The Best Cubs Convention, So Far

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I personally haven’t been to the Cubs Convention since 2012, when it was still being held at the Hilton and the Chicago Cubs were still very bad at baseball.  We pretty much learned this weekend, straight from Theo Epstein’s mouth, that that was by design, just as he intimated all those years ago when he was first hired.  By now, about 30 media outlets and all the Cubs blogs have probably posted about the sessions so far, but since it’s my birthday, I’m gonna do what I want.  So here’s what I did this weekend.

As you may recall, we had a post about stuff to ask Tom Ricketts.  To answer those questions:

What did you guys do with Kyle Schwarber‘s baseball?

There it is! #Cubs #Schwarbomb

Posted by World Series Dreaming on Friday, January 15, 2016

What exactly is Ryne Sandberg supposed to be doing as a new Cubs ambassador?

What is the new Rickettsville gonna look like?

Crane Kenney actually talked a lot about this and I’ll expand on it below, but suffice it to say that the videos and animations they showed looked very amazing, and they have a lot of ideas in the works.

When are you going to actually extend Theo Epstein?

This is a non-issue for either side.  Tom Ricketts said there are no worries.  Todd Ricketts said pretty emphatically that Theo wasn’t going anywhere.  And Theo himself said he wanted to stick around in other sessions and interviews.  To summarize:

What does Sammy Sosa have to do to get invited back?

Every year there’s the obligatory Sammy question, and every year Tom gives the same wishy-washy non-answer.  But it does sound like they do want him back.  It just won’t be soon, at least not until we figure out what it is Sammy HAS to do.

On to the sessions, in detail…

Ricketts Family Forum

The Ricketts family usually has the very first session of the day, and I think it’s by design to try to avoid too many crazies as nobody wants to wake up early on the weekends.  Alas, we’re talking about Cubs fans, who are certifiably nuts and as Joe Maddon says, “severe” in their fandom.  So of course the room was packed by the time I trucked up to the hotel, and I wasn’t even late.  Governor Pete was in Nebraska doing governing stuff, so it was just Tom, Todd, and Laura holding down the fort.

Regarding the offseason plan, Tom reiterated that they were able to execute Plan A.  He basically listened to what Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer wanted, and after Theo and Jed said, “This is what we want,” he gave the OK, although he did make a joke about Jason Heyward‘s first at-bat against Carlos Zambrano still giving him fits.  Laura followed up with lauding the Cubs’ and players’ charitable efforts, including $3.4 million in funding this past season and somewhere around $17.5 million since they took over the team, which is splendid.  There were nine player-driven events for their own foundations, and of course Joe Maddon did his Thanksmas thing prior to the convention.  The organization is full of quality people and it showed.  Todd finished up by talking about his work with the World War II historical foundation and how they set up really cool perks for the game against the Detroit Tigers.

As for their favorite 2015 memory, Tom chose the Dexter Fowler home run against Colorado after talking about Anthony Rizzo‘s leadership in storming the Cincinnati Reds’ dugout by himself in 2014.  Laura talked about how she was always confident about a game even when the Cubs were behind in 2015, and both she and Todd loved the Wild Card game in Pittsburgh.  While they said the Pirates fans were friendly, Todd was less kind about the New York Mets, saying their fans were obnoxious and talking about how his wife hated the Mets.  I guess you had to be there, but Todd at least knew how to cater to his audience.

There were actually some decent questions from the crowd in this session, and Tom addressed the need to improve flow and alleviate congestion within the ballpark as well as trying to improve the neighborhood for families.  I think the saddest part was when a father, who loved taking his disabled daughter to Cubs games, talked about how online sales and possibly scalpers were eliminating accessible seats for his family, which really sucks because there are only so many places in the ballpark that can accommodate people with special needs.  Tom promised to look into it, but when I followed up with the gentleman later on, he didn’t sound very enthusiastic about it.  Hopefully this is something that can be taken care of, but when the team is good, they’re going to try to sell any and all seats they can regardless of the person’s needs.

Baseball Operations

I’m pretty sure most outlets have covered this to death, so let’s talk about a few things I liked…

People seemed to give their resumes and CVs at the mic, and were not-so-jokingly shilling for jobs with the Cubs.

Both Theo and Jed were pretty emphatic about NOT trading Kyle Schwarber.

Some crazy lady decided to yell at Theo and Jed for trading away good players all the time, but as we’ve come to expect from the front office, their responses were measured and diplomatic.  They also defended former Cubs GM Jim Hendry, who did bring in guys like Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, so Hendry wasn’t completely useless.

