Results tagged ‘ Rick Renteria ’
The following Q&A appears in the April edition of Vine Line magazine.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria has certainly paid his dues. After 30 years in professional baseball, he’ll feel like a rookie again this season as he takes the managerial reins for the first time. Though the 51-year-old is unfailingly positive, he’s also tough, and he hopes to bring a new attitude to a Cubs franchise that is brimming with young talent. We sat down with Renteria during Spring Training to ask about running his first big league team and his expectations for the season.
Vine Line: You’ve had a long coaching career, but you’re a first-time major league manager. What was your opening message to the team?
RR: That we should place high expectations upon ourselves to compete and to win. We shouldn’t be afraid to raise the bar and expect ourselves to attain that bar. If we go about doing our business with the fear that we won’t attain it—and thereby not set expectations—what’s the goal? We need to have goals, and I think they’re going about their business a certain way right now. I’m very excited about the club.
VL: Is it nice to finally get your eyes on some of the top prospects like Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant?
RR: It’s extremely exciting to see all the young guys that are in camp, with Almora, Baez and all the guys that are here. It’s important that we put our eyes on them to see where they end up ultimately fitting into the scheme of things. I think the skill sets are very high. Experience has to continue to play into it while they’re developing and playing in the minor leagues, so we make sure that once they get here, it’s not overwhelming.
Some guys may not make the splash that everybody expects, but that’s OK. You can work through those things. Some guys will make a big splash, and that’s great. But the reality is you’ve got to stay even keel, and that’s where we as a coaching staff and as an organization have to make sure these guys feel comfortable.
VL: You were aggressive with stealing bases, bunts, etc. in the spring. Is that an indication of how you expect the team to play?
RR: I think every skill set the players bring has to be taken into account when you’re determining what you’re going to do with them. But we do expect these guys to be able to do many things—to be able to steal a base, be able to hit and run, be able to sac bunt, be able to squeeze. If we lay the foundation right now in the spring that those are the expectations we have for them, anything is possible.
Once the season starts, the bell rings, you’ve got 40,000 people in the stands, and the lights are on, we expect that the transition to the regular season shouldn’t be as hard for us because we’re expecting to do a lot of things, and we’re doing them from Day One.
VL: You’ve talked about your coaching staff and the players sharing a family feeling. Why is that important?
RR: I think being a family-like team is extremely important. You feel like you have each other’s back. You’re willing to go out and fight for your teammate. You’re willing to defend anything that they do. You may be in the clubhouse, and you may be getting on each other, but nobody else can come in and say the same thing that you can as a teammate. That’s the family feel, you know? I grew up in a large family of nine, and maybe we could get on each other, but if somebody else came in from the outside and wanted to do the same thing, “Hey, not going to happen.”
VL: A lot of people are saying this team can’t compete this year. What do you say to that?
RR: We can compete this year. I think we have the ability to go out there and play the game. Anybody can do whatever it is they choose to do. The question is: Who do we choose to believe we are? Do we choose to believe what everybody else says—the naysayers, the doubters, whatever the case might be? Do they have a reason? Sure, but that’s not our reason. Our reason to go out here is to perform, to do well and expect to do well.
VL: There’s a new wrinkle this year with expanded instant replay. Do you have a system in place for how you’ll handle that?
RR: If my eyes tell me I should challenge something, I’m going to challenge. It’s not necessarily like I’m going to take every opportunity to go ahead and challenge every single play just because I can. … I don’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it. I think there should be a purpose. I should develop my skill set, and the bench coach and all of us on the bench should develop our skill sets.
Spring is a time for hope, optimism and new beginnings. This season, the Cubs are welcoming a new manager, several new coaches and a host of new players to the fold.
We talked to Cubs personnel, new and old, about the feeling in camp this year and how things are different under skipper Rick Renteria.
We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park throughout the spring, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.
Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:
Cubscast Mesa, Inside Cubs Park
Cubscast Mesa with Rick Renteria and the 2014 coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects
Cubscast Mesa: Meet the new guys
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part One
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Two
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Three
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Four
The Cubs opened their Spring Training slate Thursday by setting a single-game Cactus League attendance record at brand new Cubs Park. 14,486 fans showed up on a near-perfect 75 degree day in Mesa, Ariz., to watch the Cubs drop a 5-2 affair to the Diamondbacks. The previos attendance record was set on on March 23, 2013, when 13,721 fans watched the White Sox visit the Dodgers.
Though today was Rick Renteria’s first official game as a major league manager, he said he didn’t have any butterflies.
“It’s obviously my first game as a manager in major league camp, but it feels just like another game,” he said. “We’re getting ready for the season and today’s the first day of basically a test to see how everybody’s doing. We’re going to use it to see what aspects of the game we need to improve on and basically see where everybody’s at.”
Emilio Bonifacio got the game off to an exciting start when he tripled in his first at-bat in the leadoff spot. He was eventually driven in by Luis Valbuena. Renteria compared the speedy Bonifacio to Chone Figgins in terms of his defensive versatility, but reiterated that Darwin Barney is expected to be his second baseman on Opening Day.
“[Bonifacio] is a guy who puts it on the ground and if he gets it through someplace, he’s got a chance to go like he did there—all the way to third base,” Renteria said.
The highlight of the game was Starlin Castro, who went 2-for-2 on the day with one RBI, hitting the ball hard both times.
“[Castro] had some nice at-bats,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “He’s been working, and his body language looks good. The guys look like they’re working together, so it’s kind of moving along. And it’s just the first day, so there’s so much time ahead of us to figure out all that. But it was a good day for him.”
Chris Rusin, who went 2-6 with a 3.93 ERA in 13 starts last season, will face off against the Angels’ Jered Weaver in Tempe on Friday. The game starts at 2 p.m. CST and will be broadcast on WGN Radio.
It was Cub on Cub today at Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz., as the team test drove the new facility with an intrasquad matchup in preparation for tomorrow’s home opener. Last year’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year Kyle Hendricks, who put up a 13-4 record and a 2.00 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last season, got things off to a fast start, retiring all eight batters he faced. Hendricks doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he knows how to pitch and was able to keep the ball on the ground.
“He has got a tremendous amount of poise on the hill, and obviously has a mix of pitches,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria.”He’s probably put himself on everybody’s radar by the way he went about his business last year. It doesn’t hurt anybody to come out and do well.”
Opposing starter Eric Jokisch, who threw a no-hitter last season with Double-A Tennessee, was also effective, giving up no runs over two innings and striking out four.
Though players have said the park plays big, you wouldn’t have known it Wednesday, as Welington Castillo, Justin Ruggiano and Christian Villanueva all hit long solo home runs. Junior Lake and Ryan Kalish singled in runs, and 2009 NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan drove one in on a squeeze bunt. Brett Jackson and Jorge Soler each stole a base.
Strong-armed pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who hasn’t seen game action since 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, pitched one inning. He gave up no runs, but walked two and gave up a hit.
“His arm is live,” Renteria said. “It comes out of there pretty easy. It looks like he’s using his secondary pitches … the way he wants to. If he wants to bury a pitch, he does it. If he wants to go off the corners, he can.”
The white “home” team won the game 5-3.
The inaugural Cactus League game at Cubs Park will be tomorrow, Feb. 27, against the Arizona Diamondbacks. First pitch is at 2 p.m. CST, and the game will be televised on WGN-TV.
Here’s the early lineup:
1. Emilio Bonifacio, 2B
2. Luis Valbuena, 3B
3. Starlin Castro, SS
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Junior Lake, CF
6. Welington Castillo, C
7. Justin Ruggiano, LF
8. Mike Olt, DH
9. Darnell McDonald, RF
SP Jeff Samardzija
Other pitchers expected to see action: LHP Wesley Wright; RHPs Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Blake Parker, Hector Rondon, Jose Veras
Cubs prospect Jorge Soler takes a swing at Cubs Park Tuesday.
