Friday, July 9, 2010

Day at Wrigley Was Nice, But Probably Not Worth Another $3,500

The Season Ticket Holder Appreciation Day was a bag of mixed emotions for me.  To start, we were herded into the park and shown seats in the designated sections of the Terrace Box and Reserved sections on the third base line so that we could be addressed by Tom Ricketts.

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 love tolerate, but while I was out on the field, it really was pretty cool.  This is how they get us to fork over money that could probably better be spent on nicer cars, a bigger house, or pissed away at the blackjack table.

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.


Doc Blume said...

I probably should have made an effort to get down there yesterday...sounds like an entertaining time.

I really need to move back to Chicago.

Anonymous said...

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.

i guess this is how they get away with it. a bunch of people talking about memories of division winning teams that fall apart in the playoffs. now that's FUN!

ricketts and his family better get used to taking alot of shit from the fans because he's going to be very unpopular in chicago for a long long time to come. the honeymoon for this guy is over. if he had any brains, he'd have fired hendry and kenney the first day he took over the club. but he didn't. the man apparently worked on the purchase for two years and had no idea that he was inheriting a team with a high payroll, most of it committed to players in massive decline. how he didn't notice is beyond me...or maybe he did and he just doesn't give a shit. he knows 3,000,000 butts will come through those turnstiles.

it looks to me like ricketts is more concerned with the ballpark then he is the team on the field. tim, you're old enough to remember when the wrigleys owned the club. it's that same formula. if that's what ricketts is doing, i'm happy to sit on the sidelines and wait for the team to win. i sat on the sidelines 15 years ago with the hawks, and i didn't enjoy their run of the last two years any less because of my decision.

Aisle 424 said...


I think he gets it to a point, but I think all of their forecasts and models did not take into account the toll the economy would take coupled with a complete collapse of the product on the field.

Hell, we couldn't believe all the shit that happened last year and I don't think anyone realistically believed this team would be performing at a 65 win level. If they modeled out the expected revenues based on a team that would keep the interest of the fans, there is no way they could have seen what is happening except in the very worst of worst case scenarios, and you don't make plans based on everything going to hell beyond all logic and reason.

So, they have been dealt a bad hand and it turns out its even worse than anyone could have possibly thought. Now they have this huge debt staring at them, and their revenues have to be down pretty significantly with all of the lost concessions from no-shows, and much higher percentage of unsold seats than they have dealt with in years.

I don't think they have a choice but to pimp the ballpark because that is the easiest fix. The problem is they could go lean and mean the next couple of years by building up their farm system through trades, keeping payroll at a minimum, and building it correctly. The problem is the stupid lemmings will abandon the team faster if that is how they do it. They HAVE to do it half-assed and make stupid-ass moves to placate a fanbase that doesn't get it. (Re-signing Ted Lilly, not trading Marmol, etc.)

Cub fans are hurting the team by being stupid.

gaius marius said...

I don't think anyone realistically believed this team would be performing at a 65 win level.


Anonymous said...

I could care less about baseball but I love reading your thoughts about it. What a fun day for you and Kris. Glad you enjoyed it!


Aisle 424 said...

Wow, GM. Good call.

gaius marius said...

LOL -- no, not really. i phone in 65 wins most years, just on principle. sadly, it's correct more than you'd wish.

Adam said...

Love the perspective, Tim. While I think you're right that the bulk of fans would stop coming to games if a major fire sale leaves the team in prospect purgatory, we also know pretty well that it won't be permanent. No matter how bad the on-the-field product gets, and no matter how low attendance might drop in response, the moment the Cubs look like they have a prayer again, ticket sales will explode.

Aisle 424 said...

See Heat, Miami as Exhibit A. Season ticket sales sold out less than one day after the douchecision.

Seriously though, the problem for the Ricketts is that a young prospect-laden team (starting from where they are where the ML-ready talent is already pretty much on the ML roster), is going to take a couple of years to show the tangible promise (win games) that fans need to see.

With the debt the Ricketts have, they have to maintain a certain level of revenue generation just to cover their debt payments and an empty stadium, even for a relatively short period, is not really possible without putting their ownership in jeopardy.

This is why I worry they are not capable of doing it right, even if they wanted to. Thus my investment in my tickets would be pissing away my own money on a fools' errand.

Anonymous said...

points are all well taken tim. i've been preaching the debt issues for over a couple of years now and that doesn't change with any of this. here's what i would like to see happen.

ricketts takes a low profile and ignores that attendence drops in the short term and does whats best for this team. allow the young nucleus to playt for a few years with cheap parts around them and when you are ready add a few free agents and take anoither shot. it really is what's best and the time for the cubs to do this is now. the tribsters nevers had the balls to do this. i would like to see ricketts and the cubs put in place a plan for three years down the road and beyond. not more short term fixes that involve alot of pain on the back end of contracts. the cubs tried that route and it almost worked in 08. but it didn't.

Anonymous said...

i wonder if the cubs dropped payroll to around the $100 million mark next season and even lower the next season if that would actually cancel out any decrease in attendance they might see.

i actually think a few of us fans would be happier with an approach along these lines than they would the approach being taken right now. at least with an approach like that they can aim towartd being good in 2013 or 2014. with the approach they are taking now there seems to be no aim as far as what's happening on the field.

Aisle 424 said...

I think we all hoped a family ownership would be able to make some decisions that were not all focused on the short-term bottom line and would have long term objectives. Unfortunately, the Ricketts are in a position that has gotten so bad where they can't totally ignore the bottom line without risking their ownership.

My guess is they will continue walking that line where they aren't spending enough to keep up with the Yankees, but never fully stripping down the parts and starting over. That means a lot of years of mediocrity are coming.

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