Memories return for Theo as Red Sox visit Wrigley

Memories return for Theo as Red Sox visit Wrigley
June 15, 2012, 6:38 pm
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CHICAGO -- At the intersection of Clark and Addison on Chicago's North Side, Theo Epstein's past and present collide.

"Obviously,'' said Epstein Friday, surrounded by reporters in front of the Chicago Cubs dugout, "it brings back a lot of memories. It's good to see a lot of great friends. I'm looking forward to it. It will be great to see everybody. We don't play these guys that often, so you've got to relish it.''

Before Epstein can look forward, however, Epstein has been doing a lot of looking back at his 10 years with the Red Sox, nine as their general manager.

That tenure included two World Series titles and two other visits to the American League Championship Series, but it concluded with a historic collapse last September that resulted in wholesale changes within the organization.

Even as he goes about trying to build the Cubs into winners, some of the sting from last fall remains.

''I think everybody moves on,'' said Epstein. "But I remember stuff from 2003. I sit there and see Aaron Boone coming to the plate. So every time you have an opportunity to advance and do some damage or get to the postseason and you don't, that always stays with you, last September in particular, because we not only fail to perform in the standings, but we kind of lost our identity as a team.

"That was a tough pill to swallow. I think everyone that was involved, it will stay with them. But at the same time, you move on from it and try to get better.''

As he looks back, Epstein feels culpability for the 7-20 collapse and a squandered 9 12-game wild-card lead.

"I take responsibility for the team not getting where we were supposed to go,'' he said, "and from what I can tell, a lot of the people involved are taking responsibility. You just learn from it and move on.''

The Cubs own the worst record in baseball at 21-42, last in the National League Central, and Epstein understands that it's tough to measure progress in the early stages of the Cubs' rebuilding process.

"There's progress in a lot of different areas; some of it's behind the scenes,'' he said. "We've put together a scouting and player development philosophy and gotten everyone on the same page. We've committed to a vision of the future, built around our core of young players that we're trying to identify and develop. There's a lot of work behind the scenes and hopefully we'll see some on-field progress soon.''

Epstein readily admits that this rebuild is far different from the one he undertook in Boston. In 2002, the year before Epstein was promoted to GM, the team won 93 games and had a core of talented players that included Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra.

"Maybe it was a more subtle process, but we made some moves at the big-league level and had success right off the bat,'' said Epstein. "That bought us time to commit to the Red Sox way of doing things, which we established.

"A lot of the work is similar. Here, there's clearly a mandate for change. We didn't have to that much convincing. We just got everybody together in the same room and talked about how we want to teach the game, what we're going to stand for as an organization and how we're going to execute at the minor league level.''

But while the Cubs rebuild from the bottom up, focusing on the draft, international signings and development of prospects, there's the sobering reality that the present-day Cubs have a .333 winning percentage.

"It's never easy,'' he said of the losing. "You can talk about a vision and a plan and theory, but when you have to get in the trenches, day-in and day-out and suffer through some losses, it's really tough. It should be. If it was easy, you'd be in the wrong game.

"You have to strike a delicate balance. You don't want to talk too much about the future because you have complete respect for what these 25 players are trying to accomplish and the integrity of this season and how hard they're preparing each and every night.

"We're not where we want to be and there are some games we'd like back. But these guys are playing hard, they're preparing hard and they're not backing down. It's all about wins and losses. That's what matters in this game. But if you dig a little deeper, you see a manager and a coaching staff that set high expectations and the players who are working hard to live up to those expectations.

"There's a little bit of a talent deficit right now that will close as we move forward. I like what's being established in the clubhouse and I think that will pay dividends down the line.''

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