The day kicked off Tuesday with Cubs legend Fergie Jenkins addressing the 66 players in major league camp and about 50 others from the minor league mini camp. The Hall of Famer talked about his time as a player and what it takes to survive in the major leagues.
In 10 years with the Cubs, Jenkins posted six consecutive 20-win seasons (1967-72) and four consecutive seasons with more than 300 innings (1968-71). During his Cy Young season in 1971, Jenkins went 24-13 with a 2.77 ERA and threw 325.0 innings with 263 strikeouts versus only 37 walks. Jenkins was joined by fellow Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe, who is in camp all spring as an instructor.
“I thought Fergie was good,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “I don’t know that he’s ever spoken to the group like that, so it was nice to have him out there to talk to everybody. Here’s a guy who’s a Hall of Famer, who’s worked from a different era and brings in a different perspective … gives them a perspective of the things we should all appreciate about where we’re at.”
After about two weeks of practice, the Cubs will finally crank things up to game speed for the first time Wednesday in a six-inning exhibition game at Cubs Park. The contest will start at 1 p.m. local time, with Kyle Hendricks and Eric Jokisch facing off against one another.
“It’s a whole different atmosphere here,” Jokisch said. “You get to meet all the big league guys and the big league coaches and learn from them. I’m excited to get the games started.”
Other pitchers slated to see action are Marcus Hatley, Chang-Yong Lim, Neil Ramirez, Armando Rivero, Brian Schlitter, Arodys Vizcaino and Tsuyoshi Wada. Renteria has not yet decided on the lineups, but he said he plans to mix it up so both veteran players and prospects can see some live pitching before the Cactus League campaign kicks off Thursday.
“We’re looking forward to playing the game. We’re excited. They’ve been working hard, and they want to put their work to use. We’re looking forward to letting them play and finding out what things we’re going to have to continue to improve on,” Renteria said. “It’s going to be good for me and for the staff to see the guys just put themselves out there between the lines with a little bit more of a competitive aspect to the game. [They can see] where they’re at as far as timing, and pitchers obviously [will see] where they’re at with hitters in game-type situations, which is what we’re building up to do.”
Renteria also mentioned that Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa, who underwent Tommy John surgery last June, threw a side session off the mound Monday. He threw some long toss and about 20-25 pitches off the mound, and it went very well.
“He gave me the thumbs up that it came out well,” Renteria said. “Like all our guys that are improving their health, we’re just going to take it one day at a time and continue to be patient and hope that they continue to progress.”
Monday morning was photo day at the brand new Cubs Park Spring Training Facility in Mesa, Ariz. The players and coaches went from station to station posing for the camera and answering questions from various media outlets.
Vine Line got a chance to talk to Cubs manager Rick Renteria, pitching coach Chris Bosio, hitting coach and former Cubs third baseman Bill Mueller, and first-base coach Eric Hinske about the early days of spring camp and their expectations for the 2014 season.
We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park all week long, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.
Much has been made of the fact that new Cubs manager Rick Renteria speaks both English and Spanish. He opened his daily press conference Monday by testing a new language on some Japanese reporters. With players like Kyuji Fujikawa and Tsuyoshi Wada in camp, Renteria has been learning new Japanese phrases daily to better communicate with his team.
Renteria and the rest of the Cubs coaching staff had high praise for the Cubs new training facility, including the Cubs Park stadium, which saw it’s first action Monday afternoon.
“It’s a beautiful facility. Obviously, we came and saw it earlier but to have them go out there and hit will allow them to get a feel for the field,” Renteria said. “It’s brand new, it’s expansive seating, it’s incredible. For a Spring Training facility, it’s almost a big league ballpark.”
Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood both threw off the mound at the stadium, and many of the major leaguers—including Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Ryan Sweeney—took batting practice. Though Rizzo blasted a few shots onto the outfield berm, he said the park plays big.
