Please allow a slight detour as I explain why.
Longtime readers of the blog have probably figured out that my health has not been the greatest over the past few years. In late 2016 I was diagnosed with kidney disease right as my Cubs were charging into the World Series. I had to go to a center and receive a dialysis treatment 3 days a week. That adds up.
Then, this spring, my doctors decided that I was able to continue my dialysis at home. The good part was not having to travel to the center several times a week. The bad part was that this type of dialysis took about 8 hours and sapped my energy. I could barely find it in me to eat, let alone go out to a game, surrounded by people in an environment that I have always considered to be high energy for myself.Recently I was approved for a dialysis machine, that allows me to do the entire treatment overnight as I sleep. It is much less intense and I mostly feel good afterwards when I wake up. This allows me a return to a relatively normal schedule, which means that one of the first things I wanted to do was get out to the ballpark!
My lovely wife, Lauren, and I picked a day off of work for her and began planning a game. Initially we were going to return to Lancaster to see the Jethawks, but shortly before gamely I started hearing some interesting rumors. It seemed that the injured, Mike Trout was getting ready to start his rehab and would begin working out with the 66ers.There were no guarantees that he would play right away but I’m a gambling man and bought 2 tickets for the first date that the Angels said would be his earliest return. I figured he would at least be working out with the team so we could watch him hit in batting practice and who knows? Maybe he’d be up for signing autographs.
Mike is a great signer at home in Anaheim, literally minutes away from my home, but luck has never been with me when he is signing and I’ve always missed out. A smaller ballpark, like San Manuel Stadium, home of the 66ers seemed to provide a much better opportunity.
So Lauren and I packed up baseballs, camera gear and a pretty sweet mix CD by me and headed up to San Bernardino. Along the way we stopped in to the Inland Empire’s favorite fast food, Baker’s Drive-Thru, and grabbed a couple of burgers for lunch.
I was afraid that the detour to Baker’s might throw off our timing to reach the ballpark, but we got there approximately 45 minutes before they were set to open the gates, which was an hour prior to first pitch.
It seems others had heard about the return of Mr. Trout (who the Angels had confirmed WOULD be playing that night.) There was a sea of #27 Angels jersey in the line, which appeared to be at least 100 people deep. By the time the gates opened, that number had at least tripled.After getting my bag checked I hobbled down to the third base side of the park and joined a mass of humanity with the same dreams of getting an autograph from Mr. Trout as I did. Having been in guest control in a former life I truly felt bad for the usher who was trying to keep the aisles clear for people who actually had tickets in the general vicinity. He was very kind and never lost his cool, so props to Darrell of the 66ers!
We stood. And we waited. Not only had Mike not come out by approximately 20 minutes to game time, but suddenly there was the announcement that strikes fear into the heart of all stadium autograph seekers.
“At this time we ask that you please return to your assigned seats.”
Honestly, I would have, but I was literally stuck in a mob of people with no way out. Darrell was not pleased that no one was leaving. I’m sorry Darrell!By this time Mike had come out and after signing autographs for the Little League team that was being honored on the field, headed down the left field line to warm up.
With the announcement having been made and the fact that it was mere minutes from the first pitch I figured I would have to chalk this up to a ‘close but no cigar’ encounter, but I was still trapped next to the dugout in a hot, sweaty mass of humanity.And then it happened. Mike came down to our little section and began signing. He mostly hit up the kids, but I’m not ashamed to say that I was able to hand over my baseball and get it back signed. I didn’t push, I didn’t cheat and I didn’t screw over any kids. I was pretty pleased with my quarry. Anything else that happened this night would be mere icing on the cake.
I found Lauren who had cooled down with a shave ice while I was Trout fishing and we got a lemonade to cool me down and found a nice shaded picnic area in which to relax. We rested and I rushed down to try to get some photographs of Mike’s first at-bat.In addition to being Mike Trout Day (unofficial) it was a celebration of SPAM’s 80th birthday (official). I love SPAM. Lauren likes SPAM. It seemed natural that we would enjoy some of the SPAM-centric snacks available. I was getting hungry again, so Lauren went exploring and reported back with the specialty SPAM menu. I felt that the “Grilled Cheesy Bacon Melt,” described as “Thick slabs of griddled Texas Toast loaded with bacon, cheese, more bacon and even more cheese!” with an addition of diced SPAM would hit the spot and the SPAM musubi would also be a nice treat. This is the point where the wheels fall off of our lovely adventure.
It seemed to me that Lauren had been gone a while, like 3 innings at least, and I was beginning to worry when my fast dying cell phone buzzed at me and I got a text saying “Still waiting.” She made it back to me shortly thereafter, and was obviously not happy.
We don’t know why, but it took over 40 minutes to make my sandwich. There was no warning that this was going to be an issue, and most appallingly, there was no apology for the wait afterwards. Not even an obviously false one. In addition, the musubi and bottle of water we ordered was given to her upon paying. The water had 40 minutes to warm up and the musbui had the same amount of time to cool down and slightly congeal. Lauren was not the only one with this problem. There were several others at the stand livid about the treatment and many cancelled their orders and demanded refunds.
