This year, the organization is celebrating the 30th consecutive Chicago Cubs Convention, dating back to “The First Ever Die Hard Fan Club Convention” from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 1986. This panel gives fans a chance to visit with some of their favorite Cubs of the past as they tell 30 years worth of stories and talk about what it’s like to come back to Chicago each January. The panel, hosted by Wayne Messmer, is comprised of convention regulars Bobby Dernier, Gary Matthews, Lee Smith, Rick Sutcliffe and Billy Williams.
This panel was actually more about reminiscing with a host of Cubs favorites from the 1980s than celebrating the Convention, but it was enjoyable hearing players recount stories about everything from Harry Caray to Ryne Sandberg the prankster.
The event started with a thank you from the players for the fan support and some recollections from Cubs Conventions past.
One of the highlights included when Sutcliffe explained how being a Kansas City guy, his lifelong dream was to play for the Royals. But after his first half season with the Cubs in 1984, his mindset changed largely because of the fan base. Sutcliffe then said he was part of a video that was used in the recruiting of Jon Lester. After the two talked at the convention, the newly acquired free agent said Sutcliffe’s portion about Cubs fans sold him.
Sutcliffe recalls the first Cubs Convention. ‘The phone call came from John McDonough, and this was really John’s idea. This was before sports-talk radio, this was before autograph sessions. … He really wanted to break down the barrier between fan and player.” He also talks about Harry Caray being the first honorary chairman of the convention.
“Something that’s so awesome for me is that everyone remembers me as a Cub,” Smith said.
The panelists start talking about Smith in his playing days. A favorite story from Sutcliffe: After Smith beaned an opposing Mets hitter after a brawl, Smith puts down his glove and offers a challenge to the Mets’ dugout, and they back down.
Sutcliffe talks about the Cubs Convention. The people are still here. “For me, you just get another little piece of what Cubs fans are all about. They keep calling him the big red head, but you take that cap off and there’s no red hair.”
“We’re always in first place at the Cubs Convention,” Messmer said.
All of the panelists agree that what makes playing for the Cubs special is the fan base, and that really came alive when they played in 1984. “I played for a couple of ballclubs, but when I came through here, I have so many fans I remember on a first-name basis,” Smith said.
Next comes the question-and-answer session with fans:
- A fan thanks Dernier for spending time with her kids years ago in the lobby and talking for hours.
- Dernier told a story about a time they were in Montreal and Harry Caray said to him: “Even when ya stink, you look like you’re trying.”
- A fan asked about the panelists’ time with Don Zimmer, and Sutcliffe recounted a story about how Zimmer, who had a tough time as a manager in Boston, emotionally thanked the 1989 team for their efforts. He said he was so disliked in Boston he couldn’t go out to dinner with his family. In Chicago, he was loved because of those guys.
That’s it. Down on the Farm with the Cubs minor leaguers is next on the schedule, and that will close out the 2015 Cubs Convention.
In addition to providing an update on the organization’s accomplishments and progress, the Business Operations Update gave fans additional insight into what to expect at Wrigley Field next season. From the overall expansion and restoration of Wrigley Field to the new video board, Cubs executive leadership covered a wide range of important topics related to the 2015 season.
All great plans have minor setbacks. That may be the case for the 2015 plans of the extensive 1060 Project, the stadium-wide renovation of Wrigley Field. During Saturday afternoon’s business panel, a panel that continued its trend of being one of the most attended, the Cubs announced that the bleacher restoration will not be ready for the start of the 2015 season.
The left-field bleachers are expected to be ready in early May while the right-field bleachers hope to be prepared by late May. That said, the new scoreboard in left field will be up and running come Opening Day, while the scoreboard in right field should be ready in May.
Bleacher season-ticket holders have been given three options on their tickets for the first few series: receive a credit on their account, relocation on tickets, or a full refund on the game tickets. Those fans have until the end of January to let the Cubs know of their decision.
“This is about trying to get this project done right instead of cutting corners,” said Carl Rice, the vice president of ballpark operations.
It wasn’t all bad news from the panel, as business president Crane Kenney announced the Cubs have more season ticket holders today than any time in the organization’s history, and could possibly have the most in the league. Season ticket renewals were also at 90 percent.
Though there may be a delay in the 2015 plans, the Cubs’ concourse restoration has actually made 2016 renovation plans ahead of schedule. The 2015 delay has also not slowed plans for new clubhouse construction, which was planned to be finished prior to 2016. The organization plans to work all season long to ensure its completion.
“We’re getting ahead of next year’s project, now,” Kenney said.
In terms of the new video boards, the panel unveiled what types of graphics and images would be displayed going forward. Concepts were divided into five categories: game replays, in-game stats, historical videos of the club, in-season team videos and other scores around baseball. Though the new video boards will be nothing short of state of the art, the Cubs intend to have the text graphics look similar to the historic scoreboard in center field. The Cubs showed simulations as to what the scoreboard would look like on an in-game basis. They’ll combine the classic look with some some full-color animated images. They wanted to remind people the purpose of the boards is to enhance the game-day experience, not detract.
With the new TV deals, some fans are concerned they’ll be blacked out for a vast majority of Cubs games in the near future. Kenney said the team is willing to contact outlets like MLB.TV, should something not be worked out.
As it does every year, Saturday at the Cubs Convention kicked off with the Ricketts Family Forum. Heading into their sixth season as owners of the Chicago Cubs, the Rickettses have made significant progress on the organization’s goals to win a World Series, preserve Wrigley Field for future generations and be a good neighbor in the community. Tom, Todd and Laura Ricketts were on hand with host Len Kasper to discuss the strides the team has made in support of these goals over the last year. As always, they also took plenty of questions from fans. Here’s are the highlights from this morning’s convention:
Pete couldn’t be here because he is now the governor of Nebraska. I guess that’s a good excuse, but the rest of the family is here.
Tom Ricketts opened things up with a statement about the state of the Cubs now. He started with the Ricketts’ three stated goals—winning a World Series, preserving the ballpark and being a good neighbor in the community. He said they have made a lot of progress on all of them last year.
Cubs Charities donated more than $4.5 million in 2014. Cubs associates donated 100 gifts of service during Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary year.
On the ballpark side, the Cubs had THE year. Ricketts joked about how easy that process has all been.
“We are going to preserve and improve the best ballpark in the world,” Tom said.
On the field, it doesn’t all happen at once. They have been spending a lot of time, energy and resources to build best organization in baseball. The new facilities in the Dominican and in Mesa, Arizona, have been big steps. They broke all Spring Training attendance records at Sloan Park/Cubs Park in 2014. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been adding talent through minor leagues, trades and the draft. It was rewarding seeing people say the Cubs had the top minor league system in baseball.
“When you add all those things up, we feel like last year was a real inflection point in the history of the organization, and we look forward to the year ahead,” Tom said.
Next came the question-and-answer session:
- The first question is not a question, but a huge pat on the back from a fan. He complimented the Ricketts family on the care they’ve put into their ownership.
- The second “questioner” brought a prepared, written statement. It started with an audible audience groan, but it was actually pretty complimentary. And not as long as you’d expect.
- Another compliment, but we do finally get a question. She has heard the ivy and outfield wall are down and wants to know if they will be up for Opening Day. Tom says the ivy has been taken off the wall and laid on the ground, so they can work on the wall brick by brick. They keep what they can, and replace the damaged bricks. The wall is actually still standing right now. They will always keep the same ivy. Also, this isn’t the first time the ivy has been removed.
- Laura takes a minute to thank the fans for their patience with this process. It’s a lovefest so far.
