New Cubs owner Tom Ricketts addresses team and has little to say about spring training funding

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Cubs owner Ricketts addresses team

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts once sat in the bleachers at Wrigley Field, cheering for the Chicago Cubs. On Tuesday, with the players gathered around him in the spring training weight room, he addressed the team that his family now owns.

His message was simple: He and his family will be around and do everything possible to help the Cubs win.

“If there is anything we can do better, let us know,” Ricketts said he told the players.

For his part, Ricketts is already taking steps.

There are new upgrades at Wrigley Field, including an improved clubhouse and weight rooms, a new players’ lounge, a new club in the outfield and better restrooms for fans. The Ricketts also raised ticket prices on some seats at the storied stadium.

“Obviously Wrigley needs a lot of love and a lot of help over the next few years,” Ricketts said. “That will be very challenging. Other than that, we feel the pressure to produce on some winning teams and that will be something that is always with us.”

The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908.

Ricketts said if the Cubs are in contention around the trade deadline, it’s possible they would spend the money to bring in a player needed to make a playoff push.

Manager Lou Piniella sounded confident that would happen.

“The fact they are going to involved and visible and the fact they want to win and are very competitive, and I’m sure if we get in position during the course of the summer and we need something, there’s a darn good chance they’ll step forward,” Piniella said.

“The Ricketts are going to be good for Chicago and for the Chicago Cubs,” added Piniella, who is in the last year of his contract. “This is not just a one-year or two-year thing. They want to keep this team in their family for a long, long time.”

The $845 million sale of the Cubs, Wrigley Field and other assets from the Tribune Co. to the family of billionaire Joe Ricketts was completed in October, more than 2½ years after the baseball franchise went on the market.

Asked how he would separate his ownership responsibilities from his passion as a fan, Tom Ricketts acknowledged that could take some work.

“That’s rough, right? Because you do sometimes let your fan hat take over,” he said. “The fact is, it’s a pretty comfortable balance for us. You let the guys like (general manger) Jim (Hendry) and Lou do their jobs and everything will take care of itself after that.”

First baseman Derrek Lee said it’s nice to have a face with ownership instead of a corporation.

“I think it will help, someone you can identify with and speak to,” Lee said. “I already got a chance to speak with him at the convention and he was asking different questions and it was nice. We never really had that.”

The Cubs had considered moving their spring training operation to Florida before deciding to remain in Mesa with the promise of a new stadium.

An Arizona legislative committee has approved a $1 surcharge on each auto rental in the Phoenix area and an 8 percent surcharge on tickets to all spring training games played in Maricopa County to help pay for an $84 million complex. The so-called Cubs tax is opposed by some owners of other teams in the Cactus League, including the White Sox’s Jerry Reinsdorf.

“I’m not going to talk about any of that,” Ricketts said. “I think we are very confident we’ll get a solution that works for everybody down here.”

One of the biggest buzzes of the first day of camp surrounded 19-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro. Piniella said Castro reminded him of a young Edgar Renteria.

Castro batted .299 combined last year at Class A and Double A and then hit .376 in the Arizona Fall League.

Could he make the big league team at such a young age as a non-roster invitee? Stay tuned.

“I want to do what I have been doing, play the game, enjoy the game, practice hard,” Castro said through a translator.

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