3/31/2014 1:50 P.M. ET
Renteria calm, wants Cubs to reach for the stars
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- On the morning of his first game as a big league manager, Rick Renteria wasn't wide awake at 3 a.m. like a kid waiting for Christmas Day. Instead, he woke up when one of his coaches, Juan Castro, called to say it was time to go to the ballpark for Opening Day.
"I feel calm -- I don't know why, but I do," Renteria said. "For me, it's another baseball game."
It's Renteria's first of the regular season as the Cubs' 53rd manager, and he will lead a ballclub that isn't expected to contend in the National League Central. Don't tell Renteria that. His message to the players Monday was that he believes in them. His goal? To reach for the stars.
"For any team to reach for the stars is to win the World Series," Renteria said. "I don't think you can attain that unless you talk about it and are working through what you need to do to get there. I'm not afraid to talk about it. That's what we want to do -- the Cubs want to win a World Series. Everybody talks about how we haven't, and that's fine, but I want to win a World Series, and [the players] want to win a World Series.
"There's no team that comes out in April that doesn't think it has a chance to come out and get to the World Series and possibly win it," he said. "If you don't feel that and don't think that, then you shouldn't be playing. We're here to win and we're going to give it our best shot."
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein is just as optimistic.
"I think our goal is to surprise some people," Epstein said. "I don't think expectations are that high externally, and we have a tough schedule early so we can certainly turn the narrative on its head by going out and having a good first month of the season."
Playing the Pirates is appropriate for Renteria. He started his career as a player with the team in 1986.
"It's kind of surreal, I guess," Renteria said. "All in all, it's just baseball."
Olt put in plenty of work to earn start in opener
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Olt has heard from friends, family, college coaches, past teammates and nearly everyone he's come in contact with in his baseball career. They all know how hard he's worked to be on a Major League team's Opening Day roster, and Monday was the day.
"I knew if I took care of what happened last year and put it in the past -- the month off, resting, getting away from the game a little bit was huge for me," he said. "I've got a clear mind and I'm ready to go."
Olt is one of two rookies on the Cubs' Opening Day roster, along with reliever Brian Schlitter, but he's one of a few comeback candidates. After struggling with vision problems, the once untradeable third baseman was included in a package last July and sent to the Cubs from the Rangers for Matt Garza.
After a strong spring, he found out Monday morning when he walked into the PNC Park visitors' clubhouse that he was starting at third base.
"I came in here and it was exciting to see," he said. "Last night, I made sure I was ready just in case. I didn't get much sleep."
He's gotten support not only from family and friends, but also Cubs fans, especially during Spring Training.
"Walking to the field, the fans are out there cooking out [in Mesa, Ariz.], and they were all cheering for me and pushing for me and wishing me the best of luck," he said. "The [Cubs] Convention was the same way -- 'Hey, looking forward to seeing you play.' That does go a long way for a player, especially coming off a season [like he did] -- I could've heard a lot worse things."
Monday was a very gratifying day.
"I talked to a bunch of the guys -- there's nothing like Opening Day," Olt said. "It's something you'll remember for the rest of your life.
Epstein hopes Cubs surprise the doubters
PITTSBURGH -- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had to face some tough questions at the Cubs Convention. He knows fans are impatient, and losing 197 games over the last two seasons hasn't helped the mood.
"I think most [fans] are [on board] and some aren't, and the ones who aren't, I don't hold it against them," Epstein said Monday. "Baseball is best enjoyed that day and watching the team in front of you play, and we haven't been good enough, judging by that standard.
"The only standard that matters is wins and losses, and we just haven't been good enough," he said. "I'm right there with them. I understand it. It's my job to take a little broader view and make sure we grow this into a very healthy organization that can go out and have success year in and year out."
Which is why the Cubs have worked so hard to develop the Minor League system.
"I think our fans as a whole have been incredibly supportive," Epstein said. "I really look forward to doing some things this season to make them proud, and hopefully we can go out and surprise some people. In the long haul we want to award them with October baseball."
Cubs players feel the same way.
"People outside don't think we're going to be very good," shortstop Starlin Castro said, "but I think we'll be pretty good because we've got everything to be a winning team -- we've got good pitching, guys with power, guys who can run. We've got what you need for a winning team. We're together, we help each other."
• Castro may have only played three Cactus League games, but that was enough to convince Renteria to insert the shortstop into the No. 3 spot in the Opening Day lineup.
"Wherever he puts me, I'll try to do my job," said Castro, who missed time because of a right hamstring strain he suffered on March 2.
Renteria wanted speed at the top of the lineup and went with Emilio Bonifacio and Junior Lake ahead of Castro, who also could lead off in games.
"I think I have some flexibility with the guys," Renteria said.
• Justin Ruggiano did not start Monday against Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano because of a tender left ankle.
"He had a sore ankle at the end of spring, and we're just trying to make sure we give him one more day and then we have a day off [Tuesday], and he'll be ready to go the following day," Renteria said.
• Top prospects Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler will open the season at Double-A Tennessee. Soler, however, will be slowed because of a sore hamstring. Arodys Vizcaino, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, was assigned to Class A Advanced Daytona to take advantage of the warm weather. Vizcaino will be on a structured program for the first month.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.