Renteria uses walker to put best foot forward
Cubs' new manager navigates post-surgery interview process from home
SAN DIEGO -- New Cubs manager Rick Renteria had no problem getting comfortable for a nearly six-hour interview last month with team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
Then again, he was the only one wearing sweatpants.
Renteria, the former bench coach for the Padres, figured the offseason was the ideal time to have right hip replacement surgery, meaning that he could lay low and recover at home in Temecula, Calif.
"It had been going on for quite a few years, but this last year it had gotten worse," Renteria said. "I was walking incorrectly. I was very stiff and was hunched over. The determination to have the surgery after the season was a pretty easy one to make."
Only Renteria's offseason was anything but quiet. Shortly after Oct. 4 surgery, his phone started ringing with teams wanting to interview him for their managerial openings.
Unable to travel for six weeks after the surgery, Renteria didn't have to pull his best suit from his closet, pack and bag and jump on a plane to interview with the Cubs, Mariners and Tigers.
Instead, all three teams came to him.
"The funny thing is, I didn't actually know," Renteria said. "I got a call the day I was going into surgery. I spoke with [Padres general manager Josh Byrnes] and he said the Cubs were interested in interviewing me for the position.
"I then talked to Jed and I told him I couldn't travel for six weeks. And he said maybe they could come out to see me."
That ignited a whirlwind month for Renteria, as the Cubs came for the first of three meetings. Then, it was the Tigers and Mariners. Team presidents, general managers and other front-office folks, all in his home while Renteria hobbled around with the use of his trusty walker.
"I was pretty limited, but I was able to walk with a walker," Renteria said. "I've been doing my exercises twice a day to get the muscles reacclimated to the movement. I live in the two-story house, so I've had to use the handrail and go one step at a time.
"I think they [doctors] have a saying ... good foot up, bad foot down."
To be sure, Renteria put his best foot forward in his interviews with all three teams, especially with the Cubs. It was 10 days after his surgery when Epstein and Hoyer first visited Renteria.
"At that point, I'm just wearing loose sweats," Renteria said. "They started asking me different questions: How do you deal with players? How I would handle different situations."
The time passed quickly, so much so that the trio essentially forgot about lunch. That's when Renteria's wife, Ilene, intervened.
"She suggested that we do something [for lunch], so I said that we should get something from one of the local places," Renteria said. "She decided to go to Panera."
The next visit by the Cubs included their director of scouting and player development, Jason McLeod, assistant general manager Randy Bush and director of player development Brandon Hyde.
But Renteria's phone was just warming up. After that first interview with Epstein and Hoyer, Renteria schedule face-to-face interviews at home with the Tigers and Mariners.
The Tigers were represented by president and general manager Dave Dombrowski, assistant general manager Al Avila and director of professional scouting Scott Bream. That interview last three hours.
Renteria had a relationship with Dombrowski going back to their days with the Marlins when Renteria was a Minor League manager and Dombrowski was general manager.
Not long thereafter, the Mariners came to Temecula. General manager Jack Zduriencik and director of amateur scouting, Tom McNamara, stopped to meet with Renteria after watching some of the team's top prospects play in the Arizona Fall League.
"Jack called to ask if I had time to sit down and talk about the opening," Renteria said. "... I asked him when and he said tomorrow.
"I was appreciative someone wanted to interview me. I was quite humbled to say that least."
After two rounds of interviews with the Cubs and ones with the Mariners and Tigers, Epstein and Hoyer flew back to Temecula one last time.
"They started talking about the philosophy of the organization and the direction they want to go, then Jed said that before they went any further, they wanted to extend an offer to me," Renteria said.
Stunned, Renteria called upstairs where his wife Ilene was. The two have been married since 1983 but have been together for over 36 years. They have four children, including three boys.
Renteria wanted to share this moment with Ilene. Epstein and Hoyer politely left the room as they did so and Renteria and his wife embraced.
"It's been a long road," said Renteria, who has been in professional baseball since 1980. "The spouses of pro athletes go through a lot. She deserved to be there."