Sometimes the gap between perception and reality can be exceedingly wide. What’s visible from the outside is often much different from what is being experienced on the inside.
Case in point, there are essentially two Starlin Castros.
There’s the Starlin Castro the fans see and have a love-hate relationship with. The one who is perceived by some as uncommitted, unfocused and inconsistent.
Much of this characterization is, of course, informed by the 2013 season. After two All-Star campaigns from 2011-12, in which Castro compiled 390 hits and earned a seven-year, $60 million contract, things went off the rails a little last year. Castro slipped to a .245/.284/.347 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line, often looking lost at the plate, bereft of the trademark confidence that defined his early career. That regression, coupled with some defensive lapses, have placed the 24-year-old’s every move under the fan and media microscope.
But there’s another Starlin Castro as well—the player his teammates see. This is the Castro who is putting up remarkable early-career numbers, goes to the post every day, is eager to learn, and brings constant energy and excitement to the clubhouse.
“He’s one of those guys who’s the face of the team,” said Cubs catcher and longtime teammate Welington Castillo. “I know a lot of people got on him last year, but that’s in the past. We have to move forward. It brings a lot of confidence for the team when he’s playing like this, when you see Starlin on the field. That’s a guy that never wants to be out of the lineup. He wants to play every day, no matter what. So he brings a lot of energy and a lot of positivity to the team.”
Through his age-23 season—which, as we all know, includes one very off year—the Cubs shortstop had compiled 692 hits. To put that into perspective, by age 23, Hank Aaron had 718 hits, Cal Ripken Jr. had 569, Derek Jeter had 385, and all-time hits leader Pete Rose had just 309.
In other words, the guy can rake. It’s difficult to fluke your way into 700 big league hits before you’re old enough to rent a car.
And through the first month-plus of the 2014 season, Castro looked to be back to his early-career form. His aggressiveness is back, and that has Cubs personnel excited about the future. For the June issue of Vine Line, we talk to Castro’s teammates, coaches and the man himself to find out what has triggered the young star’s resurgence.
As part of our ongoing Wrigley 100 series, we also go back to the 1940s at the Friendly Confines, when a group of trailblazing women turned the baseball world upside down. With World War II rationing taking its toll on major league attendance and players being redirected to the war effort, Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley and other executives were desperate for a way to reinvigorate the game. Enter the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, popularized in the 1992 film A League of Their Own. We examine the role Cubs ownership and Wrigley Field played in the formation and life of the league.
Finally, with Father’s Day on the horizon, we get a little sentimental. Baseball is a tradition that has always been passed down from fathers to sons. To celebrate the holiday, we talk to current Cubs players about the impact their fathers have had on their lives and careers. Needless to say, when the Cubs take the field 162 times a year, there are some pretty excited dads out there.
For more in-depth stories about the Cubs organization, pick up the June issue of Vine Line, or subscribe for just $29.95. You can also find us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.
To commemorate Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday and the many historical moments that have taken place at the park over the last century, Cubs Charities is honoring the Friendly Confines with a momentous philanthropic effort. Beginning May 30, Chicago’s Michigan Avenue lined with 50 custom-made pairs of ballpark seats.
The 100 seats each depict a special moment in time at Wrigley Field. Cubs Charities partnered with 47 Chicago-based nonprofits, celebrities and artists to paint the Centennial Seats, and they will be hosting an online auction where participants can place bids to purchase the seats. All proceeds from the nonprofit-designed chairs will be split between Cubs Charities and the respective partnering organization.
“This has been such a special year as we celebrate Wrigley Field and what the park has meant to Chicago over the past century,” said Laura Ricketts, Board Chair of Cubs Charities. “Cubs fans are truly the greatest in baseball, so we can’t wait to honor them by giving back to the community with this special Centennial Seats program.”
From Vince Vaughn and the Chicago Blackhawks, to the National Museum of Mexican Art and South Chicago Art Center, each organization or person has painted a scene that pays tribute to a specific moment in Wrigley Field history. Some of the memories include: Ernie Banks’ major league debut, the scoreboard installation, Babe Ruth’s “called shot” and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
The Centennial Seats will be on display along North Michigan Avenue throughout the summer. Participants can place bids for these one-of-a-kind chairs from May 30 through Aug. 10. The auction will be held online at cubs.com/chairs.
