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.
Former Cubs pitcher and current front office special assistant Ryan Dempster made his comedic debut in front of Cubs fans Friday night. And if his new role with the Cubs doesn’t work out, the fan favorite may have found a second career on stage.
Friday Night with Ryan Dempster wrapped up the first day at the 2015 Cubs Convention. The show resembled a late night talk show, similar to Jimmy Fallon or Jay Leno. His opening monologue got the crowd into the performance and though the show was ultimately very PG, he warned fans early on that there was “no FCC to monitor.”
One of the jokes that got a lot of laughs was when he explained how the Cubs front office was prepping for the idea that Opening Day might be played with minimal fans in the bleachers. He joked that to prepare for the sight, they just turned footage of old White Sox games.
Along with his standup, there were intermission videos describing Dempster’s importance—or lack of importance—in the Cubs front office. One video explained that the former right-hander was a key component in landing his old teammate Jon Lester to come to the Cubs. This notion was quickly shot down by a dismissive Tom Ricketts. In that same video Lester was asked about the host’s role, where his response was simply “Who’s Ryan Desmpster?”
On-stage guests included the likes of baseball president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and newcomers Lester and manager Joe Maddon.
Prior to Maddon’s arrival, Dempster gave a top 10 reasons the Cubs signed the former Rays’ skipper, with the top reason being “Of all the other managers we tried to tamper with, nobody else called us back,” in reference to Tampa Bay’s initial inquiries that the Cubs may have acquired Maddon without going through proper channels.
During Rizzo’s time on stage, he noted that Jason Hammel is the best-dressed player in the clubhouse, while worst-dressed honors went to Travis Wood. Rizzo also participated in a Home Run Derby, with a few fans walking away with autographed baseballs.
Lester took the stage donning a Dempster jersey and a beer. The host quickly gave him a box of Popeyes Chicken to “make him feel comfortable,” a reference to the infamous Red Sox’s 2011 chicken and beer debacle. The two also joked that Lester, who hasn’t recorded a hit in his major league career, will have to face opposing pitching on a regular basis since the switch to the National League.
Overall, a good time was had by all. Though it’s often not recommended, Dempster might be able to quit his day job.
Be sure to follow us all weekend, as we’ll be blogging many of the panels including the Ricketts Family Forum, Joe Maddon and His Coaching Staff and the Cubs Business Operations Update.
(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
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Weekend passes for the 30th Annual Cubs Convention and hotel packages at the event’s location, the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, are now sold out.
For those who have not booked their rooms, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s too late. A limited number of room packages with weekend passes remain available at the W Chicago Lakeshore Hotel. Cubs Convention room rates include passes at a discounted price of $20 each. For more information or to book one of the last remaining room packages, visit cubs.com/convention.
The 2015 Cubs Convention will feature more than 80 guests, including members of the current Cubs roster and coaching staff, alumni, minor leaguers, broadcasters and team executives who will interact with fans from Jan. 16-18. Guests attending the three-day weekend event will enjoy an updated event layout, more than 100 photo and autograph opportunities, enhanced activities and traditional favorites.
Valet and self parking are available at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, but garage space is limited. The use of public transportation is highly encouraged.
Attendees can visit the Cubs Convention page for the most up-to-date list of confirmed players, coaches, alumni and weekend events.
