Stranger in a Strange Land or: How I Made Tom Ricketts Laugh Three Times

I was in Chicago late last week and for part of this weekend. While there, I took in two Cubs games in two very different worlds – one where I felt like a stanger, and one where I felt like I was at home.

I doubt I have to tell most of you that Wrigley Field feels like home for Cubs fans, because you’ve probably felt it, too. (And, if you haven’t yet had the chance, I hope someday soon you do.) I’ve been to Wrigley many times before, but it always gets me. So, as I watched the Cubs take on the Brewers from the right field bleachers on Thursday, I felt like I was surrounded by thousands of friends. I had beers with BN’ers Spencer and JulioZuleta, cheered a couple kids who caught balls from David DeJesus, and even joked amicably with a few Brewers fans as they watched Zack Greinke flounder.

The atmosphere is so metaphorically familial that, at one point on Thursday, it became literal. A family was in the bleachers celebrating the 60th birthday of “Jimmy,” and we – all of us in the area – wore handed-out birthday buttons and sang happy birthday to commemorate the occasion. We were one drunk lamp-shade-wearing uncle short of a family reunion. (I’m pretty sure that uncle was there, but there are no lamps in the bleachers.)

That is all to say I was already having a wonderful time by the middle innings, when I excused myself from the right field bleachers to head over to left. Al Yellon, the guy behind Bleed Cubbie Blue, has a usual spot out there, and I wanted to go say hello. I contribute a few times a week to BCB, and Al and I have become friends. So, when I arrived in the upper left corner of the bleachers, I was looking forward to taking in an inning or two with him, his friend Miriam, and others in the section.

As I was happily chatting away with Al, I almost didn’t notice the man who’d walked up next to our seats. Tom Ricketts.

Tom and Al know each other, and Tom was stopping by to say hello as part of his usual round of mingling with fans at Wrigley. Al, for his part, was cool as a cucumber. I got the impression that the pop-in was something of a regular occurrence. Heck, everyone in the section was impressively cool about the whole thing.

Everyone except me, maybe. I was the opposite of cool as a cucumber. Hot as a … plum? Is there an opposite of cucumber?

Be cool, I thought. Introduce yourself, shake his hand, squeeze firmly but not too firmly. Is my palm sweaty? No. It’s ok. Oh no, did I look him in the eye? Did I speak loudly enough? Too loudly? Wow, he’s really tall in person. Kind of skinny, too. Crap! I’m staring. Has it been a long, silent stare? Am I creeping him out? Can he tell that I secretly want to hug him and tell him I want to be his friend?

Somehow, with the emotion of a 1960s teenage girl meeting Paul freaking McCartney bubbling up inside me, I collected myself enough to engage with the group in friendly banter about the Cubs.

The brief conversation touched on a number of Cub-related topics, from Matt Garza’s dominance that day to the team’s early-season struggles. I joked about Matt Garza improvidently taking an infield pop-up so he could improve his fielding percentage (Tom chuckled), about Garza’s struggles at the plate and how it’s probably hard to ask him to spend 10 more minutes in the batting cage (Tom chuckled), and about Ryan Theriot deciding he was a power hitter after hitting a homer or two a couple years ago (Tom chuckled and offered an anecdote about Darwin Barney not getting the same idea).

Ok, so all were “jokes” in the context of a group conversation, as opposed to me holding court. And maybe all laughs were of the “courtesy” variety, if they were directed at me at all – if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making the kind of lame jokes certain to elicit a courtesy laugh. Except maybe the Garza fielding percentage one. At the time, it felt pretty funny. (And, after Garza threw that ball into the stands at the end of the game, I felt equal parts a psychic and a jinx.) What I know for certain is that I participated in a mutually enjoyable conversation with Tom Ricketts about the Cubs.

Tom’s entire visit lasted just a half inning or so, but that was good enough for me. No, Tom and I didn’t spend the whole time talking and slapping five, and no, he probably wouldn’t remember my name. But, in 10 minutes of his time, he left me with a priceless and indelible memory. Forever in my mind, I’ll remember the time “I met Tom Ricketts and made him laugh three times.”

And that, of course, is the point of Tom’s mid-game strolls. He knows the kind of impact he has just by stopping by and saying hello to fans, and he actually cares about making it. I was already a huge Tom Ricketts fan, but now I’m over the freaking moon.

