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.
On Nov. 3, 2014, the Cubs hired former AL Manager of the Year Joe Maddon to be the 54th manager in Cubs history. Known as a player’s coach and one of the best, most visionary minds in the game, Maddon brings credibility, personality and more to the North Side. The entire coaching staff covered a number of topics with host and CBS Radio-WXRT personality Lin Brehmer.
Cubs fans enjoy Joe Maddon. The applause after his introduction says as much. As festivities of the Cubs Convention rolled into Saturday, people poured into the Joe Maddon and His Coaching Staff panel to get a first-hand look at the first-year Cubs manager.
“Where’s the fire marshal?” asked Maddon when looking out at the standing-room-only crowd.
Hosted by Brehmer, the staff gave insight in terms of what to expect for the upcoming year. They also answered an array of questions from fans, explained their expectations of the task at hand and had some fun in the process. Some of the highlights included:
“People always run away from expectations,” Maddon said, when discussing the Sporting News’ prediction that the Cubs will win the World Series. “Bring on the expectations, I think it’s great. … Let’s do what Riz wants us to do, let’s win the Central.”
On multiple occasions, the new skipper stated he hadn’t yet filled out a lineup card and that he needs to better evaluate the players on his staff. He did say he got his information from various places, joking he even took some lineup-creating advice from the Tampa Chamber of Commerce while with the Rays. They finished with a 3-2 record.
He also retold his story of his appreciation of Wrigley Field, comparing walking off the pitcher’s mound after a meeting and gazing around the stadium to a view from reminiscent of the movie Gladiator.
New bench coach Dave Martinez, who spent eight seasons as Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay, joked that “if it’s 70 [degrees] or less, he’ll wear that Elmer Fudd hat.
“I’ve heard things like he’s a mad scientist but this guy eats, sleeps, breathes baseball.”
New hitting coach John Mallee said he has an out if the team’s offense fails to live up to expectation.
“If we do well, I’m going to look like genius, if I don’t I’ll blame [new assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske].”
When asked a question regarding pregame rituals, Maddon responded “I don’t have any superstitions, and I hope not to acquire them,” a statement that brought a lot of laughs given the Cubs’ superstition-filled history.
The main aspect Maddon hopes to work on as the team heads to Spring Training is the creation of relationships. He believes a team reacts better to criticism when coaches and players have a better trust between themselves.
Through a series of trades, free agent signings and the hiring of new manager Joe Maddon, this offseason has been busy for the Baseball Operations department. On Saturday morning, Cubs radio broadcaster Ron Coomer and CBS Radio personality Josh Liss met with President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, Executive Vice President/General Manager Jed Hoyer, Assistant General Manager Randy Bush and Assistant General Manager Shiraz Rehman to discuss how the offseason unfolded. Here’s what went down with the Baseball Operations department at the 2015 Cubs Convention:
Josh Liss kicks things off thanks to the new CBS partnership. Coomer talks about having total knee replacement surgery in the offseason. He looks pretty good for eight weeks out from surgery. Coomer opens by talking about the excitement of the Cubs this season. “Baseball is a better game when the Cubs are good,” Coomer says.
When asked about the team’s confidence, Epstein mentions that the team is still undefeated in 2015. He’s done tempering expectations. Cubs fans deserve to get excited after the last three years. He thinks the team will be really fun to watch this year.
“When you have players who have won the World Series and been to the top of the mountain, it provides great perspective for everyone else.,” Epstein says of signing Jon Lester. Bush talks about how experienced players can be steadying for the club.
Bush and Rehman talk about working for Epstein and Hoyer.
“It’s a pretty dynamic place to go to work every day,” Bush says. “It’s a pretty exciting group of guys from Theo all the way down. … It’s one of the most exciting places I’ve ever come to work.”
Rehman talks about the strides the team has made rebuilding the farm system. The trades they made were tough, but they were building for the future. Now that’s starting to pay off.
Bush talks about Epstein/Hoyer’s great sense of humor and how smart they are. They’re all about gathering information and accumulating as many resources as possible about players.