To help raise awareness and promote the auction, Cubs Charities is calling for Chicagoans and Cubs fans to get out their phones and tweet, post and Instagram photos of themselves with the Centennial Seats. Using the hashtags #WrigleyField100 and #CentennialSeats, passers-by will be able join the philanthropic effort and spread the word that all proceeds benefit a great local nonprofit. Additionally, a map has been created that pinpoints exactly where each nonprofit, celebrity or artist’s respective seat is located, making it easy to navigate the Centennial display. The Magnificent Mile Association partnered with the Cubs to make this public art project possible.
Sponsored by Magellan Corporation, the Centennial Seats will be installed the evening of May 29 for their morning debut Friday, May 30.
“We like to get involved with charitable projects that give back to our community—and this is possibly the most colorful and exciting one yet,” said Michael Minkus of Magellan Corporation. “We can’t wait to see the Centennial Seats set up on Michigan Avenue to kick off this charitable effort.”
The full list of participating nonprofits in the Centennial Seats program, as well as other information about Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday celebration, will be available beginning this Thursday at wrigleyfield100.com.
(Illustration by Jerry Neumann)
Most people looked at the Cubs Convention as the official kickoff to the Party of the Century, but the festivities actually began a few days earlier at the annual Cubs Caravan, when the team launched their new 100 Gifts of Service initiative.
Cubs associates, players, alumni and corporate partners will celebrate the 100th birthday of Wrigley Field by performing acts of service and volunteer projects in the community throughout the 2014 calendar year. So far, activities have included visiting hospital patients, serving lunch to active military at the USO and volunteering at local schools.
“The 100 Gifts of Service give everybody in the organization the opportunity to get out and interact with our fans and with families and kids in the community and see the result of having an impact on their lives,” said Jennifer Dedes Nowak, manager of Cubs Charities programs.
The Cubs are no strangers to community service. Every year, the team and Cubs Charities fund about $2.4 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and programs serving youth and families in need. They also donate thousands of autographed items and tickets to charitable organizations supporting health, fitness and education.
The Cubs are tracking their 100 Gifts of Service progress on the WrigleyField100.com website and through social media. The goal is to perform 100 hands-on projects—both large and small—in 2014, but the Cubs hope to surpass that number before the year is out.
Future gifts include renovating Chicago playgrounds with Friends of the Parks and the Chicago Plays! program, helping get kids active with the Cubs on the Move Fitness Trolley, and hosting a summer camp cookout at the Lakeview YMCA.
“We’re all part of this monumental year,” Dedes Nowak said. “We just want to come away with a great story and leave a legacy that we made an impact on the community in 2014.”
Cubs Charities, in partnership with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago, announced the launch of the Cubs Charities Diamond Project. The Diamond Project marks the third signature program Cubs Charities has launched. In 2013, they introduced the Cubs Scholars program and the Cubs On The Move Fitness Trolley.
The Diamond Project aims to improve the quality and safety of local baseball fields in the Chicago area. The project will expand opportunities for children to play baseball, create or preserve green space, and foster a love of the game, particularly in the inner city where baseball has experienced a significant decline.
“The Diamond Project aligns with our mission to be good neighbors and Cubs Charities’ goal of providing health and physical education activities for our youth,” said Cubs Charities Chair Laura Ricketts. “We’re thrilled to invest in our communities and offer the opportunity for children to continue to develop their love and passion for the game of baseball.”
Cubs Charities, with technical assistance from LISC Chicago, will identify communities in need of new or improved baseball fields and provide grants to facilities that will be used to promote health and wellness through baseball. In addition to monetary support, the Wrigley Field Grounds Crew will advise Cubs Charities Diamond Project grantees during projects and maintenance.
“Public recreational spaces are essential to the health of every neighborhood,” said Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director. “We’re honored to partner with Cubs Charities to support new or renovated fields that will serve as tremendous community assets, especially for young people.”
An information session for nonprofit, neighborhood-based organizations and schools in the Chicago area will be held at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, April 30, at 10:00 a.m. in the Budweiser Bleacher Suite. Please email email@example.com if you wish to attend. For additional information on the Cubs Charities Diamond Project and how to apply, please visit http://www.cubs.com/diamondproject.
