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.
In front of a nearly full ballroom, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Shiraz Rehman, Randy Bush and Rick Renteria took the stage Saturday morning. The first set of questions were pointed at Epstein and Hoyer, discussing the current state of the organization and the hope for playoff baseball.
“The only way to make [the fans] happy is by playing October baseball on a regular basis, and that’s the plan,” Epstein said.
Hoyer continued that idea by saying World Series are won with sustained success, reaching the post season more times than not over the period of a decade, and that history has shown you don’t get there by spending a ton of money one season and hoping to get lucky.
“You don’t win a World Series with the lightning in the bottle, you win because you get there a lot and catch some good breaks,” Hoyer said.
New manager Renteria made some early believers of fans, demonstrating his appreciation for the team, even as it stands right now. He says he used to look over to the other dugout during his time in San Diego and think “I’ll take this team right now, and I know what’s coming behind them.”
“My personality is suited to young players, I’ve been raising young kids my whole life, they’re my kids now,” Renteria said.
Not a ton of new information regarding Japanese pitching phenom Masahiro Tanaka, as expected, as they don’t discuss the progress of signing situations.
Though Epstein said they weren’t going to spend for the sake of spending, he did say that if money wasn’t fully utilized this offseason, that it would be used at some point.
Epstein is also adamant that the Ricketts are in it for the long haul and not wavered by the criticism they’ve received thus far.
Finally, when asked about bringing up former top prospect Brett Jackson, Epstein admits it might have been a mistake to bring him up. At the same time, former manager Dale Sveum wanted to work exclusively with him on his swing.
After a slight delay, Tom, Laura and Todd Ricketts took the stage, with Cubs voice Len Kasper serving as forum host. Pete was not in attendance as he continues to run for governor of Nebraska.
Tom Ricketts opened up the ceremony, recapping the work done in both the Dominican Republic and the Spring Training facilities in Mesa, Ariz. He stated that roughly 20 percent of major leaguers are from Latin America, and the majority of which are from the Dominican. The modern facilities, with state-of-the-art ballfields as well as modern computer labs and classrooms will attract the best of the best in the Latin America to the Cubs organization.
The family was also very proud and excited to discuss the new Spring Training facilities in Mesa.
“Mesa is the best place for players to train in the offseason, and best place to rehab in the offseason,” Tom Ricketts said.
Ricketts also highlighted the work done to the minor league system, noting that Baseball Prospectus named it the No. 2 farm system while ESPN has said the organization has four of the top 30 prospects in all of baseball.
After a quick introduction, Ricketts let the fans ask questions. One of the first topics asked included the Wrigley questions with the rooftop group.
Possibly the highlight of the panel came with Tom Ricketts’ metaphor for the rooftop issues, relating it to watching Showtime’s “Homeland,” while a neighbor is watching your tv through the window. He continued that the neighbor then charges other neighbors to sit outside and watch.
“You close the windows and the city tells you to open them,” Ricketts said.
Ricketts said he wants to work something well before the 2023 contract arrives, and that they look to “control” the situation. On numerous occasions the trio stated they wanted to get more progess done in the near future. They made it seem as if they will do what they want after the contract expires.
Once a deal does go through, Ricketts believes that they can speed up the process to a four-year plan with the original five-year plan serving as a worst-case scenario.
Kids, meet Clark, the Cubs’ new mascot.
The Cubs will introduce the organization’s first official team mascot Monday evening when Clark visits children at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center’s Pediatric Development Center. He will make his debut alongside more than a dozen Cubs prospects who are currently participating in the Rookie Development Program.
“The Cubs are thrilled to welcome Clark as the team’s official mascot,” said Cubs Senior Director of Marketing Alison Miller. “Clark is a young, friendly Cub who can’t wait to interact with our other young Cubs fans. He’ll be a welcoming presence for families at Wrigley Field and an excellent ambassador for the team in the community.”
After consistently hearing through survey feedback and fan interviews that the Cubs needed more family-friendly entertainment, the team surveyed fans and held focus groups to determine the interest in and benefits of introducing an official mascot. The appetite for more family-friendly initiatives became clear, and the concept of a mascot who interacts in the community, engages with young fans and is respectful of the game was widely supported.
Clark will play a big role in the Cubs Charities’ mission of targeting improvement in health and wellness, fitness, and education for children and families at risk. Young fans can see him at the Cubs Caravan, Cubs On the Move Fitness Programs, hospital visits and other Cubs events.
On game days, Clark will greet fans as they enter Wrigley Field, and he’ll stop by the Wrigley Field First Timer’s Booth to welcome new guests. The mascot will also help kids run the bases on Family Sundays.
The young Cub will interact with fans at Wrigley Field all season long at Clark’s Clubhouse, where he’ll spend most of his time during Cubs games.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Don’t miss your first chance to meet new manager Rick Renteria and celebrate Wrigley Field’s upcoming 100th birthday at the 2014 Cubs Convention, Jan. 17-19, at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. Featured guests include the current Cubs roster, the new coaching staff, alumni and many top prospects. The 29th Annual Cubs Convention will also feature more than 100 photo and autograph opportunities, new activities and traditional favorites.