- When are the bathrooms going to be done? They can’t say exactly when each thing will be done in the restoration. It’s a process. They can’t do everything at once because they want to play at the ballpark in the summers, so they can only work in the winter. The Cubs contemplated trying to play at the Cell or in Milwaukee for a year to get the renovations done faster, but quickly decided against it.
- How hard is it to balance profitability with the other three main goals? Tom talks about the context of making money in sports. You generate as much as you can, you pay your expenses, then you take the remaining dollars and allocate them to the organization. That’s why the restoration is so important. That money goes back into the team.
- A question about the three new rooftop properties the Ricketts family recently purchased. Tom talks about doing what is best for the Cubs to generate revenue and do what’s right for the team. They intend to run the buildings as rooftops for the time being. It’s what’s right for the team and what’s best for the organization.
- Here’s the long-awaited question about the new broadcast deal. The questioner is now out of market for many games. Is there anything that can be done for people in Peoria, Rockford, etc.? Tom says the Comcast games are still on Comcast, but he talks about how the WGN Superstation—or the idea of a superstation in general—is going away. Tom says it’s a high priority to make sure people have access, but he doesn’t have many answers to offer yet.
- If the bleachers aren’t ready on Opening Day what’s going to happen? Tom says it looks like it’s going to be a challenge to get that done. It could take through April. They do have a contingency plan in place for season ticket holders, and that will be discussed in detail in the Business Ops panel at 2 p.m. Renovating this ballpark is a big challenge, and there may be delays here and there, but it’s well worth it to continue to play at Wrigley Field, Laura says.
- There’s a lot of talk about making the park more kid friendly. The Ricketts are working on it. Clark was a big step in that direction. But a 100-year-old ballpark wasn’t built with kids in mind. The restoration will add more kid-friendly aspects. Quote of the panel: “If you’re bringing your five best friends from college, Wrigley Field is built for speed,” Tom says. “But for kids, it’s a little bit more of a challenge.”
- A question from a local resident about what fans will see at Wrigley on Opening Day and what the parking situation will look like. It will be similar to years past, Tom says. There’s the free remote lot. But things really won’t be that different from a parking perspective.
- A fan who grew up in the 1990s asks a question about Sammy Sosa and whether a reunion is in the works. Sosa is the main reason he became a fan. Tom says there are a few things that have to happen before Sosa comes back. It was a pretty vague answer, but that’s been the answer for a while now.
That’s it. Off to the Baseball Ops panel. Stay tuned for more. We’ll be blogging all day today and tomorrow.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Late Monday, the Cubs announced the stops for the upcoming 2015 Cubs Caravan tour. The two-day event will start on Jan. 14, at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) and conclude on Jan. 15, at Jacob Beidler Elementary School. The annual community outreach tour will feature two buses full of players, coaches and front office personnel.
Later this week, the tour will visit Advocate Children’s Hospital-Park Ridge, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, three elementary schools and the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine base where 200 military service personnel and veterans will be served lunch in partnership with the USO of Illinois.
This two-day program implements Cubs Charities mission to harness the passion of Cubs fans to improve the lives of children and families across Chicago and beyond by providing increased access to sports opportunities and targeting improvements in health, fitness and education for those at risk.
The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, which receives a significant grant from Cubs Charities to support adaptive sports programming, will kick off this year’s Cubs Caravan. Patients of RIC will have the opportunity to learn drills, play a baseball game, and participate in a Q&A session with Cubs players and coaches.
The Caravan will make a final stop Thursday with a visit to Jacob Beidler Elementary School. This visit will serve as the Caravan’s designated media stop, featuring Cubs players and front office associates painting wall murals, building benches and organizing reading spaces.
The 2015 Cubs Caravan Tour itinerary is as follows:
Attendees (subject to change) include: Laura Ricketts, Joe Maddon, Arismendy Alcantara, Albert Almora, Jake Arrieta, Dallas Beeler, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, Kyle Hendricks, Pierce Johnson, Eric Jokisch, Rafael Lopez, Jason Motte, Mike Olt, Blake Parker, Anthony Rizzo, Zac Rosscup, Brian Schlitter and Ryan Sweeney. Please note players/staff will be split up among the multiple stops on each day.