As part of an ongoing commitment to ease vehicle traffic and reduce the number of cars near Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs are launching a free remote parking lot operation two miles west of the ballpark during night and weekend games. The new remote parking lot is located at 3900 N. Rockwell St., just east of the Chicago River and immediately south of Irving Park Road. The lot has a capacity of 1,000 vehicles and will be secured by Cubs personnel. The parking service includes free shuttle transportation to and from the remote lot and Wrigley Field.
“We believe free parking is a great incentive for our guests and encourages fans to take advantage of this new remote parking lot,” said Manager, Government & Neighborhood Relations Kam Buckner. “We recognize many fans drive to Wrigley Field, and this easy-to-use remote parking operation will help alleviate traffic congestion in the neighborhood before and after games.”
Shuttles will begin running two and a half hours prior to the start of games and will run continuously for approximately an hour postgame. At the conclusion of night and weekend games, the shuttle bus will pick up fans at the designated drop-off location on Addison Street.
This shuttle service will also be available for postseason games and night games of a day-night doubleheader. The Cubs’ first day-night doubleheader of the season will take place Sat., June 28.
This newly introduced free remote parking lot replaces the team’s previous remote parking operation at DeVry University.
Dave Otto is doing his usual hosting duties. He opens up by introducing the panel with Smokies announcer Mick Gillespie, SVP of scouting and player development Jason McLeod, farm director Jaron Madison, and Cubs pitchers Blake Parker and Justin Grimm.
Madison talks about the 2013 draft and how happy they were to land the people they targeted (Kris Bryant, et.al.).
Otto gives a recap of the minor league system, including the Daytona team that won the Florida State League championship.
Otto talks about how there used to be only one or two guys on the farm fans could get excited about. Things are different now with guys like Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, C.J. Edwards, Corey Black, Pierce Johnson, Jen-Ho Tseng, etc.
A fan asks about the plan with Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters. McLeod says the organization still has belief in both of them, especially Vitters, who has hit wherever he’s been and is still only 24. But both had rough seasons last year and were hampered by injuries.
Both Parker and Grimm talk about how rewarding it is to finally break into the majors and the belief they have in their ability. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth the grind.
Gillespie talks about how hard Parker worked back when he was with the Smokies in Double-A, and how much he enjoys seeing the players in their developmental phases. He remembers being the first guy to interview Darwin Barney after he got called up to the big leagues.
McLeod talks about the “Core Four” and how good they can be, but that the organization is much deeper than just them. Generally, you feel pretty good if you feel you have two guys who could become stars. He says the Cubs have multiple guys who could get there. Some won’t make it, but that’s why volume is important. Guys like Jeimer Candelario and Arismendy Alcantara could really make an impact.
McLeod talks about how he drafted Grimm out of high school and brought him up to Boston, but Grimm decided to go to the University of Georgia instead. McLoed jokes that Grimm just wanted a free trip to Boston. McLeod and Epstein went to see Grimm pitch in the SEC tourney the following year, and Grimm was pumping 97 mph fastballs. Epstein joked that he was going to fire McLeod for not signing Grimm. McLeod thanks Grimm for almost getting him fired.
Asked about routines and superstitions, both Grimm and Parker defer. Grimm does say he check through some pitching checkpoints on his iPad before games. It’s just stuff that helps him stay focused on his mechanics, etc.
One fan asks about the potential of Dustin Geiger. McLeod talks about how Geiger has been very solid but has been overshadowed by guys like Soler and Baez. He’s a big guy, so they are working with him on flexibility at first base. The front office doesn’t think he’s under the radar, but he doesn’t tend to get a lot of press. Geiger hit .281/.365/.458 at High-A Daytona last season.
McLeod talks about breaking the curse in Boston and how it’s better than he ever imagined. He also talks about the 2007 World Series team and how it was built with guys they drafted and developed. That’s what gets them excited and what they live for.
Parker explains the tradition of the youngest pitcher taking the pink backpack out to the bullpen. It’s just filled with supplies—gum, candy, etc. The guy with the least service time has to carry it out every game. It’s light rookie hazing.
