Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Joe Maddon address several topics as the Cubs open camp.
MESA, Ariz. — As Cubs' pitchers and catchers reported to their spring training facility Thursday, Cubs' attorneys and paralegals reported to a U.S. District courtroom back home in Chicago.
The players may have little in common with the legal team currently battling rooftop owners in the long-running soap opera on the North Side, but they all share a "win or else" mentality in 2015.
The Cubs' players need to prove the game plan on the field is working in Year Four of the Theo Epstein era, while the lawyers need to prove the team didn't violate a 2004 contract with rooftop owners to avoid further delays in Year One of the Wrigley Field renovation plan.
On Thursday, a judge rejected an emergency request from the rooftop owners for a temporary restraining order that would have halted the erection of advertising signs and video boards at Wrigley, while the players got through the first day of practice of workouts without any injuries.
This is a bridge season for the Cubs and President Theo Epstein. He built the foundation, as promised, and now is awaiting the sustained success. The spring opener in Mesa was familiar, and only the faces alongside him at the first news conference have changed, with Joe Maddon replacing Rick Renteria, who replaced Dale Sveum last spring.
Epstein's mantra was similar to the one we heard at this time of the year in 2012, '13 and '14. The three P's — "patience," "process," and "progress" — still are being stressed, but there's real optimism that the worst is behind them.
Is this where Epstein expected his organization to be after three years when he began the de-Cubbing process in 2011?
"Yeah, not everything has gone exactly according to plan," he said. "I've made mistakes along the way. We've made mistakes as an organization. But by and large I think we've performed at a pretty high level and a building process that sometimes in baseball can take five or six years, I think we've made a lot of progress in three years.
"There's an impressive amount of talent in this organization. I think there's a really nice culture, in the front office, in the minor leagues, all the way up and down the organization. … We recognize we haven't done anything yet, but you still can feel good about where you work, and about the organization…
"I wouldn't want to do these last three years over. As hard as it was at times at the big league level, as tough as it was on our fans, it'll be that much sweeter when we get where we want to go because of what we all have been through. We like where we are."
Epstein arrived with the mandate of changing the culture. His key moves in his first few months on the job were dumping Carlos Zambrano, demoting Randy Wells to the minors, moving Jeff Samardzija into the rotation and signing Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler.
Back then, Epstein spoke in corporatese, referring to "parallel fronts" and "supply and demand dynamics" and reminding us that "progress as an organization isn't linear." But he has toned down that rhetoric, and his comfort level with Chicago, and the media, has grown at the same pace of his graying hair.
Maddon, on the other hand, seems like he has been with the Cubs for years.
The message the new manager sent Thursday echoed the "no lollygagging" order from Sveum before his first spring as Cubs' manager in 2012. Sveum said he noticed from his perch in the Brewers' dugout in 2011 that the Cubs didn't hustle. Maddon didn't indict any of the 2014 Cubs and didn't use the term "lollygag," but he spoke about his philosophy of "respecting 90 feet" and said he had no problem yanking players from games if they didn't hustle out of the box.
Meanwhile, prognosticator-at-large Anthony Rizzo is taking on more of a leadership role, and spoke of the changing times that will include a jumbo-sized video board and a different feel at the ballpark.
"I know the rooftops have been part of the history now, but this is going to be new stuff," he said. "The new generation, the new era of things to come, hopefully, is starting now with the renovations of Wrigley."
Progress moves slowly in Wrigleyville, but at least it seems to be moving.