I chatted with Al for a bit longer, expressing openly how cool I thought that whole exchange was, and then headed back to right field, awash in the glow of “did that really just happen?”

Matt Garza continued to mow Brewers down, and the Cubs won big. I doubted the day could get much better.

The icing on the cake came at the end of the game (“Go, Cubs, Go” was the after dinner mint) when, emboldened by my hobnobbing, I shouted a request to David DeJesus after he’d tossed another ball into the stands: “David, may I have your hat?” It was a joke, though, of course, I would have gladly accepted his hat. The joke was well-met by others in the bleachers, who piped up in a chorus.

“David, may I have your glove?”

“David, may I have your shirt?”

“David, may I have your belt?”

The consummate professional, David ignored our humorous requests. Until the last one, that is. It came from a jokester just over my shoulder.

“David, may I have your wife?”

At that one, David turned and smiled, and raised a thumb in our direction. He knows he’s doing all right. He knows.

* * *

On Friday, the Cubs travelled to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals for their home opener. It was quite a to-do, with some kind of procession and trophy presentation, blah, blah, blah. I was still in Chicago for the day, originally planning to take in the game at a Wrigleyville bar with other Cubs fans.

But, for some reason, I got it in my head that I should instead tempt fate. Maybe it was because the game the day before had been such an excellent experience (maybe I thought I was invincible), but I was feeling bold. I didn’t want to watch the game surrounded by Cubs fans.

I wanted to watch the game surrounded by Cardinals fans.

I had chatted up a few folks the day before about the idea in a general sense, but I got the impression that there was indeed a Cardinals bar on the North-ish side of Chicago. After some Googling, I found the place – Sedgwick’s – and I set my mark. I was actually going to do it.

I had no plans to show up and be a total douche, of course. I just thought it would be an interesting experience. I figured if nothing else, it could make for a great story.

So, when I started on the walk from my hotel to the Cardinals bar on Friday, I was feeling pretty good about what I was about to do. But the near two-mile walk gave me plenty of time to think about the plan. By the time I arrived at the Cardinals bar, I was (1) tired, and (2) really freaking nervous.

Would they turn me away at the door? Would they openly mock me? Would they spit in my food?

As it turns out: no, not really, and probably not.

The place was relatively crowded for an early Friday afternoon. It turns out that Sedgwick’s, like the Cardinals’ organization, was also having a home opener celebration – drink specials, “toasted ravioli,” and a Cubs/Cards ticket giveaway. The faces in the bar turned to regard me as I entered, naturally decked out in Cubs gear. Most offered little more than a sneer, and returned to the TVs around the bar. Some shook their heads. One guy turned to say something, but his more delicate companion stopped him.

So, I took a seat at a table off to the side, and started watching the game (which the Cubs were already winning 4-0). The waitress was unenthusiastic when I asked for a menu and for the drink specials, but I should say that, until the end of the visit, the service there was lovely.

I enjoyed the game, and Tweeted about the experience throughout, as I ate, drank, and watched. The Cardinals fans cheered their team well, despite the lopsided score. I got the expected dirty looks when I loudly expressed joy at the Cubs’ high points, but no one said a cross word to me. There were no oafish insults, no jerks, and no mullets (or jorts). At most, I got a handful of nasty looks. I can handle that.

It was a humorous experience, but I was surprised at how … confrontationless it was. I’m sure a big reason for that was my resolve to be a nice, courteous, normal guy, just there to eat and watch the game. The other big reason? The folks in attendance were all Chicagoans. They love the Cardinals and all that, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be good, decent people, too. Sure, they were visibly unhappy that I was there, enjoying myself. But they handled it with class.

Mostly. There was that end-of-the-visit exception.

Late in the game, I had to excuse myself to use the restroom, and soon after returned to my table, only to find it empty. A man working there, who’d stopped by my table no fewer than three times in the preceding half hour to check if I was still working on my food and drink, was cleaning an adjacent table. I correctly surmised that he’d cleared my spot, too.

“Oh, were you still here?” he smiled. A knowing smile. “Sorry.”

It could have been a simple misunderstanding. But I was gone (by “gone,” I mean 10 feet away) for no more than a couple minutes, and I had just ordered another drink. It was more than 3/4 full when I left for nature’s call, and my plate was still full of tater tots.

You can rip a man’s team, spit on his shoes, and bloody his nose. But you never touch another man’s tots.