6 p.m. — Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Chicago
9:30 a.m. — Advocate Children’s Hospital, Park Ridge
10:30 a.m. — Horace Greeley Elementary School, Chicago
10:15 a.m. — Henry D. Lloyd Elementary School, Chicago
11:30 a.m. — 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine base, Chicago
2 p.m. — Jacob Beidler Elementary School, Chicago
Cubs announce legacy partnership with Sloan Valve Co.; Spring Training facility in Mesa now called Sloan Park
The Chicago Cubs and Sloan Valve Company today announced Sloan will become the naming rights partner of Sloan Park—formerly Cubs Park—the team’s Spring Training facility in Mesa, Arizona. Sloan, a global brand based in the Chicago area, joins the team as a Legacy Partner and the official water efficiency partner of the Chicago Cubs.
Sloan has been a leading global manufacturer of water-efficient solutions for 109 years. As a fourth-generation family business, Sloan prides itself on promoting a healthy environment through water conservation and understands what it means to build a legacy. The Cubs will utilize Sloan’s products in the newly-named Sloan Park in Mesa and target integration inside Wrigley Field and its surrounding facilities as part of the 1060 Project construction—helping the organization expand its ongoing sustainability efforts.
In addition to the Spring Training facility naming rights, Sloan will have a branding presence at Wrigley Field, including fixed signage in the visiting team’s bullpen.
“Teaming up with Sloan—another family-owned company based in Chicago with more than a century of history—is an important move for the Cubs as we look to provide clean and sustainable water solutions for our facilities in both Mesa and Chicago,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts.
Sloan becomes the sixth Legacy Partner of the Chicago Cubs, joining Anheuser-Busch, ATI Physical Therapy, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Under Armour and Wintrust.
“Sloan is passionate about providing intelligent water solutions to the communities we serve,” said Sloan President Jim Allen. “We are excited to have a major presence both in Chicago and Mesa to authentically convey the message of water sustainability.”
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Now things are starting to get fun. Last month when I sat down to write this letter, I was reflecting on the improvements of the past year and the splash the Cubs made by signing free-agent manager Joe Maddon to a five-year contract. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein had recently spoken about how the organization was turning a corner and how he expected the Cubs to contend for the NL Central crown in 2015.
“We’re going to be very involved [in the free-agent market],” Epstein said. “It’s starting to be the right time to add impact talent.”
I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t exaggerating. Christmas came early for Cubs fans when the team landed coveted left-hander Jon Lester, righty Jason Hammel, All-Star catcher Miguel Montero and backup catcher David Ross around December’s Winter Meetings.
Lester, whom the Cubs signed to a six-year deal with an option for a seventh, was the jewel of the offseason pitching market, and several top teams—including the Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers—waged a fierce battle over him. Though those teams have been postseason fixtures in recent years, Lester ultimately chose to come to Chicago and reunite with Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer, the executives who drafted him back in 2002 with Boston.
For years, people have questioned the front office’s plan for the organization, and many wondered aloud if and when they could get a major free agent to buy into their vision. But the Cubs’ plan all along has been to rebuild the minor league system as quickly as possible and add impact players from outside the organization when the time was right.
These recent moves weren’t a deviation. They were a confirmation.
