The past, present and more importantly the future was on display Friday at the 29th Annual Cubs Convention. The theme of this year’s convention is ‘The Party of the Century Celebrating 100 Years of Wrigley Field’ and the team has several events planned for the year-long celebration that will be unveiled on Saturday.
While the team will honor the baseball cathedral that is Wrigley Field, the organization is pointing to the future and what the big league team will look like at a restored Wrigley Field. As Theo Epstein said, “Understand the history then create your own history.”
This year’s convention has a different feel than in previous years. Fans still lined the corridors of the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers in attempt to grab every autograph possible, in some cases not even realizing which player is signing their baseball or bat. The atmosphere on Friday was very subdued even to the point of the player introductions being rather quiet with a few exceptions. The boos were absent and replaced with claps of acknowledgment.
The Cubs unveiled their new alternate road jerseys as well as the throwback jerseys that will be worn on Sundays as part of Wrigley Field 100. Photos of the jerseys can be found in the ChicagoCubsOnline’s Twitter feed.
Theo Epstein addressed the Cubs’ struggles at the big league level on more than one occasion. “We are not attempting quick fixes at the big league level, Epstein said. We know our fans will be repaid for their patience. We are suffering along the way with them.”
While the Cubs acknowledged the past and will celebrate it all season, the present is not acceptable and the organization is looking to the future.
A preview of the film ’100 Years of Wrigley Field’ kicked off the convention. Then Wayne Messmer took the stage and sang the National Anthem. At that point, however so brief, it felt like baseball season. Another highlight film followed that included video of the Cubs’ new facilities in the Dominican Republic and Mesa.
The large crowd welcomed Tom Ricketts as he gave a short State of the Cubs Address. Ricketts welcomed everyone to the 29th Cubs Convention and pointed out the convention was the first of its kind and remains the best team convention in sports. “We have the most incredible fans in sports,” Ricketts said.
Tom Ricketts admitted 2013 was a rough season on the field but the organization had a good year. Ricketts said the focus must be on the progress the organization made. The Cubs improved the facilities, coaches and player development and added great players to the system.
The Cubs opened the new facility in the Dominican Republic in May and the “Best Spring Training Facility in Baseball” opens next month in Mesa. Ricketts went by the facility while he was in Arizona for the Owners Meetings this week. Ricketts mentioned he spoke with one of the young players that was there working out and preparing for Spring Training. The player told Ricketts the new facility “is sick.” Ricketts joked he is not too old yet to not know what that means.
Tom Ricketts spoke highly of the Cubs’ new manager, Rick Renteria or Ricky as Ricketts referred to him. Ricketts assured everyone that the big league team will be ready to play on Opening Day and will play hard all season under Renteria.
There has been a lot of progress in the Cubs’ system, especially over the last year. Ricketts pointed out that no other team in baseball has spent more money on the draft and international draft the last two years than the Cubs. The team now has the second best system in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus and several of the players are considered among the best prospects in the game.
As for the Wrigley Field Restoration project, Ricketts is hopeful to get over the goal line soon so the team can begin the renovations.
Tom Ricketts feels the organization is stronger and healthier than it has been.
A film that included highlights of the Cubs Alumni in attendance followed. After the past players received a roaring ovation, the great Pat Hughes took over and introduced Rick Renteria and his coaching staff. The voice of the Cubs introduced the future of the team … and the big four of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora received the loudest applause.
Pat Hughes then introduced the current squad and several of the players wore the throwback jerseys the team will wear on Sundays during the upcoming season. Anthony Rizzo received the loudest ovation, followed by Jeff Samardzija.
The Cubs paid tribute to Greg Maddux with a short highlight film of his highlights in a Cubs’ uniform.
Opening Ceremonies concluded with Pat Hughes introducing the alumni. Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly received thunderous ovations. Mark Prior was welcomed back with a loud ovation as well, much different from the boos he received during his last convention he attended as a player.
The David Kaplan Show
David Kaplan taped two hours of interviews that will air on Monday night (Jan. 20). Kaplan and Mark Carmen spent the first 30 minutes with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Nate Schierholtz followed their bosses. Kaplan and Carmen talked pitching with Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson before a thoroughly enjoyable 30 minutes with Rick Renteria, Bill Mueller and Mike Brumley.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer
David Kaplan led off the segment by asking Theo Epstein if he signed Masahiro Tanaka yet. Epstein chucked, slightly dodged the question then asked Kaplan if they did because he would be the first to know.
The Cubs’ brass is happy with the position player depth in the system. Epstein explained the organization is a long way from where it was two years ago. There are guys in the system with a decent chance of being high-impact regulars at the big league level. But more importantly, as Epstein pointed out, they are also high-character kids.
Jed Hoyer addressed the pitching in the system. The front office is really working hard on attacking the lack of pitching in the organization. Hoyer explained the best way to attack pitching is with volume. They have been stressing pitching in the draft and any trades they are making with players from their big league roster. Hoyer feels they are on the right track but they must keep addressing the pitching side of the system because it is behind the depth of position players.
The goal is to have a steady flow of players that come through the system and filter in to the big league roster. But once the players reach the majors, their development does not stop. There must be the right systems in place in order to help those players to keep growing. Players must be able to adjust and then adjust again to the league.
Kaplan went back to the Masahiro Tanaka question and asked how a team like the Cubs would sell to a player like Tanaka that he should sign with them. Epstein said, speaking hypotheticallyof course, that the key is to not be a salesman but to speak from the heart. They must be able to let the player know they have his best interests in mind as well. Epstein added it is important to be genuine.
Epstein explained that if he was a player looking to commit to a team long-term, he would look for a team with a bright future. Epstein said he would consider the Cubs, the same way he did, above all other. The Cubs could offer a player a chance to be part of something truly special. Epstein added, “There is no more important quest in sports than the Cubs winning a World Series.”
