Tom may be a new owner, but he knew exactly what topics to hit on, what to avoid, and where to be self-deprecating to get a good reaction from the group. He talked about Marlon Byrd (big cheers), he talked about the trade of Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva (big cheers), he talked about how disappointing the team has performed so far and that no one is more disappointed than he is (smattering of applause).
He good-naturedly threw Wally Hayward under the bus by saying that anyone who had a comment or complaint about the Toyota sign should talk to him (big laughs).
Crane Kenney was also there (he got applauded) with Hayward, Frank McGuire was there as head of the ticket sales department, the head of special events was there to talk about the Northwestern game and concerts and such. The guy who heads up the community awareness and charities was there as well. I may be missing someone, but I can tell you for sure that no one from the baseball operations side was there.
I was not expecting Jim Hendry to be there, but I thought maybe Randy Bush, or at least an introduction to the new baseball statistics guru, Ari Kaplan would have been nice as a sign that the Cubs are moving forward to re-tooling the team into a consistent winner. Nothing.
After Ricketts spoke, we were pretty much given free reign in the park. We could go into the clubhouses, the dugouts, the pressbox, the PNC Club, and out onto the field.
I have seen the Cubs let people onto the field before for tours and special events before, but it was always pretty restricted. Generally, they won't let you on the infield grass. They don't let you touch the ivy. Only little kids get to run the bases.
They let us do all of that. They let people play catch. People were laying out making diving attempts and getting their clothes all grass stained (WRIGLEY GRASS STAINS!!!). Some people went to the concession stands and got discounted food and beer and had little picnics on the field.
(Photo by Laurie Olson)
I spent most of my time wandering the outfield. I got the perspective from Sammy Sosa's "spot" in right field (and they are not kidding when they say that right field is tough to play in the afternoon - I'm not sure how anyone ever catches anything coming out of that glare). I went over to where Bartman deflected the ball from Moises. I "warmed up" on the bullpen mound. Kris and I had some photos taken by the ivy with some friends.
We went in by the infield as people of all ages ran the bases. Some were actually sliding and some fake sliding for a picture. I went over to the short left-field grass in the hole and marveled over how much of a cannon Castro has to have to make that throw across with ease.
We also checked out the PNC Club, which is very nice, but small. I noticed they let people into the TV booth in the pressbox so they could pretend they were conducting "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
The ushers and staff on hand were very friendly and would often offer to take our picture so that everyone could be in a few shots together. (I'm hoping to have some more photos up later tonight or tomorrow.)
Overall, it was a very nice experience and I was shocked at the free reign they gave us. Ricketts always had a line of about twenty to thirty people waiting to talk to him, so I didn't bother trying. I'll give him credit, he stood there and talked with people for at least the hour and a half we were free in the ballpark (and I assume he did the same for each of the 4 or 5 other sessions that day), and probably for a bit after that as they herded us all out. It had to have been one of the longest days of his life.
But as much as I was sucked in by being on the actual playing field of Wrigley Field, it didn't make me any more or less apt to renew my seat for next year. At the end of the day, I just want this team to stop holding onto its current incarnation to maybe win a couple of extra games and instead maximize the value of some of its individual pieces that can make the team a lot better in a couple of years. I need a reason to justify the huge expense they expect of me every year and touching the ivy a few times isn't going to do that.
I don't know if that is true of the bulk of the people that were at my session. There wasn't much cynicism over the future of the team that I heard. It was mostly discussing great memories in the ballpark and lifelong love affairs with the Cubs. These are the people that don't get the ironic nature of the "It's a Way of Life" campaign.
(By the way, you need to go to my Wrigley Talk Friday co-podcast partner, Adam Kellogg's blog to see his posts on the It's a Way of Life campaign.)
So for the Cubs, the day had to be a pretty good success. They played up to the very people that have been their bread and butter for years and probably won a couple more honeymoon years to get things right.
For me, I'm disheartened at how easily Cubs fans lose sight of the fact that the team just isn't very good, and never really has been for all intents and purposes. I include myself in that. I'm back to the bitter, snarky person you all know and
So, thanks Mr. Ricketts, for a nice afternoon at the ballpark. You didn't have to do that, and it was a welcome change from the Tribune Company basically pointing a gun at us and demanding money. It was particularly nice that the experience wasn't ruined by having to watch the actual team play a game.
I still don't know if I'll be back next year though.