The Cubs’ pitch to Lester, who turns 31 years old on Jan. 7, centered around the lure of bringing a World Series title to the North Side, the unrivaled young talent filling the system and the restoration of Wrigley Field, which will soon provide players with some of the best facilities in the game.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think [the Cubs] were going to win in 2015,” Lester said. “So that’s how I think. I’m never going to say, ‘Well, we’ll be all right this year, and we’ll get ‘em next year.’ I’m going in with the intention of winning in 2015. And that means the division, that means the World Series, that means everything. Like I said, I don’t like to lose. You can call it arrogant, you can call it cocky, whatever you want. But I like to win, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
The baseball world has long been drooling over the Cubs’ preponderance of young bats, from Javier Baez to Kris Bryant to Addison Russell to Jorge Soler. Add that to an already solid bullpen and proven major league players like Jake Arrieta, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Hammel, Lester and Montero, and you’ve really got something.
This month, we only touch on the recent signings, which hit the Chicago area like a tsunami moments before we went to press. Next month, we’ll take a deep dive into all the moves (along with providing our annual minor league prospectus).
It’s funny how fast things change. Last I checked, the Cubs were at 12-1 odds to win the World Series at online sports book Bovada. Like I said, things are starting to get fun.
Speaking of fun, in this month’s issue, we get the backstory on three decades of the Cubs Convention, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary from Jan. 16-18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. We also shed some light on the charitable work the team performed in the last year as part of its 100 Gifts of Service, the club’s most ambitious philanthropic initiative ever. Finally, we get our first chance to talk to new hitting coach John Mallee about his philosophy and what he hopes to achieve on the North Side. With a talented crop of young players now under his tutelage, it’s safe to say the Chicago native is eager to get started.
Here’s the good news: We’re just one month away from pitchers (Lester, Hammel) and catchers (Montero, Ross) reporting to Spring Training. As always, look for us at the convention, where we’ll be renewing subscriptions, meeting fans, and possibly hosting a player or two. See you there.
The Chicago Cubs and WLS-TV/ABC 7 Chicago today announced a historic partnership for television rights to Cubs games. For the first time in the 68-year television broadcast history of the Cubs, baseball games will air on ABC 7. Starting in April 2015, the channel will air 25 games per year through the 2019 season in primetime, daytime and on weekends.
“We are excited to have WLS-TV as our new television broadcast partner,” said President of Business Operations Crane Kenney. “WLS-TV has established itself as a trusted voice in Chicago, and we look forward to a new chapter of Cubs baseball airing on the flagship station of the ABC television network.”
WLS-TV echoed the Cubs’ excitement and said they are looking forward to this new beginning with the organization.
“ABC 7 is thrilled to be a part of this new chapter for the Chicago Cubs organization, and we welcome Cubs fans to the No. 1 station in Chicago,” said John Idler, president and general manager of ABC 7. “Like all Cubs fans, we are eager to celebrate the 2015 Chicago Cubs.”
Kenney added the Cubs will soon announce the home for the team’s remaining games not currently under contract to ABC 7 or Comcast SportsNet, ensuring all Cubs games will be on the air in Chicago next season.
“We will complete our broadcast realignment shortly, allowing every Cubs fan in Chicago the opportunity to watch every game of what we believe will be an exciting and competitive season,” he said.
The Cubs welcomed the Lake View community to their annual tree-lighting ceremony Thursday to celebrate the holidays and conclude the team’s 100 Gifts of Service initiative. The 100 Gifts of Service projects were part of a yearlong program featuring Cubs players and associates engaging in community service in celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday season. Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins was on hand along with Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, Cubs Charities Chair Laura Ricketts, President of Business Operations Crane Kenney and representatives from many of the organizations that benefited from the team’s charitable acts this year. The large tree, donated by Christy Webber Landscapes, is located in front of the Cubs Store at the northwest corner of the Clark and Addison intersection. We were at Wrigley Field last night to help ring in the holiday season. And look for a feature story on the 100 Gifts of Service project in the January issue of Vine Line.
The Chicago Cubs and Wintrust Financial Corporation Wednesday announced their Legacy Partnership introducing Wintrust as the exclusive official banking partner of the Cubs, Hickory Street Capital LLC and Cubs Charities.