With nothing left to eat or drink, and a lingering suspicion that I’d just been needled, I decided to head out before the game finished. It was the 8th inning, and I wasn’t crazy about hanging out until the final pitch (both because the bar patrons might turn even less friendly, and because the Cubs’ bullpen might blow it).

As I walked back to my hotel, I couldn’t shake the shit-eating grin off my face. I’d just watched the Cubs destroy the Cardinals while sitting among Cardinals fans in a Cardinals bar. The day before, I’d met Tom Ricketts (and watched the Cubs destroy the Brewers). I can only assume my walk transformed into something more like a strut.

It was a good couple days.

Of course, I returned home to the real world the next day, only to watch the Cubs be destroyed by those same Cardinals two days in a row. At least I wasn’t sitting in a damn Cardinals bar for those ones.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

70 responses to “Stranger in a Strange Land or: How I Made Tom Ricketts Laugh Three Times”

  1. Katie

    What a great article! For some reason I thought you were in St Louis on Friday. It didn’t occur to me that there would be a Cardinals bar in Chicago. Good stuff. I probably would have tee teed meeting Tom Ricketts. Or at the very least blushed and talked too much.

  2. Dan0mite

    I misunderstood your tweets on game day. I thought you meant that some one had drank 1/4 of your drink (leaving you with 3/4 of a drink) and ate all of your tots while you were in the bathroom. I thought that was weird and creepy.

    1. TWC

      Ha!  I thought the same thing.

      1. hardtop

        Twc, no dead head anymore? If you thought replacing the dead head with some longhair playing a mandolin would stop the hippie and potsmoker jokes… Well you must be smoking pot…. Hippie ;)

  3. hardtop

    i cant believe a cardinal bar is allowed to exist on the north-side of Chicago?!?  It’s absolutely absurd.  where is Carrie Fisher and her rocket launcher… or better yet, detonator.

  4. MB allbearsbullscubs

    I was at the second game of the year with my family we had great seat 10 rows behind the cubs dugout. Out came Mr. Ricketts I had the same thing going on in my head that you had. He came up took a picture with me and gave both of my sons a baseball. They may be to young to remember it, but Ill never forget it. He’s a great guy. Great article

  5. MB allbearsbullscubs

    By the way he told my youngest son that he was going to have security keep an eye on him. He’s in his terrible twos

  6. cubfanincardinalland

    Nice writing Brett. Take it from a Cub fan who lives 15 miles from Busch Stadium. Cardinal fans are great when we are no good and the Cubs are struggling. I took a lot of friendly ribbing this morning at Panera Bread.
    But when we are better than they are, as in 08 and 07, Cardinal fans get down right ugly. Like spoiled brat, petulant child, throw fits ugly. Like eff you Cub fan ugly.
    I have tried to figure out why they can be such an unhappy and insecure lot. I mean as you say, the voodoo they have going has been ridiculous(Matt Carpenter?), they should be living in a state of perpetual bliss. But they do not.
    I have come to the conclusion that most Cardinal fans are deep down scared to death of the Cubs and jealous of what they are. Because they know that no matter how many World Series they win, it will never be the event it will when the Cubs finally win it. And they will never be a world wide followed team like our Cubs are. It’s like the little brother who makes more money and is respected in his profession, but his underachieving big brother still gets all the hot chicks and all the guys love to hang out with him.

    1. Alou and Vinegar

      CFICL, well said. I am located in Cardinal country in central IL and the little brother analogy is spot on. For as much success as the Cards have had, their fans have an obsession about the Cubs

      1. drew

        Central Illinois = cardinal country?! You must be futher west than me.

        1. Alou and Vinegar

          Close to Springfield. Probably 70% Cardinal fans. (Or maybe their pompous attitudes make it seem that way. Definately more Card than Cub fans here)

  7. Jay Anderson Jr

    Me and my wife are on the way to the hospital to have our baby girl. Birth of a new Cubs fan.

    1. hansman1982

      Congrats!

    2. TWC

      Congratulations!  You decide on a name yet?  May I suggest “Chris[tina] Volstad Anderson”?

      1. Jay Anderson Jr

        My son’s middle name is Chris. I was leaning towards Volstadia…..Now for the long wait.

    3. DocPeterWimsey

      If I had had a daughter, then I would have named her Rynette Ernestina….  (Of course, my wife vetoed “Ryne Shawon” for our son for some reason….)