Hoyer and Epstein talk about their trip to a Florida RV park to land Maddon. They knew it was a great opportunity and wanted to be aggressive. Maddon was traveling the county in his RV (the Cousin Eddie). They met him in Florida and realized they hadn’t brought anything for Maddon and his wife. They quickly made a stop at Publix to get some wine. They sat and talked baseball for about six hours on plastic chairs in the sand. Epstein talks about how engaging Maddon is and how he can bring out the best in you. Players feel that too. Two days later, they were in Maddon’s agent’s office in Chicago hammering out a contract.
“When things present themselves that are such great opportunities, don’t overthink things. Just pounce,” Epstein says of Maddon’s hiring. Says he’s missed out on other opportunities/players by not being so aggressive. You deal with the ramifications later.
Hoyer talks about the challenges of playing/managing in Chicago, but says Maddon is great at finding creative solutions to bringing teams together. Won with few resources in Tampa.
Maddon understands that players need to have a life away from the ballpark, Hoyer says. You need to keep players fresh and keep things interesting. He has days when players don’t have to show up early for batting practice, themed trips, etc.
Hoyer talks about the new coaches. Calls Dave Martinez a future manager. Talks about Mallee’s work in Houston with guys like Jose Altuve and Cris Carter. Plus, he has had success with right-handed power hitters (which the Cubs have a lot of).
Epstein says Eric Hinske will be a nice complement to Mallee as asst. hitting coach. Very different personalities. Also talks about the guys who are coming back, Borzello, Strode, Jones, Bosio, etc.
Borzello and Bosio work amazingly hard breaking down hitters and going over scouting reports. Epstein says every time he goes into coaching room, those guys are watching video, breaking down opposing hitters. Rehman says he and Borzello had an hour-long conversation last night after midnight about pitch-framing. That’s the kind of passion these guys have for the game, he says.
Now we’re on Jon Lester. Epstein talks about how Lester could have gone a lot of places given his career, character, track-record, but he was up for the challenge of coming to Chicago. At dinner after the initial meeting, Lester kept saying, “They’re going to burn this city down again when we win the World Series.”
They really tailored the pitch to Lester because they knew him. Felt like they were cheating because they knew so much about Lester and his family. But, ultimately, Lester simply wanted to come here.
Epstein talks about Lester’s pitch mix and his experience pitching at Fenway. It has forced him to get creative and be adaptable. He should be able to handle pitching at Wrigley Field. He doesn’t just rely on one thing/pitch to get guys out.
Hoyer talks about the catching situation and what they have in Miguel Montero. He’s a great pitch-framer, great defensive catcher and a guy who really relates well to pitchers. Many people have told Hoyer David Ross is one of the best teammates in the game and an excellent clubhouse leader. These are the kinds of guys who can be mentors to a young team. They still like Welington Castillo a great deal, but Ross was just too good to pass up.
They knew they needed to add leadership this offseason to help build a winning culture. They feel really good about what they’ve added. Coaches can’t do everything. You also need teammates who can pull guys aside and correct bad behaviors or help guys who are struggling.
Young players are mainly thinking about staying in the big leagues/survival. There’s a necessary selfishness there, Bush says. We need guys who can help foster a team concept and make those guys more comfortable. That’s why they liked hearing Rizzo’a comments about wining the NL Central.
Next comes the question-and-answer session with fans:
- The first question is about the draft and how they choose players. Epstein talks about how the track record for the best college bat is usually very good. They have a predisposition to that type of player with high picks. They tend to return about twice as much value as a pitcher at the top of the draft. You get your pitching through volume. You have to hammer it throughout the course of the draft.
- How do you determine how young guys get at-bats? Javy Baez got a lot even though he struck out. Olt and Lake had a shorter leash. Hoyer said they wanted Javy to learn through his at-bats. They felt he needed that to get his feet under him in the major leagues. They wanted to bring him up and let him play. Lake and Olt lost time because other guys, like Chris Coghlan and Luis Valbuena, had strong seasons.
- Here’s a question about when Kris Bryant is going to come up, especially if he hits in Spring Training. Epstein says it’s a balance of factors. It’s not just protecting the service clock. He uses Baez and Soler as an example. They’re trying to do the right thing for Bryant’s development and for the team.
