Ricketts, 44, is co-owner, along with family members, of the Chicago Cubs.
I came to Chicago in 1985 to attend the University of Chicago. It was a bit of a culture shock coming from Omaha. Omaha is not a small town by any means, but when I was growing up you could drive across it in half an hour. It was homogenous and more conservative. So living on the south side definitely took some getting used to.
Once I settled down and got used to things like using public transportation, it didn’t take long to love the city. I loved the diversity of it. I loved all the cultural options. The people here are sophisticated and intelligent, but also down to earth. We work hard and get stuff done. For me it’s the ideal place to live.
At the time I thought I wanted to be an economics major, but after a few classes I realized that was not going to be the case. It was sort of a point where I thought, “What am I really interested in? What do I really want to do?” I had the opportunity for a great education at the University of Chicago and I didn’t want to just trudge through it. So I left and worked for an environmental consulting firm, and then went back and finished up as a philosophy major, which was great.
After graduating I went to law school at the University of Michigan. I think it was more the philosophical and ideological parts of the law that attracted me. I didn’t imagine sitting at a desk and doing commercial litigation. It was the idea that we all have certain rights, and the laws are there to protect those rights and really lay out those ground rules for our society, how we interact with each other.
I never questioned whether I was going to go back to Chicago. I love this city.
I practiced corporate law at Schiff Hardin. I thought perhaps by that time I wanted to be more of a corporate lawyer. And really law school only gives you the basics—a lot of what you learn you learn on the job, working long hours, and learning what the partners teach you. I didn’t anticipate staying at a law firm and becoming a partner and making a career of it, but I saw it as a way to continue my education. I also realized that my interest was on the business side, or maybe even on the entrepreneurial side.
Quite honestly, I don’t know that I’ve discovered what I want to do when I grow up. Some really great opportunities have come up, and they’ve led me to some amazing things. The Cubs are the latest opportunity to come my way. I think everyone in my family feels very fortunate to be in this position to own this asset, because I don’t know how anyone can really own this institution. The Cubs really belong to the city and all of the fans.
It’s been really humbling—just being at the park and being able to meet so many of the fans, who tell us things like, “I’m 90 years old and I’ve been a fan my whole life and before I go I want to see them win it.” I think all of us take that very, very seriously. And of course we were all fans long before we considered or fantasized about owning the team, so we understand.
There were three goals we set at the beginning. First, to win a World Series and to put a consistently winning team on the field. Second, to improve Wrigley Field. I believe it’s the third most visited tourist destination in the state, so it’s important to improve it and make sure it’s protected and is a destination for years to come. And third, to be good neighbors in the community.
I played softball myself up until four or five years ago. I was finally traveling so much that I felt I couldn’t take up a spot on the roster. Then I was pregnant, which isn’t the best condition for playing softball, and then my partner and I had a baby. I get plenty of baseball, but I have to admit that I do get a hankering to get out and play.
I’m gay, and in the political climate of the first part of the decade, I thought it was really important to be out, to stand up and be counted and fight for the rights of the LGBT community. I really don’t consider them LGBT rights but rights that all of us as citizens should enjoy from the time of birth. To me the story of America is the fight to live up to those rights. I see the LGBT movement for equality as another chapter. I’ve also got some self-interest: I think it’s good for the country, but it’s also something that would be good for me and my family.
I see my personal work as an advocate for LGBT equality as very separate and distinct from my work for the Cubs. That said, the Cubs are set in a very diverse city, and we have a lot of LGBT fans. Diversity in our ballpark, in our front office, and outreach to the African-American community and the Latino community are very present concerns for the Cubs. We want to be thought of as a Chicago team and not just the north-side team or the yuppie team, which isn’t really true.
One of the things that impresses us about Theo [Epstein, president of baseball operations] is that his approach to player development and recruitment is to have guys on your team of a certain character, not just skill set. I want to see a winning team, of course, but I want players who appreciate what an honor it is to play for the Cubs, and appreciate how much loyalty the fans have to the team, who will go out there every day and work as hard as they can. —As told to Mick Dumke