The list of confirmed guests includes:
Major League Players:
Arismendy Alcantara, INF/OF
Jake Arrieta, RHP
Javier Baez, INF
Dallas Beeler, RHP
Welington Castillo, C
Starlin Castro, INF
Chris Coghlan, OF
Justin Grimm, RHP
Jason Hammel, RHP
Kyle Hendricks, RHP
Edwin Jackson, RHP
Eric Jokisch, LHP
Tommy La Stella, INF
Jon Lester, LHP
Rafael Lopez, C
Miguel Montero, C
Jason Motte, RHP
Mike Olt, INF
Blake Parker, RHP
Neil Ramirez, RHP
Anthony Rizzo, INF
Hector Rondon, RHP
Zac Rosscup, LHP
Brian Schlitter, RHP
Jorge Soler, OF
Dan Straily, RHP
Pedro Strop, RHP
Ryan Sweeney, OF
Matt Szczur, OF
Jacob Turner, RHP
Luis Valbuena, INF
Tsuyoshi Wada, LHP
Travis Wood, LHP
Minor League Players:
Albert Almora, OF
Kris Bryant, INF
C.J. Edwards, RHP
Pierce Johnson, RHP
Addison Russell, INF
Kyle Schwarber, C/OF
George Altman, INF/OF
Glenn Beckert, INF
Ryan Dempster, RHP
Bob Dernier, OF
Mark DeRosa, INF/OF
Leon Durham, INF/OF
Bob Howry, RHP
Randy Hundley, C
Fergie Jenkins, RHP
Jay Johnstone, OF
Jacque Jones, OF
Les Lancaster, RHP
Jon Lieber, RHP
Ted Lilly, LHP
Bill Madlock, INF
Gary Matthews, OF
Dave Otto, LHP, Broadcaster
Milt Pappas, RHP
Glendon Rusch, LHP
Lee Smith, RHP
Tim Stoddard, RHP
Rick Sutcliffe, RHP
Steve Trout, LHP
Billy Williams, OF
Kerry Wood, RHP
Joe Maddon, Manager
Henry Blanco, Quality Assurance Coach
Mike Borzello, Catching Coach
Chris Bosio, Pitching Coach
Eric Hinske, Asst. Hitting Coach
Brandon Hyde, First Base Coach
Gary Jones, Third Base Coach
John Mallee, Hitting Coach
Dave Martinez, Bench Coach
Lester Strode, Bullpen Coach
Tom Ricketts, Chairman
Laura Ricketts, Board Member
Todd Ricketts, Board Member
Theo Epstein, President, Baseball Operations
Crane Kenney, President, Business Operations
Jed Hoyer, EVP/GM
Jason McLeod, SVP, Scouting & Player Development
Randy Bush, Assistant GM
Shiraz Rehman, Assistant GM
Pat Hughes, Radio Broadcaster
Ron Coomer, Radio Broadcaster, INF (2001)
Len Kasper, TV Broadcaster
Jim Deshaies, TV Broadcaster
Clark, Team Mascot
NOTE: THE HOLIDAYS THE BEST TIME TO SUBSCRIBE TO VINE LINE. FROM NOW UNTIL JAN. 1, 2015, USE THE PROMO CODE MERRY, AND YOU CAN GET VINE LINE FOR JUST $22/YEAR.
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.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Chicago Cubs will host the 30th annual Cubs Convention from Jan. 16-18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. The event will feature new manager Joe Maddon, his coaching staff, players from the current Cubs roster, alumni and prospects. The 2015 Cubs Convention will provide more than 100 photo and autograph opportunities, an updated event layout, enhanced activities and traditional favorites during the three-day weekend.
The Cubs Convention’s Opening Ceremony begins Friday, Jan. 16, at 6 p.m., and will feature player introductions on an elevated runway that will give special VIP access to children 16-and-under. Following the Opening Ceremony, guests will find some of their favorite Cubs and young prospects signing autographs for an exciting Surprise Signing Game. The event’s first day concludes with a special Friday Night with Ryan Dempster show, featuring interviews with Cubs players and coaches, comedy vignettes and interactive games.
Saturday’s program will continue with fan favorites such as the return of Cubs Family Feud and Cubs Jeopardy, which features unique trivia and the addition of fan guests on each team. Saturday also will feature a highly anticipated Joe Maddon and His Coaching Staff session, Meet the New Cubs, an extended For Kids Only Press Conference and a Cubs Business Operations update on the 1060 Project restoration. The evening will conclude with longtime Convention favorite Cubs Bingo, led by Wayne Messmer.
