In the Wake of the News
8:08 PM CDT, April 8, 2013
If the Cubs falling a wind shift short of a game-winning home run in the ninth inning of Monday's home-opening 7-4 loss to the Brewers teased your emotions and tested your resolve, imagine how Tom Ricketts felt.
The Cubs chairman arrived at Wrigley Field at 5 a.m. hoping to celebrate something exciting, only to experience anguish only partly related to Starlin Castro flying out with the bases loaded after the 24-mph wind blowing out changed direction during the game. When Castro's deep fly dropped into the glove of right fielder Norichika Aoki instead of the bleachers to end the rally and the game, it represented Monday's second near-miss for Ricketts — but hardly the most significant.
The chance to spread the word in interviews that the Cubs and the city finally were approaching completion of a deal brought Ricketts to the ballpark before sunrise. Alas, the day came and went with the sides still talking but no resolution to the proposed $500 million renovation. The only tangible progress the Cubs could report at Clark and Addison came when demoted closer Carlos Marmol, booed twice in the Unfriendly Confines, pitched a scoreless eighth. A crowd of 40,083 filled the seats, but history will record the first day of baseball on the North Side in 2013 as terribly unfulfilling.
Besides hopeful rhetoric surrounding a potential deal, the only evidence of a breakthrough came when Mayor Rahm Emanuel sat next to Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, in the Ricketts family seats next to the Cubs dugout for several innings. But until anybody announces an actual agreement, we will assume Emanuel and Tunney discussed only whether Edwin Jackson or Alfonso Soriano is the most overpaid Cub through the first week.
"We are moving forward,'' Ricketts insisted without providing specifics. "We look forward to getting something done. The mayor's been terrific. The alderman's been productive.''
Similar momentum built over last weekend before an 11th-hour glitch — thank the rooftop owners — complicated matters as only Chicago politics could. So until Emanuel, Tunney and Ricketts meet again in public to shake hands and sign documents, consider the sides as far away from an agreement as the Cubs are from first place.
I asked Ricketts if "imminent'' would be the wrong word to characterize a possible deal.
"I think it's going the right direction,'' Ricketts answered. "We've worked through a lot of issues. I'll just leave it at that.''
Nobody needs to worry about Ricketts negotiating through the media. The closest Ricketts came to saying something flammable was when he called the Cubs' contract with rooftop owners "really awkward.'' He downplayed any rumors of fast-tracking renovations over two years. He established upgrading the clubhouse as his top priority and repeated how more night games would increase scheduling flexibility, not to mention revenue. He welcomed the public-hearing process.
Staying on a carefully crafted vague message, Ricketts tiptoed around the reality that two self-imposed target dates now have passed without a deal. The Cubs paying no attention to the standings during this rebuilding phase is more understandable than ownership ignoring negotiating deadlines. If neither the April 1 deadline nor Monday's extension meant anything, why set them?
"I don't use time frames anymore,'' Ricketts said when asked if a deal was possible within 48 hours. "And I don't know what it means to have it done in 48 hours or not done in 48 hours. All I know is we committed to working exclusively with the city to try to push this forward, working with the city and the aldermen to get a solution that works for everyone.''
Hearing Ricketts reiterate his commitment to "working exclusively with the city to try to push this forward'' reminded everybody how badly he wants to stay at Wrigley even as some associates advise him to explore Rosemont or DuPage County. The longer this drags on, the more of a risk it represents for Ricketts to be so transparent about his loyalty to a 99-year-old ballpark.
Negotiations over Wrigley Field renovations have dawdled more than the Derrick Rose debate and, at some point, Ricketts must realize his deadlines cannot continue to be elastic and his well of patience cannot stay bottomless. Tuesday would be a good day. This process isn't just one big diversion to keep Chicagoans from noticing the 95-loss team in their midst. How soon before it's too late for yet another season?
"I'm optimistic,'' Ricketts stressed. "I think everything is heading the right direction.''
Hope the ninth-inning gust blowing the wrong direction for the Cubs wasn't an omen.
"That wind shift cost us four (runs),'' manager Dale Sveum said. "But that's Wrigley.''
The place never changes. Unfortunately after an anticlimactic home opener, nobody from the Cubs or the city could guarantee it ever will.
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