The 30th annual Cubs Convention was my first ever and I was privileged with the task of covering this event thanks to the hard working people here at Midway Madness. As I arrived, Gary Pressy welcomed me and thousands of other Cubs fans with classic tunes from his famous organ that instantly brought images of sunshine, baseball, and Wrigley Field. Cubs Con is a three day weekend event, but most of the informative sessions are held on Saturday. My partner in crime, Jamie Bradley, and I tackled a fair share of panels — including one where upper management discussed their offseason.
Every session was filled to capacity and there was a certain buzz of optimism in the air. Fans are truly buying into Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s plan to turn the Cubs into a consistent winning machine. The long process of rebuilding a franchise once in shambles was accelerated a bit with the fortunate hire of one of the game’s greatest managers, Joe Maddon.
Maddon and his staff of Davy Martinez, Lester Strode, Chris Bosio, Eric Hinske and new hitting coach John Mallee, among others, were present for the popular “Joe Maddon and His Coaching Staff” session.
Joe Maddon and His Coaching Staff
Out of every introduction at all the scheduled sessions at the Cubs Convention this year, I think I can safely say that the ovation Joe Maddon received was the loudest of them all. Fans feast on Maddon’s storied philosophical views on how to run a ball club and he didn’t disappoint the packed, standing room only crowd.
Before fans could stop cheering for Maddon, the always interesting manager was asked what he thought of Sporting News picking the Cubs to win the World Series this year. Without hesitation Maddon responded with, “Never permit pressure to succeed the pleasure.” He went on to give a lot of credit to the front office for putting together a very strong offseason on top of the young talent ready to win now. Maddon added, “Bring on the expectations.”
As the main attraction, Maddon was asked the majority of the questions. Many of them stemmed from the original root of a potential World Series coming to Wrigley in the near future. He iterated that it takes more than just 25 guys to reach the promised land and credited his coaching staff with a ton of confidence. The exciting part of having Joe Maddon is that he has a strong influence on his team and often brings out the best in them.
Newly brought in bench coach Davy Martinez worked with Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay for eight years. Martinez praised Maddon for his ability to bring about 110 percent from his players each time they take the field. There is a certain mentality Maddon instills in a clubhouse that brings teams to a whole new level. His philosophy and mental approach to the game allows even the least likely of teams to achieve success.
Take current Cubs Assistant Hitting Coach Eric Hinske’s experience for example. Hinske talked about how he won a World Series with Boston in 2007 and went to a Tampa Bay team the following year after they had finished in last place. On the first day of Spring Training, Joe Maddon told that Rays team, “We’re going to win our division, and we’re going to the World Series.” Sure enough, that’s what happened.
Maddon and Pitching Coach Chris Bosio addressed their bullpen a bit, noting that a guy who could get four outs would be someone of value. Also, there really is not a closer set in stone. Both coaches gave high praise to Neil Ramirez, Brian Schlitter, Pedro Strope, Justin Grimm and Hector Rondon for their performances last season, as they could all be called upon to get the game’s final three outs. Rondon is currently the front runner, however. Flexibility is nice to have.
Meanwhile, Lester Strode, Gary Jones and the rest of the panel shard a lot of laughs with the crowd throughout the presentation. The session ended with Maddon praising Wrigley Field as, “The finest cathedral in Major League Baseball.” Way to win over the faithful, Joe.
There was a lot of useful information from the Business Operations’ panel. Let’s start with the televised game schedule. President of Business Operations, Crane Kenney, announced a multi-year deal with WGN, as they will host 45 games, while ABC 7 is awarded with 25. Comcast Sportsnet has the remaining 92 Cubs games. Also, the Cubs struck a deal with CBS radio, making it the third most lucrative deal with a radio station in baseball. Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer will still be calling games.
The problem many fans will experience in different markets is that they will be subject to blackouts for the 70 games not on CSN. Kenney made it a point to try and work with local affiliates to carry WLS and WGN/CW Cubs games, but if that failed, he would try and force Major League Baseball to lift the blackout restriction for MLB Extra Innings subscribers. The latter seems like a long shot, so hopefully Kenney can reach a syndication agreement.
As for the bleachers, yeah, they won’t be done by Opening Night. Carl Rice is in charge of the Wrigley renovation process and he stated that the left field bleachers will be finished by early May, while the right field side will be done by late May. Rice and the other panelists did their best to emphasize the point of quality being the utmost important aspect of this project. They are renovating Wrigley to preserve the historic “cathedral” for another century.
For those who are worried about their season tickets located in the bleachers, you have three options:
- Full refund
- Credit on account which allows you to choose any seats available to games prior to May 11
- Relocation of seats to games prior to May 11
The scoreboards, however, are a different story. The LED board underneath the historic center field scoreboard will be removed to bring about a more original feel. In left-center field, the main jumbotron will be ready by April 5th and offer video replays, game stats, Cubs history, behind the scenes stuff, as well as scores and highlights. There will also be a second scoreboard added down the right field line that will handle in-game stats and allow those to follow along on their scorecard if they choose to do so, but that will not be finished until May.
As for the concessions, currently there is just two full cook options out of 17 fans are able to choose from in the concourse. After the renovation project is finished, there will be 10 of 17 full cook options. Also, the panel let the fans know they understand there is a lack of concessions in the upper deck. After renovations, there will be four added options with patio views of the city. Added upper deck concessions means less walking, and lower wait times to get that belly filled.
Crane Kenney talked about the possibility of moving the Cubs North to Milwaukee for two years in order to complete the renovation process at Wrigley without delay or interruption. After pondering the idea, they ultimately decided against it because of how exciting they are projected to be in the coming years (and that people would riot). The five year plan costing a total of $550 million is being funded totally by the owner himself, Tom Ricketts, and it allows the Cubs to play their home games in Chicago while renovations are being done.
Wrigley Field is not the only project the Cubs managed to tackle over the past few years, as they opened a brand new strength and conditioning complex next to their Spring Training facility in Mesa, Arizona. Players are able to train in world class facilities as well as play in a brand new stadium, Sloan Park.
My first Cubs Convention is officially in the books and it was an experience and a half. The optimism may have been at the highest its been in at least five years and there is a lot to be excited about.