Additional weekend sessions (subject to change) include: The Ricketts Family Forum, A Recent Look Back: 2007-08 Cubs, 30 Years of Cubs Convention Memories, The Future is Bright, Here to Stay, Meet Cubs Baseball Management, Down on the Farm and #CubsSocial.
In addition to the sessions highlighted above, the Convention includes many new and returning activities throughout the weekend for fans:
- New layouts to the event space will be unveiled, including a dedicated autograph hall, Vendor Alley and two full ballrooms with kids activities—Clark’s Clubhouse and Clark’s Fieldhouse.
- Clark’s Fieldhouse is a miniature turf diamond that gives kids a fun place to play pick-up wiffle ball games or participate in professional instructional clinics as part of the Baseball Interactive Zone. Cubs players and coaches will pair up with Illinois Baseball Academy instructors to conduct a series of training opportunities for kids of all ages throughout the weekend.
- A dedicated Clark’s Clubhouse will host mini games, face painting, caricatures, balloon artists, inflatable tee ball and a coloring station.
- The Cubs Charities room has been moved to the main lobby floor and will again feature a variety of items and opportunities for sale, including private player meet-and-greets, baseballs, ball cubes, autographed mystery balls, 50/50 raffle tickets and grab bags with either a Wrigley Field 100 bobblehead or Ernie Banks statue figurine included. The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation will host a raffle and silent auction as well.
- Attendees can watch live bat-making demonstrations at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory station or check out game-used and replica bats of past and present Cubs players. In addition, fans can spin a prize wheel, sign up for free museum passes and the opportunity to win personalized Louisville Slugger baseball bats, and find out how they can take home the one-of-a-kind commemorative 30th Annual Cubs Convention bat on display throughout the weekend.
- Guests can visit a dedicated social media lounge, featuring giveaways, charging stations, an interactive screen and live special guest Q&A sessions throughout the weekend.
- A variety of Cubs memorabilia will be available for sale or auction from Cubs Authentics, Cubs Charities and a selection of third party vendors.
A limited number of Sheraton Chicago hotel room packages with Cubs Convention weekend passes remain available. Cubs Convention room rates include passes at a discounted price of $20, or passes can be purchased individually without a hotel reservation for $65 per pass plus convenience fees at cubs.com/convention or 1-800-THE-CUBS. Visit the Cubs Convention page for more information and the most up-to-date list of confirmed players, coaches and alumni.
A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Cubs Charities. To date, the Cubs Convention has raised approximately $4 million for Cubs Charities.
Javier Baez signs autographs at the 2014 Cubs Convention. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Individual weekend passes for the 30th Annual Cubs Convention will go on sale to the general public Tuesday, Sept. 16, at 10 a.m. CDT. Each weekend pass is $65 plus convenience fees and is valid for all three days, Jan. 16-18, at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers in downtown Chicago. Passes will be available for purchase by visiting cubs.com/convention or calling 1-800-THE-CUBS.
The 2015 Cubs Convention will feature Cubs celebrity guests including players, coaches, alumni and some of the organization’s top minor league prospects. A specific schedule of guests and events will be released closer to the date.
Attendees are still able to book rooms at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers by visiting cubs.com/convention or calling the hotel at 800-325-3535 and asking for the Cubs Convention rate of $187 per night plus tax. Hotel guests may purchase up to four Cubs Convention passes for a reduced rate of $20 each.
A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Cubs Charities. To date, the Cubs Convention has raised approximately $4 million for Cubs Charities.
The Sheraton Hotel & Towers hosted thousands of Cubs fans this weekend for the 29th annual Cubs Convention. Players were introduced, autographs were signed, panels were held and fun was had by all in attendance. Along with the Cubs Convention, players, coaches and other members of the organization participated in the Cubs Caravan earlier in the week, where they visited hospitals, schools and the USO of Illinois. Below is a gallery of some of the best images from the exciting week and weekend.
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.