I understand that this is a Class-A ballpark. I understand that the SPAM items are a specialty and that the high school kids in the concession stands are probably not overly familiar with them. I do NOT understand where an “I’m sorry for your wait” or even some indication that what was happening was unacceptable was never offered. I’m not saying offer a discount or comp the food or anything like that. However, a bit of human decency is not difficult to muster up and, to me, seems like an automatic response.
This experience cast a very negative light over our whole time at the ballpark and will likely color any future visits; but it doesn’t matter to the concessionaires. They’re just high school kids working for minimum wage and couldn’t care less if their attitudes cost the team, or at least their concession stand, customers. It was just a shame.That being said, the sandwich was delicious. Tons of orange American cheese melted on standard white bread with little jewels of bacon and SPAM sprinkled throughout and decorating the top. I destroyed the thing. Might have considered another if I thought I could get it before the game ended. The musubi was a bit of a disappointment. As stated earlier, it had gotten cold and the rice began to solidify as the SPAM was disintegrating into a cold grease bomb. We were only able to eat a few bites. The warm water was wet and that was all we asked of it, though a cool drink would have been nice.
We decided to leave the picnic area at this point and look around the stadium itself. It was a nice little ballpark that to me was very reminiscent of an MLB Spring Training facility.
As we walked past one particular point of the concourse there was a line of people, probably 40-50 deep. Lauren asked me what was going on, and I was stumped for a minute and then my brain clicked.“They are out here waiting for Mike Trout to leave after the game!” I said. Considering that he was only at that point coming up for his final at-bat and then would have to shower, get ready to go and likely handle some media requests, those folks were in for a long wait. I hope they did well.
The team store was nice. It had a pretty decent selection of things, including a Mike Trout 66ers shirsey, but my wife says I have too many t-shirts already (I do) and nothing else in the store particularly struck my fancy. There were some nice hats, but at the price point, I’m not sure I would have gotten the value out of wearing them, so we left the shop empty-handed. I was also surprised to not see any game-used items for sale. Usually team shops will have a bucket of cracked game-used bats and maybe a few other items, but there were none to be found.It was at about this time that we decided to head out, so we took a few last photos and headed to the car.
Overall, I achieved what I came to do and the ballpark itself was nice and had a very strong community vibe. A lot of the fans seemed to know each other and spent a lot of time visiting with each other and catching up on life. There was a very positive energy that I enjoyed.
Sadly the food incident really did color the entire evening, but we are willing to revisit San Manuel Stadium, perhaps on a normal weeknight when one of the greatest players in the MLB isn’t in town and see what kind of experience we have then.I’m hoping to be able to add some more entries on here soon, so until next time, keep trippin’ baseballs! As always, my full complement of photos can be found here
Addendum as of Friday morning. After I contacted the 66ers with my concern they reached out to me and not only apologized for the behavior of the employees, but gave a reasonable explanation as to why the food took so long (They knew it would be time-consuming so it was scheduled on a Wednesday night,which is traditionally slow…and then Mike Trout happened.) They invited us back to a game to get a full experience and I will look forward to taking them up on that. Thank you, 66ers for your prompt and satisfying customer service.
The 2013 draft was an exceptional one for the Chicago Cubs. Not only did they reap the benefits of suffering through a dismal 61-101 record in 2012 by getting to draft future superstar Kris Bryant with the 2nd pick, but they managed to snap up Trevor Clifton as well. Clifton was expected to be drafted in approximately the 5th round. However, a strong commitment to the University of Kentucky had many teams wary of spending a draft selection on the tall right-handed pitcher out of Tennessee. The Cubs liked what they saw in Clifton enough to take a chance on him in the 12th round and offer him a large signing bonus of $375,000, which was enough to break with Kentucky and join the Cubs organization. It’s looking like a good investment for the Cubs, so far.
Standing at 6’1 and weighing in at 170, with room to grow, Trevor Clifton draws comparisons to another right-handed hurler who was once in the Cubs system but found success elsewhere, Chris Archer. Like Archer, Clifton had a bit of a slow start to his career, but has learned from early adversity and spends every season trying to improve on his success.
“My goal each year is to be better each year in every part of my game,” says Clifton. “That’s the only way for a steady climb.”
Moving thousands of miles from home to begin a professional baseball career is an intimidating concept. When you combine that with barely turning 18 and graduating from high school, it is downright overwhelming and Clifton reasonably struggled in his first professional season, posting no wins and a 6.97 ERA in 8 games and 10 innings pitched. That was the last time that any numbers put up by Clifton would be referred to as ‘gaudy’ in a negative sense.
Over the next 3 seasons, Clifton’s ERA would never finish above a 4.00 and he averages just about one strikeout per inning pitched. Oh, and about those innings? Clifton has thrown over 100 of them for the past 2 seasons, so his durability, often a concern with pitchers drafted straight out of high school, doesn’t seem to be an issue.
Clifton’s slow and steady progress paid real dividends during the his 2016 campaign with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans where he was named Pitcher of the Month twice, earned the save in the All-Star Game and ultimately was named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year. He also just so happened to lead the Pelicans to the Carolina League Championship and is currently ranked in the Cubs’ top 10 prospects. Not a bad resume for a young pitcher who is still just 21 years old. Aside from the natural maturing process, what changed for Clifton in 2016?
