MESA, Ariz. -- It's a 1,754-mile journey from Chicago to Phoenix, a trip general manager Jed Hoyer drove in February, accompanied by his dog, Louie, with plenty of time to come up with ideas on how to make the Cubs winners.
"I swapped between deep thought, books on tape, music and talking to people on the phone," Hoyer said of the drive. "It was a lot of time."
He arrived right before the Cubs held their organizational meetings, which Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, delayed until everyone was in place. Hoyer, 38, said he used the time in the car to think about the roster and the message to the staff.
"It was a really hectic winter, both personally and professionally," Hoyer said. "First child, moving from San Diego, coming to Chicago. I really enjoyed [the drive]. I enjoyed just clearing my head. When you're driving through some of those states, believe me, you better be comfortable with your own thoughts because there's not much to look at."
Hoyer and his wife, Merrill, thought San Diego would be their home after he was named general manager for the Padres prior to the 2010 season. But then Epstein called in late October with an offer Hoyer couldn't refuse. The two were together in Boston from 2002-09, and helped build two World Series championship teams in '04 and '07. Would Hoyer like to try to do the same with the Cubs?
"Obviously, it was a big decision, a family decision," Hoyer said about the move to the Midwest. "As far as the excitement about the opportunity, it was instantaneous. I've said I think this is the best opportunity in sports today and the chance to be a part of that was incredibly alluring. It was a hard decision -- I loved being in San Diego. It's a great city and I thought we were building something special there.
"As I said at my press conference [when introduced in Chicago], it wasn't that I turned my back on the Padres," he said. "It was more like, 'My goodness, we have a chance to do this in Chicago and this opportunity isn't going to come around again and I want to grab it.'"
The Cubs are riding the longest drought in professional sports. They last won the World Series in 1908, last played in one in 1945. The Red Sox ended an 86-year stretch when they won in '04.
"For me, and I think [Cubs manager Dale Sveum] said it well, there are teams that have a certain aura about them and it's extremely fun to be in an environment like this," Hoyer said. "We have such a clear goal and a clear vision for how we want to build it."
This spring has been the first chance for Hoyer and others in the Cubs' front office to actually meet some of the players and Minor League staff. Epstein joked that he felt like an accountant this winter with all the office work. Hoyer agreed.
"You come over in November, and you have to jump right into player transactions and get to know people," he said. "In the winter, it's an office job and now you get a chance to be on the field and watch these guys play, and this is why you do it."
There are 15 new players on the 40-man roster since the end of last season. Compare that to one year ago when there were seven new faces on the team's 2011 40-man list. Gone are Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, and manager Mike Quade. Hoyer traded former No. 1 picks Andrew Cashner and Tyler Colvin, dealt talented set-up pitcher Sean Marshall, and added players like David DeJesus and Paul Maholm without committing to mega deals.
Actually, it's incorrect to say Hoyer alone made the decisions. The Cubs have a different dynamic with Epstein and Hoyer working in tandem. Epstein has been the more celebrated hire, drawing the most attention and autograph seekers. Hoyer was the top man in the Padres' baseball operations hierarchy. Isn't it tough being in Epstein's shadow?
"Theo casts a long shadow, and he should," Hoyer said. "He's won two World Series and won the first one when he was 30. I've worked with Theo for a long time and I certainly wouldn't come over here if I was worried about whether or not I'll be in Theo's shadow.
"To me, you do this because you like to build baseball teams and you want to be a part of something special," he said. "I don't do this for name recognition or power. It's an incredible opportunity. [The 2004 season] was magical -- this can be even better."
At the Winter Meetings, Epstein and Hoyer would alternate days when they met with the media for daily briefings. How do they divide the work?
"So far, it's been really common sense -- relationships with teams, relationship with agents," Hoyer said. "Over time, it'll evolve. We had conversations about the delineation of things but it wasn't something we spent a lot of time on because we know our relationship. We've agreed we'll just be very open.
"If there's something I feel very passionate about, I'll work on that, [and] if there's a team I have a better relationship with, I'll do that, and if not, he'll do it," Hoyer said. "Because of our relationship, it makes it really easy. We've worked together for a long time and been in a lot of stressful positions and made a lot of hard decisions. It's not hard for us to figure that out. It'll evolve. Lord knows, there's enough work for both of us."
Besides hiring a manager and filling the roster with the type of players he wanted, Hoyer welcomed his first son, Beckett, in January. Beckett attended his first ballgame Sunday at HoHoKam Park when the Cubs opened Cactus League play. Let's clear up the name.
"I'm a huge Josh Beckett fan," Hoyer said of the Red Sox pitcher. "I've got a World Series ring in large part because of him, but we didn't name our kid after him."
It's actually a derivation of a family name on his wife's side. Sorry, Josh.
Back to the task at hand, which is the Cubs. Hoyer got a feel for how passionate the team's fans are during the Cubs Convention, and this spring, he's interacted with folks during workouts at Fitch Park.
"You hope we can build a sustained winner so every year, they buy their tickets and come to Spring Training knowing their team is going to the playoffs," Hoyer said. "If we get to that point, I think one of those Octobers will be really magical. We just need to get the point where every year we think we're going to play in October."
In his first season as the Padres GM, they won 90 games, but last year, went 71-91, the same record as the Cubs in 2011. Hoyer is very competitive. A former shortstop and pitcher for Wesleyan University, he helped the team reach the championship game of the Division III World Series in 1994.
"I don't think any person in this job isn't competitive," Hoyer said. "You want to win, you want to build something you're proud of. We're off on the right track and taking good first steps but it's a long process. I don't think any of us are not aware it's going to be a long process.
"We want to build something that's great for the fans," he said. "I do think, no matter what, knowing how many people care so deeply is a huge motivator."
And Hoyer knew that before he made that long drive.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.