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updated: 4/9/2013 5:56 AM

Ricketts ought to fly the coop and set up in suburbia

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  • Cubs catcher Welington Castillo tosses the ball to teammate third baseman Luis Valbuena to tag out Milwaukee Brewers' Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki at Monday's Wrigley Field home-opener. Aoki was trying to score from third on a hit by Ricky Weeks.

       Cubs catcher Welington Castillo tosses the ball to teammate third baseman Luis Valbuena to tag out Milwaukee Brewers' Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki at Monday's Wrigley Field home-opener. Aoki was trying to score from third on a hit by Ricky Weeks.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Fans yell at the third base umpire Monday during the Cubs' home-opener.

       Fans yell at the third base umpire Monday during the Cubs' home-opener.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • A seagull sweeps past Cubs center fielder Dave Sappelt during Monday's home-opener at Wrigley.

       A seagull sweeps past Cubs center fielder Dave Sappelt during Monday's home-opener at Wrigley.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro reacts after striking out in late in Monday's Wrigley Field home-opener against Milwaukee.

       Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro reacts after striking out in late in Monday's Wrigley Field home-opener against Milwaukee.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro hits a triple with two outs in Monday's third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. Teammate Anthony Rizzo grounded out to end the inning, stranding Castro at third.

       Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro hits a triple with two outs in Monday's third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. Teammate Anthony Rizzo grounded out to end the inning, stranding Castro at third.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

In the bottom of the first inning, having finally completed dozens of TV and radio interviews that began at 4 a.m., and perhaps even after stopping for a hot dog or a hot meal, Tom Ricketts finally made it down to the lower level of boxes at Wrigley Field.

See, he owns the Cubs, so he's got these terrific seats in the first row by the home dugout, just behind the on-deck circle.

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And by the time Ricketts got there on Opening Day, he found a mayor, an alderman and assorted other clowns -- who have conspired to make Ricketts' life miserable -- occupying the first row and blocking his way.

They all sat in Ricketts' seats while the owner found an empty spot in the fourth row, twiddling his thumbs with no one to talk to while waiting for the others -- who had no business being there -- to get out of his flippin' way.

Talk about a perfect metaphor for the last couple years of Ricketts' ownership.

The Cubs opened yet another season Monday at a crumbling and increasingly decrepit Wrigley Field, still without permission to fix the building.

Yes, The Cubs need permission to improve their facility.

Ricketts isn't allowed to repair and rebuild because of the landmark status attached to the ballpark, a sham designed to force Cubs ownership to first grease palms and fill pockets before altering the stadium in any way.

Tom Ricketts must get down on his knees and bow to Chicago politicians and neighborhood power brokers. He must kiss rings. He must humiliate himself.

He must do all of this so he can spend $500 million of his own money to fix up his ballpark and build a hotel across the street, and in the process keep revenue streaming into a neighborhood that seemingly hates having the team in Wrigley Field.

Of course, most people living there probably don't know the area around the park was a trash heap 30 years ago, and that it's because the team is there that the neighborhood thrives.

Even so, walking into Wrigley Field on Monday I encountered a woman in her 30s with a baby in a stroller.

"I hate this time of year," she said, muttering something about the traffic and congestion. "I hear it will be worse when they start rebuilding the park."

Being in her 30s, or maybe late 20s, and seeing as how Wrigley Field is 99 years old, the math suggests the park was here before she moved in, and she probably knew the risks of living in the vicinity and walking a stroller down Waveland Avenue on game day.

But on top of everything else -- and everyone else -- Tom Ricketts must hold hearings and take surveys, and pacify these unhappy neighbors, too.

Why he never considered moving is beyond me. Why he never even threatened is baffling. Why he still refuses to use that leverage is a travesty.

The truth is the ballpark could use more than the $300 million worth of work the Cubs intend to spend to bring it into the new millennium.

Ricketts would be better served spending twice that much and building himself a Wrigley replica in the suburbs, replete with all the surrounding taverns and restaurants -- all owned by Ricketts -- duplicating the current atmosphere without the lack of parking, ancient bathrooms and falling concrete.

Ricketts' current neighbors would get a very good idea then of what it's like to live without the traffic -- and the revenue and business.

But the Cubs owner is simply unwilling to consider leaving, or even threaten the possibility.

So he must sit in a room with people who hate him, want to steal his product and take operating income from the team that the Cubs could reinvest in baseball operations.

He must patiently and quietly idle in a room of corrupt ideas and concave ideals, all while keeping a smile on his face, with a hand extended and blisters on his knees.

"How do you do it?" I asked him Monday.

"It's part of the process," Ricketts said. "It's OK. We'll get through it."

And again Ricketts smiled, but he looked worn out. He had the appearance of a president who looks young and vibrant upon taking office, only to be grayed and weathered after half a term.

Ricketts didn't think it would be this hard, but he also never played in this arena.

This is Chicago politics, where a man has to beg to spend his own money, where he has to beg to fix his own house.

And he has to do it from his knees.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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