For one weekend a year the Chicago Hilton is turned blue. This year, however, it is just a little different. The Cubs have new owners and there was renewed optimism once again at the first day of the Cubs Convention.
Familiar faces, with some new ones mixed in, packed every square foot of the grand hotel to kickoff the upcoming baseball season … and of course, Cubs past and present joined in to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original fan fest.
From the exhibit halls to the Opening Ceremonies to Sports Central Live everyone was talking Cubs and dreaming of what could happen in Twenty-Ten …
- Ron Santo is ill and could not attend the convention. Pat Hughes read a note from Mr. Santo during the opening ceremonies. Pat said Ron would be by his side when Spring Training games begin in six weeks.
- Geovany Soto has lost 30 to 40 pounds. As the photos below show, Soto is committed to putting 2009 behind him.
- Lou Piniella noticed Soto’s weight difference during player introductions.
- Tom, Pete, Todd and Laura Ricketts each threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the conventions. Laura was cautioned not to hit the chandelier while Pete showed off his arm … the ball ended up in the middle of the Grand Ballroom.
- Tom Gorzelanny and Ted Lilly went the wrong way during player introductions … must be a ‘lefty-thing’.
- Carlos Zambrano received the loudest ovation … followed by Derrek Lee and Ryan Dempster.
- As for the former players, Andre Dawson by far received the most applause from the crowd in attendance. Ryne Sandberg was a close second.
Sports Central Live
Dave Kaplan and Ryan Theriot hosted the extremely popular two-hour show on Friday night from the Continental Ballroom.
The first thirty-minute segment featured Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Rick Sutcliffe … and to say it was a laugh a minute would be an understatement.
Ryan Theriot co-hosted the first hour, sporting a new hair cut. Ryan Dempster is very excited about the upcoming season and is ready to get it started.
Ted Lilly shrugged off the question about his shoulder surgery and said he will be better than he was in 2009.
Dempster always delivers a spot-on imitation of Harry Caray … and did not disappoint on Friday. Dempster told the story about one of Sutcliffe’s outings in Cincinnati and the legendary on-air conversation between Harry Caray and Steve Stone that involved a couple kissing on balls and strikes.
After Dempster was done, Theriot said, “This is what we deal with everyday.”
Ryan Dempster said more than one player was the problem last year. The team lost chemistry with the departure of a couple of players … namely Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa. Theriot explained how close guys get during a six-month season and the importance of team chemistry.
“When you mess with team chemistry, that is huge.”
Ted Lilly pointed out the turnover from 2008 to 2009 and wrote off the Cubs’ struggles as being “just a tough year.”
Lilly thinks the new guys coming in this year will adapt well and like his other teammates, Lilly is predicting a good year for the Cubs.
Rick Sutcliffe told a story about a conversation he had with Jamie Reed, the current trainer of the Texas Rangers. Reed described Marlon Byrd, as being the only player he has been around that was tougher than Cal Ripken, Jr. Reed was a trainer for the Baltimore Orioles.
Ryan Dempster thinks several of the Cubs key players will have “bounce back” years.
Lou Piniella, Oneri Fleita, Jim Hendry and Tom Ricketts joined Kaplan and Theriot for the second segment.
Lou is confident the team will play better in 2010. Piniella talked about the injuries the team endured last season and described his players as “good kids.” Piniella feels the Cubs will improve by 10 wins in 2010.
Ryan Theriot tried to ask Piniella a couple of questions, Lou interrupted before Theriot had a chance to ask his questions. Piniella said, “You are my shortstop and might leadoff.”
Jim Hendry chimed in and said, “I hear that Castro kid can really play.” Obviously poking fun at his current starting shortstop.
Theriot brought up the league trying to reduce the length of games to Piniella and asked if they have talked to him about all of his trips to the mound. Piniella said, “As long as we win, I don’t care if we are out there for five hours.”
Piniella is really happy with the moves made this winter and thinks he has a “darn good ball club.” Piniella reiterated, “We are going to win.”
Dave Kaplan brought up trading Milton Bradley. The crowd cheered, Kaplan pointed out the crowd liked the move to Jim Hendry. Hendry responded, “So did I.”
Hendry is looking to add a veteran right-handed reliever and a fourth outfielder. The crowd chanted “Reed!” Hendry acknowledged Reed Johnson could help but he might have opportunities with another team.
Tom Ricketts said his first night at the convention had been “unbelievable” to that point. Kaplan asked Mr. Ricketts about Florida or Arizona. Mr. Ricketts believes the most important thing about a spring training home is getting the players ready for the season.
Mr. Ricketts described the facilities in Mesa as being substandard. He pointed out he knows there is a 57-year relationship with Mesa but the bottom line is about winning baseball games.
Oneri Fleita was asked about a timetable for Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner. Fleita pointed out it is hard to have a timetable for a 19-year old. Castro exceeded expectations last season … from A-ball to Double-A to the Arizona Fall League.
