CHICAGO -- I've learned how to deal with the frustration of being Chicago Cubs fan. It's something that every Cubs fans must embrace as they root for their favorite team. The losses pile up and the frustration mounts year after year, but we keep coming back because of loyalty.
For the first time in my three decades as a Cubs fan, I'm starting to question that loyalty. The frustration is building up more than ever. I'm not the 10-year-old kid who comes home from school and turns on WGN to listen to Harry Caray anymore. I'm the 30-year-old who just paid $1,500 for 20 games-worth of a season-ticket package that is split between a few buddies.
It's a new perspective and something that has caused me to view my experience as a fan differently. I'm no longer blindly loyal to a team I've cheered for my entire life. Like most Cubs fans, the frustration over the organization's latest woes has been boiling for a while but it was recent comments by owner Tom Ricketts that really irked me.
I laughed in February when I read that Ricketts said he believed the Cubs could be a "contender" this season, but what really got me was when Ricketts was asked to assess his team and said he thought this was going to be a "fun" year. I sat inside Wrigley for too many games than I'd like to admit last season, and I watched this winter as Theo Epstein and his group did little to improve the major league club.
I understand Ricketts is trying to put a positive spin on his product, but don't insult your fans and speak to them as if they're stupid. This team stinks. It's not built to win games this season.
"What do you want him to say?" I've already heard from some friends.
I want him to say something like: "We're going to work hard to put a product on the field that everyone can be proud of while we continue developing one of the best minor league systems in the game."
It's all PR spin, but at least there's some reality within the sentiment.
On a broader note, the deeper frustration is that Ricketts has shown little interest in making the big league club better now. I understand what the total rebuild entailed, and I knew full well that the Cubs were going to remain bad for a while, but the neglect shown toward the actual product playing at Wrigley Field is alarming.
I understand what's happening at the minor league level. I appreciate the upgrades made for the new spring training complex and the money being invested in the scouting and development all over the world. I thought the move to bring in Epstein and his band of baseball number-crunchers was brilliant, but there are aspects of Ricketts' leadership that make me shake my head.
Particularly, the continued fight with the rooftop owners. How is it possible after all these months that there is still no resolution? It wasn't as if Ricketts didn't know the agreement was in place when he bought the team. If he didn't like it, he shouldn't have purchased the club. The fact that the Cubs won't start renovations on Wrigley until the rooftop deal is done is maddening to a fan base that has already been told to be patient by the ownership group for years.
How long is that patience supposed to last?
It's the unanswerable question right now for millions of Cubs fans who thrive off hope. The hope is that prospects such as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora and others come to Chicago to save the day in the near future. The reality is that nobody knows for sure when those players will get to Chicago and if they'll be any good once they do get there.
What compounds the frustration regarding patience is that nobody knows for sure when the organization will have the revenue streams to go after big-time free agents to help the group of talented players that is scheduled to appear at Wrigley in the coming years.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I understand all the intricacies of the Cubs' business plan, because I don't. I've kept tabs on the issues regarding Wrigley's renovation and watched with interest as the rooftop owners continue to stand their ground in regard to new signage being placed around the old park. I read the in-depth story from Bleacher Nation's Brett Taylor, which tried to shine more light on what's going on behind the scenes with the Cubs' finances. While there was a lot to digest in that report, the main takeaway seemed to be that while the Cubs' plan seems to be on track to "sync" between the business product and the baseball product, it sounds like the organization won't be able to spend big until the Wrigley renovation is done and the current television contract runs out.
That's 2019. Five years from now.
What are fans supposed to do between now and then? They can wait and hope that the prospects are as good as advertised. The Ricketts' defenders will say that organization has shown it will spend, as evidenced by the Masahiro Tanaka offer, among others. But the truth is that the only big money this front office has spent so far is on Edwin Jackson, who was terrible last season.
I know there isn't one specific free agent move that would make them a playoff contender, but I do believe there is a better way to build your ballclub than what has been put together over the past couple seasons. The Cubs play in the third-largest media market in the country, yet they have one of the smallest payrolls in baseball this season. As somebody who is paying to watch the 2014 Cubs, that does not sit well with me, no matter how much money is being spent in other areas.
I shouldn't be surprised by the optimism from some fans out there. After all, they're Cubs fans -- it's in their DNA.
But I guess my DNA is starting to change.
When Ricketts bought the team, fans were sold on the idea that he came from a billionaire family that was willing to do whatever it took to put a winning product on the field. In the years since the purchase was complete, I find myself questioning his motives, and his words, more than ever. As many have pointed out, professional teams all over the country have a host of investors as part of their ownership group, but why is Ricketts starting to seek out more investors now almost five years after he started running the team?
Chicago has a tough, complicated political atmosphere, but why has it taken this long for he and his team to get any renovations started? Most of all, why is it that his big league team continues to look so bad and hasn't shown signs of life in several years?
These are the types of questions I find myself asking these days as I watch my favorite team -- and that's why some of the joy has been taken out of following them on a day-to-day basis.
I'm not the little kid anymore. I'm the man who is spending his hard-earned money to watch a team I don't believe in -- at least for the next few years. The biggest question of all I have for Ricketts is simple: Why should I keep doing that?