Cubs Convention Day 2: Scouting And A Party Deck

Rendering of the new party deck and video board to be installed in right field at Wrigley Field. (Courtesy Chicago Cubs)

On Friday, the Cubs broke news at the convention with the theatrical introduction of Kerry Wood, re-signed to a one-year deal for $3 million with a team option for 2013 (reportedly at the same dollar amount).

On Saturday, the Cubs again made news by announcing that a party deck patio, with a video board that will be about 75 feet long and 10 feet high in front of it. This will replace the "bleacher boxes", seats that in the last few years have been very difficult for the Cubs to sell (since they were essentially bleacher seats, though seats instead of benches, sold at a 20% premium to regular bleacher tickets).

Above is a rendering of what this will look like. Construction has not yet begun, but Carl Rice, Cubs Vice President of Ballpark Operations, insisted it will be ready for Opening Day on April 5.

This is an outstanding idea. It will bring some more information (including pitch counts and pitch speeds) into Wrigley without overwhelming the park, and without doing anything to the existing scoreboard. I know some people are vehemently against such boards. Crane Kenney, Cubs President of Business Operations, took a poll in the business management session after this was revealed, asking if people wanted a board showing replays. It was about 60/40 in favor.

One thing I didn't have time to mention in my Friday night post (because it had already taken 30 minutes to write even that short amount via my phone) is that I heard that day, that the internet radio broadcasts of spring training games with Len Kasper are likely to continue in 2012. That was an outstanding idea last season and I'm happy that the Cubs are most likely going to do it again.

After the jump, a summary of all the important sessions at this year's Cubs Convention.

I went generally to sessions involving current team management and ownership, in order to get a better insight into the future of the team. That's not to say that I'm not interested in the history of the Cubs -- you surely know I am -- only that the future is so important, and there are only so many hours in the day.

One of the things I didn't care for was the fact that instead of the usual one session with Cubs baseball management, they had two -- one with Theo Epstein by himself, the other with Jed Hoyer, Dale Sveum and Randy Bush. This would have been fine -- but they were scheduled back-to-back, which meant in order to get to the second one (Theo's was first), I had to leave the Theo session early in order to get a seat at the other one.

I know that Theo's was scheduled early because he had to take off to get to Boston for a fundraiser for his "Foundation To Be Named Later"; that's fine. But they should have given 30 minutes in between the two sessions to make it easier for people to get to both.

That said, the Theo session was SRO. And when I say "SRO", I mean every seat was filled and people were standing four-deep at the back of the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton, probably the largest crowd I have ever seen for any session in convention history, larger even than the "Meet The Ricketts" session when they had their first one two years ago. Theo and Len Kasper sat in oversize easy chairs on the stage (reminded me of one of those kids TV shows where the adult character sits in a huge easy chair to make him or her look more childlike).

A number of questions were asked that I think you've heard Theo answer before regarding how the organization needs to be built from the bottom up, and that was the reason for the Sean Marshall trade (among other deals); he also touched on how the new CBA's draft rules will change things:

It doesn't put us at a disadvantage, instead it creates a scouting contest. It will create new strategy. We have to be better, because we can't stockpile picks. So we'll hire the best scouts, pay them well, and just have the best information on the prospects.

Jed Hoyer, in his session, also mentioned the phrase "scouting contest". Theo then went on to describe the new proprietary computer system the Cubs are developing with Bloomberg Sports:

Every business has an information management system. Baseball operations has a lot of data, many times what it was years ago. Every team needs a system like this, to put all the information in one place. We built our own in Boston to help us make better decisions and that took two to three years. The Cubs system was old, so we partnered with Bloomberg, who has experience, but we can customize and keep intellectual property rights.

Jed Hoyer also expanded on this, saying that it's a matter of having all the info "at our fingertips", giving an example that there are times when a trade is proposed and you might have only a couple of hours to make a decision and you'd want to be able to have info quickly so you can make an informed decision.

Theo said this about Dale Sveum:

He's a hard worker, the most prepared coach I've ever been around. He preaches hard work, preparation, respecting the game. I believe he can connect with the modern player. That's hard not to do without coddling; he's a true baseball guy but holds them to high standards. Every player will run hard to 1B.

I wondered whether some of that statement about "coddling" was a bit of a knock on the previous regime. For Sveum's part, here's how he described himself:

There's no other place I'd rather manage. I don't like the term "player's manager." I'm just a manager. I want the players to play hard and respect me. The players will be held accountable; you do have to have fun, but play hard.

Sveum was asked about Wrigley and its winds and said (and Jed and Theo echoed this) that Wrigley can be two different ballparks, one with the wind blowing out, one with it blowing in. He said that they intend to have a more "athletic" team; he noted that Tony Campana had helped beat the Brewers a couple of times with his speed.

Jed stressed "preparation" in answer to a question about all the errors made last year. He said that would help pitchers; fielders have to understand that "errors cause pitchers to throw extra pitches" and defensive players need to understand the ramifications of that.

The thing I took most out of Theo's session, for lack of a better term, is that he "gets it." You might roll your eyes at that, but hear me out. Veteran baseball men like Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella came to Chicago, seemed completely overwhelmed even at their first Cubs convention, and years later both said they had "no idea" what they were getting into.

