MESA, Ariz. -- On Sept. 14, 1986, "Rich" Renteria made his Major League debut with the Pirates, and he delivered a pinch-hit single against the Cubs' Ron Davis. The 24-year-old rookie scored on Bobby Bonilla's single, and the Pirates posted a 9-2 win over the Cubs at Three Rivers Stadium.
It was just one of several connections Renteria had as a player with the Cubs, and he seems less surprised than anyone that he is now the team's manager.
"Through my whole career, somehow the Cubs popped up in so many ways," Renteria said.
Renteria, who now prefers to be called Ricky, had his first pro picture for a baseball card taken at Wrigley Field. He felt destined to be here with the Cubs.
"Every time we came into Chicago, I felt this would be the place I would want to be a part of," Renteria said. "I feel very comfortable here. I feel I've been welcomed by everyone. It's a tremendously joyous spring and a very productive spring, and I'm looking forward to being part of the Chicago Cubs organization."
Renteria has a lot of work to do. The Cubs are coming off four straight sub-.500 seasons, and they combined for 197 losses in the past two years under former manager Dale Sveum. The team is young, with several top prospects expected to contribute in 2015 or '16. That didn't deter Renteria.
"I remember reaching out to [general manager] Jed [Hoyer] and [president of baseball operations Theo Epstein] and making sure they understood this is where I wanted to be," said Renteria, who was interviewed by a few teams in the offseason. "I always felt this was the place I'd be part of someday in my career, and fortunately, I'm here now."
Renteria has managed before, but it's been in the Minor Leagues or as part of Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. He was on the Padres' big league coaching staff since 2008, including the past three as the bench coach. Now, Renteria has lost his anonymity, and he has to deal with the media and the headaches of the job. Yet he welcomes everything with a smile and a slap on the back.
"I kind of feel like I belong with all these guys," Renteria said.
Renteria's team meetings take a little longer than previous managers, because he speaks in both English and Spanish to make sure his message is clear.
"I think the guys appreciate someone reaching out, trying to make sure they understand we're all part of the same family, and they've taken to it," Renteria said.
Family is very important to Renteria. When he got the Cubs job in November, he mentioned that he should be able to relate to the young players because he has four children. One of Renteria's strengths -- and what made him attractive to the Cubs' front office -- is his ability to develop young players. He got a good look this spring at the organization's future, watching top prospects such as Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora.
"They've come into camp, they've kind of connected with all the veterans who are here and have gone out and tried to show everyone what they're capable of doing," Renteria said. "It's been pretty impressive to see them all coexist together and do some really positive things -- things that will, in the end, continue to influence the direction the Cubs organization goes in a positive way."
Heading into Opening Day, Renteria is focused on the current roster. The message this spring from both he and hitting coach Bill Mueller has been to have good approaches at the plate and not give away at-bats. The starting pitching is young -- Jason Hammel is the old man in the rotation at 31. Jose Veras is set as the closer, and he has been a mentor to the young relievers.
Renteria is the Cubs' 53rd manager in franchise history, and every one since Frank Chance did so in 1908 has thought he'd be the one to lead the team to a World Series championship. Renteria is optimistic. He survived a fractured jaw -- suffered in a freak collision at second base -- that literally knocked him out of the game for a year. Renteria played in the Mexican League in 1985, and then again in 1991-92 in hopes of convincing a big league team that he could still contribute. It worked.
Renteria isn't nervous about Opening Day. He has yet to see his office at Wrigley Field. Because Renteria was recovering from right hip replacement surgery in October, he never came to Chicago for his interview. Cubs officials went to his home in Temecula, Calif.
"It's probably not going to hit me until I'm actually there," Renteria said about the home opener on Friday, April 4, against the Phillies. "It's like anything, when you first come up to the big leagues, you're really excited and you don't think about too much until you're there and the emotion gets you a little bit. You have to take a breath and keep working."
Renteria is exactly where he wants to be in his life with the Cubs. He knows his team is the underdog in the National League Central. Renteria is ready for the season to begin.
"I'm hoping we're just starting to connect as a team, and when we leave here for Chicago, we start to have a sense of who we are and the heartbeat we have as a team and fight every single day," he said. "That's our message -- to keep pushing and keep driving. The only ones who need to believe is us."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.