The Cubs also announced their early Cactus League rotation. Jeff Samardzija will inaugurate Cubs Park at the home opener on Thursday against the Diamondbacks’ Bronson Arroyo. Chris Rusin will take the mound Friday in Tempe against the Angels. The Cubs play a doubleheader on Saturday, with Travis Wood pitching the day game in Mesa against the Giants, and Edwin Jackson starting the nightcap versus the D-backs in Scottsdale. New Cubs starter Jason Hammel will start Sunday at home against the Royals.
The Cubs will play a six-inning intrasquad exhibition game at 1 p.m. local time on Wednesday at Cubs Park. Cubs 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Kyle Hendricks will start against Northwestern alum Eric Jokisch.
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.
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.
(Photo by Dave Durochik)
This offseason, the Cubs named former Padres bench coach Rick Renteria the 53rd manager in the organization’s history. Though he’s a first-time major league skipper, Renteria is a baseball lifer, spending the last 30 years in the game in some capacity. This month, Vine Line sat down with the 52-year-old to get a better understanding of his philosophy, his take on the job and much more. The following can be found in the January issue of Vine Line.
You could call it a premonition.
About 10 years ago, with the Cubs in the early stages of a successful run that saw them claim the NL Central crown three times in six years, Rick Renteria was coaching his son’s baseball team when one of the moms, who happened to be from Chicago, mentioned he would make a great manager for the North Siders. Perhaps it was his calm demeanor or the way he patiently explained things to the young players, but something struck a chord with her.
Renteria didn’t think much of it, but the conversation stuck with him over the years.
“Well, I hope she had a premonition that we’re going to have a lot of success,” joked the 52-year-old California native, who was recently named the 53rd manager in Cubs franchise history.
Renteria, a 30-year baseball veteran who has spent the last three seasons as the bench coach for manager Bud Black’s San Diego Padres, wasn’t the most likely choice or the highest-profile name out there. But what that team mom said a decade ago turned out to be surprisingly prescient. The first-time big league manager joins the Cubs organization with a reputation as a relentless optimist and an experienced shaper of young talent. And he might be the perfect fit for a team that is looking for a new voice and is stacked with high-upside young prospects just a year or two away from the major leagues.
Though Renteria is well aware of the Cubs’ recent history, it’s not his style to dwell on the past. It’s his job to take a franchise in the midst of a youth movement and help it improve and move forward. He credits much of his positive coaching style to his former Single-A manager Johnny Lipon, who coached Renteria at Single-A Alexandria in his third professional season in 1982.
“[He was] the most positive individual I’ve ever seen,” Renteria said of Lipon. “Here’s a guy who was a shortstop with the Detroit Tigers in a different era. He was an infielder. His demeanor was one that kept moving you forward, and that stayed and resonated with me.”
Renteria was officially hired on Nov. 7, 2013, but he didn’t make his first appearance at Wrigley Field until Dec. 5 because of offseason hip surgery. In his initial foray in front of the Chicago media, he certainly lived up to his reputation as an excellent communicator and an easy guy to get along with.
“I was struck by how comfortable I was watching him,” said President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein of Renteria. “Normally when you hire somebody new, and he meets the media for the first time, you’re kind of holding your breath to make sure he doesn’t put his foot in his mouth. We’ve worked with Ricky for a month now, and I was totally comfortable. I was actually checking emails while he was talking because I feel I already trust who he is as a human being. He comes from a genuine place, he’s extremely intelligent, relates to people really well, so it’s nice to really trust somebody in that role.”
The Cubs’ new hire has spent his early days as manager reaching out to his new players by phone or text and filling out his first coaching staff. He’s planning to head out to Arizona soon to see the new practice facility firsthand and to start working with his coaches on a plan for Spring Training. Vine Line was there for Renteria’s introduction to the Chicago media, at which he opened up about his plans for 2014, his notoriously positive disposition and his previous relationship with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer.
