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!
- 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.