“A whole lot of stuff, from mechanics to preparation to arm care. My biggest change, by far, was the mental side of the game. I went in to last season with confidence in my pitches and slowing the game down.”
Given his steady rise through the Cubs system it seems likely that Clifton will at least begin the season with the Tennessee Smokies, conveniently located about 4o minutes from his hometown of Maryville.
“I’m very excited about this upcoming season and seeing my family in the stands,” says Clifton. “A lot of players don’t get to experience that. My family means the world to me.”
That’s not to say that Clifton is going to take it easy in front of the local fans. “I enjoy seeing everyone’s support from my hometown. It makes me feel accountable.”
Clifton received an award this off-season from his hometown before even throwing a professional pitch there when his former high school retired his baseball number.
“I’ve had a lot of awards throughout my career, but having my number retired around the closest people to me was by far the best. I loved getting to spend that success with Heritage [High School] and my hometown.”
Clifton’s dedication to his family and friends gives insight into the man behind the athlete and fits in perfectly with the Cubs’ character-driven mindset.
“My family means the world to me and they’ve always been really supportive from t-ball until now, so I guess I don’t know any better. I think as a player you have to earn the fans’ respect and attention. I also have some great fans and followers I see throughout my social media and love conversations with them.”
Cubs fans, if you don’t know Trevor Clifton yet, consider this your introduction. It’s very possible that Clifton will be called up to AAA Iowa at some point this season, and from there a September call-up would be certainly within the realm of possibility.
“Now pitching for your Cubs, Number 25, Trevor Clifton!” may be heard at Wrigley Field sooner than we all may think. With his raw skills and positive attitude, Clifton has every chance to be a Wrigley Field stalwart.
“The region is altogether valueless. After entering it, there is nothing to do but leave.”
Lt. Edward Beale, Congress report on Arizona, 1858
While I don’t completely agree with the good lieutenant, I must say that I am glad to be home. You see, we weren’t intending on going to Spring training this year. My health is still a bit dodgy and being away from our home base is a bit scary right now. We aren’t habitual Spring Training junkies, but have been a few times and I’ve always had a good time. I had a lot of fun this time as well, but it was a little different from I had expected.
The impetus for even going down at all was the wedding of two of our closest friends, who happened to be from Phoenix. Which happened to be on my birthday. Which happened to be over the weekend of my birthday. When the universe clearly wants you to go Spring Training, you go!
For my birthday gift, my wife gave me her credit card and let me get tickets to all of the games I wanted to attend, which–after I restrained myself–wound up being 4 games. I found a Motel 6 close to both Sloan Park and the dialysis center that I would be utilizing twice during our short stay and booked our room.More details on that to follow.
That is far too long of a prologue, so lets just jump right into day 1.
We ended up leaving our house a bit later than intended, but other than one issue with CD selection (Yes children, old people still use physical media to listen to music) the drive was uneventful. Traffic was easy until we hit the outskirts of Phoenix, but we still made it to Scottsdale Stadium just a little bit after the Giants v. Puerto Rico game had begun. We immediately saw an issue. After driving around the ballpark and nearby environs there was literally no parking. All the lots were either full or blocked off with “Non Event Parking” sign. We even tried to find a place to park away from the ballpark and having a car service take us to the game with no avail. By this point it was getting late and we hadn’t eaten anything for many hours, so we cut our losses and changed our quest to find lunch.
Fortunately nearby was a restaurant serving Cornish pasties–as well as air conditioning, so we went in for a fine lunch topped off with an amazing banoffee pie and began to feel human again. at this point it was late enough to check in to our motel, so we headed in that general direction.
After a quick trip to the Walmart, which was decked out in Cubs merchandise, we arrived at our temporary home.
Do you ever get a strange feeling that things aren’t good and might soon get much worse? That was the feeling in my gut as we checked in. Don’t get me wrong, all the staff that we dealt with during our stay were perfectly nice. Very helpful and professional, even “upgrading” us to a handicapped room with no extra charge.
The room though? Not so good. The sort of place that you’d expect Norman Bates to work at, were “Psycho” set in 2017. Upon walking into our non-smoking room we were hit by a cloud of nicotine–something that persisted throughout our stay minus the one day when nicotine was swapped for pot smoke. There was a dirty boot print in our shower and the whole place looked like it had been cleaned by a disinterested teenager. Yes, I should have complained, but I was afraid any other room would be worse, so we soldiered on and kept the room.
Eventually we fell asleep and were not murdered in the night. I set those odds at 50-50.
Today was exciting because we were going to see the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs (I never get tired of saying that and love getting to refer to them as such) at Sloan Park, a ballpark I had yet to see since it opened only a few years ago. With Arizona ignoring Daylight Savings Time, I mentally thought that the game started at 12:05, the same as at home, so we arrived an hour sooner than expected. Oops. They soon opened the gates and we found our way inside and immediately grabbed some hot dogs, pretzels and water. We headed down to our seats and ate our lunch, fortunately, in some of the rare shade. The game against the Mariners was fun, not counting the final score, and it was good to see Bryant, Rizzo and the rest of the crew at it again, as well as see prospects like Eloy Jiminez in person.
