CHICAGO -- The Cubs may still be in rebuilding mode, but Rick Renteria, who took over as the franchise's 53rd manager on Thursday, sees plenty of positives and an opportunity to win.
Thirty years in professional baseball paid off for Renteria, 51, who received a three-year contract with two club option years. He is the Cubs' fourth manager in the last five years, and the second since Theo Epstein took over as president of baseball operations in October 2011.
The Cubs did not hold a traditional news conference at Wrigley Field because Renteria had hip surgery after the regular season ended and was unable to travel. That didn't deter his enthusiasm.
"The assumption that our team or our club won't be able to play at a high level, quite frankly, I don't make that assumption," Renteria said. "I assume that every team that's put on the field -- and it might sound naive, and I know people are going to say, 'This kid is naive' -- but I still believe any team that goes in and plays between the lines has a chance to win a ballgame every single day."
Renteria said he hopes his players learn from their struggles. He stressed having confidence, being prepared, and communication. He's learned how to deal with young players because of his experience at home with four children, ages 18-35.
"I've been involved in a youth movement my whole life," Renteria said. "Players, in essence, keep us young. I try to use everything I've ever had as a parent -- for example, dealing with whatever moments of frustration or issues that might have occured in the family -- to my advantage. I've used that in my thought process through the game and teaching."
Renteria didn't want to call himself a "father figure," but he certainly sounded like one when saying he loved his players.
"I believe the game is about them, and it's not about me," Renteria said. "Hopefully, as time goes on, the focus isn't on me, but will be totally on the players and the joy everybody is experiencing because these guys are going out and performing."
Renteria spent the last six seasons as the Padres' bench coach (2011-13) and first-base coach (2008-10). He also has eight years of experience as a Minor League manager in the Padres and Marlins organizations, including the 1999 season with Class A Kane County, with whom he was named Minor League Manager of the Year.
Renteria inherits a young core that includes first baseman Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Starlin Castro, outfielder Junior Lake and catcher Welington Castillo, and top prospects Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer and player development director Jason McLeod held the same jobs in San Diego, and they're very familiar with Renteria from their days with the Padres. Hoyer recalled a conversation he had in 2010 with Padres officials about Renteria, saying he was "the best worker, the most prepared and the most positive guy" on the staff.
"It was clear he was going to be a big league manager, and I'm really glad it was with us," Hoyer said. "It was clear it was going to be pretty soon. People with that kind of reputation don't come along very often in this game, and he's earned it."
Epstein said the Cubs were impressed with Renteria after his first interview, and subsequent phone calls and a second interview continued to support that he was their man. Epstein and his staff also talked to some of Renteria's former players.
"It's a tough day for the Padres to lose someone with the knowledge and the energy Ricky brings," San Diego catcher Nick Hundley said. "The city of Chicago is getting a great baseball guy, someone who comes to work each day with the kind of passion and energy that's tough to match."
Epstein, who tried to hire Renteria as the Minor League field coordinator for the Red Sox a few years ago, said the new Cubs manager had the leadership qualities and track record the organization was looking for, and felt he would be able to connect with the players and "create an environment in which young players can learn, develop and thrive."
"Everyone who has played for him loves him," Padres outfielder Will Venable said of Renteria. "His impact on me personally … I can't even quantify it. He showed me what hard work was on a baseball field. I feel like I can go on [talking] forever about Ricky."
Renteria, who also interviewed for the Tigers and Mariners jobs, managed Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. He's definitely a people person.
"Personally, my approach to every player on every club I've been a part of is to engage the player as a human being first," Renteria said. "It might sound kind of crazy, but they happen to be human beings who are playing baseball.
"I think one of the biggest things is I know players need confidence -- not that that's not been provided," Renteria said. "I feel I lend myself to that ability. I feel that over the time I've been in the game, I've been able to provide that type of impact, that sense of confidence, and let them believe they can play the game."
Renteria will draw on what he's learned from Jim Leyland, Dick Williams, Bud Black, Rene Lachemann and his Minor League manager, Johnny Lipon, whom Renteria said was the most positive person he's played for.
"I'll be quite honest: I'm usually a pretty positive individual," Renteria said. "It'll be pretty rare when you won't see me with a smile on my face, even in difficult times. We all know how difficult the game of baseball is."
The Cubs do. They lost 100 games in 2012, Epstein's first season in charge and Dale Sveum's first season as manager, and they finished last in the National League Central this past year, losing 96 games. Sveum was dismissed on Sept. 30.
The rest of Renteria's staff has yet to be named, and Epstein said some of the 2013 coaching staff may return. Dave McKay, who was the first-base coach the last two seasons, has already left to take the same job with the D-backs.
Coming to Chicago as a visiting player and coach left a positive impression on Renteria, too.
"One of the things I've always taken away from being here is [the fans] really appreciate effort," Renteria said. "They really appreciate a club going out there and giving you a fight on a daily basis."
On Sept. 14, 1986, Renteria made his Major League debut as a player against the Cubs. Leyland was the Pirates' manager that day, and current skippers Ryne Sandberg and Terry Francona also played for the Cubs. Who knew?
Now, Renteria will make his managerial debut with the Cubs.
"You can't find anyone in this game to say a bad word or even a neutral word about Rick Renteria," Epstein said. "He really excelled in the entire process. We took our time. We wanted to be thorough and had the benefit of being so. It was clear to us that Rick was the right man for the job."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.