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Cubs Convention Report: Day Two
by Phil Bencomo
In many ways, the Cubs have trimmed away much of the past's excess fat. I say this not merely metaphorically, but quite literally as well.
From the coaching and managerial purging of the fall to the weight loss of key players, this Cub team is now a far leaner club than the team we saw playing just four months ago.
Saturday's first session, Meet Cubs Baseball Management, served as testament to the reshaped Cubs. At this session, fans are given the opportunity to ask questions directly to management, which included GM Jim Hendry, new skipper Lou Piniella, and Assistant GM Randy Bush. The third question involved weight issues and conditioning. Responded Hendry: "[Ryan] Dempster has lost 20 pounds, and Kerry [Wood] is down to 215."
Though I didn't see Kerry, I can confirm that Dempster has indeed lost weight; he looks far more fit now than at any point during his Cub career. Much comment was made about his weight loss in a later session, Tales From The Bullpen, to which he joked, "You know, I used to look like this once." Also at Tales were Rod Beck, Lee Smith and current Cub reliever Scott Eyre, who too looks like he's lost weight. Eyre did mention that he started his offseason training program earlier this winter ("We're going to win a lot of games this year, and I want to pitch in them"), an encouraging trend among Cub players.
Beyond merely trimming body fat, the Cubs have seen their front office which itself shed dead weight in the form of former Team President Andy MacPhail overhaul the coaching staff, beginning with the addition of Lou Piniella. I'll admit that Piniella's reputation made me quite skeptical of the move, but after hearing the man talk for a few hours, and hearing players talk about him, his philosophies and hard-nosed demeanor have grown on me.
Lou is a man who demands a lot of things from his players. But this was perhaps the most encouraging statement I heard from him Saturday:
"It's time to bring some swagger back to Chicago."
A lean, mean Cub team led by a man who demands hustle and fundamental play is an exciting prospect indeed. Said Hendry: "Hustling is a given. It's never been discussed. No one questions how his teams play. If someone doesn't hustle, he'll be out there about four hours early working on it."
A later session, Piniella 101, assembled the entire Cub coaching staff and Piniella for another fan questionnaire. Piniella, hitting coach Gerald Perry, pitching coach Larry Rothschild, bench coach Alan Trammell, first base coach Matt Sinatro, third base coach Mike Quade, assistant to the manager Ivan DeJesus and bullpen coach Lester Strode fielded questions. As before with Piniella, the emphasis was on solid, fundamental play, and hustling. With an almost entirely new staff, I believe we will see a true paradigm shift, away from the laid-back Dusty Baker mentality, in '07.
Perhaps the only one preventing such a shift from occurring is Larry Rothschild, the only coach not let go after '06. Piniella, however, expressed full confidence in the man whose pitching staffs have been less than impressive and certainly less than healthy. "I had Larry in Cincinnati, and he's good. Don't blame the injuries on him. He's professional, organized and good with pitchers." At some point, though, the pitching coach has to be held accountable for the failures, injuries included, of the staff. In a sly dig at Baker, though, Piniella redeemed himself, saying, "It's a manager's fault if he runs a guy out there and he throws 120 pitches ever game and gets hurt." Needless to say, that statement drew much applause from the crowd.
Well, I've got tons more to discuss, but it's getting late and I'll be up early once again for another busy convention day. I'll have more tomorrow and into the new week. More pictures are promised.