Sloan Park is gorgeous and I do wish we had explored it a bit more, but the shady seats were too tempting to leave and so we remained sedentary for the length of the game. The timing worked out perfectly for us to enjoy the ballgame and get to my dialysis appointment in Mesa on time.
I did manage to get my photo with the Sloan Park marquee before we left though. I DO have my priorities after all.
After my 4 hours getting my blood cleaned we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed back to the motel of doom for the night. As you can no doubt tell, we are some late night party animals. Like the kids in the pool. Right outside of our room. Until after midnight.
Today we were headed to Tempe to see the Padres play the Angels. Looking back on it now, I don’t know why we didn’t just go and see the Cubs play the Mariners in Peoria, but seeing 2 of my favorite teams play each other was not a bad option either.
On the way we stopped for breakfast at a Whataburger, which I had never tried before. It had been described to me as “the Texas In ‘n Out” so I had to try it. Though it was breakfast time I felt the need to get the eponymous burger, but lo! On the breakfast menu was biscuits and gravy…one of my all time favorite meals. Decisions, decisions. In the end, although my appetite has been waning as of late, I ordered both. And finished them too.
While eating, a woman at a table across from us asked me about my cane and other, increasingly personal questions, which I answered, since I generally don’t know when to shut up. We finished our meals, ended the conversation and continued on to Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim…who train in Tempe, Arizona. Why not add a few more locations for the poor Angels?
Unfortunately unlike Sloan Park there were virtually no shaded seats at Tempe Diablo Stadium and I started to bake from the moment I sat in our seats watching the teams warm up. Kindly, Lauren went and got us a huge frozen margarita concoction to try to cool us down. Yes, I realize that alcohol probably has an adverse effect on remaining hydrated, but it was delicious. More importantly it was cold.
We downed that sucker fast enough that I didn’t even have time/ presence of mind to get a photo. The bottom of the drink vessel was actually molded into a baseball which Lauren wanted to keep, but was rebuffed by an usher as we left and forced to throw it away. We will never forget you, margarita baseball.
By the second inning the sun was beating down on my poor little body and we decided to leave the seats in favor of shade. It turns out that many people were doing the exact thing that we were and the mass of humanity clogged the concourse and made it extra hard just to walk around, let alone pop into the team store.
We decided that for the sake of my health (we still had a wedding reception and yet one more game to attend on our Arizona adventure) we should leave and go back to the air-conditioned motel room, to rest before dialysis.
I must have looked the way that I felt, because a kindly usher had me sit down for a moment and called to have a cart come to drive us over to our car. Unfortunately, once at the car we were blocked in by a fire truck parked directly behind us. We sat in the car for at least 20 minutes until a firefighter came back and moved the truck and in doing so, free our car.
We drove back to the motel where I had a short and cool nap. Our room hadn’t been cleaned yet, nor would it be that entire day.
I had my dialysis and then immediately began my backslide with dinner at The Cracker Barrel. We only recently got one in California and it’s a bit of a drive from our home–not that Phoenix isn’t–so on the rare occasion that we find one we are there!
We returned to our uncleaned room, got new towels from the front desk and looked forward to a long sleep in, since the following day was baseball-free.
I’ll try to keep this short since there is virtually no baseball connection. Today was my birthday, as well as the reception for our friends’ wedding. They had done a real wedding ceremony, very small, the day prior and then had their reception at a local barcade. For those unaware, a barcade is a combination bar and arcade, generally featuring older video games for those of us that grew up playing them.
There was lots of good food, good drinks, virtually unlimited free games and so a good time was had by all.
That evening, Lauren and I planned on going to a charity function to raise money for clean drinking water in the Dominican Republic and reportedly featuring many baseball players in attendance. Since I had been virtually shut out of autographs the whole trip, I thought this would be a fun way to celebrate my birthday. The universe had other plans and struck Lauren down with some sort of bug, so we got halfway to the venue and turned around to go back to the motel. We grabbed some Sonic for me and called it a night.
Today was our last day in Arizona and we were pumped to see the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs (I told you I loved saying it) take on the Oakland A’s at the Cubs old ballpark, Hohokam Stadium. I was primed and ready to go. Earlier I had visited the Walmart again and gotten all sorts of defense against the sun. Cooling towels, sunscreen and a big floppy hat were amongst the items purchased.
We took a little bit of time before going to the ballpark, which was very impressive to me. No, it isn’t as pretty or nicely designed like Sloan Park or Camelback, but it has a lot of charm and I would choose it ahead of the Brewers park in Maryvale or even Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The A’s have really made it their own, with history on display throughout the concourse. There was even some living history as Rollie Fingers, Bert Campaneris, George Foster and Blue Moon Odom were on hand to greet fans and sign autographs for a small donation. The Cubs and the Fergie Jenkins Foundation do a similar thing at Sloan Park and I think opportunities like that are really a cool thing for fans.
I grabbed a basic hot dog, which was at least a foot long, and we got to our seats. Stamper the Elephant was cavorting around and playing with kids as we waited for the game to begin. Once again we really had no shade and I literally went through 2 bottles of water before the first pitch was thrown. I tried to tough it out, but the unjust kicked my butt, even with all of my sun gear in place.
