Huffpost Chicago

Tom Ricketts Realizes Dream: New Cubs Owner A Longtime Fan

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CHICAGO — Tom Ricketts was cleaning out some drawers last summer when he came across an old business school essay describing his dream job.

You can guess what he chose.

The Chicago Cubs' home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday brought back a flood of memories for Ricketts, the new owner and a longtime fan who once lived across the street from Wrigley Field and met his future wife in the bleachers.

Ricketts, part of the family that founded the online brokerage TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. in Omaha, Neb., said he didn't remember dreaming specifically of owning the team until he came across the essay he wrote more than 20 years ago. In those days, he attended the University of Chicago and lived on the corner of Addison and Sheffield, right in the shadow of the old ballpark.

"There aren't words to describe how great it is to be here and how excited we are about this whole day and this whole season," said Ricketts, the club's chairman.

He thought about living in Wrigleyville in the late 1980s, when he went to school and worked at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. His brother, Peter, lived in that apartment with him and remembered the day Tom met his wife, Cecelia, during a discussion prompted by a mention of Omaha, their hometown.

To be in this position decades later, he said, is "very surreal."

"We certainly never dreamed 25 years ago that we would have an opportunity to be a part of this organization, and it's just a fantastic experience," Peter Ricketts said. "We walked out onto the field this morning as the sun was coming up and were like, 'Wow, we're not going to get in trouble for this.'"

The Ricketts family bought a 95 percent stake in the team from Tribune Co. The $845 million sale included Wrigley Field and 25 percent of Comcast Sportsnet, which broadcasts many Cubs games. The deal was completed in October, more than 2 1/2 years after the baseball franchise was put on the market.

The were times when Tom Ricketts wondered if the sale would go through and whether the family would control the team that has not been to the World Series since 1945 and has not won it since the second of back-to-back championships in 1908.

The way general manager Jim Hendry sees it, the Rickettses could be like the O'Malleys in Los Angeles or the Carpenters in Philadelphia, families that "are in it for the long haul" and not necessarily "looking to maximize the Cub name and sell it to somebody else."

"They're very committed to giving the players the best environment to succeed," Hendry said.

They've already made a mark, renovating restrooms, adding an upscale private club and removing concrete panels to create a more open feel. There are new food options, with bison burgers and hot dogs from the family's Wyoming ranch.

And players weren't left out, either.

They got a renovated clubhouse with a new lounge, larger weight room and remodeled kitchen in the first upgrade since 1984. The team also hired a nutritional consultant to aid in menu planning, another healthy change.

And while a proposed Toyota sign above Wrigley's left-field bleachers hasn't gone over well with some of the neighbors, Tom Ricketts believes that issue will be resolved.

A more pressing issue is the one that's haunted this franchise for more than a century.

"I think one of the great things about having fans as owners is we really want to bring a World Series to Chicago," Peter Ricketts said. "We deserve it. The Cubs deserve it. The fans deserve it. The city deserves it."

The Cubs had high expectations last season, only to go 83-78 after winning back-to-back NL Central titles, and a 2-4 season-opening trip left at least a few fans on edge. In the past, Tom Ricketts might've been, too, but not now. The owner is learning to control his inner fan.

"I think it's a long season. You can't overreact to any one game or any one road trip," he said. "I think the biggest difference is that now that we've gotten to know some of the players personally, it's harder to see them struggle or have some things go wrong. You just know how hard they're trying, how bad they want to win."