MESA, Arizona — In a wide-ranging discussion with me and several other Cubs bloggers on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Sloan Park, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts revealed he was just as nervous as all of us were during Game 7 of the World Series.
He called it “stressful” and said, “I probably had more emotion running through me during that game than any game, ever.”
I’m pretty sure you can all relate to that.
Ricketts touched on quite a number of other topics, but before he arrived (he was off recording an interview with ESPN, which had a large truck parked outside the Home Plate Gate at Sloan Park), Cubs spokesman Julian Green gave a detailed update on the offseason Wrigley Field construction project.
Green said that the mild winter has really helped in a year when the construction season was shortened (for the best possible reason, of course). They are on time and on schedule with everything that was planned for this offseason. They’ve completed excavation for the American Airlines 1914 Club that will open next year, and the large area of seating that had to be removed for the excavation has been replaced. I asked Green what was down below there before. Answer: “Dirt.” So this is the first time anything has been built on that particular spot of land, underneath the seats behind home plate, since Wrigley was first constructed 103 years ago.
In news more relevant to this year, the new Western Gate to Wrigley Field will be ready to go and open for Opening Night, as will be the plaza. The opening of the new entrance/exit on the west side of the ballpark should be a huge help in alleviating congestion on the main concourse.
For now, by Chicago City Council action last summer, the plaza will be open only to ticket holders. In order to accomplish this there will be planter boxes on the Clark Street side and, presumably, security folks checking tickets. Green said keeping the plaza this way presents the team with “a very difficult challenge” and that talks with the city regarding this are “ongoing.”
The Starbucks planned for the plaza building should be ready by Opening Night as well, and there will also be a team store in the building, which will be completed “by early April.” The team plans to move its offices into the building sometime after the first homestand is completed on April 19.
Green said that sometime in March, the team will announce events that will be happening in the plaza during the season. One thing that will happen somewhere in the plaza will be an area where the World Series trophy will be on display so that everyone can see it.
Other work, such as the facade being restored on the right-field side, should also be completed by Opening Night.
The Hotel Zachary development across the street from Wrigley is also proceeding on schedule and should be open sometime next year. It will include McDonald’s returning as well as restaurants from the 4 Star restaurant group including Big Star, a Mexican-themed restaurant. You can read more about the Hickory Street Capital project, including notes on the other restaurants involved, here.
Green assured us that there will be sufficient restrooms in the ballpark available for this season.
For those of you who have been wondering and speculating exactly what’s going in below the plaza building, Green said they are installing a large food preparation area beneath the building, as well as a pizza kitchen for Giordano’s pizza inside Wrigley Field, so a lot of the food prep that had been done off-site will now be done at Wrigley. (And I’m pretty sure you can assume that what looks like loading docks on the north side of the building are, in fact, loading docks.)
After Green’s presentation on the construction, Ricketts joined the group and talked about the “whirlwind” of postseason activity, including taking the World Series trophy to the Dominican Republic. He professed to being “amazed” by all the people who showed up for the victory parade and rally and said he wasn’t “mentally prepared” to see that many people.
So you did good, Cubs fans. That was, as was noted at the time, probably one of the biggest gatherings of people in all of human history, and almost surely was the largest gathering of sports fans for a championship.
Then he elaborated further on what he was thinking during Game 7: “It’s so hard to get here. It takes all these years and all these people have to make the right decisions and all these players have to be healthy, and you have to get through playoffs which are just coin flips, ultimately. And then you have to get all the way to Game 7, and then to not be able to close the deal tonight — it would just be so painful.”
Obviously, ultimately the Cubs did close the deal. But those thoughts aren’t likely too different from what you or I were thinking back on November 2.
Ricketts was asked what he told the team in his annual meeting with them before spring training began. He said that he noted that they had fulfilled the three promises made when they bought the team (restoring Wrigley Field, being a good neighbor and winning the World Series) and wanted the Cubs to become known as “one of the best sports organizations in the world, one that does everything the right way.”
He also told the players to “be careful off the field,” which is certainly good advice, and told them that if they wanted help with their own charitable endeavors, that the team would be there to help out. He singled out Anthony Rizzo as one who does perhaps more than any other player for charitable causes.
To conclude his talk with his players, he told them: “Treat the fans like gold, and make sure you understand how fortunate we all are, players, front office, everyone, to be part of such a special moment.” Wise advice, because as he also said regarding the celebration after the World Series win, “I had never understood how this would mean so much to so many people.” You and I and millions of others are the lifeblood of this organization, a huge, worldwide fanbase, and Tom wanted to make sure his players understand that. (Incidentally, he stopped, in a steady rain, on his way out of the discussion to sign autographs for a couple dozen fans waiting.)
I asked him about the Cubs’ TV network plans and he was mostly noncommittal, saying only that it’s the team’s “next big business hurdle” and that it’s a work in progress. He and Green both noted that an announcement about streaming and coverage within the 14 blackout markets should be coming closer to Opening Night. When I get that information I’ll definitely post it. Green hinted that due to the Cubs’ championship season, demand for carrying these games in the blackout markets is high and it seemed to me that pretty close to all of these games could be carried so that everyone can see all the games without blackout. We await further developments.
Ricketts was also noncommittal when asked about the new collective-bargaining agreement and whether it might lead to a “de facto” salary cap. He said only that it was a “fair” agreement and kept the status quo and that labor peace is “good for everyone.”
Going into 2017, Tom’s message is: “We know we should be in the mix, and will the guys be able to handle that extra pressure and maintain their focus, not as the young, hungry team, but as the team that did it last year.” He seemed certain the guys have “the right character and the right mindset” and that Joe Maddon would be able to help the Cubs maintain that focus, and I concur.
This was a far different discussion than has been the case in similar preseason meetups with Tom Ricketts over the last few seasons. There wasn’t any sense of “can the Cubs do it this year, or ever?”, because, well, now they have. I had a feeling of satisfaction knowing that Tom Ricketts has put the right people in place to run his ballclub and in a relatively short amount of time, just seven years, they scaled a mountain that had taken 108 years to climb.
He noted, “I want to see that “C” logo stand for something more than just winning one World Series.”
Coincidentally or not, on the day of this discussion with Tom Ricketts, the Cubs hadn’t won the World Series in 108... days. We will never again, hopefully, have to hear about long championship droughts. This team has been brought into the modern age and is certainly headed in the right direction, and hopefully for a long time to come. For that, Tom Ricketts, I thank you.
Many thanks to Julian Green, Kevin Saghy and Nicole Bersani of the Cubs for arranging this opportunity with Tom Ricketts.