The convention’s Opening Ceremony begins Friday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m., and will feature player introductions on a red carpet runway with special VIP access for children 16 and under. Following the Opening Ceremony, guests can search for some of their favorite Cubs and young prospects throughout the hotel in an exciting Autograph Hunt Game. The event’s first day concludes with a special movie premiere of MLB Productions’ 100 Years of Wrigley Field, followed by a “Cheers to 100 Years” toast at Sheraton Chicago’s Chi Bar hosted by Budweiser.
Saturday’s program continues with fan favorites such as the return of Cubs Family Feud and Cubs Jeopardy, which will feature unique trivia based on Wrigley Field’s 100 years of history and the addition of fan guests on each team. Saturday will also be fans first chance to meet manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff at the much-anticipated Meet the New Skipper session. The evening will conclude with a special 100 Years of Wrigley Field session, at which fans will get a sneak peek at some of the promotions planned for the centennial season, and long-time Convention favorite Cubs Bingo, presented by Budweiser and led by Wayne Messmer.
Additional weekend sessions (subject to change) include: The Ricketts Family Forum, Meet Cubs Baseball Management, Scouting and Player Development, Rookie Development Group, For Kids Only Press Conference presented by Advocate Health Care, 30-Year Anniversary: 1984 Team, WGN Radio Sports Central, Meet Cubs Business Management and Down on the Farm.
In addition to the sessions highlighted above, the Convention includes many new and returning activities throughout the weekend for fans:
- Beginning at Cubs Convention and continuing through Spring Training and at each regular season home game, the Cubs will unveil and pay tribute to 100 Great Times in Wrigley Field history presented by Budweiser. One will be unveiled each day at Cubs Convention, and fans will be able to follow these unveilings via social media.
- A new autograph system will be integrated this year, which will include the opportunity for fans to have a meet-and-greet with marquee players through a donation to Cubs Charities.
- Fans can visit a dedicated social media lounge, featuring giveaways, charging stations, an interactive screen and special guest Twitter takeovers throughout the weekend.
- Walgreens Field 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.
- Enhanced this year with a radar gun, MLB Network’s Strike Zone allows fans to test their arm speed and win prizes at an inflatable speed pitch.
- A dedicated Kids’ Corner will host face painting, caricatures, balloon artists and a coloring station with a weekend-long coloring contest. Winners will be selected Sunday morning.
- The Blue Bunny Bucket Toss gives kids a chance to win ice cream prizes in a fun bucket toss game.
- The Cubbie Closet gives kids a chance to dress up like a big leaguer in complete, full-size uniforms for a fun photo opportunity.
- A variety of Cubs memorabilia will be available for sale or auction from Cubs Authentics, Cubs Charities and a selection of third party vendors.
Room packages at the Sheraton Chicago and individual weekend passes for the 2014 Cubs Convention are still available. Cubs Convention room rates include passes at a discounted price of $20, or passes can be purchased individually for $60 per pass plus convenience fees at www.cubs.com/convention or 1-800-THE-CUBS. Guests can visit the Cubs Convention page for more information and the most up-to-date list of confirmed players, coaches and alumni.
Due to high demand of parking at the Sheraton Chicago during Cubs Convention weekend and the cost of parking downtown, a limited number of parking spots will be available at Wrigley Field for the duration of the weekend on a first-come, first-serve basis. These print-at-home parking vouchers are available at www.cubs.com/convention for $25 for the entire weekend, beginning Friday at 3 p.m. until Sunday at 3 p.m. Please note transportation from Wrigley Field to the Sheraton Chicago will be the responsibility of the attendee.
A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Cubs Charities. To date, the Cubs Convention has raised approximately $4 million for the Cubs’ charitable arm.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
It’s never too early to start thinking about the 2014 season or to start celebrating Wrigley Field’s upcoming 100th birthday.
Individual weekend passes for the 2014 Cubs Convention will go on sale Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 10 a.m. CST. Each weekend pass is $60 plus convenience fees and is valid for all three days, Jan. 17-19, at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers in downtown Chicago. Passes will be available for purchase here or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS.
The 29th Annual Cubs Convention will feature Cubs celebrity guests, including players, coaches, alumni and some of the organization’s top minor league prospects. This year’s Cubs Convention attendees will also get a first look at many of the promotions and activities planned to celebrate 100 years of Wrigley Field during the upcoming season.
Attendees can book rooms at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers at cubs.com/convention or calling the hotel at 800-325-3535 and asking for the Cubs Convention rate of $183 per night plus tax. Hotel guests may purchase up to four Cubs Convention passes for a reduced rate of $20 each.
The 2014 Cubs Convention will take place Friday, Jan. 17, from 2-10 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 18, from 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 19, from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. More information will be posted on cubs.com as details are confirmed.
A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Chicago Cubs Charities. To date, the annual event has raised approximately $4 million for the Cubs charitable arm.
The 28th annual Cubs Convention is in the books, and Vine Line was there for the entire weekend. We were front and center for the opening ceremonies, saw everything the new hotel had to offer, and got an opportunity to debrief with Convention newbies like Edwin Jackson and new assistant hitting coach Rob Deer.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The 28th annual Cubs Convention is in the books. Next stop: Mesa.
The Convention kicked off with the Opening Ceremony in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel and Towers. Fans got an opportunity to interact with players and alumni as they walked down a red carpet on their way to the stage at the front of the hall.
We’ll post pictures from the Convention all week here on the blog.