All of the excitement from the weekend dwindled on Sunday as the 23rd Annual Cubs Convention came to an end. The 15,000 fans that crammed into the Chicago Hilton and Towers the first two days was reduced by more than half. Those that remained divided their time between seeking out last minute autographs, haggling with vendors in the exhibit halls and attending the final two sessions.
The three days concluded with the informative “Meet Cubs Business Management” and “Down on the Farm” with Tyler Colvin, Jeff Samardzija and Rocky Roquet. The first of the two sessions on Sunday morning was “Meet Cubs Business Management” and featured Mark McGuire, Vice President of Community Affairs; Mike Lufrano Senor Vice-President of Community Affairs; Frank Maloney, Director of Ticket Operations and Crane Kenney.
The four panelists talked about the pending sale of the Cubs, the possible renaming of Wrigley Field and the growing problem with non-season ticket holders attaining tickets to Cubs’ home games.
Mr. Kenney started out by talking about Sam Zell’s desire to sell the naming rights to Wrigley Field. He stated Mr. Zell is aggressively trying to sell the old ballpark to the ISFA (Illinois Sports Facility Authority). Saturday morning Kenney brought up how much the naming rights to the new Shea Stadium just sold for….$400 million for the rights to name the new Mets’ home park, “Citi Field”. Selling the naming rights to Wrigley Field would give the Cubs, in Kenney’s words, “a ton of flexibility.”
Zell views this an attractive option and would allow Wrigley to be rehabbed over a period of years. Kenny said throughout the park there are projects that need to be addressed in order for Wrigley to continue to be functional. He said the grandstands need the same attention the bleachers received a couple of years ago. At that point the topic shifted to the impending ownership change.
On Saturday, there were statements by Mr. Kenney that led some in the audience to think Sam Zell would not be selling the Cubs. Kenney said, “Sam Zell is not focused on selling the team.” Sunday morning, however, those statements were not reiterated and once again it does appear Mr. Zell will not be the Cubs owner for more than the upcoming season.
Kenney said it is very important for the current ownership to work the deal with the ISFA in such a way that the new owner must continue to keep Wrigley Field as the home of the Cubs. There have been a couple of local interests in buying the team but most have been from out of town. Kenney said they are looking to get the stadium deal done by Opening Day but it is likely the Cubs will not have a new owner until at least midway point of the year….but the realistic time frame appears to be at the end of the upcoming season.
The topic of all the changes at Wrigley was discussed. Kenney brought up the fact they are very sensitive in preserving the character of Wrigley Field, but most importantly retaining its charm. Kenney talked up the new field, recently installed at Wrigley, and said the players will be the ones to notice the significant improvement. After Alfonso Soriano injured his leg rounding second the thought was if the field were improved maybe Soriano would not have gotten injured. He reiterated the entire field will now be able to be seen from the dugout….Kenney mentioned the manager not being able to see close plays at first base and only being able to see the right fielder from the waste up.
Mr. Kenney compared the improvements that must be made to Wrigley with those completed by the new Red Sox ownership group to Fenway Park. He mentioned the idea of a “Wrigley Field Campus“.
Changes and improvements to the exterior of Wrigley Field will continue. The Brick Paver Program will stretch to the front of the marquee and the Cubs hope to have the statue of Ernie Banks installed and unveiled by Opening Day. The price tag for this round of renovations should reach the $2 million dollar mark.
The panel was asked about parking around Wrigley countless times. There have been talks about constructing a multi-layer building blocks from the stadium in order not to add to the congestion around Wrigley and take away from the game day experience of Wrigleyville. They plan to work with the surrounding neighborhood on the parking situation because the Cubs would like to add more night games….and so would the players.
Kenney made two statements that are worth mentioning in regards to the dubious anniversary:
“(The Cubs) Have not won to many World Championships.”
“We’ve got a hundred year past due bill.”
The topic of the possible changes to Wrigley continued. Mr. Kenney said the ivy, scoreboard and marquee cannot be touched.
The process of changing ownership became front and center at this point. Kenney clarified the process that will take place in order to sell the team….it is a multi-step process.
First the potential buyers must be identified and then approved. Once all interested groups are approved then the books are sent out. Even if the potential buyer has been approved, they must wait in order to not give one group an advantage over the other. 3/4 of the MLB owners must approve the sale of the Cubs to a new owner in order to complete the sale. Kenney added the last group has almost been approved and the books will go out soon.
Frank Maloney was questioned about ticket availability, Stub Hub and scalpers. Maloney said they are working on the problem but concluded with, “It is hard to apologize for the popularity of the team.”
The session concluded with Mark McGuire revealing the Cubs are not happy with 40% of their home games for the upcoming season being scheduled in April and May. He hopes the team can take advantage and get off to a good start. He said the Cubs have formally complained about the schedule.