We saw Jake Arrieta pitch a few innings, watched my boys hit and slowly made our way out of the park and began our long drive to my parents’ house in San Diego.
The one big benefit of driving to San Diego rather than Orange County is the fact that you travel by way of Yuma, Arizona, home of Chretin’s Mexican Restaurant. I’ve known about Chretin’s since I was a child. One of my pajama shirts in childhood was a Chretin’s t-shirt.
My dad used to fly for the Navy and there was a landing site in Yuma. Whenever they’d land there, they would head over to Chretin’s for magaritas and the famous Chretin’s “killer nachos.” It got to be a competition as to who could eat the most nachos, with the reigning champ getting his name painted on the wall. Sadly, the old building is no more, but the “killer nachos” live on in a new location.
Had we not stopped in, I think my family may have disowned us. The nachos were amazing and the margaritas were good, cold and cheap. We left perfectly content, even ordering a dozen nachos to-go for my family.
We got to my parents’ house safely and were thrilled to sleep in a bed that we knew had clean sheets.
Overall, it was a good time and I’d like to head down again next spring. I’ll need to find some defenses and new strategies to fight the sun and begin collecting my pennies so we can stay in a place a slight bit better than the Mesa Motel 6. Next year I’d like to get out to the back fields to check out the minor league guys and maybe check out some “B” games as well.
I’m already looking forward to it!
Until next time, keep tripping baseballs!
Full set of edited photos is found here!
Today would have been the 77th birthday of Cubs Hall-of-Famer, Ron Santo, and, as possibly the biggest Cubs fan ever (present company excluded) it’s fitting that the first game of Spring Training falls today.
Ron Santo is probably my all-time favorite Cub. When I was a lot younger, it was Ryne Sandberg–and I still love him–but then something happened in my life that gave Santo the edge. Allow me to ramble for a moment and I promise, it’ll all come back to baseball in the end.
I was 11 years old in 1993 and a fairly normal kid–health-wise, anyway– until the fateful day in December when my parents took me to the doctor after I had been exhibiting flu-like symptoms. We left that appointment not with a new prescription, but with a new diagnosis. I was diabetic.
That is somewhat earth-shattering, particularly to a kid with an insanely wicked sweet tooth, but I remember my mom telling me that she remembered that a player for my beloved Cubs from years ago had been a diabetic too. I took quite a bit of comfort in this knowledge and tried to find out everything I could about this new kindred spirit. You see, kids? Representation DOES matter.
Fast forward a few years to 1997. I was a freshman in high school and I struck a deal with my mom that if I achieved a certain GPA we would go to this “Cubs Convention” that I’d been hearing about all summer on WGN. I buckled down, got the required marks and we were off to the frozen tundra of Chicago in the middle of January–one of the main reasons my mom had moved to California in the first place.
Many stories from that first convention still stick out in my memory, but none more so than the moment that cemented Ronnie in my heart forever.
I was standing in the hotel lobby where the convention was held, trolling for autographs when a large mob of people began making its way to the elevators. I looked more closely and saw that it was Ron Santo with autograph hounds in tow.
I managed to make my way to the great man and handed him my baseball. He signed it and started to move on. My mind working a mile a minute managed to allow me to blurt out “I’m diabetic too!”
It was as if the world stood still.
All of a sudden Ron forgot about everyone else surrounding him and focused all of his attention on the nerdy 14-year-old that was me.
“How is it working out for you? How are your blood sugar numbers?”
I answered that I was doing ok and he nodded and told me that it was really important to keep everything under control. He then went back to his many admirers.
Th whole encounter couldn’t have taken more than a minute but it still resonates in me to this day.
As I get older and the complications of the disease continue to ravage my body like they did to my idol, eventually taking both of his legs, one of my calming techniques is to think back to Ron and his optimism. I’m not stupid enough to think that every day was sunshine and butterflies for him, but overall he handled himself with grace and kindness, never giving up the fight for a cure one day, and hey, if the Cubs can finally win a World Series and Santo can finally get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a cure for diabetes can’t be too far behind, right?
Happy Birthday, Ronnie. I miss you a lot.
If you are interested in more details about Ron Santo’s story, his son made an amazing documentary called “This Old Cub” and you can find it on iTunes and here!
When I was a freshman in high school I somehow convinced my mother that if I achieved a certain GPA my reward should be a trip in the middle of January, away from the mild clime of southern California to attend the Cubs Convention that I’d been hearing about all summer on WGN. What a Cubs Convention was, I didn’t really know, but if it involved the Cubs I knew I wanted to be there.
That first convention was a whirlwind. I met Harry Caray, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and many more great Cub legends and had them all sign my Cubs branded baseball as my mom snapped away with a disposable camera to preserve the memories. I loved every minute of it, not counting the sub-zero temperatures and every winter I long to go back.
I’ve attended three more times since my initial Con, and only this year have I gotten a companion willing to attend a second time. I try not to take it personally.