Lou and his staff will be able to evaluate where Castro is in Spring Training and go from there. Fleita pointed out that if the organization had more players like Starlin Castro they would all look much better.
This is Andrew Cashner’s first trip to Chicago and there is no timetable on him as well.
Lou Piniella was wearing one of his World Series rings from his Yankees’ days on Friday. Piniella said, “We need a Cub ring.”
Piniella pointed out the importance of having a good bench and a well-rounded team. The regulars must get time off and a well-balanced team is important to winning on a regular basis.
Jim Hendry was asked about Ben Sheets. Hendry pointed out that Sheets is very successful when healthy. The Cubs will have scouts in attendance when Sheets throws on Tuesday.
Sheets has not thrown off a mound yet and has not thrown a simulated game. Hendry said, “Anyone would love to have a healthy Ben Sheets.”
Fleita pointed out there will between 16 to 17 players begin the year with the I-Cubs that are homegrown … a departure and improvement from year’s past.
Kaplan asked Lou Piniella about entering the final year of his contract. Lou said they would see what happens during the year. He pointed out his focus is on this year’s team. He does not want to be a distraction during the season. What happens, happens as Lou pointed out. The Cubs’ skipper is looking forward to a real good season.
Tom Ricketts reiterated it has been a long three years for him and his family. He said, “I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Kaplan turned back to Piniella and asked about his fire and base throwing. Lou explained that he is 66 years old. He said his wife used to point out how big a fool he looked like when he threw bases … and Jim doesn’t like it when he goes to him about paying his fines. So don’t look for Piniella to throw any bases in Twenty-ten.
Lou said he still enjoys managing and pointed out he really cares. Piniella added, “I suffer more than anyone when we lose.”
Lou discussed umpires and said he’s won some of them over with “bullshit”. Umps miss a lot of calls, but they are human.
Pat Hughes, Bob Brenly and Len Kasper joined Dave Kaplan for the third segment.
Pat Hughes thinks it is not a stretch to think the Cubs will go from an 83-win team to a 90-win team. Kasper added last season was disappointing but not a bad year for the Cubs.
Kaplan asked Bob Brenly about dealing with all of the day games at Wrigley. Brenly said a lot of visiting players have a tendency to “leave their game on Rush and Division” in Chicago. Brenly added that depth is an important in baseball today than it has ever been.
Brenly was asked about his honest broadcasting and if a certain $136 million player performed and acted the way he does how would he handle him if he were the manager. Brenly said, “It wouldn’t happen.” Then acknowledged, “Well it might happen once.” Brenly pointed out there are a lot of divas in the game and some of their actions are wrong on many different levels.
Larry Rothschild, Rudy Jaramillo and Marlon Byrd joined Kaplan for the final segment.
Larry Rothschild started out by saying what the Cubs really need is for one of the kids to step up and win 15 to 17 games. Kaplan asked Rothschild about all of the peripheral stats that exist in the game today (Sabermetrics). Rothschild does not appear to be a fan of Sabermetrics. Pitchers have begun trying to pitch not to lose instead of pitching to win just to make sure their numbers look good.
Rothschild said things get lost in all of the stats and the bottom line is pitchers have to win ballgames.
Rudy Jaramillo is hoping to help bring a winner to Chicago. The most important thing, according to Jaramillo, is winning.
The Cubs’ new hitting coach is happy to be with the Cubs. He has already watched a lot of film and has a plan for several players on what he would like to fix when camp begins in a couple of weeks. Jaramillo said, “We are going to get after it.”
Jaramillo explained it is all about OBP (on-base percentage) and scoring runs. It is up to the table setters, the first three guys getting on, and the big guys driving them in.
Carlos Zambrano threw on Friday at Northwestern. Rothschild explained while Zambrano’s peripheral numbers were better last year the bottom line is to win games. Rothschild does not subscribe to the notion that Zambrano had a good year in 2009 despite his win-loss record.
Rothschild said Zambrano’s has lost a lot of his fire over the last two years.
Zambrano has to get his competitive edge back. Rothschild said he seems to have gotten a little back this winter … but it is time for Zambrano to step up and pitch to his ability. Rothschild said, “If your going to lose, lose with a fire in your belly.”
Byrd was asked about his career year and hitting in Texas. Byrd said, “I can hit period.” Either on the road or at home. He loves playing home games and is going to love playing at Wrigley.
Alfonso Soriano got away from doing what made him successful with the Rangers according to Jaramillo. His mechanics are off, especially with his lower half.
Jaramillo knows one of the problems with Geovany Soto last year was his weight … he was told Soto was overweight last year.
Jaramillo said Marlon Byrd is one of the best centerfielders in the game … he believes Byrd will be an asset to the Cubs on and off the field.
And this was just half a day …
Follow the CCO on Twitter …
The CCO will continue to tweet from the Cubs Convention on Saturday. The morning sessions with the Ricketts family and Cubs’ Baseball Management should be extremely interesting.