Down on the Farm
The last session of the Convention centered on the Cubs’ minor league system. Jeff Samardzija, Tyler Colvin, Rocky Roquet joined Tim Wilken, Director of Scouting and Oneri Fleita, Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel.
Audio highlights from the session are below but here are a few of the topics that were discussed.
Both Samardzija and Colvin will be with the big league team when Spring Training begins in less than a month. Samardzija is on the Cubs current 40-man roster while Colvin received a non-roster invitation to Spring Training last week….this will be the second big league camp for Tyler Colvin and Jeff Samardzija.
Oneri Fleita started off by mentioning how good he feels last year’s draft was for the organization. He talked briefly about the signing of Esmailin Caridad and said he was a very impressive pitcher. Fleita added, unfortunately, the deal did have to include a non-roster invitation to Spring Training….he feels Caridad will be good but questioned if he is ready for big league camp.
Jeff Samardzija received more than his fair share of questions from the audience. Samardzija stated it is different when he puts on a Cubs’ uniform. He said there was more pressure pitching for the Cubs than catching passes for Notre Dame….and he finished his answer with, “On the football field you can always blame one of the other 10 guys.” Samardzija added he was nervous his first year at Spring Training, but learned a lot. He feels he is still a thrower but is making good progress at becoming a pitcher.
One of the many questions directed toward Tim Wilken centered on Josh Donaldson….the young catcher that received a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. The Cubs drafted him last year with the compensation pick they received from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Juan Pierre.
Wilken said he first saw Donaldson in the Cape Cod League. He is a former third baseman and has made a good transition to behind the plate. Wilken spoke highly of Donaldson and added he has at least an average arm and quick feet. Wilken finished by saying, “Josh has a chance to be a good catcher down the road.”
The status of Grant Johnson was also discussed. Fleita said Johnson’s velocity is up and he was throwing his slider for strikes again before the season ended. Johnson was scheduled to pitch in the Arizona Fall League but the Cubs pulled him because they felt he was tired. Fleita added they expect him to start the season at Iowa and that “he would only be a phone call away.”
Oneri Fleita talked briefly about Jose Ceda and reminded the room the Cubs received him from San Diego in exchange for Todd Walker. Thanks to Dave Otto, Fleita was proudly able to tell the room twice about Ceda’s 25-inning hitless streak last year.
Fleita and Wilken brought up Jose Ascanio right after touting Ceda….the pitcher the Cubs received in the “Will Ohman deal”, neither mentioned Omar Infante’s name. The feeling was the Cubs expect great things out of both pitchers.
A lot of the discussion focused on the importance of the addition of Lou Piniella at this point. Piniella’s willingness to play the kids right away, instead of making them sit, has basically kept the minor league system on call. There were 162 transactions at Triple-A Iowa last year.
Tim Wilken responded to a question about Josh Vitters’ potential. Wilken stated Vitters is a pretty advanced hitter for someone out of high school, probably above average to well above average. Wilken said he is looking forward to seeing him this year because with Vitters signing late, they were not able to see him as much last year as if he would have signed on time.
The topic of the designated hitter rule in the minor leagues was discussed and what effect it may have on the pitchers in the farm system….if they make it to the big leagues. Both Wilken and Fleita assured the crowd, and Fleita even double checked with Samardzija, that pitchers in the Southern League and in the Northwest League take batting practice at least twice a week during homestands….Samardzija does not like bunting practice. According to Fleita, Kevin Hart is the best hitter of all the pitchers in the organization….including Carlos Zambrano and Jason Marquis.
One of the last topics of the session was Eric Patterson. Fleita said of all the players “talked about” over the weekend, Patterson did not receive the attention he deserves. Fleita said Patterson is ready to compete and could figure into the Cubs competition in centerfield. Fleita stated Patterson has good patience at the plate and reminded everyone about his speed. Fleita added Patterson did not hit a road block, he “just showed up late.” He said the Cubs have cleaned the slate and Patterson knows he made a mistake.
The next few weeks could see activity on the trading front and in free agent signings. The rumors surrounding Marlon Byrd this weekend raised a lot of questions, as well as the absence of Jason Marquis.
The Cubs appear to be ready to open camp on February 13th. Piniella stated over the weekend he is read to go with the players currently on his roster. But Jim Hendry implied, throughout the weekend, he is still trying to improve the club.
The Cubs Convention is the best way to spend a weekend in mid-January. Now the countdown to the first pitch in Scottsdale begins….if you listen close enough you can almost hear Pat Hughes.
Audio from Down On The Farm – Part 1
Audio from Down On The Farm – Part 2
Audio from Down On The Farm – Part 3
Audio from Down On The Farm – Part 4
Audio from Down On The Farm – Part 5
Audio from Down On The Farm – Part 6
Click Here for a Photo Gallery from Day Three of the 2008 Chicago Cubs Convention