CHICAGO (AP) Rick Renteria stood next to Chicago Cubs executives Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein and pulled on a No. 16 jersey in a lounge at Wrigley Field.
Yup, it's definitely real now. There's a new man in the dugout for the downtrodden Cubs.
Renteria got his official welcome Thursday for his first job as a major league manager about a month after he was hired to replace Dale Sveum. The appearance at the Cubs' iconic neighborhood ballpark was delayed by Renteria's recovery from October hip surgery.
"Physically, I feel great," he said. "It's a little over two months since the surgery and it went well and the rehab went extremely well and now just trying to get back to normal."
Renteria is going to need all his strength. He has quite the job ahead of him with the rebuilding Cubs.
Sveum was fired after Chicago went 66-96 in 2013 and finished last in the competitive NL Central. It lost 101 games in Sveum's first season on the bench, and hasn't finished with a winning record since it went 83-78 under Lou Piniella in 2009.
Of course, there's also that whole no-World-Series-title-since-1908 thing.
Renteria isn't hiding from the Cubs' woeful history. But that's all it is to him, there's nothing he can do about it.
"I don't think in terms of the past other than understanding where the organization's been," he said. "My attitude is constantly to move forward."
Renteria played second and third base for parts of five seasons in the majors. He then became a minor league coach in the Marlins' system and spent the past six years on the Padres' staff, including serving as Bud Black's bench coach since 2011.
Renteria, who turns 52 on Christmas Day, also managed Mexico in the World Baseball Classic in March.
Asked about his mentors, Renteria mentioned famous managers Jim Leyland, Dick Williams and Rene Lachemann. But he also shed some light on his personality with his glowing praise of little-known Johnny Lipon.
"Johnny was my A-ball manager and I had the best year I've ever had in my career," Renteria said. "Most positive individual I've ever seen. And you think about that, you know here's a guy who was a shortstop for the Detroit Tigers in a different era, an infielder, and his demeanor was one that kept you moving forward.
"That stayed with me. It resonated with me."
Epstein and Hoyer are hoping Renteria can have a similar effect on the Cubs' group of young players. Starlin Castro's batting average and on-base percentage have declined in each of the last two seasons while his strikeouts have gone up. First baseman Anthony Rizzo is coming off an inconsistent year.
The stalled development of Castro and Rizzo played a role in the dismissal of Sveum, and one of Renteria's biggest responsibilities is to get them back on track and create an atmosphere that leads to success for Chicago's next wave of prospects, most notably Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant.
"We know that the game is about the players and I think that sometimes we need to help them through those moments when things aren't going very well," Renteria said, "and hopefully we're able to articulate what it is that they need to do to improve."
Renteria's first coaching staff reflects the focus on the young players. Brandon Hyde is moving from director of player development to bench coach. New first base coach Eric Hinske hit .173 in 52 games for Arizona last season.
"It takes a certain personality to be able to actually reach the modern player and to dig deep and engage, relate to them," Epstein said, "not relate to a player on a perfunctory level but really get in deep, find out what makes them tick and impact them on and off the field in a positive way. That's what we were looking for."
Also Thursday, Epstein said he is looking for another starting pitcher and outfielder ahead of next week's winter meetings, plus bullpen and bench help. He also had no update on a possible contract extension for pitcher Jeff Samardzija and remained mum on any changes in baseball's bidding process for Japanese players.
Major League Baseball is working on a new bidding system with Nippon Professional Baseball, and it's unclear whether prized pitcher Masahiro Tanaka will be on the market this offseason.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap