It is the same hotel and mostly the same crowd but there was a lot of indifference at day one of the 2011 Cubs Convention. The excitement for Cubs baseball still ran through the halls of the Hilton but what could be called optimism for the upcoming season in the past was replaced by questions and looking toward the future … even by the Chicago National League Ball Club.
Between the talk of the future and the upcoming season, the Cubs paid tribute to Ron Santo. From the commemorative patches to the highlight films, the spirit of Cubs legend could be felt by all in attendance.
Here’s the recap from day one of the 26th annual Cubs Convention … While there was blue and red for as far as the eye could see, it was obvious to everyone that the fan fest was not sold out. The Grand Ballroom was only about 80 percent full for the Opening Ceremonies and the typically packed WGN Radio segments had plenty of empty seats as the two-hour program began. No matter how the Cubs PR department tries to spin it, the convention is not as a big a hit this year has been in the past.
The Cubs are looking toward the future and that is easy to see and hear.
The posters and handouts feature Tyler Colvin, Andrew Cashner and Starlin Castro. Pat Hughes even mentioned what lies ahead in his speech to kick-off the convention. The voice of the Cubs said, “We are excited as all Cubs fans to what the future holds.”
The kick-off to the 2011 Cubs Convention began just after 5:00 when Pat Hughes stepped to the mic to a loud applause from the crowd. Hughes addressed those in attendance and just hearing his voice was enough to signal the beginning of the baseball season.
Tom Ricketts spoke to crowd in the Grand Ballroom before the introductions. Ricketts said he and the family are doing everything they can to make the Chicago Cubs World Champions. Ricketts added that the family believes organizations win championships. Tom admitted that 2010 was a rough year but pointed out the emergence of several of the young players. Ricketts also put an emphasis on the way the team played down the stretch and brought up the fact the Cubs played just as good as any team in the league.
The Cubs have added high quality and high character additions to the team the finished the season. Ricketts said they feel the team has the right mix of players, the right manager and that 2011 we be a special year.
The Cubs are planning to honor Ron Santo in many ways this season and details of their plans will be released on Saturday.
The Cubs had a moment of silence for Phil Cavarretta and Ron Santo. Pat Hughes was visibly moved during the moment of silence as he was when Tom Ricketts was talking about his friend.
Cubs of the past were introduced and each wore their old Cub number on their backs. It was good seeing Bill Buckner in his familiar 22 and Steve Trout donning number 34.
After the Cubs’ front office and coaching staff were introduced it was time for the 2011 Cubs.
Carlos Pena and Matt Garza received very warm welcomes. Pena supported his number 22 and Garza wore his number 17. Marlon Byrd received a thunderous ovation as did Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin. The current squad was introduced alphabetically … until the end.
After Carlos Zambrano received a huge applause, Kerry Wood made his way out to the biggest ovation of the night. Wood threw out the ceremonial first pitch as those in attendance kept cheering.
WGN Sports Night
Brian Noonan and Judd Sirott were this year’s hosts and the typically jam packed two-hour radio show was only about 80 percent capacity when the Cubs’ brass took their seat.
The first half hour was spent with Tom Ricketts, Jim Hendry and Mike Quade.
Tom Ricketts described the Cubs Convention as a wonderful event. Ricketts is enthusiastic about the upcoming season and is hoping they can pick-up where they left off last season. Ricketts is happy with the players they have added this winter.
Jim Hendry said they are very encouraged by the way the season ended and with how the kids played. Hendry mentioned the way the Reds and Padres finished the 2009 season carried over to 2010 and they are hoping the same will happen with the Cubs.
Hendry pointed out the Cubs needed to make three or four moves when the off-season began in order to get back into contention. The additions of Carlos Pena, Kerry Wood and Matt Garza accomplished three of the four moves.
Mike Quade said the he is planning to run Spring Training the way he ran the team at the end of last season. Quade said the goal is to try and make the last six weeks of the 2010 season stretch into six months.
The Cubs might make a couple of additions to the roster before Spring Training begins. Hendry said it could be more signings like Reed Johnson, minor league contracts with non-roster invitations to big league camp.
The Cubs GM is confident that adding Matt Garza and Kerry Wood will make everyone else on the pitching staff better.
Jim Hendry said he feels the Cubs are a better team than most around the country realize.
Sirott asked tom Ricketts if the first year as the owner of the Cubs went the way he expected. Ricketts said it pretty much went the way the family thought it would. He added that he is consistently impressed by the knowledge and passion of Cubs fans. Ricketts walks around Wrigley and talks to the fans for the first four to six innings before settling in near the field to watch the end of games.
The Matt Garza trade was briefly discussed. Hendry said the growth of the Cubs system allowed the trade to happen. Hendry called the deal a significant trade and pointed out they are going to keep drafting well, signing free agents and developing players. The Ricketts family is committed to improving the team and has made a huge commitment to the farm system as well as player development.
First it is important to start with good scouting and the hard work that Tim Wilken and Oneri Fleita have done in recent years are coming to the forefront. Hendry explained it is important to develop good players to get them to Wrigley or use in big trades. The Cubs parted with a few really good players in the Garza deal and a few decent prospects as well. Hendry said the key is to trade players when their value is at its highest.
Randy Wells, Andrew Cashner and James Russell were in the second segment.
Randy Wells said he is ready to go and mentioned he welcomed the three new faces to the team earlier in the evening.
James Russell and Andrew Cashner will be living together during Spring Training. Cashner sounded extremely confident and admitted he’s more determined and focused than ever before. Cashner said he’s looking forward to starting but admitted there is a lot of competition for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.
Cashner is glad to have Kerry Wood back. He said he grew up watching Wood and is looking forward to talking with him.
Russell and Cashner are looking forward to preparing to be a starter. Russell thinks it will be fun. Being stretched out to start will mean more conditioning but the chance to focus on more pitches.
Bob Brenly, Len Kasper and Pat Hughes were in the third segment.
The NL Central has changed a lot over the winter and Hughes pointed out that is imperative to keep up with baseball even during the winter. Hughes really liked the addition of Matt Garza and said, “Matt Garza’s going to be great with the Cubs.” Brenly added he thinks the central got deeper especially in the pitching department.
Hughes thinks the addition of Kerry Wood was huge … and not just because it is Kerry Wood but because he can still get guys out. The backend of the bullpen is very important and the more bridges the Cubs have to get to Carlos Marmol the better.
Len Kasper feels very good about the pitching staff but his concern is the Cubs’ offense. Kasper thinks the Cubs’ success in 2011 will depend on Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto continuing where he left off last season.
The trio discussed the late, great Ron Santo and shared a few of their favorite stories. It was a privilege listening to them and served as a precursor to Saturday’s tributes.
Pat said he is not completely over the passing of Ron Santo and doesn’t think he ever will be. He doesn’t think a day will go by that he does not think about him.
Other Notes from Day One
- Greg Maddux was not in attendance due to a family matter and will miss the entire weekend.
- Ryan Dempster was scheduled to be at the Cubs Convention but he and his wife are expecting their third child.
- On a negative note, Carlos Silva appears to have put on weight this winter.
- The Cubs will wear #10 patches this season in honor of Ron Santo. Patches are available at the Cubs Convention similar to the ones the players will wear.
- The convention passes feature photos of several different players this year … Marlon Byrd, Tyler Colvin, Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Starlin Castro, Andrew Cashner and Carlos Marmol.
- It was nice to see Aramis Ramirez at this year’s convention
Day one was good, just different … and maybe that is a good thing.
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