CHICAGO -- Rick Renteria has called or reached out via text to all of the players on the Cubs' roster. He's been doodling some potential lineup combinations. He's still doing rehab following right hip replacement surgery. On Thursday, he was finally at Wrigley Field to meet with the Chicago media for his first formal introduction as the new Cubs manager.
"It's a little surreal, but we're really excited about the opportunity and we're looking forward to a wonderful stay," Renteria said.
Renteria was announced as the Cubs' 53rd manager on Nov. 7, but it's been nearly one month before he could put on a jersey in front of the TV cameras and photographers. He had undergone hip surgery after the regular season ended in preparation for what he thought would be another season as the Padres' bench coach. Instead, he is now in charge of the Cubs, who have lost a total of 197 games over the last two seasons.
Renteria is well aware the Cubs haven't been to the World Series since 1945, and have not won one since 1908, but that's all in the past. Renteria, 51, compared his approach to the team's history as the same way a batter should if he gets a call against him by the umpire on the first pitch of an at-bat. He's not going to dwell on that one pitch, or on the Cubs' lack of success.
"I look at Cubs history the same way," the manager said. "I'm moving forward. I'm going to keep grinding out, moving forward. I can't think about the past, I've got to remain even-keeled."
That was the message he also delivered in phone calls to players. One of the first he contacted was shortstop Starlin Castro.
"People ask me about Starlin, and I watched him from the other side and I think, what a tremendously gifted athlete," Renteria said. "I have to get to know him as a person. I have to figure out what moves him."
Castro is coming off a season in which he batted a career-low .245, struck out a career-high 129 times, and finished with a sub-.400 slugging percentage for the first time (.347).
"He's willing to do anything we ask him to do," Renteria said. "I know people talk about him losing focus and having bad at-bats, and I think we have to address those things. Sometimes you don't have conversations thinking we don't want to have confrontations or maybe we don't like the answer we're going to get, but the reality is you have to have dialogue."
The emphasis on Renteria's coaching staff was to find people who could be "teachers" and who can communicate.
"I think it takes a special personality, as well as experience and having the technical knowledge," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said about the coaches. "It takes a certain personality to be able to actually reach the modern player and to dig deep and engage and relate to them and not relate to a player on a perfunctory level, but find out what makes him tick and impact him on and off the field in a positive way. That's what we were looking for."
That explains the rather unconventional hire of Eric Hinske as the first-base coach. Hinske played for the D-backs last season and had been hired by the Yankees as a scout. He has a reputation as being someone who can connect with young players, and the Cubs were able to add him to the staff.
Renteria said the players are eager to move on after the Cubs' last-place finish in the National League Central this past season. He got positive feedback in his conversations with Castro, Jeff Samardzija, Anthony Rizzo and others.
"They're looking forward like any player, any team always looks forward to the spring for positive things," Renteria said.
"What I talk to them about is being themselves and we're going to be here to help them," the manager said. "We're here to serve them and they need to trust and understand that's the case. We're going to try to do everything we can to help them move forward. If they have a question or any concerns, all they need to do is have a dialogue. Sometimes I think we have to start the dialogue, but I tell them we're open to them and see what it is to help them improve their game."
Renteria picked up the positive coaching style from his Class A manager, Johnny Lipon, a former Tigers shortstop. He's also learned from Jim Leyland, Rene Lachemann and Dick Williams. John Boles, now an executive with the Royals, and Gary Hughes, a scout with the Red Sox, were together with the Marlins when Renteria was still playing, and both encouraged him to pursue managing.
Renteria's first managing gig was in 1998 with the Brevard County Manatees. It's taken a long time to get to Thursday, when he was the center of attention.
Renteria is a little sentimental. He'll wear No. 16, which was his number at South Gate High School in Los Angeles. That's where he met his wife, Ilene, who he made sure was in the room at their home when the Cubs offered him the managing job. They have four children, ranging in age from 35 to 18, and living with what he calls the "youth movement" has influenced how Renteria deals with players.
Next week, he'll join Cubs executives at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and at the end of the month, he'll get his coaching staff together at the team's new Spring Training facility in Mesa, Ariz., to familiarize themselves with the place.
Epstein was standing outside the half circle of TV cameras around Renteria on Thursday.
"Normally, when you hire someone new and he meets the media for the first time, you're kind of holding your breath and hoping he doesn't put his foot in his mouth," Epstein said. "We've worked with Ricky for a month now. I was totally comfortable and checking emails while he was talking. I feel already an innate trust in who he is as a human being.
"Everything comes from such a genuine place. He's extremely intelligent and relates to people well. It's nice to trust somebody in that role."
The Cubs are now placing their trust in Renteria.