McLeod talks about Arodys Vizcaino, who the club acquired from Atlanta in 2012. He had a setback after Tommy John surgery last year. He’s throwing well now but is not 100 percent yet. He was in the rookie development program this week and was really popping the glove (note: we were there, and he was). They are being conservative with his rehab to try to get him back into form.
McLeod responds to a question about the lack of system depth at the catcher position, and he says it’s definitely a concern. They have some young guys coming up, but they’re not quite ready yet. That puts some pressure on Welington Castillo this season.
Gillespie talks about how many guys there were at Tennessee who just need to take a step and they’ll be knocking on the door—guys like Matt Szczur and Christian Villanueva. Gillespie raves about Villanueva’s defense at third base, saying he’s better than most major leaguers. McLeod seconds how well Villanueva is progressing. The 22-year-old had 41 doubles, 19 home runs and 72 RBI last season at Double-A. He hit .261.
One fan asks about where Baez will play and if there is a path to the majors this year with Starlin Castro in the fold. McLeod says they’ll look at him in Spring Training and probably have him play multiple positions. But he will be the starting shortstop at Triple-A Iowa this year, and they see him playing short for the foreseeable future. He’s developing well at the position and has great instincts.
We get the obligatory question about Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka and about how his numbers will translate in the majors. McLeod says he’s incredibly talented, and they’ve been scouting him for years. The evaluation process is complete, and they met with him last week in LA. They’ll find out soon where he chooses. But any team will be happy to get him.
Madison says they generally want each player to “dominate” the level they’re at before they move up. They don’t want to rush players if they don’t have to because that can be damaging. It’s a lot of decisions to make about who goes where and when guys move forward, but there’s an entire staff in place to handle it.
Gillespie and McLeod talk about how complicated it is to put guys in a position to succeed. Roster management with the minor league system can be tough. Games are going on all over the country, and each roster only gets 25 guys. If one guys moves up, another guy needs to take his place, and keeping it all in order is tricky.
McLeod runs down the 2013 draft. The team was definitely looking to stockpile pitching. In 2012, they focused on high school arms. Last year, they focused on more mature college arms. In players’ first years, the organization really limits innings. Most of the new guys only go about 20-30 innings. But they did draft a lot of big-bodied, high-velocity pitchers.
McLeod talks about Mike Olt’s struggles last year with vision problems and concussion after being hit by a ball. He was untouchable at Texas a few years ago when they were looking to deal Ryan Dempster. Olt’s been meeting with specialists and is feeling very good. His swing looks strong, direct and fast. All the talent is still there, but he needs to start facing live pitching.
That’s it for Vine Line at the 2014 Cubs Convention. We’ll see you next year. Thanks for following along.
The Cubs took their fans down memory lane Sunday morning. Eight members of the 1984 squad took to the podium, reminiscing about the squad that made a postseason run 30 years ago.
Bobby Dernier, Tim Stoddard, Steve Trout, Jay Johnstone, Rick Sutcliffe, Gary Matthews Sr., Scott Sanderson and Lee Smith spend the hour telling tales, complimenting each other and campaigning for Smith’s Hall of Fame induction.
A sentiment stressed throughout the seminar was that the squad shared a brotherhood through the success of the season.
“1984 team was not my team, they were my family,” Smith said.
Sanderson set the mood of Spring Training that season, describing it as a veteran group of guys coming together, understanding the task at hand.
He noted the club brought Dernier, Matthews and Ryne Sandberg over from Philadelphia, along with Stoddard from Baltimore.
“It was brand new to us, and there were a lot of veterans, there weren’t a lot of rookies on the team,” Sanderson said.
Johnstone said that he had won three World Series rings and yet he said this was the best side he ever played on.
On numerous occasions Matthews was said to be the leader of the team, and was viewed as the player who constantly pushed the club to be better.
Trout relived a game during the summer where he pitched well, but gave up a late homer in a 6-1 win. After the game, the pitcher went up to Matthews’ room to have a drink, Sarge kind of got on him, asking why he surrendered the home run.
“You gotta play for the shutout,” Trout remembered Matthews saying.
It couldn’t be stressed more how good Smith was that ’84 season.
Sutcliffe described handing the ball off to Smith to being a nervous freshman in high school, but then remembering “your brother is a senior, and he’s the starting middle linebacker on the football team.”
And of course there were jokes made, at many members of the panel’s expense.
