Day One of the 2012 Cubs Convention … Welcome to Theo Fest

The Chicago Cubs annual convention got underway on Friday afternoon at the Hilton Chicago. The old hotel received a facelift since last year’s convention but by early afternoon those changes had been covered by a sea of blue.

The 27th Annual Cubs Convention was very different from recent years and a majority of that had to do with all of the changes at the top of the organization. Gone is the previous regime and along with it, the question dodging that has been common place at the convention.

It was refreshing to hear Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Dale Sveum‘s concise, seemingly unrehearsed answers to questions about their plans and the organization.

The Cubs also saved a little announcement for primetime. After Theo Epstein downplayed announcing a signing during the convention just for a PR move earlier in the day, Pat Hughes announced the Cubs had re-signed Kerry Wood to a one-year contract during Opening Ceremonies.

Day one of the 2012 Cubs Convention is in the books …

Opening Ceremonies
Just after 5:00pm, Pat Hughes stepped to the microphone and with the sound of his familiar voice, the Cubs Convention was underway.

Hughes introduced the Ricketts family and Tom Ricketts said a few words before turning the mic back over to Pat Hughes.

Tom Ricketts sounded very proud as he spoke about his team and asked for a special welcome for Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod when they were announced since this was their first convention. Ricketts is pleased that Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod have joined with Oneri Fleita, Tim Wilken and Randy Bush to form one of the best front offices in baseball. Ricketts said the new regime “will lead us to build an organization with sustained success that ultimately wins the World Series.” Ricketts spoke confidently about what lies ahead for the Chicago Cubs.

After speaking highly of Dale Sveum and his staff, Ricketts said that he knows the Cubs’ newest Hall of Famer, Ron Santo is “with us in spirit tonight.”

Ricketts finished by saying the Chicago Cubs are not just a baseball team but a family because of the greatest fans in the game. Ricketts assured those in the Grand Ballroom that everyone up there Friday night is doing everything they can to ultimately win a World Series.

Pat Hughes introduced the Cubs new front office … and to no surprise, the place exploded when Theo Epstein was introduced. Epstein followed Crane Kenney in the introductions and the boos Kenney received were quickly drowned out as soon as Pat started to say Epstein’s name.

Epstein tried to calm down the cheers and appeared rather embarrassed by the attention.

After the front office was announced, Hughes started with the players of the past … and Rick Sutcliffe received the loudest ovation of the non-Hall of Famers.

Anthony Rizzo received a huge welcome as did a long-haired Brett Jackson (Jackson is also sporting a full beard). As for the Major League roster, Starlin Castro received the biggest ovation … followed closely by Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Marlon Byrd, Reed Johnson and Tony Campana. Alfonso Soriano received more boos than cheers … but kept smiling the entire time.

Soon after Soriano was announced, the rumblings began that Kerry Wood had re-signed. Pat Hughes grabbed a piece of paper and indicated that the Cubs had an announcement to make. Wood appeared and the room broke into chants of “Kerry! Kerry!

WGN Sports Night
The Continental Ballroom was packed once again for WGN Sports Night at the Cubs Convention. David Kaplan, Brian Noonan and Andrea Darlas spent the first hour with Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

Kaplan started the hour by asking Epstein what he thought of the Cubs Convention so far. Epstein’s responded with “Pretty good.” Epstein said he appreciated the welcome he has received but pouring champagne is the goal.

Tom Ricketts explained how he decided Theo Epstein was the right choice for his team. Ricketts said after four to five hours of talking baseball with Epstein he had made his decision … and 72 hours the deal was done. Ricketts went onto explain he could have made a list and interviewed five guys for the position but he did not feel that was the right move because he knew who he wanted leading the Chicago Cubs. Ricketts admitted later that he was glad that Epstein wanted the challenge of turning the Cubs around.

The re-signing of Kerry Wood was brought up and Jed Hoyer gave credit to Theo and Tom Ricketts for Wood re-signing. Hoyer added the deal got done because it should have gotten done. Hoyer explained later that Wood earned this contract based on the way he pitched last year. The Cubs are looking for him to be a leader in the pen and a role model for all of the young relievers.

Tom Ricketts talked about the conversations he had with the fans as he walked around Wrigley last season. The most common theme was that the Cubs needed a plan … and now they have one. Epstein was asked what he has heard from the fan base most since he took over. Epstein said that the fan base wants a team that is a team and not a bunch of individuals.

After the first break, Hoyer was asked how they decided what type of team they were going to put together for this season. The first thing they did was look for players that fit what they are trying to do … young players with high upside. They also felt the Cubs were too right-handed. So they wanted to add left-handed hitters that could also play defense.