- The next question is about where the offensive production is going to come from. Epstein says there’s a good chance for improved production behind the plate with Montero/Ross/Castillo. But if the Cubs are going to be really good, it’s because young players are going to take big steps forward. They still really like Luis Valbuena at third, and Bryant will likely be up this year. But guys like Baez and Soler will have to step up. Alcantara can beat you with power and speed. There’s a lot of young talent on this team, but they need to take steps forward.
- There’s a question about the development of the minor league pitchers like C.J. Edwards and Carson Sands. Rehman says Duane Underwood took some real steps forward last year. Jen-Ho Tseng has a four-pitch mix and throws up to 95. Really just a teenager. Edwards and Hendricks are more known commodities. Pitchers tend to surprise you more than hitters.
That’s it. Maddon and his Staff are next on the schedule. Stay tuned for more. We’ll be blogging all day today and tomorrow.
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.
It was a quiet day Tuesday in the Caribbean, as only the Dominican League was in action. Both Frank Batista and Junior Lake had solid performances in their respective team’s victories. Here are some notes from yesterday’s games in the Dominican:
- RHP Frank Batista surrendered one run in 3.1 innings to pick up his first postseason victory in the Aguilas Cibaenas’ win over the Toros del Este. He struck out four as the Aguilas improved to 6-8 in the playoffs.
- CF Junior Lake finished with two hits, including a double, as the Estrellas de Oriente defeated the Gigantes del Cibao Tuesday. Lake went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored as the second-place Estrellas picked up a game on the postseason-leading Gigantes in the Dominican playoffs.
Javier Baez had a pair of hits, and Christian Villanueva drove in a run as Caribbean postseason play continued Monday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action:
- SS Javier Baez recorded a pair of hits, drove in a run and scored a run in the Cangrejeros de Santurce’s 5-4 win over the Criollos de Caguas. Santurce remains in first place in the round robin postseason, sitting at 6-2.
- 3B Christian Villanueva went hitless, but drove in a run on a sacrifice fly as the Yaquis de Obregon tied the semifinal series against the Charros de Jalisco 1-1 with a win Monday. Villanueva finished 0-for-2 with a walk.
- 3B Jonathan Herrera went 0-for-3, but the Navegantes del Magallanes picked up a win over the Aguilas del Zulia. Magallanes sits at 5-3, a game out of first place in the postseason round robin.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz picked up a loss, surrendering three earned runs on three hits, as the Tiburones de La Guaira fell to the Tigres de Aragua. La Guaira is now 3-5.
(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)
Cubs play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes has been named the 2014 Illinois Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
“I’d like to dedicate this award to my wonderful broadcast partner, Ron Coomer, and to the Chicago Cubs fans, the best listening audience in the world,” Hughes said.
This is Hughes’ ninth Sportscaster of the Year honor and his sixth in Illinois, having previously won the award in 1996, 1999, 2006, 2007 and 2009. Hughes was honored as Wisconsin’s Sportscaster of the Year in 1990, 1991 and 1992.
Hughes is entering his 33rd campaign broadcasting big league baseball and his 20th season with the Cubs. The 2015 season will mark his second year teaming with Coomer on the Cubs Radio Network. He and Coomer join their new broadcast home, WBBM Newsradio 780, in 2015.
The award will be presented June 9, 2015, in Salisbury, N.C.
Javier Baez had a nice day at the plate, and Junior Lake drove in a run in playoff action Sunday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- SS Javier Baez went 1-for-3 with two walks despite his Cangrejeros de Santurce falling to the Gigantes de Carolina in postseason play. He added two runs scored as Santurce lost its second game of the postseason.
- CF Junior Lake had a hit and drove in a run as his Estrellas de Oriente picked up the win. He finished 1-for-5, and the Estrellas improved to 7-6 in postseason play.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz retired the lone batter he faced as the Tiburones de La Guaira secured a victory against the Aguilas del Zulia in postseason round robin play. La Guaira sits at 3-4 and 2.5 games out of first place.
- 3B Christian Villanueva finished 0-for-3 with a walk in the Yaquis de Obregon’s loss to the Charros de Jalisco in Game One of the league semifinals.