More grilling and less gushing for Ricketts family?

One of the more clichéd stories any journalist can write is one that begins with, “What a difference a day/year/month/season makes.”

So we won’t do that here.

Well, sort of.

In the case of the Ricketts family, the owners of the Cubs, the cliché applies.

The Cubs convention opens Friday and runs all weekend at the Chicago Hilton. I suspect the reception the Ricketts clan will get will be much different from the one they received last year, when they were greeted as conquering heroes who’d come to save Cubdom from the evil Tribune Co.

That’s not to say the four members of the Ricketts family — Tom, Pete, Laura and Todd — deserve to be hooted off the stage when they face the fans Saturday morning. In fact, there’s a lot of good to be said about the owners of a major-league baseball team making themselves accessible to their fans.

When they did that last year, it marked the first time, maybe in the entire history of the Cubs, that the owners of this team met their fans in such a setting. After all, there was no Mr. Tribune to listen to the fans unless you wanted to give that title to Sam Zell. But he couldn’t have cared less about the Cubs.

There was no Cubs convention when the Wrigleys owned the team, and it’s hard to imagine P.K. Wrigley inviting a bunch of fans up to Lake Geneva for lunch and a cruise.

So bully for the Ricketts family in this regard.

That said, the honeymoon is clearly over, and we’ll get a good gauge on the feeling of Cubs fans this weekend.

A year ago, Tom Ricketts threw out the ceremonial first pitch to start the convention, and shouted, “How cool is this?” Pretty cool, back then.

The next day, one fan told the Rickettses they had provided “new hope.”

“We really haven’t done that much yet,” Laura Ricketts said. “I hope next year at this time, everyone’s just as happy as they are today and that we’ve actually done something to earn that enthusiasm and respect.”

Well, now.

To be fair, the family is still new to this game, but you can expect more grilling and less gushing from fans at this year’s convention.

The family now has a yearlong record to run on, and it’s not all happy-happy, even if those Wrigley Field bathrooms are all spiffy clean. Fans have expressed everything from disappointment to outrage over such things as:

Ÿ Ticket-price increases;

Ÿ The perceived strong-arming of Mesa, Ariz., to get a new spring-training facility;

Ÿ Asking the state of Illinois for help in renovating Wrigley Field during tough economic times for the state and its people;

Ÿ The product on the field (how could we forget?), which backslid for the second straight year.

As to the final point, I’m sure the Ricketts family will be asked why they kept general manager Jim Hendry (and president Crane Kenney) running baseball operations. I expect Tom Ricketts to say Hendry lieutenants Oneri Fleita and Tim Wilken have rebuilt a farm system, which has brought Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner to the big leagues and provided the pieces for Hendry to trade for pitcher Matt Garza.

Fans who have a deep knowledge of the system might want to ask when the Cubs will spend more on the draft and on procuring players from Latin America and Asia.

As to the other points, let’s remember that this family didn’t amass billions by being nice people only; there’s a ruthless streak here common to all successful business people, including the aforementioned Tribsters.

Hendry and Kenney also will face the fans at appointed times over the weekend, perhaps diffusing some of the fan frustration by taking their own hits.

That’s all fine, and it should make for some fun listening. But the bucks are rolling into the Ricketts family. And the buck should stop with them.

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