Starting in 2015, the Wintrust sign will be prominently displayed throughout Wrigley Field. The most recognizable position will be atop the left field video board that will be constructed this offseason. The partnership will expand over time and include:
- Primary signage rights above the new left field video board.
- Exclusive ATM provider rights. Fans will be able to use Wintrust ATMs at multiple locations within Wrigley Field.
- Logo placement on the team’s media backdrop.
- Eventual naming rights of the ballpark’s Gate D on the corner of Addison and Sheffield avenues. Gate D will be named “The Wintrust Gate” once its renovation is complete.
- Rotational signage behind home plate.
- A video board feature between innings at every Cubs home game.
- A presenting sponsorship of a game each season, including a special promotional giveaway item for fans.
- A presence at the team’s Spring Training home, Cubs Park, in Mesa, Arizona, with signage in the outfield and behind home plate, promotional space at the ballpark and a promotional date each season.
- A retail lease in the future entertainment plaza and hotel development adjacent to Wrigley Field, through a separate agreement with the Ricketts family’s Hickory Street Capital LLC.
“It was important for us to find a strong local player for our Financial Legacy Partner,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts. “This Legacy Partnership pairs these two Chicago institutions for years to come, and we know our fans will support Wintrust’s role as a critical partner in helping the team achieve its goals of winning a World Series, saving Wrigley Field and being a good neighbor. Wintrust is a perfect fit for us.”
The Wintrust Legacy Partnership agreement was secured by the Cubs’ agency, W Partners, which was launched in February 2013.
“This is more than a sports sponsorship,” said Ed Wehmer, Wintrust CEO and founder. “This is two Chicago institutions partnering to meet two lofty goals—one to win the World Series for the first time in more than a century and the other to become Chicago’s bank in an increasingly fragmented and competitive market. You can see a lot of parallels in our two organizations.”
Wintrust becomes the fifth Legacy Partner of the Cubs, joining Anheuser-Busch, ATI Physical Therapy, Starwood Hotels and Resorts and Under Armour.
The Cubs are inviting their fans to participate in a holiday toy drive benefiting children at Lawrence Hall Youth Services to conclude the team’s yearlong 100 Gifts of Service. Toys may be donated at the Cubs Store across from Wrigley Field beginning today until December 4 at 5:30 p.m., when the team will once again host a holiday celebration and tree lighting ceremony at the corner of Clark and Addison streets.
Fans and neighbors are invited to attend the tree-lighting ceremony and may bring their new, unwrapped toys to donate at the event. The large tree donated by Christy Webber Landscapes will stand at the northwest corner of the Clark and Addison intersection to avoid conflict with Wrigley Field construction. Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins will be joined by Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, President of Business Operations Crane Kenney and representatives from many of the organizations that benefited from the team’s 100 Gifts of Service this year. These 100 Gifts of Service represent a yearlong program featuring Cubs players and associates engaging in community service in celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday season.
For fans and neighbors who are unable to attend Thursday evening’s tree-lighting ceremony, the Cubs Store will accept new, unwrapped toys as donations during its business hours of 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Lawrence Hall Youth Services has compiled a wish list of desired toys (attached) that include action figures, board games, dolls, educational toys, puzzles, sporting equipment, stuffed animals, toy cars and more.
“Lawrence Hall’s foster care and treatment programs serve youth who have experienced trauma or neglect,” said Connie Falcone, vice president of development for Cubs Charities. “These holiday gifts will provide much-needed smiles to some very deserving children.”
In addition to the toy drive, fans worldwide can offer a monetary donation to Cubs Charities to support the toy drive and other programs targeting improvements in health, fitness and education for those at risk. Those interested in donating are encouraged to do so on Giving Tuesday (Dec. 2), which is a global day dedicated to giving back. The Cubs will participate in the global #GivingTuesday social media campaign and request fans share both the #GivingTuesday and #CubsCharities hashtags when encouraging donations online. Donations to Cubs Charities may be submitted online at cubscharities.com.