I think Theo knows exactly what he's getting into. He said he'd remember the Kerry Wood announcement moment for the rest of his life. He saw the joy in Boston when they won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004 and said he knows it will be the same in Chicago. I believe Theo understands very well the connection between Cubs fans and the team, the lifelong loyalties all of us have. Obviously, that in and of itself will not produce a winning team. It's having the right people in place under him, having the right strategy, and procuring the right players. I believe Theo knows exactly how to do that. It's more clear than ever that the right management team is in place.

After a break for lunch and to walk through the exhibit halls -- which had been completely rearranged to make room for large exhibits from Lego and Best Buy, and it seemed as if there were far fewer vendors in general than previous years -- I headed to the Ricketts family session.

After two full years in ownership, Tom Ricketts and his siblings seem extremely comfortable in their roles. They joked around with each other about who makes decisions (Pete said he does "since I'm the oldest"; Todd's rejoinder was, "We wait till Pete leaves the room and then we decide", and Tom claimed, "When we make a good decision it's ours; when it's bad it's my fault.")

They were asked what teams they look to as examples (besides the obvious one, the Red Sox). Tom Ricketts said he has a good relationship with Jerry Reinsdorf and also praised Giants ownership, then quipping, "There's another West Coast team we really don't want to emulate right now." (The Dodgers, I presume.)

On specific issues, they said they hope to be able to start Wrigley renovations next offseason; during the business management session, Cubs Executive Vice President, Community Affairs/General Counsel Mike Lufrano said the team has no intention of moving out for a year during any renovations (even though they could be finished faster that way), instead doing them during offseasons.

A question was asked to Tom Ricketts about additional night games; he said the team has no intention right now of asking for more night games (and the crowd reacted negatively even to the suggestion, though I would not agree with that reaction). He did mention something I've said here before, that the Cubs would like to have the option, two or three times a year, to be able to play a Friday night home game coming off a road trip, and they might try to negotiate that in the future.

Regarding the McDonald's property, which was purchased by the Ricketts family (not by the Cubs organization), Tom Ricketts said:

We decided property in Wrigleyville doesn't come up very often, so we wanted to buy it in an effort to help make the neighborhood better. This year, McDonald's will stay, but something will go up on the south end of the parking lot. We have no plans long term for it until the Wrigley renovations are done.

There were a number of points raised in the business management session, which actually ran about 15 minutes longer than its allotted time; there were a number of good questions and informative answers:

  • The rainout policy has not been changed. (Yes, I asked.) This means "no refunds" is the official policy, though I know they do on a case by case basis give $ back if you really can't go to the makeup date. I again suggested they should do what 14 other teams do and allow dollar-for-dollar exchanges for available tickets. Crane Kenney said they're still considering this possibility.
  • A questioner asked whether the Cubs might open Wrigley on Hall of Fame induction day to allow people to watch Ron Santo's induction on screens (like the screens they had for the Ferris Bueller event last October). Colin Faulkner, Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service, said that date is now scheduled for a season ticket holder event, but they are considering changing that date due to the induction (and the fact that a lot of STH might be going to Cooperstown) and said they'd consider the suggestion.
  • Someone asked about the 2014 All-Star Game. Management said that's unlikely; I know they've talked about the possibility of asking for the ASG in 2016 (and just a couple of days ago published reports indicated the 2014 ASG is likely headed to Target Field); they also said they'll have some celebrations for both the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field in 2014 and the 100th anniversary of the Cubs being in Wrigley in 2016.
  • There won't be any further advertising in the outfield (other than the new video board) and no changes to the park other than the new party deck.
  • The team is going to test out a dynamic pricing system for bleacher tickets, the idea being "the earlier you buy, the better price you get." At no time would any dynamic price go below the season ticket holder price (which is lower than the single game buyer gets).
  • The new spring training facility in Mesa (which will also be in use year round for training, offices, rehab and other team use) will likely have groundbreaking in three or four months and be ready for its first spring game in 2014. If you are familiar with the Phoenix area, it will be located at the intersection of highway 101 and 202, the current site of the Riverview Golf Course.
  • There will be an upgraded security camera system and AT&T is working on improving the wifi system at Wrigley; Carl Rice also indicated the PA system is being improved.

That's a lot to digest, which is one reason I had to wait until morning to post all of this. It's a long and exhausting day. Overall, the convention seemed a bit less crowded than in some recent years when it was sold out (it wasn't again this year), although there were more people there than in 2011. Again, I'd love to see the Cubs find another venue for this event; it just isn't suited to an old-style hotel like the Hilton. In particular, the opening ceremony squeezes people, all standing, into one room that's ill-suited for it, and you can't get all convention-goers into the room; many have to watch on monitors in other ballrooms. Combine that with the distance many have to walk between sessions, the ridiculously long wait for elevators, the overpriced food and drink sold by the hotel (the Cubs' ballpark food selections, amazingly, are a better value), and I think it's time for the Cubs to find another place for their signature event. Where? Maybe the downtown Hyatt Regency, which is a more modern hotel that has large event space like the Hilton. That's just one suggestion.

I did run into quite a number of BCBers this weekend; rather than start naming you and forgetting someone, I'll just say -- good to see all of you and thanks for the compliments I heard about this site. Much appreciated.

What this event accomplishes, in the end, is to be a pep rally for Cubs baseball. There's nothing wrong with that on its face. More important is to await the results of what Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are just beginning, of course, and that may take a couple of years to come to fruition.

And in just five weeks, pitchers and catchers will report to Mesa.

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