Optimism on display at Cubs Convention

Optimism on display at Cubs Convention

CHICAGO -- Kerry Wood showed you can go home again.

The right-hander received the loudest ovation from the packed Grand Ballroom at the Hilton Chicago Friday night during opening ceremonies to kick off the 26th Cubs Convention. Wood, who gave the team a hometown discount and signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract to come back, was introduced last among the current players, who had been presented in alphabetical order. At this Convention, Wood followed Carlos Zambrano, and was greeted by chants of "Kerry, Kerry."

"The convention is great," Wood said. "It gets everybody kind of going. This is the time of year when, as a pitcher, we're getting ready to get on the mound and it's nice to get the buzz going about baseball again. After this is over, it's time to get to work. [Spring Training] is right around the corner. It's nice to come in and see the excitement from the fans."

The other Cub to be greeted with loud cheers was the late Ron Santo, who died Dec. 3 at the age of 70. Clips from his days as a player and as a broadcaster were included in a video of the 2010 season, and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said the team would have more details Saturday about how it plans to honor Santo. The Cubs may add another bronze statue outside Wrigley Field in his memory.

There was a moment of silence before the festivities began for both Santo and former player and manager Phil Cavarretta, who also died in December. There will be two sessions on Saturday during the convention to celebrate Santo, including one with his former teammates, Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins. Some of the people who worked with Santo on WGN Radio will also share stories in another session with play-by-play broadcaster Pat Hughes.

Cubs manager Mike Quade was received well by the crowd as were the newest Cubs, Matt Garza and Carlos Pena. Garza, who spends the offseason in California, said he noticed it's pretty cold in Chicago in January. Wait until he takes the mound in April.

"I'll be on fire, no matter what," Garza said. "I'm looking forward to playing in front of a packed house."

Pena also was eager to get started.

"I'm looking forward to this year," he said. "I'm very optimistic about it. It's a great opportunity and truly a blessing for me to come to Chicago. This is definitely my favorite city. When I used to play for Detroit, we used to come here and I said this city was my favorite. I'm very happy to be here."

Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd was happy to have both on his side.

"[General manager] Jim Hendry got the entire package," Byrd said. "He got great teammates, guys who can play and they know how to win. They've been a part of a team in the [American League] East and everybody knows how competitive it is over there. They know about the pressure and know what it takes to get over the hump. We need that."

Outfielder Tyler Colvin was present and fully recovered from the incident last September when he was accidentally stabbed in the chest by a broken bat. He has two scars to remind him, but hasn't been slowed this offseason in his workouts and has plenty of company at what's been dubbed "Camp Colvin" in Mesa, Ariz. About 20 players are prepping with him and strength coach Tim Buss.

"Everything starts in Mesa," Garza said. "I'm ready to take the [ball] Feb. 14 and get going."

Wood, who watched the right-hander while he was on the Yankees last season, was happy to have Garza on his side.

"He's got great stuff," Wood said. "He knows how to locate it and he's a big-game guy. He's fun to watch. I think some guys will be in awe of what he's capable of doing."

Garza said he wanted to learn Zambrano's sinker. Zambrano is hoping to get some tips on how Garza throws his curve.

"It's good to have a guy like Garza," Zambrano said. "It's a good acquisition and I'm excited for this season and ready for anything. We can start tomorrow."

Zambrano, who finished strong, going 8-0 in his final 11 starts, is focusing on the new season. He went through a roller-coaster ride last year as he switched from Opening Day starter to setup man, returned to the rotation, then missed time to undergo anger management therapy.

Just don't ask about last season.

"Let's talk about this year," Zambrano said when asked whether he learned from what happened in 2010. "I'm ready for this season and excited for this season."

So are the fans attending the convention. So are the owners, the Ricketts family.

"We feel we have the right mix of players, we feel we have the right manager and we feel 2011 will be special for us," Tom Ricketts said.

If there was one omission from the Cubs' season in review video it was the lack of a single clip of manager Lou Piniella, who retired in August after three-plus seasons. There were plenty of home runs, strikeouts, shots of Starlin Castro diving everywhere, and even a few clips from the TV show "Undercover Boss" which Todd Ricketts starred in.

Back to baseball. After the convention, it will be less than one week until Spring Training camp opens in Mesa. How good can the Cubs be?

"Good," Zambrano said. "Good enough to win. We just need to have fun and play smart baseball and play together."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.