Matthews described his Spring Training trade to Chicago from Philadelphia, as he was the only set outfielder in Phillies camp prior to the move. He and Dernier—a fourth outfielder who was likely facing demotion—were sent to Chicago midway through preseason camp.
“Bobby comes over and said ‘You’re coming with me to Chicago,'” Matthews said. “And I said, ‘No Bobby, you’re coming with me.'”
Dernier wrapped up the forum by giving Leon Durham praise for his efforts throughout the season, and asked fans to let the play go. During Game 5 of the NLCS, Durham let a ball go through his legs while playing first base, allowing a Padres comeback.
Len Kasper is moderating and opens the panel by introducing Pat Hughes, stadium announcer Andrew Belleson, Cubs historian Ed Hartig, groundskeeper and scoreboard operator Rick Fuhs and senior director of marketing Alison Miller.
Miller shows a quick slide presentation about what the Cubs are doing to celebrate the Party of the Century in 2014. The theme is 10 Decades and 10 Homestands. Each of 10 homestands (starting after Opening Week) will celebrate a different decade in Wrigley’s history.
At each of the 10 homestands, there will be a themed Friday bobblehead giveaway: 1910s Joe Tinker, 1920s Red Grange, 1930s Babe Ruth, 1940s All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, 1950s Ernie Banks, 1960s Gale Sayers, 1970s Jack Brickhouse, 1980s Rick Sutcliffe and lights, 1990s Kerry Wood’s 20K game, 2000s TBA.
On Sundays, the team will wear throwback uniforms. Unis being represented are 1914 (not a Sunday but the birthday game on April 23), 1929, 1937, 1942, 1953, 1969, 1978 (baby blue road jersey), 1988, 1994, 2008. The opponents will also wear throwbacks.
There will also be retro toys on Sundays for kids 13 and under. Each will represent the top toy from that decade from yo-yos to Viewmasters to Mr. Potato Heads to Etch-a-Sketches.
There will be themed food and beverages at the ballpark to represent the decades. This will include cocktails, like a Manhattan for the 1930s.
Organist Gary Pressey is working with the Cubs on decade-specific music.
The ballpark will be decorated, and the players will have sleeve and hat patches commemorating Wrigley’s 100th. The game balls will also be stamped.
For each decade, there will be special guests at the ballpark, from former Cubs and Bears players to celebrities.
The official birthday is on April 23, 2014. The Cubs will wear old Federal League Chi-Fed uniforms, and the Diamondbacks will wear Kansas City Packers unis (the team the Chi-Feds played that day). Everyone will also get cake. Yep, everyone. And the first 30,000 fans will walk out with a Chi-Feds jersey.
The Cubs are working with MLB on developing WrigleyField100.com to celebrate the ballpark. The site will feature historical facts, fan stories, ballpark facts and more.
Hartig talks about the ballpark’s beginnings as Weeghman Park for the independent minor league Federal League. For more info on this, check out the January issue of Vine Line.
Hughes talks about his first major league game as a broadcaster—an exhibition game between the Cubs and Brewers in 1992. He was immediately struck by Wrigley Field’s atmosphere. He’s now in his 19th season with the team.
Fuhs talks about how he runs the scoreboard and how he’s so fast putting up balls and strikes. He watches the umpire’s movements. If the ump moves his foot, it’s going to be a strike. He knows most of the characteristics of most of the umps in the league. He also credits Curt Huebert, who designed the scoreboard in 1937. Fuhs has been operating the scoreboard for 26 years, and there haven’t been any major problems with the electronics. He’s still using the original panel from 1937. Fuhs also credits Bill Veeck for helping design and plan the scoreboard. He complains about how slow umpire Tim McLelland is with his calls. Apparently, Quick Rick would like to take the day off whenever McLelland is umpiring.
Fuhs talks about Lee Smith and the closer’s relationship with the groundscrew. Those were Smith’s best friends on the team. After being repeatedly asked, Fuhs went down and visited Smith in Louisiana last year. Reiterates that Smith deserves a Hall call.
Belleson talks about getting the job at Wrigley Field. He was only 24 (he’s 27 now) when he got hired. Says he has the greatest job in the world.