While each Convention has been different, this year provided some new bumps in the road. First, the obvious. The Cubs are the reigning World Series champions. Yay! Which leads to opportunists and bandwagon fans. Boo! It also leads to the Cubs selling more admissions than in years past according to many of the team employees I spoke with. The Convention-related areas of the Sheraton Hotel were a teeming mass of humanity the entire weekend, which leads into bump number two. Due to medical issues, I don’t move around very well these days, which necessitated my acquisition of a wheelchair for the weekend. While most people were very helpful, there was a select portion of the conventioneers who were completely oblivious to the fact that I was trying to travel through the common areas. That got very old very quickly. Overall, these were minor quibbles and I feel like the Convention was probably my most successful yet. Had you asked me about it on Friday night, my opinion might have been a bit more bleak.
Opening Ceremonies weren’t scheduled to begin until six in the evening, with Con registration beginning at noon. Since Fridays are still workdays for most people, Lauren and I figured that we could relax, make our way from our hotel to the Sheraton (a ten to fifteen minute trip at the longest) by mid-afternoon and still beat most of the crowd. A glance at Twitter upon waking soon told me that was not going to happen. Supposedly by ten in the morning a line was forming for the Opening Ceremony and growing longer by the second. This blew my mind. While I had never been at the very front for the Ceremony in the past, I had always been able to walk in and find a viewing spot with minimal waiting around. While the prospects of getting a spot weren’t quite as dire as I had been led to believe, we still needed to register for the Convention before we could even think of doing anything else. After forty-five minutes or so, we had officially logged our attendance and gotten our SWAG bags and weekend schedules. We went to the Cubs Charities room and browsed some game-used merchandise, but nothing really caught my eye. We did, however, donate money and got a “mystery autograph” baseball. While I didn’t quite hit the lottery and get a Kris Bryant autographed ball, I did get one signed by several players from the AAGPBL, the women’s baseball league started in WW2 and featured in “A League of Their Own” that I’ve become pretty attached to.
I was still wary of waiting in line for the Opening Ceremony with several hours to go and no guarantee of admission, so Lauren and I wandered around deciding what to do next. We met Bill Buckner and didn’t even mention 1986 and purchased our Convention shirts, since the last time we had attended they sold out before we got them. We decided that we were willing to skip the Ceremony that night and instead get dinner and return for the “autograph hunt” immediately following. Once again, it seemed like we would be ahead of the crowd, since certainly most of them would be attending the ceremony. Once again we were wrong.
According to the misleading information on the schedule, the autograph hunt was to be in the same area that we had registered earlier. On returning from dinner we saw that we weren’t the only ones prioritizing the autograph hunt, so he stuck ourselves in what seemed to be a ragtag line well over an hour before the hunt was due to begin. In spite of the fact that our line mates asked the ushers in the area several times about how the line was formed, how the hunt would work and even the fact that we were in a line to begin with, no one seemed to have any answers as to what exactly was going on and kept repeating that no one had told them anything. This was the most egregious to me, having a very strong customer service background. You can’t just say that you are ill-informed and expect that to be the end of discussion. You need to find a way to get the information you require.
As the scheduled time for the hunt came and went, our line mates began leaving as well, and eventually, even my eternally optimistic self gave up too. There was one final show/panel going on as we left, but there was a very early autograph signing the next morning we wanted to attend, and honestly, I felt so defeated by the rest of the day that I didn’t want to try to do anything else that night. I was ready to swear off of the Convention, now that the Cubs had become the “it” team, it felt like they had forgotten the long-time fans who had always supported them.
We were up almost before dawn the following morning in the hope of getting to attend a meet and greet with the recently retired David Ross and were at the Sheraton well over an hour before the session was to begin. We were trying to navigate our way down to the area that the meet and greet was being held when a man associated with the Convention saw that we needed help and escorted us not only to the elevator, but to the meet and greet area as well. We chatted the whole way over and discussed our disappointment about everything that had, or had not, transpired the night before. As we began to approach our destination, the escort asked which of the meet and greets we were hoping to attend. We told him and he said he would see if he could help us. The curse of the bad Con employee struck again as the woman manning Ross’ line screeched to our new friend that David Ross’ line was full and there was no way that we were getting in that line. He didn’t seem bothered and told us to hold tight for a moment.
He disappeared but returned a few minutes later and told us to follow him and not draw attention to ourselves. We did and he snuck us through a “behind the scenes” area and put us in the very front of the David Ross line. We were astounded, as there were people waiting in the line who had been there since eleven pm the night before. Our new friend next handed me his card and said if I had any trouble getting into any of the panels that day to text him and he would help us. As it turns out, our friend was the hotel manager. We thanked him profusely then and every time we saw him for the rest of the weekend.
David Ross was wonderful, showing up early, thanking us for being there to see him and taking photos and signing autographs, including signing my baseball as “Grandpa Rossy!” All of the trials and tribulations of the previous night were forgotten and a new day dawned for the Cubs Convention.
Obviously this all took significantly less time than I had originally assumed, so we were able to see many of the booths and exhibitions while we waited for the first panel we were interested in, which included prolonged visits with all of the Cubs minor league teams and enjoying their amenities, as well as taking the opportunity to swing an actual game-used Ron Santo bat at the Louisville Slugger booth.
We had absolutely no problem getting into the panels we wanted to see, as there was a designated wheelchair section that provided a great view. We saw a panel hosted by Joe Maddon and the coaches, one with Kyle Hendricks, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery and Wade Davis and the amazing “Cubs All Star Infield” with Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo.