Vine Line: What was it that made you want to take the job here in Chicago? You may have heard from guys like Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella, this can be a difficult place to manage.
Rick Renteria: It’s a wonderful city, first of all. But the team that’s out there, the kids that are here, as you’re watching from the other side, they’re a very talented group. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to be here and be with this particular club. I’m looking forward to hopefully moving things forward and chipping away at whatever we need to chip away at to continue to advance the process. It’s just a great challenge. It’s a great opportunity.
VL: Is there any overall philosophical difference we’re going to notice from the first days of Spring Training?
RR: I think everybody comes in probably not trying to reinvent the wheel. We want guys that are going to give us great effort, guys that are going to hustle, guys that are going to prepare. I’m sure these are things that everybody asks of their players. They’re young players. [They need to understand] that, as professionals, this is part of who they’re supposed to be. We want to be a club that’s going to be aggressive on the bases, that’s going to be smart, that’s not going to be reckless. A club that’s going to hopefully continue to grind through at-bats, execute, and get beyond falling into the trap of if you get a bad call against you, you get bothered and that you continue to add to that spiral by not finishing out a plate appearance or a tactical hit or whatever the case might be. A club that’s there to pick each other up.
Hopefully, these guys come together as a kind of family. I think if you have that, you start to build your own chemistry, and it can be a strength.
VL: You said in your initial press conference that you think the team can compete this year. The Cubs lost 96 games last year and haven’t made significant improvements yet. What’s going to be different in 2014?
RR: Well, I can’t speak to the losses of the past. My mentality has always been to continue to move forward. What we can do is learn from that experience. What occurred? What kind of mentalities did we have? What approaches did we have? What were the things that occurred during a particular ballgame that maybe changed the dynamic of that particular ballgame? Those are the things we have to study and retrack and retrace and use to our advantage.
The players we have, they’re intelligent. They’re gifted. Starlin Castro, [Darwin] Barney, [Anthony] Rizzo. You had a combination of guys at third base with [Luis] Valbuena and [Donnie] Murphy. Then you had Welington Castillo and Junior Lake, who came up later on during the year. These are guys that have talent. [Ryan] Sweeney. Nate Schierholtz is an experienced player who’s been around a little bit. You have the makeup of a club that can do some things. I think you’re playing in the big boy division [in the NL Central]. We all grew up wanting to play against the big guys. Well, here we are. That’s our lot. That’s the challenge. We have to accept it and do what we can with it and move forward.
VL: This is a team that’s going through some growing pains right now. So how is a guy with your positive disposition going to manage that?
RR: I try to maintain an even-keeled approach. No player wants to go out there and fail. They want to do well, and I think I understand that. We know that the game is about the players and that sometimes we need to help them through those moments when things aren’t going very well. Hopefully, we’re able to articulate what it is they need to do to improve, whether it’s their approach or if it’s a physical action that we’re able to address and help them move forward.
VL: Did you put your coaching staff together with that in mind?
RR: I think so. Speaking to all of the [coaches], their attitudes are extremely positive. They’re going to bring in the idea of wanting to continue to teach. Sometimes we forget that players still want to learn. They’re never not learning. We have to be able to present a consistent message. I think all these guys that are going to come on board have that ability.
VL: You talk of being even-keeled. Do you have a temper?
RR: Oh, I can get hot. Any competitor can get hot. You’ve got to pick your spots. I don’t think players appreciate people just losing it for the sake of losing it. Will I do it for the sake of people watching me do it? No. You may not see me do it at all, but I can’t guarantee that. When it happens, it’s got to be the right time. Those things kind of take care of themselves. It’s a feel thing. If you’re a guy that’s pretty even-keeled and then you end up losing it, [players] understand that you mean business, that it means a little bit more. But, for the most part, I think conversations need to be had behind closed doors.
VL: This organization has a lot of potential stars that are perhaps a year or so away. Have you looked at some of those players, and how excited are you to manage them down the road?
