From the Pages of Vine Line: April In the Dugout with Rick Renteria
The following Q&A appears in the April edition of Vine Line magazine.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria has certainly paid his dues. After 30 years in professional baseball, he’ll feel like a rookie again this season as he takes the managerial reins for the first time. Though the 51-year-old is unfailingly positive, he’s also tough, and he hopes to bring a new attitude to a Cubs franchise that is brimming with young talent. We sat down with Renteria during Spring Training to ask about running his first big league team and his expectations for the season.
Vine Line: You’ve had a long coaching career, but you’re a first-time major league manager. What was your opening message to the team?
RR: That we should place high expectations upon ourselves to compete and to win. We shouldn’t be afraid to raise the bar and expect ourselves to attain that bar. If we go about doing our business with the fear that we won’t attain it—and thereby not set expectations—what’s the goal? We need to have goals, and I think they’re going about their business a certain way right now. I’m very excited about the club.
VL: Is it nice to finally get your eyes on some of the top prospects like Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant?
RR: It’s extremely exciting to see all the young guys that are in camp, with Almora, Baez and all the guys that are here. It’s important that we put our eyes on them to see where they end up ultimately fitting into the scheme of things. I think the skill sets are very high. Experience has to continue to play into it while they’re developing and playing in the minor leagues, so we make sure that once they get here, it’s not overwhelming.
Some guys may not make the splash that everybody expects, but that’s OK. You can work through those things. Some guys will make a big splash, and that’s great. But the reality is you’ve got to stay even keel, and that’s where we as a coaching staff and as an organization have to make sure these guys feel comfortable.
VL: You were aggressive with stealing bases, bunts, etc. in the spring. Is that an indication of how you expect the team to play?
RR: I think every skill set the players bring has to be taken into account when you’re determining what you’re going to do with them. But we do expect these guys to be able to do many things—to be able to steal a base, be able to hit and run, be able to sac bunt, be able to squeeze. If we lay the foundation right now in the spring that those are the expectations we have for them, anything is possible.
Once the season starts, the bell rings, you’ve got 40,000 people in the stands, and the lights are on, we expect that the transition to the regular season shouldn’t be as hard for us because we’re expecting to do a lot of things, and we’re doing them from Day One.
VL: You’ve talked about your coaching staff and the players sharing a family feeling. Why is that important?
RR: I think being a family-like team is extremely important. You feel like you have each other’s back. You’re willing to go out and fight for your teammate. You’re willing to defend anything that they do. You may be in the clubhouse, and you may be getting on each other, but nobody else can come in and say the same thing that you can as a teammate. That’s the family feel, you know? I grew up in a large family of nine, and maybe we could get on each other, but if somebody else came in from the outside and wanted to do the same thing, “Hey, not going to happen.”
VL: A lot of people are saying this team can’t compete this year. What do you say to that?
RR: We can compete this year. I think we have the ability to go out there and play the game. Anybody can do whatever it is they choose to do. The question is: Who do we choose to believe we are? Do we choose to believe what everybody else says—the naysayers, the doubters, whatever the case might be? Do they have a reason? Sure, but that’s not our reason. Our reason to go out here is to perform, to do well and expect to do well.
VL: There’s a new wrinkle this year with expanded instant replay. Do you have a system in place for how you’ll handle that?
RR: If my eyes tell me I should challenge something, I’m going to challenge. It’s not necessarily like I’m going to take every opportunity to go ahead and challenge every single play just because I can. … I don’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it. I think there should be a purpose. I should develop my skill set, and the bench coach and all of us on the bench should develop our skill sets.