Best statement from a fan:

I guess we’d better get used to the Cubs knowing what they’re doing!  By the way, there’s some talk about the DH, and depending on who you talk to (Theo says probably not), Cardinals GM John Mozeliak suggests there’s momentum for the designated hitter in the National League.  There’s also the probable international draft, per Jed.

Business Operations

Crane Kenney spent about 35 minutes giving a general update of the ballpark renovations and revenue streams coming in.  He praised baseball operations for doing what they did with the money given to them, and also the Ricketts family for adopting the philosophy, “In everything we do, do it right.”  Here are some bullets:

  • The hotel across the street along Clark avenue, which is supposed to be a Sheraton, breaks ground this year.  So I guess the McDonald’s has to move.
  • The West Gate being built into Wrigley Field should be finished by the end of this season, which means fans will have to deal with continued construction during games (but they’ve promised to minimize the obstructions and inconvenience).
  • Kenney talked about the perks of the video boards, including the replays of Cubs favorites like Harry Caray, Ron Santo, and Ernie Banks singing the stretch.
  • The TV ratings, despite being thrown across multiple networks, are good, comparable to TBS’ broadcasts of the NLDS.
  • There were nearly 3 million fans at Wrigley this year (likely suppressed by early season construction and weather), and over 222000 at Sloan Park in Mesa.
  • 98% of the season ticket holders renewed for 2016.
  • Spring training sales for 2016 have doubled, and many games have already sold out.
  • There was a nifty video recap of the construction so far, with a few time-lapses showing the progress from a big hole in the ground to the beginnings of laying out the Triangle plaza.
  • The Cubs are now anticipating the team will play in October more often than not, so have budgeted for 20-week offseason construction schedules rather than 26 weeks, which will increase the amount of time it takes to fix the park, but it’ll be worth it because CUBS IN OCTOBER.
  • When completed prior to Opening Day, the Cubs home clubhouse will be the largest and most expensive home team clubhouse in major league history.
  • They then showed an animation of the plaza and surrounding areas to the west of Wrigley Field, narrated by Kenney.  The plaza is expected to be ready for 2017, but likely will be done by winter of 2016 so they can put up the ice skating rink.
  • Kenney shilled for WrigleyRooftops.com, and reiterated that the Cubs now control 10 of 16 rooftop properties.
  • The bleachers will have a new history section for bleachers ticket holders to peruse.
  • Since concerts contribute to revenue (and thus, player payroll), they will continue to hold more concerts at Wrigley, but will strike a balance between revenue and baseball so the field doesn’t get ruined.  The grounds crew has been great at making sure the field returns to playable condition after concerts.
  • And finally, Friday afternoon games will start at 1:20 PM Central Time even though the Cubs won the right to host 3:05 start times.  It’s all good.

During the Q&A session, Kenney discussed the increase in security measures (apparently the Director of Homeland Security will sit in on the owners meetings) and metal detectors will be installed at Wrigley Field for this season.  So plan accordingly.  The Cubs are pushing the City of Chicago to allow them to expand their game time patrol perimeter 100 feet, to allow security to control who passes along the four streets flanking Wrigley Field.  They will also extend netting to the edge of the dugout.

Kenney also confirmed what Tom Ricketts said long ago, that all profits would be reinvested into the team.  Theo is being given everything after expenses have been paid, and told to use it as best as he can to build a team.  I’d say he was successful this offseason.  Also, due to the TV rights reverting to the Cubs in 2019, they are expecting to try to set up a regional sports network around that time, dependent upon consumer behavior and television deal structures when the time comes.

After that, I was done.  Without my kid around, there wasn’t much point to me sticking around, so I went home and now I’m gonna eat some cake.  Hope the rest of you enjoy the remainder of the Convention, and it was fun to interact with you in person.

 

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About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

2 Replies to “The Best Cubs Convention, So Far”

  1. We all look at the free agents and wish we had then all. Lets keep things real, rosters are limited. Someone comes then someone must go. There are only nine players on the field at a time. It is every bit a possibility that we have a Cespedes, (Schwarber). and we have a Upton, (Soler). I would expect each of them to outdo those free agents next year.

    • All that is true, plus with this organization’s new emphasis on makeup and chemistry, it makes sense to keep the in-house guys for now anyway. I doubt Cubs are willing to forfeit another draft pick this season anyway.

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