Miles: Excitement on the rise for Cubs fans

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Who will get the loudest applause at this weekend's Cubs Convention, new manager Joe Maddon, center, or new pitcher Jon Lester?

    Who will get the loudest applause at this weekend's Cubs Convention, new manager Joe Maddon, center, or new pitcher Jon Lester? Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/14/2015 8:03 PM

Only a year ago, the patience of Cubs fans appeared to be fraying at the edges.

Facing fans at the annual convention, the team's owners and baseball-management execs had to fend off questions such as, "Why should we be paying good money for another year of losing?"

 

Given the off-season the Cubs have enjoyed, all of that seems like a distant memory.

Their winter caravan kicked off Wednesday, and the 30th annual fan convention gets under way Friday and runs through Sunday at the Sheraton Chicago.

Optimism figures to be at levels not seen since the back-to-back playoff seasons of 2007 and 2008, the last time the Cubs made the postseason.

Credit a little bit of luck and a willingness to spend money for the midwinter excitement.

When the 2014 season ended at Milwaukee, the Cubs figured on going into the off-season with Rick Renteria as their manager after he led them to a 73-89 record, a slight improvement over 2013. It also seemed the Cubs and their fans could only dream of landing top free-agent pitcher Jon Lester.

The stroke of luck came the Cubs' way in late October when Joe Maddon chose not to exercise his option to return as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Cubs pounced quickly, hiring Maddon and leaving Renteria as an unfortunate victim of the way the game is played.

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Lester seemed a good bet to head back to the Boston Red Sox, who traded him to Oakland during the season. But Cubs president Theo Epstein, with the blessing of his bosses, was aggressive in pursuing Lester, and he opted for Wrigley Field over Fenway Park.

Throw in a Miguel Montero here and a Jason Hammel there, and the Cubs look like they're ready to push toward contention in 2015. We'll say here that we don't share the unbridled optimism of The Sporting News, which has picked the Cubs to win the World Series (and maybe generate a few hits on their website).

Lester and Hammel give the Cubs quality and depth in their rotation, while Montero and recently acquired David Ross provide nice targets behind the plate. Incumbent catcher Welington Castillo is scheduled to attend the convention, and he could get more than one or two questions about his future -- if he has one -- with the Cubs.

It should all make for a wild opening ceremony Friday evening, especially when Maddon and Lester are introduced.

Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, both of whom enjoyed bounce-back years on the field, are scheduled to attend as are youngsters Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. Minor-league prospects Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber also will be introduced on opening night.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That should breathe some new life into a convention that has been lacking in energy the last few years.

This past year, we suggested the Cubs invite Sammy Sosa and Carlos Zambrano to spice up the proceedings. Alas, neither Sosa nor Zambrano is on the list of alumni who will be attending this weekend, but you can welcome back Mark DeRosa, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood from the 2007-08 teams (outfielder Jacque Jones, who played on the '07 division winners, will be on hand, too).

So the toughest questions coming from the fans this weekend should be along the lines of:

• Will the bleachers be ready by Opening Day?

• Will all that TV money still be there by 2020?

• And what about the on-base percentage?

Let the good times roll.

• Follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceMiles2112.

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