RR: Obviously, I’m very excited about the guys we have right now. And I look at the players that are coming, and we have some talent in the organization. They’ve done a wonderful job in drafting and selecting some of these players. Right now, my focus is going to continue to be on the guys that are here. They’re extremely talented, and—it’s like anything—they have to put it forward between the lines.
I think if we maintain a consistent and positive message, we’ll be able to have some of these players do what they’re capable of doing. There are peaks and valleys, but that’s where, as a manager and a coaching staff, we have to remain even-keeled and give them an opportunity to keep moving forward.
VL: Castro has been in that valley for a while. What’s your approach to turning a young veteran like that around?
RR: People ask me about Starlin, and I watch him from the other side and think, “Gosh, what a tremendously gifted athlete.” First of all, I’ve got to get to know him as a person, and I have to figure out what it is that moves him. He’s a wonderful kid. I actually was able to speak to him at length. He was one of the first guys I called, and he’s willing to do anything we ask him to do. I know people talk about him losing focus and having bad at-bats and things of that nature, and we have to address those things.
Sometimes we don’t have conversations thinking we don’t want to have a confrontation or maybe we won’t like the answer we’re going to get. But the reality is you have to have dialogue. The only way you can improve things is to converse and to try to [give players] a plan or an idea of how they can move forward. That’s one of the things we’re going to have to do as teachers. The whole coaching staff is going to have to approach this as being teachers.
VL: What’s your take on using advanced metrics to influence pitching decisions, defensive positioning and the like?
RR: I think all information is actually quite useful. It’s how you decipher it and how you use it—how you apply it. If you limit your understanding, you’re doing yourself a disservice. I use numbers. I’ve used numbers since I was in the minor leagues. I used to keep numbers on my board when people weren’t using numbers. But it’s how you use them and how you apply them [that determines] how beneficial they really are.
It’s basically consequences and outcomes. It’s telling you what guys have been doing. Sometimes you still have to put your eyes on those guys to have an idea of what they’re doing at that particular moment. You can’t limit yourself. You’ve got to use a combination.
VL: You have a reputation for connecting with young players. In your career, you’ve done just about everything. You’ve played, you’ve managed in the minor leagues, you’ve coached in the major leagues. Is that what allows you to understand what players are going through?
RR: Probably that and probably the idea that, you know, I was pretty much a grunt coming up through the systems [as a player]. I fought and hustled through every ground out and everything I could possibly do to play this game. I understand and appreciate the privilege it is to be here as a player. I understand that most people when they come out to see a ballgame, they want to see somebody give you a good effort—beyond winning. They want to know that you’re invested in what it is you’re doing. Hopefully, that comes out in how I approach the players, because I am invested in this.
VL: Describe your relationship with Jed Hoyer. You worked together in the Padres organization. Is that familiarity one of the factors that made you want to come here?
RR: Jed, you know, was in San Diego. And when he was there, we used to have conversations when he’d come down to talk to Buddy [Black] and what have you. For me, it’s nice to be in a familiar setting, knowing the people I’m going to be working for, or alongside. That played a factor in how things progressed. I expressed that this was the place I wanted to be. I saw the makeup of what’s coming up. I like who we have here now, and I think it’s going to be something that we can move forward.
VL: Everybody has an opinion about playing at Wrigley Field. You’ve been here as a player and as a coach. What was your take on this place as an outsider?
RR: Awesome. I don’t think there’s any player that ever comes into Chicago thinking, “This is a bad place to play.” We loved coming here. Everybody does. It’s a great city. The fans are always there. Even if they’re booing against you, at least you know everybody’s in it. That’s a tremendous asset for this team to have, quite frankly. Their home-field advantage is their community—is their fan base. When we understand it and use it and take it to our advantage and really understand how it works, hopefully we’ll be able to articulate that message, and we’ll get it, and we’ll be able to do some things that make the fans feel really good.