As for a timeline on when Epstein and Hoyer thinks the Cubs will be ready to contend. Epstein explained it would not do a prospect any good to rush him to the majors. “We are in it for the long haul,” Epstein said.
Epstein acknowledged that they are accountable for the big league product and added, “You will be glad we did not put a band-aid on it.” The best way to know when the Cubs will be ready to contend is to follow the development of their young players.
Teams can no longer build a winner through free agency. 35 of the 50 players that were in the World Series were homegrown or acquired using homegrown talent. Teams that do not develop their own players do not have a chance any longer. Epstein asked the question, how many teams that have won the off-season have not won in October?
Theo Epstein is looking for the Cubs to have a new TV deal soon. It could be real soon or in a couple of years, he is not sure of the timeframe right now, but assured everyone that the Cubs are going to sign a mega TV deal.
Jed Hoyer addressed the Cubs’ plans for the upcoming draft. Hoyer said they will evaluate all options and take the best available player. While the Cubs are looking for pitching, that does not mean they will take a pitcher with their first pick in the draft. Hoyer promised pitching will be addressed again in the draft, just not necessarily in the first round.
Kaplan asked Epstein Hoyer what they tell the prospects coming through the system about being a Cub. Epstein said, “Understand the history, then create your own history.” The Cubs have embraced where the organization has come from and are proud of it, but the Cubs are not synonymous with winning. When Epstein addressed the players in town for the Rookie Development Program, he told them the actions they take the next 15 years will impact the way people think about the Cubs. And it is time for the Cubs to be thought of as winners.
Theo Epstein said, “The morale in this organization is fantastic in the minor leagues.” Epstein thinks by osmosis that will make its way into the Cubs’ clubhouse.
Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Nate Schierholtz
Anthony Rizzo spent a majority of the segment by himself. Darwin Barney and Nate Schierholtz were late to the segment. Rizzo has a lot of respect for the game and its players. Baseball is just a game to Rizzo and he appears to have the right attitude to be successful. He realizes last year wasn’t good and is looking forward to the upcoming season.
Nate Schierholtz was thankful for the opportunity to play every day last year.
Darwin Barney realizes he got away from his game last year. He knows he is not a power hitter. He has to keep it simple. Barney has to do his job, get on base and score runs.
Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson
David Kaplan led off the segment with the three starters by asking about their off-seasons. Travis Wood said he had a great off-season and has started preparing for Spring Training. Jeff Samardzija has already been out to the new facility preparing for Spring Training. Edwin Jackson is looking forward to putting last year behind him. He found issues with his delivery and the inconsistencies contributed to the bad season.
As for the trade rumors surrounding Samardzija, he said it is not as big a deal as it is made out to be in the media. Samardzija explained with all of the media there is today, any rumor turns in to a huge rumor and must be taken with a grain of salt. Nothing has changed for Samardzija. He would like to stay and win with the Cubs. The goal for any player, Samardzija explained, is to play so well the organization does not want to move him.
Jeff Samardzija grew up a Cubs’ fan and was drafted by the team. He feels like he already has a lot invested in the team already. The Cubs mean a lot to Jeff Samardzija.
The roles for players like Jeff Samardzija changed a lot within the organization. Samardzija explained they quickly became old guys.
Jeff Samardzija has his head in the right place. He is a leader and wants to win with the Cubs.
Rick Renteria, Bill Mueller and Mike Brumley
David Kaplan asked Rick Renteria how he prefers to be addressed. Rick? Ricky? Renteria told Kaplan he can call him Ricky, Rick, Rich, Richard but he does not care for the other one (starts with a D).
After multiple impressions, the Cubs new manager is incredibly upbeat and positive but appears to have a very serious side at the same time.
Renteria promised he will have his team ready to play when the season begins. “We want them to show you they can fight, Renteria said. You are going to get a lot of energy and a lot of fight.”
Rick Renteria was excited about the opportunity to interview for the Cubs’ job … and his excitement still shows.
Bill Mueller, the Cubs’ new hitting coach, pointed out to Kaplan that he was actually not a very good player. He learned how to self-evaluate and that helped his career. And that is what helped get him into coaching. Muller wished he could go back and change the time he spent with the Cubs. Mueller could not get healthy after the bad injury.
One of the big reasons the Cubs hired Rick Renteria is to help turn Starlin Castro back around and into the player most feel he can be.
Renteria explained it is his responsibility to keep the team going and to deliver the right and consistent message to the players. Renteria explained a dog can bark and bark and bark and it is just annoying. When Renteria bites he wants the player to understand why. It is baseball and he prefers players to speak to him rather than at him.
The Cubs are going to stick to the fact their players have to grind out at bats. The key is visualization according to Renteria. It is really, really important to take advantage of the pitcher’s mistakes in their hitting zones. Renteria assured every one that his players will listen to his coaching staff. Renteria and his staff will deliver one message and if the player feels he is receiving multiple messages his door is always open.
Rick Renteria is family man and he views his players as his kids. “You always love your kids, Renteria added. But you don’t always like them.”
Kaplan asked Renteria if he knows what he is getting in to being the Cubs’ manager. Renteria admitted he probably does not. He said he will learn from the past but look forward.
There are a lot of good people on the Cubs’ roster and in the organization. Renteria likes the group he has at the big league level but realizes the prospects will soon start to filter in.
“A team is a team,” Renteria said. And if we do the right things we will be okay.”
The highlights of Day Two will include the Ricketts Family Forum, Meet Cubs Baseball Management, Cubs Business Operations Update, Scouting and Player Development, Meet the Rookie Development Program and Welcome the New Skipper sessions.