The nice thing about the panels is the opportunity to see the players as human beings and see their personalities emerge. All of the guys in question are character-first guys and very personable, which makes it fun and easy to root for them. During the All Star Infield panel, I noticed on Twitter that Anthony Rizzo’s charity was selling opportunities for a meet and greet with him, so Lauren volunteered to go and look into it for me. Unfortunately, it was $300 and at the time I couldn’t make myself pull the trigger. Looking back and having spent less at the Convention than I had budgeted for, I do somewhat regret not doing it.
In my SWAG bag from the day before I had won a spot in an autograph signing with Edwards Jr. and we headed to that next. Edwards was pleasant enough, but very quiet and didn’t really provide a chance for a photo so that was a bit of a bummer. At this point, the Convention was beginning to die down, so we did one lap of the sales floor and then headed out for some Chicago deep-dish pizza for dinner.
Even in a wheelchair and not walking very much at all the Convention wore me out every day. We didn’t stay until closing any of the three days and I was still exhausted when we got back to our hotel every night. It may have been the exhaustion that helped make this such a personally successful Convention, however. I realized from the start that I wasn’t going to be able to see everything and do everything, so I had to make conscientious decisions about the things I really wanted to experience and didn’t need to stress myself–and Lauren– out by trying to do every single thing. It was different for me, but overwhelmingly easier.
The final half-day of the Convention arrived and we had only one thing we needed to accomplish. Seeing the World Series trophy. It had been on display all weekend for people to take photos, but the line was consistently an hour wait or longer. We hoped with Sunday being a slower, more low-key day, the line for the trophy would reflect that…and it sort of did. We ended up waiting just under an hour to see it in the bizarre makeshift tent that had been setup in the parking garage of the hotel. The tent was fine, but it was a bit chilly and the single heater I noticed wasn’t quite warming the tent enough. Nor was the combined body heat of dozens of Cubs fans.
After we thawed out a bit we went to the Charity room again and met one of the all-time great closers, Lee Smith. He is a big man but sounds like “Boomhauer” from “King of the Hill.” He is a genuinely nice man, and it is honestly a crime that he is not yet in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While we finished up with Smith I saw on Twitter that Cubs organist, Gary Pressy, was in the hotel lobby giving away some of the bobbleheads of himself that the Cubs gave away at a game the previous summer. We found him and lucked out and got one. He even signed it for us. With that, the Convention was pretty much over. There was some area with apparently tons of wiffle ball sets because–I’m not joking–we saw families walking through the hotel lobby all carrying 5-6 sets apiece. I want to know why one family needs 25 wiffle ball bats.
Overall, I’d give this World Champions edition of the Cubs Convention a solid B+. The first night was really hard and I questioned if I’d ever come to another one, but Saturday’s meeting with David Ross helped redeem that and there were very few, if any, issues from then on out.
The Cubs created the idea of a winter fanfest and still host the largest and greatest of them all, though most–if not all–teams do something in the same vein. I’m proud to have been able to go this year after having one, if not two, planned convention trips have to be cancelled in recent memory. Remember, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in less than a month!
Until next time, keep tripping baseballs!
I don’t even know what to say here. It seems like every few posts or so I am apologizing for my lack of content. Mentally, I’ve been overwhelmed with the World Series victory for the Cubs and physically…well, let’s just say that I’ve been better.
OK. That’s out of the way. Now to the good stuff.
- HOLY CRAP, THE CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES!
- The fun thing is that I feel like a Cubs hipster this season. Not just because I’ve been a true fan for virtually my whole life, but Lauren and I attended the last Cubs Spring Training game of the year, as well as the 2nd regular season game. We were amongst the few to see a healthy Kyle Schwarber on an MLB field prior to the World Series.
- I’m astounded about the turnout for the Cubs victory parade. I don’t understand how this isn’t a bigger story. The largest gathering of people in the history of the United States? The 7th largest in recorded history? I realize that it is just a “guesstimate,” but it’s not like just getting a report from your drunk friend. ‘I mean it was real crowded! There were like…5 million people there!’
- Good riddance to Aroldis Chapman. Yes, I get it. He was a major contributor to the World Series win and for that I am grateful. Now, I never want to have to root for–or sweat over–him again.
- One member of the team that I am truly sad to see go is Dexter Fowler. That’s not just because of his landing spot, but I thought he was one of the key parts to the team, not only on the field, but his attitude definitely helped to create the personality of the club. I honestly wish him well. Except when he plays the Cubs.
- I like the addition of Wade Davis. I have always been a Jorge Soler apologist, but there is no denying the fact that he still has yet to come close to reaching his potential nor the pure logistics of a lack of place for him. Reliable bullpen arms, however, are always a good thing to stockpile.
- Barring any sort of unexpected calamity (the type that I am most known for), I will be attending my 4th Cubs Convention next week. I haven’t decided if I want to live tweet anything, or if I just want to do write-ups afterward. I guess you can find out if you follow me on Twitter and all of a sudden I hijack your timeline.
Until next time, keep tripping baseballs!
