While Wrigley parties, Theo’s mind is on Cubs winning
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter April 22, 2014 11:42PM
Updated: April 22, 2014 11:53PM
As parties of the century go, Wednesday’s 100th ‘‘birthday’’ celebration for Wrigley Field falls woefully short compared to the classic centennials.
The United States had victories over Britain, Mexico and the Confederacy before its 100th birthday. Boston’s Fenway Park had seven World Series championships. Even George Burns had a turn at playing God.
Of course, that was supposed to be Theo Epstein’s role at Wrigley if you believed the walk-on-water media coverage he got 30 months ago when he was hired to provide the National League’s oldest ballpark its first championship.
But on the eve of the big Wrigley party, reminders were everywhere Tuesday night of just how far Epstein has to go in this underfunded rebuilding project, with the last-place Cubs sending out a platoon lineup and this year’s flip-guy pitcher, Jason Hammel, to face the Arizona Diamondbacks — a 9-2 Cubs victory that gave them their first back-to-back wins since Sept. 10.
Barely two seasons, more than 200 losses and millions in budget cuts since taking over, Epstein’s fast-graying hair and stubble betray the burden of the task, if not the weight of the losses.
‘‘Nothing related to losing ever gets easier,’’ said Epstein, whose touted farm system doesn’t seem to lessen the sting much. ‘‘Losing sucks. When losing stops sucking, you should probably start another career.
‘‘But we’re trying to build a really healthy organization, and so there’s myriad challenges that present themselves daily. So you throw yourselves into those challenges and try to get better.’’
Meanwhile, the business side of the operation will throw its red Solo cup kegger Wednesday and bask in the glory of called shots, gloamin’ and goats.
Then the Cubs’ best pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, takes his 1.29 ERA to the mound for another audition for the July trading season, with as many as six other guys in the game expected to join him on the block in this summer’s annual Cubs selloff.
Epstein and much of his staff are spending a lot of their focus right now on the June draft, where the Cubs have an overall pick in the single digits for the fourth consecutive year (No. 4 this time).
But it might be tough, at least for a day, to avoid being reminded of just how immense the job of building a champion for this ballpark will be. An afternoon worth of Party Time will be spent on remembering the 100 years that went by without one.
‘‘I don’t think I really need that kind of reminder,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘That’s not what I’m thinking of when I think about [Wednesday]. When it comes to the 100th anniversary, for me, I think of how Wrigley is the epicenter of fans’ connections to the Cubs. Wrigley not only connects the fans to the team but also generations of fans to one another, fathers to sons, grandfathers to grandsons, mothers to daughters, mothers to sons. . . . There’s so much bonding and so many good times that have gone on here despite the losing.’’
All of which makes a nice Hallmark card. But it doesn’t inspire much to engrave on a ring.
‘‘Look, we all look forward to the day when the crowd and the energy of the ballpark is focused on that ninth-inning comeback the Cubs are going to have instead of the seventh-inning stretch,’’ Epstein said.
‘‘That’s kind of the way it was at Fenway once we started winning on a consistent basis. It’s going to be that way here, too. It’s going to be a lot better.’’
NOTE: Jake Arrieta (shoulder) said he’s ready to join the Cubs’ rotation after a 94-pitch rehab assignment for Class A Daytona on Monday, but manager Rick Renteria said Arrieta will get one more short-start tune-up first.