By Brent Batten
CHICAGO – When you’re trying to persuade the Chicago Cubs of something, it never hurts to have Mr. Cub on your side.
Craig Bouchard, point man in the effort to wrest Cubs spring training from Mesa, Ariz., in favor of Naples, appears to have convinced beloved former Cub Ernie Banks that a move to Florida would be a good idea.
“He’s a futurist, that’s what I see,” Banks said late Friday during a meeting with Bouchard.
The discussion with Banks ranged far beyond baseball, encompassing Diogenes’ search for an honest man and the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which Banks says he thinks of when he visits Hohokam Stadium in Mesa where the Cubs now train.
But it kept coming back to a couple of key points: The lessons of sports and business are often the same. You have to know when to make a decision, whether to swing the bat or move a baseball team across the country into new territory. And you have to be tough.
Banks likes the first-class golf in Naples and its abundance of Midwesterners.
He also likes Bouchard’s determination.
“Find a way that the Cubs can play in Naples,” he said, half-jokingly adding that he meant all year, not just the preseason.
Banks doesn’t hold a front office position with the Cubs but he speaks regularly with officials such as President Crane Kenney. The boisterous reception he received Friday afternoon when introduced to thousands of fans crammed into a Chicago Hilton ballroom speaks to the weight his opinion carries in Cubs Nation.
On Friday, Bouchard also met with Kenney.
Bouchard said Kenney told him the team’s board of directors met for more than two hours earlier in the day with the sole subject being the potential spring training move.
The directors are waiting for more information but, “They have enormous interest in Florida,” Bouchard said.
Bouchard expects no decision this weekend.
“They’re going to do it when they’re going to do it. This is a Cubs convention. It isn’t about spring training, it’s about 2010.”
Banks, who hit more than 500 home runs in 19 seasons with the Cubs, invited Bouchard to Mesa to see a spring training game this year.
Bouchard was thinking further down the line: “Ernie, I’m going to drive three and a half miles and I’ll be at spring training.”