- It’s November 2. The Cubs are still playing baseball. The Cubs have a chance tonight to be World Champions. I don’t know how to handle this. Tonight everything changes. While it has been slowly disappearing over the past few years, tonight we shake the “lovable losers” moniker. Tonight, win or lose we prove to the world that the Cubs are a legitimate force to be reckoned with and no billy goats or curses or cute little jabs at us are going to be acceptable any more. We are no longer a national punchline. We are the fearsome, mighty Cubs and that is the narrative if we win 1-0 or lose 100-1. For the we true fans, our lives are about to change forever.
- My prediction tonight is that Corey Kluber will go no more than 3 innings before handing it over to the elite 3 in the Indians bullpen. The Cubs will need to score early to have a chance. I think Kyle Hendricks will go a bit longer than Kluber, but that Joe Maddon will have a quick hook the instant Hendricks gets into trouble. Assuming things go well, I think he might go a maximum of 5 innings, with Montgomery, Chapman, and Lester coming out of the bullpen with possibly some split matchups for the righties in the ‘pen, like Carl Edwards, Jr.
- Not that it’s a rarity amongst Cubs fans but I am extremely nervous and have been all day. Remind me why we don’t play Game 7 at 10 in the morning and just alleviate all of the anxiety? Also, Happy “Stress Awareness Day.” Yes, that’s a real thing, and yes, the fates have conspired to have it be today.
- There was a period of time in my high school career where my mom wouldn’t let me watch Cubs games at home because I got too involved and–let’s say verbose– during them. It’s a good thing I have my own house now, because I don’t think I would have been able to watch any of this post-season.
- Who would have thought that Kyle Schwarber, he of the torn ligaments in his leg and ‘lost season,’ would have an infield hit and stolen base in Game 7 of the World Series of aforementioned season?
- Hendricks getting around the Javy Baez error with a quick at-bat to Mike Napoli was huge. The defense will save him some embarrassment and he will in turn do the same for them.
- I cannot stand Jose Ramirez.
- Jon Lester has some problems with the pickoff? Why, this is the first I’m hearing of this, Joe Buck. Please find a new narrative.
- Games like this remind me of how young and inexperienced the Cubs really are. They are trying to do too much on the field sometimes at the expense of the simple out. They need to focus on the simple things and the big things will happen.
- I want Jason Heyward to get a hit, not just for the Cubs offensive output, but just for him.
- I’m so glad to see Baez get that home run. He was struggling during the Series, both at the plate and–especially tonight–in the field. That had to feel like redemption.
- “Irregardless” isn’t a word.
- The clip of David Ross talking to Anthony Rizzo about anxiety in this game was one of the most adorable things I’ve seen in quite awhile.
- “Uh oh. Looks like Happy learned to putt!”
- Just because the Cubs have a decent lead is no excuse to squeeze Hendricks…or pull him, for that matter.
- I thought Jon Lester was only going to come into a clean inning. That plan went out the window pretty quickly.
- Wow. That was really ugly for both Lester and Ross. The one critique I’ve had of Joe Maddon during this post-season has been his quick hook on starting pitchers to hand the game to a bullpen that Joe has stated publicly that he doesn’t trust. Hendricks was cruising along and got squeezed on some pitches that led to a walk. I don’t think anything he did that inning required him to get pulled so early. I understand the appeal of getting Jon Lester in the game, but he doesn’t have his good stuff tonight.
- What are we going to without you, David Ross? I’m not only referring to the Cubs, I’m talking about the world in general.
- This is going to be a long 12 outs. I’m shocked this isn’t the 8th or even later.
- I would give just about anything I own to be in that stinking, sweaty mass of humanity gathering outside of Wrigley Field tonight. I regret not being able to write my Papa’s name on the walls of the bleachers, as I’ve seen so many Cubs fans do for their own loved ones over the past two days.
- I had friends request that I do a live stream of me watching the game, but i told them it wasn’t that interesting. Mostly I’ve been stress eating with the occasional burst of profanity-laden screaming.
- This is happening, isn’t it? This is really happening? We aren’t in a bizarre An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge situation, are we? I mean, I can be OK with that…
- Just 4 outs to go. That’s doable. That’s less than ’03. That’s OK. This is fine.
- And then Rajai Davis happened. I had a feeling after his misplays in the field that he would come around and do something to help the team…and lo and behold he falls into the list of Chicago public enemies.
- And with a walk, David Ross rides off into the sunset. Possibly the most beloved 3rd string catcher in the history of this grand game.
- The review play on the Chris Coghlan slide was ridiculous and handled very poorly by the umpiring crew. Regardless, Coghlan did a great job breaking up the potential double play.
- Moving into the 10th inning, I’m not even angry with Chapman or with Joe Maddon any more. I’ve become more or less numb at this point. No high and no low. I don’t like that.
- Because of course the World Series between the Cubs and Indians falls into a rain delay. In extra innings. Of course it did. It is certainly not going to be an easy road to the championship.
- My heart can literally not take this any more. And I love it.
- No party at Napoli’s tonight!
- Well, Rajai Davis, I hope you enjoyed your night tonight, because it clearly cost your soul.
- I’ve waited my whole life to say this, but THE CHICAGO CUBS ARE THE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS!
- Thanks for taking this journey with me!
- I took this picture at the All Star game this summer. I thought it might come in handy this year.