Amid empty seats, Cubs build for next year

Amid empty seats, Cubs build for next year
September 1, 2010, 9:31 pm
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Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010
Updated 7:18 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Wrigley Fields smallest crowd in almost four years came out on Monday night to honor Andre Dawson. The Hall of Famer admired throughout the bleachers for playing the game the right way walked through the right-field gate on knees that had gone through 12 surgeries.

That box-office draw was sapped by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the worst team in baseball, and the frustration building through a Cubs season that hasnt lived up to expectations. School will be back in session and people are focused on the Bears and their fantasy football drafts.

While the White Sox have added Manny Ramirez for the stretch run, the Cubs have been importing players from Triple-A Iowa. A fraction of the 29,538 fans accounted for Monday night got there early enough to see Dawson. It has not gone unnoticed.

Obviously, you want every seat full every game, chairman Tom Ricketts said. The attendance has been very, very strong in the grandstands, but certain day games and the last couple night games the bleachers were softer.

We got to put a winning product on the field to make sure all the seats are full every year.

Amid the empty seats, the Cubs hung on to beat the Pirates 5-3 on Wednesday afternoon to win a series, their second under new manager Mike Quade and first this season against Pittsburgh (44-89). They used six pitchers and 11 position players in front of 33,555 fans.

Tom Gorzelanny dropped to his knees after a line drive hit his left hand in the third inning. X-rays taken at Northwestern Memorial Hospital were inconclusive, though a displaced fracture has been ruled out. He will undergo a CT scan on Thursday on the top of his left pinky.

In relief Thomas Diamond gave up two runs in 1 23 innings, but still earned the first big-league win of his career. He got a beer shower in the clubhouse afterward and planned to give the ball to his 19-month-old son.

Before the game, Darwin Barney was running in from third base to practice catching pop-ups. Until this series, his previous experience at the position included one inning last year in the minors, two more in spring training and a state final Little League game when he was 12.

My dad put me at third because this team loved to bunt, Barney said, so (we) shut that game down.

Thats what it has come to for the 57-77 Cubs auditions on the major-league level. Barney is trying to stick as a utility infielder, Quade wants to manage this team next season and rookie pitchers are hoping to show they belong.

Were here because we want to help this team win, Barney said. Im trying to learn as fast as I can, so I can be that guy that can help the club out. Im not trying to go out there and still be learning on the job.

Sink or swim, its kind of a team thing. Were trying to really pick this team up.

The Cubs have approximately 103 million already committed for 2011. That does not include arbitration-eligible players and the nice raises due closer Carlos Marmol and catcher Geovany Soto.

Nor does it factor in what contracts general manager Jim Hendry might be able to shed in the offseason, or the money it will take to fill out a 25-man roster. Ricketts hasnt set the budget for next season yet, but it will be influenced in some way by ticket sales.

Yeah, theyre related, Ricketts said. Obviously, more attendance generates more revenue. More revenue gives you more flexibility to be able to increase your payroll. (But) we have a real strong fan base. Hopefully well put a very attractive product on the field next year. Attendance we did pretty well this year even with kind of a tough season.

Ricketts is right in that the Cubs have so far drawn 2,632,366 fans and are on pace to hit the three-million mark. That total would outperform all but three or four teams in baseball, but not necessarily their own recent history.

In April a Team Marketing Report study one the organization disputed found that the Cubs will have the highest average ticket price in the majors this season at 52.56. Even in rebuilding mode, theres no guarantee the cost wont rise again.

We dont have a pricing strategy for next year locked down, but well see, Ricketts said.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.