CHICAGO -- As you’d expect, optimism was the theme of the night as the 2013 Chicago Cubs convention kicked off at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers on Friday evening. It’s a new venue for the convention, but it’s the same old enthusiasm -- even for a team that lost 101 games last season. Little Tony Campana got as loud a cheer as Starlin Castro. And so it goes at the annual offseason meet-and-greet. And fans aren't concerned that the long list of former Cubs are more well known than the current ones, for the most part.
But that optimism wasn't just limited to the fans. Both new and returning Cubs players are anxious to hit the field and wipe away the stench of 2012. Maybe they feel they can only go up. Here are some notes from opening night, in no particular order:
Matt Garza has no problem with the continued turnover on the roster, and isn’t surprised by it.
“They weren’t messing around last year when they said they were going to build from the bottom up,” he said. “Last year when we did rookie dress-up I bought like 27 costumes. I knew there were going to be a lot of new faces.”
Newcomer Edwin Jackson is taking the optimistic approach. He’s well-traveled, having been on seven teams already, and was asked why he signed with a team that lost 101 games -- other than the money.
“I’ve been on a team that lost 100 games, and the next year went to the World Series,” Jackson said. “You can’t really focus on the past.”
And Jackson's experience with the White Sox in 2010 and 2011 is making a transition back to Chicago an easy one.
“The wife likes it,” he said. “Happy wife, happy life is a true statement. And she likes it here. And I like it here.”
Both Castro and Alfonso Soriano turned down opportunities to play for the Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
“Better to be in spring training,” Soriano said. “Take it a little slow to get my body, my rhythm. For me it’s better to get in good shape and get ready for the season. They have more players in the Dominican that can do a better job.”
Castros added: "I told (Moises Alou) I’d think about it. But I don’t want to be on the bench. Jose Reyes is there. I have respect for him. I’d be on the bench. It’s better for me to be working, playing every day in spring training."
General manager Jed Hoyer explained the idea behind the rookie development program that took place this week. The Cubs had some of their minor leaguers in town for counseling on becoming a big leaguer.
“A lot of guys haven’t been in a big league stadium,” Hoyer said. “They may never have been in Chicago. If the guy has to go out and face Clayton Kershaw that night, the last thing you want is the guy worrying about how to get to the ballpark, where’s the clubhouse, do I tip this guy, do I not tip this guy? I think it’s really important to acclimate them to Chicago.”
Hoyer was then asked if the Cubs are in the hunt for the playoffs, would they trade from their prospect pool they covet so much.
“You never ever give up a chance to make the playoffs,” he said. “That’s something really important, and something you don’t take for granted.”
It was stated earlier in the week that top prospect Javier Baez would stay at shortstop despite Castro, an All-Star with a long-term contract, holding down that spot.
“It’s a lot easier to move from shortstop to third base,” Hoyer said. “Why not develop a guy fully at shortstop so he can always play there?”
Hoyer was quick to point out that Baez isn’t on any “fast track” to the major leagues. He has to prove it like anyone else in the organization.
Newcomer Scott Baker is on pace for his return from Tommy John surgery.
“On track to be ready for spring training and the start of the season,” he declared. “I have it mapped out for the start of the season. Whether they allow me to do that or not, that’s a whole different ballgame."
Baker says it’s a 100 percent recovery rate from Tommy John surgery if you follow the protocol.
Count Ian Stewart as another Cub raring to go. He’s been recovering from a wrist injury.
“My body is like May right now with how much time we’ve had off,” Stewart said. “I’m trying not to do too much where I’d wear myself out before the season starts.”
Stewart is another player optimistic about improvement, and he also recognizes there are many players on one-year deals, including him.
“From an organizational standpoint, it keeps guys on their toes that they have to perform well or they could be gone,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s their motive or not. I think we’ll see the best come out of us this year.”
Jesse Rogers covers the Cubs for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com.