      Oh, and congrats on the kid & condolences on the sleep…. :cool:

    4. JustSwain

      How about Jodie Andrea Anderson? And also congratulations!

      1. college_of_coaches

        Congrats on the new arrival. To add to the suggestions, how ’bout the name Grace.

    5. JulioZuleta

      Brett, you’ve made it. It has gotten to the point where a man’s wife goes in to labor and his first thought is “I better let the BN crew know”. Congrats Jay

    6. MichiganGoat

      Congrats I’m sure I’ll send out something when the new lil goat arrives this September.

  8. RJ

    I’m just a mom who just reads your website so I can sound all cool (and be right, naturally) when I argue with my husband about why there’s no way in the world that Brett Jackson will be on the roster come opening day, but your comments about Tom Ricketts made me want to come out of lurking.

    We too met the man at a Diamondbacks game a while back, and he was just a nice, great guy. He stopped at our section for a few minutes to chat and hand out autographed balls to the kids. He didn’t have enough for everyone, and seemed genuinely bothered by that. We didn’t think there was a problem with it at all – we were just happy to meet him! But no, he said he’d be back with two more balls, which we told our two boys was very nice of him to say, but given how busy he was not to be disappointed if he forgot.

    He didn’t forget.

    Consider me a big fan, and although it might not be much to base faith in turning an organization around upon, it works for me.

  9. CubFan Paul

    Apparently I’m the only one who will tell Ricketts how I really feel if we’re to meet him #angrypaul

  10. Ron Swanson

    “You can rip a man’s team, spit on his shoes, and bloody his nose. But you never touch another man’s tots.”

    That’s not a euphemism for what really happened, right?

  11. Mike Foster

    Brett, great read, thanks for this one. And you already know I thought the Twitter feeds from the Cardinal bar were epic. That’s the funniest and finest use of Tweeter I’ve run across, hope you have a chance for more.

  12. Jon Staats

    Brett-

    I love your site but man am I jonesing for a Jorge Solar update along with that pic!

  13. bob

    I ventured into “enemy territory” a few years ago, attending a Cubs game in the last year at “old Busch”. The cardinal fans there were very friendly and good-natured about the rivalry. Went to a game in Milwaukee a year or two after, and the same can not be said for the Brewer fans. Quite rude, at the very least. I think they’re much less secure in having a split crowd in their home park than the Cards fans are. The St Louis people on the whole at other attractions/etc. in the area have also always been very polite and helpful.

    1. Bric

      I couldn’t agree more. I lived in Wisconsin and proudly wore all my Cubs stuff on my person, car, and house. I always got sh*t about it, even from Wisconsinites who knew nothing about the Brewers and could care less about baseball.

      They’re just a strange breed- afraid of everything and anybody who is not like them. No respect for the game itself at all. Just about winning so they can think they’re better than someone else. I know I’m generalizing, but these perceptions are based on years of unbiased experience with that particular culture.

      1. Drew H.

        That’s the thing about Wisconsin sports fans in general. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Brewers, Badgers, Packers, hell, even the Bucks. They think they are the center of the universe, and if you aren’t rooting for their team, you’re committing some great sin against God and humanity. I lived in Wisconsin for 4 years, and to this day I still hate ALL Wisconsin sports because of it. It’s unnecessary! There’s good-natured jabs at a rival team, and then there’s just plain mean. Unfortunately, Wisconsin fans (as a general rule) fall into the later category.

    2. hardtop

      I can’t understand the hatred for the Cubs or the sense of rivalry from Brewers fans: they were an AL team for most of their short existence for christ’s sake, how can this rivalry be so heated (in their minds anyway)?  Heck, I kind of liked the Brewers when I was a kid. We’d go up to county a couple times a year… its was a much less expensive family outing for us. Sure, I’d like to beat them, because they are in our division, but i didn’t start disliking them/rooting against them until years of unfounded hostility from our cheesey counterparts.  Even in Denver, the rudeness from brewers fans is obscene.  These dipshits come to the local Cubs series (the most expensive tickets of the year) to root against the Cubs (i do that for the Cardinals, but its different, they are the fucking Cardinals).  I’ve decided to  write this behavior as the oft witnessed Chicago resentment.  Basically, Wisconsin, specifically Milwaukee, has little mans syndrome.  if Wisconsin were a dude, it would become a cop, so it could use excessive force on people.  they resent the fact that the state exists, in part, because of Chicagoans affinity for cheese, cheap beer, and short vacations to the “country”.  In my *personal experience fan rankings* the Brewers fans are sneaking into the three spot, passing Raiders fans, approaching yankees fans, but still safely behind the Broncos “fans”.

