Ricketts itching to get season under way

Ricketts itching to get season under way

MESA, Ariz. -- This season is just as important as any other for the Cubs' front office under new owner Tom Ricketts, who said Thursday there are still times when he thinks like a fan but has to remember to act like an owner.

Ricketts will be in Atlanta for the Cubs' Opening Day on Monday, and he sounded just like the players and the fans after seven weeks of Spring Training.

"I just want to fast forward -- I'm so excited for that day," he said.

This will be the Ricketts family's first Opening Day as owners of the team after taking control in late October. Tom Ricketts and his family have been in Arizona this week to attend Cactus League games.

They don't hide their passion for the Cubs and were seen in Scottsdale on Tuesday giving closer Carlos Marmol a standing ovation after he escaped a jam. But he's also the chairman of the board.

"Obviously, there's times when you have conflicting emotions out of it because you think like a fan but have to act like an owner," Ricketts said. "I think the easiest way to address that is by letting [general manager] Jim [Hendry] do his job. In the end, that's the right answer for keeping us from getting too involved in the fan-owner kind of situation."

Hendry is signed through 2012 while this is the last year on manager Lou Piniella's contract. Will the 2010 season be a deciding factor in regards to whether the Ricketts keep the existing front office personnel?

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"With respect to this season being any more important than any other season in their careers, I don't think so," Ricketts said. "Everyone knows they have to perform at a high level every year. We really do want the high level of performance out of everyone in the organization and we want to make them accountable.

"There's nothing about this year that's any different than years past," he said. "It will be really enlightening for us -- we'll learn a lot about everybody this year. So far, so good."

The Cubs' payroll was projected to be around $140 million this season. Whether Hendry can add any players at the Trade Deadine will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

"We'll keep an eye on that," Ricketts said. "Obviously, things change between Opening Day and midseason, so if there are needs, I think we'll be able to address them."

Ricketts has been given a heads up on some transactions and moves before they happen. He said the communication has been good.

"If it's something on the bigger side, Jim will typically run it past us," Ricketts said. "If it's a less dramatic decision, he'll go ahead. The information flow has been great. You guys know Jim well -- he's accessible, he's straight-forward, he tells you exactly what he's thinking, so that's worked out really well."

Team president Crane Kenney said this spring that at the end of the year, they'll sit down to talk about Piniella's plans. Will Ricketts get involved in those talks?

"That's between Lou and Jim," Ricketts said. "It's Jim's responsibility to put the winning team on the field, both players and manager. If you insert yourself into that discussion, you're not adding value, for one thing. You want accountability. It's Jim's responsibility, and he knows it. He and Lou will tell me if there's anything else they want to add to the discussion."

The Cubs have not picked a site in Mesa for their new Spring Training complex.

"We're still working through the process down here, trying to find the best answer for everybody," Ricketts said. "I'm very confident that with everyone rowing in the same direction, we'll get there."

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said recently that his office had stepped in to help with the financing. Ricketts said it has yet to be determined what the final package will be to raise funds.

"[Selig's office's] help in trying to find a good solution down here will be valuable," Ricketts said. "I think they were helpful from Day One really, but I think now they're giving us a little extra emphasis to try to get to a conclusion, and that's very useful."

The new Cubs owner has gotten plenty of feedback from fans who want to keep the team in Arizona.

"It's a great vibe down here," Ricketts said.

The only "unpleasant surprise," he said, was how long it took to complete the sale of the team.

"I told my wife [the length of the sale] was the closest I'll get to childbirth and she said, 'How do you know? You were at Starbucks,'" he said.

The Ricketts family has tackled quite a few projects from the beginning, including finding a new Spring Training site and renovations at Wrigley Field.

"It was our goal to hit the ground running," he said.

How long will the honeymoon last?

"It'll be nice to get off to a good start and keep all this positive energy going. I think we have the right team," Ricketts said. "Lou and Jim feel really good about the team this year, and as long as we stay healthy, I don't see why we're not going to bring back the playoffs."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.