By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Standing off in a corner, out of the spotlight and away from the mayhem of Cubs Convention, a smile stayed on Theo Epstein’s face.
One by one, Cubs venerable voice Pat Hughes introduced the members of the 2016 team during the opening ceremonies of the convention Friday night. The crowd on hand at the Sheraton exploded with joy as each name was called — Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and so on.
When Epstein attended his first Cubs Convention in 2012, he was the biggest name on hand.
“This is a player’s game,” Epstein said. “It’s nice to have the players be the center of attention.”
Epstein’s grin during the opening ceremonies was warranted. He built this team from the bottom up.
Four years ago, Epstein started out by trading for Rizzo. He drafted Bryant and Schwarber, traded for Arrieta and Russell and signed Lester, Heyward and Zobrist to build a tremendous supporting cast.
Fans freaked out when they saw their heroes emerge to the stage in the Sheraton ballroom. This is a time to celebrate how far the Cubs have come — and what could be ahead.
The Cubs won 97 games in 2015, far exceeding expectations en route to the NLCS. They bounced the Pirates in the one-game wild card and overcame their rival Cardinals in the NLDS. It was an incredible season.
Yet, history didn’t hit Wrigleyville. The Mets swept the Cubs in four games in the NLCS and went on to the World Series. Chicago’s hope is to go further in 2016.
“Every player who had to watch the Mets celebrate on the field is extraordinarily hungry to win eight more game in October than we did last year,” Epstein said. “We’re unified by that common goal.”
Hughes went through each name, drawing more excitement along the way. Heyward, Zobrist and John Lackey received a loud ovation as the Cubs’ newcomers. Rizzo was greeted with chants of “M-V-P” as he took the stage. Bryant was welcomed with the loud shrieks a boy band would get. Manager Joe Maddon got the chant of “Joe! Joe! Joe!” as he worked the crowd.
Cubs players at the team’s annual convention are treated like members of the Beatles. Now, Chicago has quite the group of stars to cherish.
With all due respect to Blake DeWitt, Bryan LaHair and Chris Volstad, the 2016 Cubs are something to celebrate, a team so far removed from Epstein’s first season and the beginning of a rebuild.
Credit goes to owner Tom Ricketts for his willingness to trust his smart baseball brass in tearing the Cubs down and building them back up. The rewards to reap could be something truly special.
In firing up the fans on hand, Ricketts didn’t shy away from touting the Cubs as a World Series favorite. After hopes rose that high in 2015, a championship seems to be the expectation in 2016. The Cubs embrace that challenge.
The Cubs have a roster ready to make a run at the World Series this season. This organization’s in an outstanding place after the work of Epstein and his front office. On Friday evening at a hotel ballroom, devoted fans rejoiced with the new season nearing. They yelled, cheered and screamed for each Cub, celebrated one by one.
Epstein stayed out of the spotlight and couldn’t stop smiling.