  14. Cardfan

    Well done, Brett. I read an interview with Dave McKay and was taken by his impression of the commitment at the highest levels of the Cubs organization. Your experiences with Ricketts reinforces that and is likely a harbinger or things to come. I cannot see Bill DeWitt walking amongst us “little people”. If he did, he might have his creepy son along with him – dude just looks like a pedophile.

    Regardless, they will continue to do a helluva business at Sedgwicks for years to come. I actually think your visit was rooted in a deep, unrecognized desire that stirs within you. Embrace the voodoo, Brett. It can all be yours!

    1. JustSwain

      Watch out Brett, he’s trying to Vader you.

    2. cubfanincardinalland

      That’s funny CardFan, but I have to give DeWitt credit, he is a brilliant businessman. Whenever I see him though he reminds me of Mr. Burns from the Simpsons. And Mozeliak is Smithers.

      1. Cardfan

        I do not question his brilliance. He effectively purchased the Cardinals for $60M less than 20 years ago and it is worth 10X now. Mo is a stud. The son – freeeeaaaakkkkkyyyy….

  15. CastrotoBarneytoLaHair

    Michigan fan?!?!? Grrrr…

  16. clark addison

    I went to a Cubs-Cards game at Old Busch wearing my Cubs gear. Good game, Cubs had the early lead but blew it in the late innings. We got into some intelligent, detailed baseball discussions with some of the Cardinal fans around us. A little good natured ragging on both sides, but mostly talking ball.

    Too many times at Wrigley, the “fans” around us are on their cell phones or discussing their plans for the evening, or getting bombed on beer.

  17. Dave

    Did you ask Mr. Ricketts what username he hides behind when posting on Bleacher Nation?

    1. Katie

      Ha! This!!

    2. TWC

      It’s “CubFan Paul”.

      I thought everybody knew that already.

  18. ty

    Dad Ricketts is most interesting–spent an hour with him at Fitch couple years ago. At that time he was wanting to retain HoHoKam rather than go to Riverview. Seemed quite conservative but kids got their way. We are so lucky to have a family that treat their fans in a modest way and upfront. Kind of a Bill Veeckownership style.

  19. cubfanincardinalland

    Did any of you guys see the triple play the Dodgers had Sunday against the Padres? Umpire Dale Scott signals a foul ball not once, but twice on the bunt, and then when the catcher picks up the ball, he changes the call to fair. One of the worst calls I have ever seen. Really unbelievable that a major league ump would make such a beginners mistake.
    The Padres apparently didn’t protest the game. They would have won the protest.

    1. ty

      The early season umpiring has been atrocious–my opinion.

    2. brittney

      I saw it and I think the umpire should have a refresher course in foul ball calls. It was just as odd as that triple play turned by I think the indians last year. Either way bad call! I think umps that make such bad calls should be fined in some way. There’s been enough crap calls to warrant something of that nature. Case in point the pirates/braves game last year.

  20. Diesel

    I had an similar but not close to being the same experience with tom ricketts when they re-dedicated the harry statue. I was trying to get a picture of myself with the statue and bumped into a guy in a suit. The guy apologized as well did I. Then we went on taking the picture. When they started the ceremony I looked up and saw the same suit and saw it was tom. I looked at my buddy and said holy shit that guy I bumped into was the owner of the cubs. My friend doesn’t know anything about baseball. It was pretty cool because he was out and about not surrounded my security being a total dick. Plus he was nice as can be when I bumped into him

  21. Karen P

    Sounds like a wonderful weekend! I thoroughly enjoyed the tweets from the Cardinals bar and truly admire your chutzpah. And meeting Tom Ricketts?! Uggggh so cool; but hey, some guys walk in the light. ;)

  22. Idaho Razorback

    Stranger in a Strange Land. I always knew Jim Morrison was a Cubs fan!

  23. sven-eriks312

    Great story, Brett. I have to say that I’m a baseball fan first, then a Chicago baseball fan second and if the Cubs play the Sox, then I go with the Cubs. After that, I’m loyal to the NL Central. If our guys can’t make it to the playoffs, of course I’d be pulling for the NL Central team that is in it, it’s the Midwest guys.