Chicago Cubs' Owner Wants To Reverse History

Cubs fans always swear a brighter day is on the horizon. This season, the man who embodies that hope doesn't swing a bat or wear a glove. Tom Ricketts and his siblings bought the Cubs last fall — becoming the first family to run the team in nearly 30 years.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Baseball fans of the hardest of hard-luck teams, the Chicago Cubs, always swear a brighter day is on the horizon. This season, the man who embodies that hope doesn't swing a bat or wear a glove. Tom Ricketts and his siblings bought the Cubs last fall, becoming the first family to run the team in nearly 30 years.

If you're a fan and want to offer Mr. Ricketts your opinion, Jay Field reports he's easy enough to find.

JAY FIELD: It's one of those chilly spring evenings at Wrigley Field, a multiple layer situation with winter hats, gloves and a blanket, just in case. Lilly white bases have been dropped into the moist infield dirt. The national anthem is minutes away. And a man in a blue fleece Cubs pullover can't more than a few feet in the bleacher section without someone stopping him.

Unidentified Man #1: That's what we like, an owner who likes to hang out in the bleachers.

Mr. TOM RICKETTS (Owner, Chicago Cubs): Absolutely.

FIELD: The Chicago Cubs are off to another slow start, and the Cubs nation is restless. But you wouldn't know it, following Tom Ricketts around.

Unidentified Man #2: I appreciate everything you've done for this organization already. Honest to God.

Mr. RICKETTS: All right. Thanks, brother.

FIELD: Fans here in the bleachers greet the new owner like a long-lost pal, like he's the guy they've high-five before at some previous Cubs game. Ricketts says that's entirely possible.

Mr. RICKETTS: I think from the time I was 20, till the time I was 40, I never sat anywhere else.

FIELD: These days, Ricketts can sit anywhere he wants. But his heart remains here, beneath the giant, hand-operated scoreboard. It's where he met his wife and dreamed - as he applied to business school - of becoming more than your average fan.

Mr. RICKETTS: As I was cleaning out my desk about a month or two before we closed the deal, and I came across an old essay that - my application. And I was flipping through it, and I saw that one of the questions was: What's your dream job? And it was being an owner of a baseball team.

FIELD: Ricketts, who runs a bond underwriting firm, also sits on the board of TD Ameritrade, the online brokerage founded by his father. The family put up nearly half a billion dollars of its own money as part of the deal to buy the Cubs from the Tribune Company last fall. Since then, Tom Ricketts has spent millions to improve Wrigley Field. He's also shaking as many hands as it takes to reestablish a connection between owner and fan that was lost during the Tribune years.

Richard Honack follows the Cubs and teaches sports marketing at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management.

Professor RICHARD HONACK (Sports Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University): There's a face to put with the team, and it's Tom Ricketts. And he's gotten out there and he's shown his face to the fans and said we're going to win. Now he just has to win.

FIELD: But in the star-crossed world of the Chicago Cubs, where the World Series draught stands at 102 years and counting, that can be tough.

Mr. RICKETTS: It doesn't look good.

FIELD: Florida Marlins outfielder Cody Ross has just launched a towering shot into the Chicago night as Ricketts watches from the owner's box. So far this year, the Cubs win a few, give a few back and plod along just below 500. Some fans, like Tad Hickman, have seen enough.

Mr. TAD HICKMAN: The team's still not performing under the new ownership. I mean, owners can't hit for the players or pitch for the players, so I just think they need to start over.

FIELD: Ricketts said he never intended to come in and bang heads. He's content to sit back for now and see if the team turns things around. But if it doesn't, he insists he'll make the tough personnel decisions that often follow failure on the field. Cubs' fans, he says, are just going to have to trust him for a while.

For NPR News, I'm Jay Field, in Chicago.

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