Finally got that shot of Ryan Dempster I'd been looking for. Demp is a class act and ready for a big season in 2010. I did a long-form interview with him which will be posted soon.
The biggest news from this year's Cubs Convention is... that there really is no huge, breaking news. With a near 24-hour news cycle covering every single development about our favorite team, with breathless tweets being dissected on this site and others day and night, there was almost nothing to be revealed this weekend that wasn't already known.
A few miscellaneous things learned on Saturday:
- Management is just about as tired of talking about Milton Bradley as we are. (Jim Hendry did acknowledge that the signing was a mistake and claims the Cubs can resurrect Carlos Silva's career, which remains to be seen.)
- The Cubs are still looking to add a bullpen arm and veteran bat and according to Jim Hendry, "expect to have two new faces" before spring training.
- The Ricketts family intends to be "hands-off" when it comes to baseball management and also want to stay out of the "media spotlight", but will be around in the grandstand and bleachers talking to fans about many things. They seemed genuinely concerned about upgrading Wrigley Field facilities to modern standards.
- The Cubs do want the 2014 All-Star Game; Crane Kenney said he's been lobbying for it for a couple of years. One of the obstacles is the NL/AL alternating schedule which would currently have the AL as host in 2014. (To which Kenney's response is, "How often does a ballpark celebrate its 100th birthday?")
- It was about 50-50 in a show of hands in the business meeting regarding who does and doesn't want a Jumbotron to show replays (Kenney said, "No Kiss-cams"). Personally, if a Jumbotron gives more information and potential revenue -- bring it on. They also said they're looking into the possibility of Wifi at Wrigley Field.
- Assistant GM Randy Bush, who played on two World Series winners with the Twins, was asked about team chemistry. He said it's "guys committed to going the extra step, unselfish players"; reminded everyone that during the season players often spend more time with each other than with their families and so it's important that they trust each other and form a "core group" to support each other.
- Jessica ("Doggie Stalker") badgered Lou enough about his use of Bobby Scales last September that he called her "sweetheart". Brought the house down. Lou's also against the DH in the NL and he appears to have lost quite a bit of weight -- looks great. (Never did manage to get Jessica together with Sam Fuld, though. That may have to wait for spring training.)
- In response to the question, "Will your eyes be on the bottom line?", Laura Ricketts said, "The bottom line is winning", to loud applause. The Ricketts repeated what they had said at their introductory press conference last October -- that any profits made would be reinvested in the team. There was a huge standing ovation for the four Ricketts siblings when they walked in.
- For those wondering about player payroll and other budgets, it appears that many of the 2010 budgets were set (not necessarily in stone) as part of the team sale. I would expect the first major player payroll changes to be seen in 2011.
- I asked Hendry what the team is doing about having a consistent organizational philosophy top to bottom. He claims that is already beginning with Tim Wilken and Oneri Fleita in charge. Personally, I'd like to see more done; perhaps we will.
- Asked why Jake Fox was traded, Hendry said he had several meetings with Fox late in the year, told him he was likely a better AL player and that he would try to find him a situation like that, which he did. This is why Hendry is well-respected among players, because when they don't quite fit with the Cubs, he tries to find them a spot where they can do better. He was also asked whether the Cubs would go after Orlando Hudson -- response: "You can't sign an expensive free agent at every position." He said he was pleased with the job Jeff Baker did after he was acquired.
- I asked Crane Kenney, after a question about a possible Cubs TV network was asked, about what the Cubs would do to try to help end TV blackouts (particularly for those of you in Iowa). He acknowledged the issue and said the Cubs would try to work toward that, with a longterm view (maybe 10 years out) to having a Cubs TV channel.
Now, follow me after the jump for some more information about what may be the most contentious issue discussed all weekend -- spring training.
The number of articles between Florida, Arizona and Chicago media the last few days -- though none had incorrect information -- had a lot to do with various posts here claiming that Florida was getting the bid; Arizona was getting the bid; or somewhere in between.
Here's what I know as of this evening: there is general agreement, between fans and management, that the Cubs need an upgraded spring training complex (one where players wouldn't have to travel half a mile down the road between the minor league fields and the major league fields, as is the case now). Kenney reminded everyone that the facilities in Arizona are now in use 11 months a year for things like extended spring training, the AZ rookie league and the AZ fall league. That's what they need and intend to keep. He specifically mentioned the Goodyear Ballpark, the new Reds and Indians facility, as the type of place they want (though I also know they have visited Camelback Ranch, new spring home of the Dodgers and White Sox, considered to be the new jewel of the Cactus League).
Both Kenney and the Ricketts family, when asked about the years in Mesa, said that the 57 years training in Arizona does mean something, and I do not believe that was mere lip service. They know how many Cubs fans live or winter in Arizona, and that includes people who work for the team now. They are well aware of what appears to be overwhelming fan sentiment at the convention (mirrored by the 68% who voted "Arizona" in the poll I posted in this December interview with Mesa Mayor Scott Smith) for remaining in Arizona.
What I believe is going to happen is that soon -- possibly as soon as next week, though it could be later (although not much later -- the Cubs must give notice by the start of this year's spring training if they intend to opt out of their current ST deal) -- the Cubs will announce that they are going to continue in Mesa. For their part, the city of Mesa has stated, earlier today via tweet from Mayor Smith, that they intend to do what it takes to keep the Cubs:
To remove ALL doubt: Mesa proposal to Cubs will build new stadium and training facilities that are best in all of baseball!
And that, really, is what it's all about. The two new complexes I mentioned above, plus other new Arizona ST ballparks like the one in Surprise and the one in Peoria, are shared by two teams. The Cubs are the engine that drives the Cactus League, and as such should have a similar complex all to themselves.
Based on that comment by Mayor Smith, they'll get it. In Mesa. To paraphrase something we say here often, GETITDONESCOTT!!!
Here are a couple of photos from Saturday's panel discussions (yeah, I know, they're a little dark. Flash didn't quite work as well as I had hoped.)