Back to Hartig about ballpark history. Weeghman Park was originally just a single-story grandstand, and it seated 14,000. The scoreboard was originally in left field. For more on the original park, check out the January issue of Vine Line.
The team actually tried to install lights in the early-1940s. They had already bought them, but after Pearl Harbor, Mr. Wrigley donated them to the war effort. They were supposed to be used to play twilight games so people could attend after work.
One fan wants to bring back smoky links and Ron Santo pizza. There is something in the works on the smoky links front.
One fan asks if Wrigley Field will be the last park to turn 100. Kasper mentions Dodger Stadium was built in 1962, so it’s halfway there. But other than that, it’s not likely. Hughes agrees that no other park will last that long.
Belleson said he doesn’t emulate anyone in his job, but likes the simple style of guys like Paul Friedman.
Kasper compares Wrigley Field to Central Park in New York—a green oasis in the middle of the city. He says he loves coming into the ballpark before everyone else arrives. You can hear the sounds of the city around the park. Once baseball starts, it drowns out those city sounds.
Hughes talks about the possibility of being the only announcer living Cubs fans have ever heard say the words, “the Cubs win the World Series.” Kasper thinks about it too.
Someone asks about biggest pranksters. Rick Sutcliffe, Greg Maddux, Ron Santo and Keith Moreland all get mentions.
Asked about most exciting players to watch, Hughes brings up Derrek Lee as one his favorite ballplayers. Cites his defense, power hitting, modesty, friendliness and more. Kasper agrees that Lee was one of the best. Fuhs remembers Sosa in 1998 and the buzz around the ballpark.
Hartig’s favorite event at the ballpark happened in 1944—a ski-jumping event at the ballpark. They set scaffolding up behind home plate and trucked in ice. The skiers took off from about the current home television booth and landed at second base.
Asked about the most memorable seventh-inning stretch renditions, Fuhs talks about the infamous Jeff Gordon incident. Gordon called the park Wrigley stadium, possibly because Fuhs asked him about the “stadium” right before that.
Belleson talks about how scared people are before they sing the stretch, no matter how big the celebrity. And says no one did it better than Harry Caray.
And that’s it for us on Saturday at the 2014 Cubs Convention. Thanks for following along. We’ll be back up with the 30th anniversary of the 1984 season and Down on the Farm tomorrow.
Go Cubs go.
Jim Deshaies welcomes the crowd and the entire—mostly new—coaching staff. Mike Borzello, Bill Mueller, Mike Brumley, Jose Castro, Brandon Hyde, Chris Bosio, Eric Hinske, Gary Jones and new manager Rick Renteria. The ballroom is packed. Standing room only.
This is mostly a Q&A session with Deshaires moderating.
First question: First impression of Chicago and CubsCon. Renteria says it’s truly unbelievable. The amount of support and the love for Cubs is amazing and wants to prove this team deserves your support.
Renteria says every person on the staff has a tremendous quality of imparting information and confidence, and an array of knowledge. They all have compassion and understanding for players.
Bosio says pitching has made great strides in last few years with Samardzija, Wood, Rondon, etc. They now have more depth, big arms and a lot of talent coming in the system. He wants the staff to give the team a chance to win every game by the sixth inning. They definitely have more depth in the ‘pen with Wesley Wright, who should take some pressure off Russell, and other guys. That should give them more flexibility.
Borzello talks about Welington Castillo’s development as a catcher. He’s really built trust with the pitchers and is helping get the best out of each one. He thinks last year was a great start on a solid career.
Each coach takes a minute to give his bio.
So the big question: Jose Castro. What is a quality assurance coach? Answer: He’s a jack of all trades, master of none. Castro jokes he will probably do some cleaning in clubhouse, laundry, whatever. In reality, he’s an extra pair of hands wherever they’re needed.
Renteria says Veras will anchor the back end of the bullpen. He has confidence that he can get the job done in the ninth inning. That’s why he’s here. But the team should have some flexibility to mix and match in the ‘pen before Veras.
Renteria says the focus shouldn’t be on him. It should be on the players. He wants to be like a little mouse that no one pays attention to. The team and players might at times feel disheartened but he will not let them quit. It’s not in his nature to quit. He’s a fighter. And he doesn’t believe he needs to beat people up to motivate them. If you ever see him quit, he welcomes fans and the media to “come and stomp on him,” but it won’t happen.