The Cubs’ new regime is not going to only use numbers to make decisions on players. Numbers can only tell half the story. It is important to look at why a player had a bad year and it takes more than just looking at the numbers. Video has to be reviewed as well. It is imperative to use all of the info, if not a disservice is being done to everyone involved.

Kaplan asked Theo if he would mind explaining what numbers they look at outside of the traditional ones. Epstein declined to answer the question but explained the key is to look at all of the numbers in an informed way. With the Internet, just about everything is out there, one just has to look. Epstein said everything is tracked and there is a thousand different ways to do so. According to Epstein, if the information that exists now existed back in the 40s that Branch Rickey would have used everything he could have gotten his hands on.

The key is to throw out the information that does not matter and keep the stuff that does matter. Epstein said, “If we are right with our player analysis then the product will be better on the field.”

As for changes to Wrigley for the upcoming season, Ricketts said there will not be a Jumbotron but will be new concrete. The Cubs have also partnered with AT & T to improve the cell service at the park.

The Cubs are also reconfiguring an area in the right field corner to be more fan friendly and to be able to handle larger groups.

The interview shifted back to Epstein and he admitted that all of the attention he’s received since taking over the Cubs is a little embarrassing. All great organization are centered on the players and it is their (Cubs’ front office) job to put the players in position to succeed.

When asked why he took the job with the Cubs, Hoyer said it was simple because he views the Cubs job as one of the best in sports and he wanted to be a part of winning in Chicago. He did admit he likely would not have left had Theo Epstein not been involved.

Theo has been going back to Boston over the weekends to spend time with his family. Since baseball does not take the weekend off, he’s been finishing deals in his old office at Fenway. Epstein said he still has his keys to Fenway.

The Starbucks story was brought up. Ricketts explained they went to great lengths to sneak Epstein into town just in case things did not work out. It was Epstein’s wife that wanted an ice coffee and the reason for the now infamous run-in with the Cubs’ fan. Epstein told the story about trying to deny who he was at the time. When he got back to the car and he handed his wife the coffee, she asked how it went … Epstein’s response … not well.

Kaplan asked Hoyer about the off-season rumors and the fact the Cubs have been connected to just about every free agent on the market despite the fact the Cubs have said they are rebuilding.

Hoyer said the plan is to build a homegrown team that plays the “Cubs Way.” At the right time, the Cubs will be active in free agency but right now the goal is to build up the foundation once that is built then they will use free agency to build the house.

Theo said that the bottom line is that they have been very transparent with their plan since taking over the team. They are not trying to hide what they are doing. They would like the fan base to be patience and to come along for the ride. The Cubs are in need of a group of guys that care the most about winning. Teams that prepare the best win the most games.

Dale Sveum, Chris Bosio and Rudy Jaramillo were next up on Sports Night. Dale Sveum sounds like a manager that is not going to take anything less than 100 percent from his players. Sveum spoke about accountability and playing the game hard and the right way on a daily basis.

Sveum said if a player does not run a ball out that player will not be able to walk past him in the dugout without hearing about it from him. Sveum would like to create an environment in the clubhouse where players are not afraid to police themselves. He and the fans can understand a player going 0-for-4 at the plate but cannot understand how a player cannot run a ball out.

Sveum gave Epstein and Hoyer a lot of credit for building a roster over the last few months.

Playing and preparing for the game the right way appears to be the theme of Dale Sveum and his coaching staff.

Ron Santo
For the second year in a row, the Cubs are honoring Ron Santo during the convention. The Cubs placed a large banner near the entrance of the Grand Ballroom and there was a classy tribute to him during the highlight reel prior to the end of the Opening Ceremonies.

Here is one of the Cubs many tributes to Ron Santo:

“For 50 years, you’ve been the heart and soul of the Chicago Cubs. A force at third base. The voice of our fans. An inspiration to millions. You’ve always been a Hall of Famer in our eyes. Congratulations, Ronnie! We miss you #10.”

News and Notes from Day One of the 2012 Convention

  • Single game tickets for the 2012 season go on sale March 9.
  • The 28th Annual Cubs Convention is January 18 – January 20, 2013.
  • The front of the Cubs pocket schedule for the upcoming season was changed prior to the convention. A photo of Starlin Castro was replaced by the Wrigley Field collage that donned this year’s convention passes.
  • There were two ceremonial first pitches to start this year’s convention … Theo Epstein and Dale Sveum both tossed a ball from the balcony to the sea of Cubs’ fans below.
  • Dale Sveum plans on using Wrigley Field to the team’s advantage.

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