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Cubs Convention: Optimism should reign

Anthony Rizzo has set himself up for a warmer welcome at the 2015 convention than he got in 2014. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo guaranteed himself a standing ovation during Friday’s opening ceremonies for the team's 30th annual fan convention. On Thursday, the 25-year-old declared that the Cubs would win the National League Central -- and even referenced a World Series victory while he was at it.

The weekend crowd at the Chicago Sheraton & Towers won’t quibble with his prediction, though fans might remind him of the prediction if it doesn’t come true. Like Rizzo, the weekend is assured to be filled with optimism -- this year more than usual.

Event highlights follow (all times Central); a full listing is here.

FRIDAY

Opening Ceremony, 6 p.m.: Along with Rizzo, new star pitcher Jon Lester and new manager Joe Maddon will probably get the loudest applause. They had better get used to the attention, because they’re going to get a lot of it this weekend and throughout their Cubs careers. Starlin Castro is also scheduled to attend, and will likely get his share of adulation after a solid 2014 season.

Friday Night with Ryan Dempster, 7:30 p.m.: The title says it all.

SATURDAY

Ricketts Family Forum, 9 a.m.: This should have a less hostile feel than in the past, though most fans were polite even if they weren’t happy with the state of the team. At least no one can whisper that ownership is being cheap anymore.

Renovation on Wrigley Field has started and, more important, the Cubs spent plenty of money this offseason. Beside signing Lester, they traded for Miguel Montero, a catcher owed $40 million over the next three seasons; agreed to dole out $20 million more for Jason Hammel; and are paying two managers, including $5 million to one of them. Count on Tom Ricketts for a couple of one-liners about rooftop owners. That’s a mainstay.

A Recent Look Back: The Cubs of 2007-08, 10:30 a.m.: A stroll down memory lane with Mark DeRosa. Who could pass that up? Others due to attend from the back-to-back division winners include Kerry Wood, Ted Lilly, Jacque Jones and Dempster.

Meet Cubs Management, 11 a.m.: This will feature Theo Epstein undoubtedly backing up the claim by Rizzo (and probably several others) that the Cubs are going to the playoffs -- while also saying they’re not “all-in” for 2015. But what if the Cubs are knocking on the door come the July 31 trade deadline? Would the front office make a bold move for a rental? Probably not if it means parting with any prospect who has a future with the team. Not selling out means just that.

Meet the New Cubs, 12 p.m.: This should be renamed Meet the $155 Million Man (that's Lester, for anyone in doubt).

Joe Maddon & His Coaching Staff, 12:30 p.m.: If anyone is going to connect with people at a fan convention, it’s Joe Maddon. He might not realize what he’s getting into, particularly if he reiterates his plan to buy a round for fans after a game this season, but he’ll certainly win over the crowd with that kind of rhetoric. A people person is made for the Cubs Convention. Maddon is the right guy for the job this weekend.

Cubs Business Operations Update, 2 p.m.: This could include some news, as Cubs business-operations president Crane Kenney will discuss Wrigley renovation issues -- including the bleachers, which will probably be closed for Opening Day. Many fans outside the Chicagoland viewing audience will also want to know how they can watch those games broadcast on WLS-TV and WGN-TV if they’re still in the MLB.TV blackout area. Kenney will face some tricky questions on these issues.

The rest of Saturday includes games such as Cubs Family Feud and Cubs Bingo.

SUNDAY

Down on the Farm, 10:30 a.m.: Albert Almora and Addison Russell are sure to highlight this forum, with the Cubs virtually awash in highly rated minor league players. Kris Bryant has a previous out-of-town engagement so he won’t be there, but C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson and Kyle Schwarber are among other minor leaguers scheduled to attend. That’s an impressive group.