. With the new netting, the plexiglass is being removed. (Tom seemed pretty happy about that, too.)

He continued with three things he wants fans to know. First, he wants everyone to know that he appreciates the patience people showed through some very lean seasons. He emphasized the point that he wanted to create an organization that would sustain success, and told Theo Epstein exactly that when he hired him: that he didn't want Theo to worry about fan reaction, that he (Tom) would give Theo the resources he would need.

Obviously, that plan has been an unqualified success, to the point where other teams are doing similar "long-range planning," which Ricketts also wanted to emphasize is not "tanking," as he said, "There's no owner, player, coach, or manager who wants to lose a game."

I asked him about whether they'd be looking to extend players like Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell to keep the "core" together longer. He deferred that question, too, saying it was "more a question for Theo and Jed," but did say it's something that he'd like to look at.

As I learned the other day at the news conference for Commissioner Rob Manfred, and confirmed by Tom, the team is optimistic that in-market streaming will be in place by Opening Day. Beyond that he wouldn't say much about future streaming options, saying that was up to "the league." He also deferred comment about questions regarding the CBA, stating that would be a "league function," even while mentioning that the commissioner wants "more owner involvement," and Tom does serve on the owners' Executive Council. He thinks there's "more parity" in baseball than there ever has been and what they are looking for is "maintaining competitive balance while growing the sport overall."

One of the things he mentioned throughout is how close he feels to the fans, since he is one himself. He thinks that Cubs ownership is different in that regard from ownership of most other teams, and that winning is "for everyone in the bleachers, for everyone in section 525 that I see all the time." I do think he gets it in terms of what winning will mean to all of us as fans, and I appreciate that. Tom said, "I think we're closer to fans as owners than most owners get," and that's not just lip service, as far as I have seen with my own personal interactions with him.

One topic that was dealt with in depth was security. There will be new security measures at the ballpark this year, with fans having to go through magnetometers as well as having the traditional bag check. The latter will be similar to past years and the Cubs' outside food and drink policy has not changed, you will still be able to bring in outside food and sealed plastic drink bottles.

But both Ricketts and Green emphasized that until the new west gate to Wrigley opens for the 2017 season, you should probably plan to get to the ballpark earlier than you might otherwise. That's probably the only way to avoid long security lines. They acknowledged that it might be an inconvenience for this season and the Cubs are hiring more part-time gameday staff to help make the process better. So: get there early, especially for Opening Night. Tom said, "We're going to work as hard as we can to make it run as smoothly as possible."

A question was asked about reports that the team wants to extend the footprint of Wrigley Field on the Addison side, since there are places it's only a few feet from the street. Tom said they're still talking to the city about adding a few more feet "for security reasons."

Many thanks to Tom Ricketts for giving us this time, and to Julian Green and Kevin Saghy of the Cubs for arranging the session.

After the session we all piled into my car for the drive to the other side of the complex to watch batting practice, which was well under way at the time we arrived. You can tell that from photos 2 and 8 above -- the crowds were very large, maybe 200-300 people in all. It took us a few extra minutes to get there, because the small parking lot west of the back fields was completely full. Someone finally pulled out of a space and I parked, just before I heard yet another baseball hit a vehicle -- not mine, fortunately. It went over the 30-foot-high screen at field 5, which is in the background of this photo:

Cubs Pitchers And Catchers Begin Spring Workouts

The parking lot is across a two-lane road, and the truck that got hit was about 20 or 25 feet past the road. Unfortunately, I'm not sure who hit the ball, though since catchers were hitting on that field, it could have been Kyle Schwarber again. If it was a Schwarbomb, that would have been to the opposite field.

Since we arrived so late, we didn't get to see too many of the regulars hit. I did watch Jorge Soler, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell and here are a few short videos of them hitting (and apologies for the video quality, as it wasn't easy to get a spot at the fence that wasn't being blocked by another photographer).

I'm planning to be back at the Sloan Park complex again Thursday to watch more workouts.