Bosio talks about how the staff used to be a bunch of veteran guys. It’s much younger now. The players call the games. It’s about getting them to believe in following the scouting reports and pitching to a plan. Sometimes players go off plan because they have confidence in themselves, but the goal is to follow the scouting reports. They spend countless hours on them.
There’s a question about returning to small ball—steals, sacrifices, hit and runs, etc. Renteria says the game will dictate what they can do, and Mueller talks about the need to really understand the players and what they can do. Then they’ll try to start working on these kinds of skills.
Renteria talks about the role of prospects. Says when a game-changing prospect arrives, it’s probably because he’s going to play. He’s not getting brought up to sit on the bench. Some guys make a splash immediately. Some don’t. He says dealing with prospects who succeed or struggle is all about communication in the system. Even if guys struggle and get sent back down, it can be a valuable experience—a learning experience.
Renteria says he’s not a micromanager. His staff is all very gifted and he’ll leave their jobs to them. But he likes to be active, throw BP, etc. He used to take infield with the players.
In response to a question about finding an everyday third baseman, Renteria throws his support behind the Murphy/Valbuena combo. He says he hates to hear people complain about what they don’t have. Let’s work with what we have and make it work.
In response to the usual World Series question, Renteria says he can’t answer to the past. He’s focused on moving the team forward. And he’s looking forward to the party in this city when it happens.
Mueller talks about really learning the players and finding their strengths and weaknesses, how they handle pressure, how they handle emotions, etc., so they can better help the players understand how to improve at-bats. Every player is different. Swings are very personal. They really need to get in the trenches so they can understand each player’s strengths and weaknesses.
Renteria cites Johnny Lipon (former Tiger infielder and coach) as a big influence because he was so positive. He never let anyone doubt themselves. Says Jim Leyland and Dick Williams were very firm. He tries to combine all of the good things from his former coaches and get rid of the bad traits.
Hinske cites Joe Maddon, Terry Francona and Bobby Cox as big influences. Players can struggle with confidence. Coaches can play a big part in keeping them upbeat.
Jones talks about how his dad taught him how to play to win, but he tried to learn from every coach and manager and take things from them.
Renteria says Starlin Castro is Starlin Castro. We want you to hit the pitch that you can hit, in reference to the push to make him more patient. He says Starlin had some “horrible” at-bats last season where he was swinging at balls in the other batter’s box, but he’s a guy who puts the bat on the ball
Renteria says the team needs to have better at-bats. It’s unacceptable to strike out with the infield back and a man on third.
“We mistake the idea of being a selective hitter with being a good hitter. We’re trying to expand the ability to be a good hitter.”
Renteria’s passion for working with young players is the same as it would be with veterans. His passion comes from being told he wouldn’t play in the majors. While going through process, he never thought his first-round selection was a mistake. His passion comes from proving everybody wrong. “You can beat me up, but you’re going to know you were in a fight.”
Finally, Renteria believes the team has the arms to get from the six through the ninth innings. And he believes any team that takes the field has a chance to win.
President of Business Ops Crane Kenney takes the stage to welcome a sizable crowd. Says they usually start by taking questions, but instead they’re starting with a short presentation this time.
Crane gets a smattering of applause for reference to going to Notre Dame. Talks about his history with the team, starting out representing them as a young lawyer. His job has always been trying to grow the business as fast as he can to support baseball ops.
He calls the Cubs a “100-year-old startup.” Like most start-ups, they started in an old garage (meaning the new front office space, which used to be a garage). They had to build the business side from scratch. 165 of 277 members of the Cubs team have been hired in the last four years—60 percent of workforce.
The goal is to become the best organization in baseball on and off the field. He offers a big thanks to the crowd for their loyalty and support.
If the Cubs are a start-up, then the fans are the investors. Your investment is helping build the team.
So how do you become the best off the field? By better serving fans, better serving players, better serving partners, better serving communities and giving the team the resources it needs to win a championship.
They did an in-depth study of how companies like Nordstrom’s, Starbucks, etc. provide customer service. Talked to 9,000 fans, 500 ballpark staff, then engaged the Disney Institute to help train the team.
To be the best, the also need first-class facilities for players to train, rehab, prepare for games, etc.
