Did Kane County stint prepare Rick Renteria for the Cubs job?

Did Kane County stint prepare Rick Renteria for the Cubs job?
December 1, 2013, 10:00 pm
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Tony Andracki

If a baseball team is a family, then would that make a manager the patriarch?

If that's the case, the Cubs should feel even better about new skipper Rick Renteria.

When he was hired last month, the 51-year-old dad of four likened himself to a father figure for young ballplayers in need of development.

He's not the only one who feels that way.

[RELATED: Renteria feels he's ready to tackle Cubs' youth movement]

After Renteria managed the Kane County Cougars in 1999, he left an impression on Curtis Haug, the general manager of the Cubs' Low-A affiliate located just 40 miles west of Wrigley Field.

"All the managers you've seen come through here have different styles, different ways of doing things," saig Haug, who was the Cougars assistant GM in 1999. "[Renteria] seemed to be upbeat, personable, almost like a father figure to these kids.

"They responded to him. He was positive, upbeat. He worked hard and I think that work ethic is something the players saw and tried to emulate."

Renteria, a former Pittsburgh Pirates first-round pick, managed that 1999 Kane County team to the playoffs with a 78-59 record and an impressive plus-160 run differential.

[MORE -- Rizzo Watch: Renteria honing in on development of Cubs first baseman]

The Cougars, who were affiliated with the Florida Marlins at the time, boasted a roster with an average age just over 21 years old and had only a handful of players who went on to have big-league careers -- the most notable of which were catcher Matt Treanor and pitchers Claudio Vargas and Nate Robertson, who spent time in the Cubs system in 2012.

"Rick was a very outgoing guy," Haug said. "He had a great rapport with a wide range of people -- the fans, the front office, the ballpark staff, his players and his coaches. He handled the clubhouse well and it showed because the team was really good that year.

"He separated himself from other [Kane County managers] and you could tell he had the makings and the capabilitiy of doing something big in the future."

Renteria, a self-proclaimed optimist, has never managed at the big-league level, but has drawn rave reviews from many around the game for his work as a coach.

His upbeat personality may be a good fit in Chicago on a ballclub that has lost 197 games the last two seasons.

[RELATED -- Kap: 99 percent chance Samardzija will be dealt by Opening Day]

"It's a good thing. When you're positive and you're upbeat, I think it builds confidence in kids," Haug said. "They don't feel like they're being beaten down. They don't feel a lot of negative vibes going on and they respond to that."

The Cubs are hoping that's the case with a wave of young talent expected to hit Wrigley Field as early as the end of the 2014 season, led by top prospects Javier Baez and Kris Bryant.

[MORE: With power in short supply, Cubs searching for competitive advantage]

In a game where a guy can fail seven out of 10 times and still be considered an All-Star, young players need to be able to rise above and learn from the adversity experienced every single day.

When a player makes a mistake, Renteria's approach is not to call that guy out or immediately dole out punishment. Instead, as he put it in his introductory teleconference in early November, Renteria allows time for the player to take accountability and move forward.

"A leopard doesn't change his spots. He was that way in Kane County in 1999 and he's consistent with it," Haug said. "The kids respond to it. It's just a different atmosphere, whether it's in the clubhouse or on the field or in early work or batting practice or during a game, you feel good.

"You feel like a different kid. You can go out there and make mistakes. You're not constantly worried about being yelled at."

That is something of a different approach than what Starlin Castro has seen on the North Side the last few years. The 23-year-old shortstop is prone to attention lapses in the field and has faced the wrath of Cubs managers.

In 2013, Castro was an easy target for disgruntled Cubs fans suffering through a 105th year without a World Series championship. But Castro, a two-time All-Star, has been in Chicago for four years and understands the expectations and the pressure from the market.

The same can't be said for Renteria, who spent the last five years on the San Diego Padres coaching staff. Apart from the one season in Kane County, the the southern California native hasn't experienced much Chicago baseball firsthand.

[RELATED -- Epstein: Renteria the 'clear' choice for Cubs]

"I don't think anybody truly knows what the expectations are when they come into this market or this situation," Haug said. "He's the kind of guy that's going to be able to handle it. He's got the support of the front office and he's obviously got a great coaching staff.

"This organization is putting together a great group of young talent that is going to win ballgames. We're a lot closer to that than we were two or three year ago. It's a great position for him to be in.

"I think he's going to do great. He's got the right attitude, the right personality and the right approach to it. They got the right guy."