Starlin Castro hits a two-run double against the Marlins in the ninth inning Thursday night in Miami. | J. Pat Carter~AP
Updated: August 28, 2011 12:22AM
MIAMI — They’re not anywhere near the same division, but know this: The Cubs are chasing the
Boston Red Sox with as much intent and purpose as they’re chasing the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis
The problem, as they prepare to play at Fenway Park this weekend for the first time since 1918, is the Cubs aren’t in the Red Sox’ league yet.
That was the specific goal of the Ricketts family after they followed the model and advice of the Red Sox’ relatively new ownership during the three-year process of buying the Cubs and Wrigley Field.
To wit: Improve the amenities and revenue possibilities at a unique but outdated stadium. Maximize the revenue potential of one of the strongest franchise brands in the sport. Build a more productive, consistent farm system. And put an end to one of the longest, most infamous ‘‘curses’’ in sports history.
‘‘You can’t copy every page of the playbook, but certainly they’ve done stuff that we would try to emulate,’’ Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said the week his family finalized the Cubs purchase in the fall of 2009.
Get a look for yourself at how that plan is working so far as the Cubs ride their two-game series sweep in Florida into the hostile confines of Fenway Park for three nationally televised games this weekend.
Even with a 5-1 win over the early-contending Marlins on Thursday night — behind the pitching of homegrown Casey Coleman (2-3) and another big home run from Marlon Byrd — the Cubs still haven’t won as many as three straight this season.
More significant in the big picture, the Rickettses might be learning that their task is a little larger than what John Henry’s group faced in Boston upon taking control of the Red Sox in spring 2002.
Two years into the Henry ownership, in 2004, the Red Sox broke the 86-year ‘‘Curse of the Bambino.’’ Three years later, a surge of homegrown players helped win another World Series title.
Two years into the Rickettses’ ownership, the Cubs are trying to fight their way out of fifth place in the underwhelming National League Central, despite the second-highest payroll in the NL.
The Cubs’ system has started producing players who look like big-time big-leaguers, while close to $50 million in payroll falls off the books after this season. Whether the Cubs are on the right track in turning the corner the Red Sox did so quickly, it’s at least a slower-moving track.
‘‘Shoot, look at it, look at the farm systems,’’ said infielder Jeff Baker, whose Colorado Rockies lost the World Series to the Red Sox in 2007. ‘‘[Boston’s] got some younger players that have come up and produced for them, from [Kevin] Youkilis, [Dustin] Pedroia, [Jacob] Ellsbury, [Jon] Lester — homegrown guys. You see the same thing here with the Cubs on the player-development side.
‘‘I don’t really know too much about it about the financial side of it. But the one thing I do know is that our owners, the Rickettses, are committed to making a winner at Wrigley. And I know as a player, that’s what you appreciate.’’
Baker points to recent upgrades to training and clubhouse facilities. And while Wrigley continues
to be hampered with the same kind of space limitations that trouble the
Red Sox, ‘‘They still make it work,’’ Baker said.
‘‘They made it work into a situation where you’re not only coming to [historic] Fenway Park, but you’re also coming to see a good product on the field,’’ he said. ‘‘And they obviously have one of the higher payrolls like we do, and they go out there and compete and battle in the AL East.
‘‘We’ve just got to do the same thing. We’ve got to turn it around and start playing better baseball and do the same thing — be competitive in the Central and get to where the expectations are for us to go out and win every year.’’