Cubs fans shower Wood, Epstein with cheers

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 13, 2012
There was one final introduction to make, and when Kerry Wood stepped onto the ballroom balcony, the crowd came unglued. Clearly, Chicago Cubs fans were glad to find out the veteran reliever is sticking around for at least one more season. They were also embracing the man now in charge, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. There was certainly a positive vibe as the Cubs Convention kicked off Friday, with a new management team in place and one of the most popular players re-signing with the club. The Cubs, however, still had concerns. All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro is facing an allegation he sexually assaulted a woman last fall. Wood agreed to a $3 million contract for 2012 with a $3 million club option for 2013, and the roar when he was announced was deafening. Those dramatics came after Epstein said, ''If you start making baseball decisions based on PR, you're losing.'' As big as the ovation was for Wood, it was about as loud for Epstein. Fans were calling his name as they waited for the opening ceremonies to start, and they chanted ''Theo! Theo!'' when he was introduced. That was hardly a surprise considering the optimism that his arrival created. ''That was much appreciated, but I'll know I've done my job if they're chanting the players' names at the end of the year,'' Epstein said. Brought in to overhaul a team that won just 71 games last season and finished fifth in the NL Central for the second year in a row, his hiring sparked a surge of hope that - finally - this cursed franchise can win a World Series championship. That hasn't happened since 1908, but Epstein knows a thing or two about ending droughts and wiping out curses. He helped build a champion in Boston and is trying to work the same magic in Chicago. He and a new management team that includes general manager Jed Hoyer have spent the past few months gutting the roster, letting slugger Aramis Ramirez leave in free agency and deciding not to bring back Carlos Pena. They also traded troubled former ace Carlos Zambrano to Miami, and there have been enough moves that players might need name tags. There are some familiar faces, though. They managed to keep Wood just when he appeared ready to leave. He said ready to take a physical with a team he would not name, a big change for a player who had said he would retire if he didn't re-sign. ''I wasn't ready to retire,'' said Wood, who makes his offseason home in Chicago. ''I didn't feel like I wanted to be forced into that. I still love the game. I still think I have plenty left.'' The 34-year-old righty went 3-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 55 games last year after signing for a second stint with the Cubs. He missed the end of the season because of a tear in his left knee that needed arthroscopic surgery. Epstein had made it clear he wanted to retain Wood, but even he acknowledged ''scary moments along the way.'' He said there might not have been enough communication during the winter, but that changed recently. ''I had (a conversation) directly with Kerry that was helpful to me, to see where he was coming from a little bit,'' Epstein said. ''Both sides compromised a little bit, and it worked out.'' There still are some big issues to tend to. A quick fix appears unlikely. There's a cloud hanging over the club with the allegation against the 21-year-old Castro. He hasn't been charged with a crime and police have declined comment. A report surfaced that he had spoken with authorities this week after returning to the United States, and he released a statement Friday saying he has cooperated with those investigating the case. The Cubs have had little to say about the matter. Epstein said he needs ''to wait and see how the facts develop'' and he urged people to ''have a little patience'' and not jump to conclusions. Given the ovation for Castro on Friday, fans seemed to be doing just that. On the field, the Cubs seem to have a surplus of starting pitchers. They have seven potentially, and trade rumors continue to swirl around ace Matt Garza. Epstein has insisted the Cubs are not shopping the right-hander and had said recently that he hoped to talk to him this weekend. Garza said that's not necessary and that he's happy in Chicago. He also said Epstein has been ''totally honest'' with him and his agent. ''That doesn't bother me,'' Garza said. ''My name's in the trade rumors every season. It doesn't bother me. Like I said, I'm happy it's still being said. If my name's not said anymore, then it's time to think about what we're doing.''
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