CHICAGO -- Rumors about the Chicago Cubs spring training future have been circling here with more frequency than Sammy Sosa did the bases in 1998.
The Cubs are likely to move to Naples. The Cubs are staying in Mesa. A decision is imminent, possibly coming before the annual confab of 10,000 Cubs fans breaks up Sunday.
The chairman of the club stopped them like Lee Smith in the ninth.
“Spring training. An announcement this weekend? No, we’re still working on it,” said Tom Ricketts, chairman of the Cubs, on his way to a reception inside the Chicago Hilton on Friday afternoon.
The team is actively considering offers from Mesa, Ariz., where the team now trains, and Naples, which is trying to lure it away with a with a package of public and private financing for a 15,000-seat stadium, practice facilities and commercial development.
Ricketts’ declaration fits with the timeline the team has been articulating all along, which is to make an announcement at the end of the month.
Announcement or not, the possible spring training shift is on the minds of Cubs fans packing the Hilton for the 25th anniversary of the convention. In the back of their minds, behind winning a pennant and World Series, but on their minds nonetheless.
“I went to Arizona last year. It was nice but if Naples can get them a new stadium…” said Mike Sullivan, a 21-year-old from Rockford, Ill.
His buddy, Evan Wurtzel of Decorah, Iowa, has a practical reason for wanting the Cubs to stay in the Cactus League. “I’m more biased. My grandparents own property in Mesa so I can stay there.” His practicality has its limits. Told 16 out of the last 19 World Series champions trained in Florida, he was ready to consider the move.
“If that’s the case, I’ll give up my bias.”
“Maybe spring break in Naples instead of Panama,” Sullivan offered.
Sullivan is an avid reader of Cubs news and says the beat writers he follows tend to think Naples has an edge.
“It seems Mesa is struggling to meet Naples’ offer,” he said.
Opinions on display in the Hilton as the festivities warmed up ranged from those of Army Sgt. Dave Sapyta, of Downers Grove who wasn’t able to go to any games last year because he was in Afghanistan. “We go to Arizona all the time but I’d rather go to Florida. I have little kids, too. The big kids go to the Cubs and the little kids go to Disney. I just like Florida better,” to those of 24-year-old Erin Hagan of Mundelein, Ill. “I kind of like keeping with the tradition. The Chicago Cubs in general have a lot of tradition and one of them is spring training in Mesa.”
And then there are folks like Dave Rossi, a Cubs fan living in, of all places, St. Louis. He drew a crowd in the hotel lobby in his Cubs nightshirt and bedtime cap. I’ll go wherever they go.”