The Cubs have four principle facilities: Wrigley Field, administrative offices, Spring Training facility, Dominican Academy. They’ve made great strides in the last three.
Wrigley Field is still the best ballpark in America. The Ricketts family is ready to invest $500 million in the stadium and surrounding areas without public support. Kenney says not many teams do that. References how the Braves announced they could no longer play in their 17-year-old obsolete ballpark (to some laughter).
Thanks for mayor, City Council and Cubs fans for their support so they can stay at Wrigley for the foreseeable future with the operating flexibility they need. They’ve had lots of meetings in the last year.
They’re done with the night game ordinance, done with the landmark approvals, done with the zoning for the ballpark and plaza, done with the approval for new signage inside and outside, done with the traffic and parking plan and done with security/sanitation issues. So what’s the hold-up?
The remaining issue is the rooftops. They need to settle four issues:
1. Enforcement of current capacity limitations
2. Protections against ambush advertising
3. Ability to expand and add bleachers and signage
4. No lawsuit
There’s been lots of progress in last two weeks.
Kenney calls the rooftops a $20 million yearly drag on their business.
So which comes first—championship baseball or an abundance of economic resources? It’s a chicken-or-egg question. Every day, they’re thinking about how to outpace the other 29 teams, to grow the business and to put the best team on the field.
The Cubs play in the third-largest media market in an iconic ballpark. They’re the No. 3 tourist attraction in Illinois. They’re ranked fifth in baseball in revenue, which they’re using to make long-term investments. The vast majority of the revenue goes to building the major and minor league system. Kenney touts the minor league growth. The Cubs are No. 1 in MLB in spending on first-year and international amateur talent.
Kenney says just about every system at Wrigley needs maintenance and upgrades just to keep the team standing still. They can’t keep putting Band-Aids on the stadium.
Taxes are also a big drag. Of the five team-owned stadiums, the Cubs pay 17 times what the Giants pay in amusement taxes and three times what the Jays pay. The Red Sox and Dodgers pay no taxes.
Revenues come from gate receipts, media rights, corporate partnerships, and non-game revenues.
Gate receipts: The Cubs have held tickets prices flat for the fourth-straight year. They’re not looking to add new seats, but they do want upgraded seating options. Kenney also talks about moving to digital tickets.
Media rights: The WGN contracts expire after the 2014 season. They expect to have an announcement on the radio contract before opening day. They’re very thankful for the relationship with WGN. The Comcast contract expires in 2019. He says he wants to continue the relationship with WGN but can envision a smaller relationship or moving elsewhere.
Corporate partnerships: Kenney touts the Under Armour partnership. They’re looking to add other partners like it to provide a resource advantage. They will be adding a video board in 2015 for highlights, replay, etc.
Non-Game revenue: This can generate significant revenue for the club when the team is not in town. Corporate events, concerts, other sporting events, etc. The Cubs love this revenue because they don’t have to share it with the other clubs. Baseball-related revenues get shared throughout MLB.
Kenney finishes by talking about Cubs Charities and being a good neighbor. This includes the Fitness Trolley, Scholars Program, Diamond Program, etc. He feels they’ve made some good progress on being the best off the field, but they’re making the long-term investments to be the best on the field.
Kenney thanks the fans and brings up Mike Lufrano, Carl Rice, Colin Faulkner and Alison Miller for a question-and-answer session.
The first question is, of course, about Clark the Cubs, the new mascot and will they consider getting rid of him. Miller’s response: Clark took 18 months to develop and is here to stay.
One fan wonders why parts of the Wrigley rebuilding plan, specifically the player facilities still haven’t been started. Carl answers about getting things settled with the city and preemptive construction issues. But ultimately they need the whole plan done before they get started. Lufrano says they think they’re getting close with the rooftop owners. Rooftops have said if they don’t reach a resolution, they plan to challenge the zoning—in other words, the entire restoration of the ballpark.
One fan wants starter Wrigley vines for his house.
Fans want to know why the club can’t build a strong minor league system while winning at big league level. The answer: They’re working on it. But it all starts with building a strong internal foundation. He says 2003-08 was fun, but those big contracts hurt the team.
That’s it for business. Next up is the Meet the Skipper session.