Tagged: major league baseball

2017 Cubs Convention Recap

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.

Harry Caray and me at my first Cubs Convention. January 1997

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.

2017 Cubs Convention

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.

AAGPBL signed ball.

AAGPBL signed ball.

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.

Grandpa Rossy!

Grandpa Rossy!

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.

Sasquatch sighting at the Eugene Emeralds booth

Ron Santo’s bat

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.

MVP--and newlywed-- Kris Bryant

MVP–and newlywed– Kris Bryant

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.

Broadcaster and moderator, Len Kasper

Broadcaster and moderator, Len Kasper

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.

World Champions

World Champions

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.

Future Hall-of-Famer, Lee Smith

Future Hall-of-Famer, Lee Smith

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.

Big trophy

Big trophy

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!

Kicking Off 2017

 

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.

 

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  • 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!’

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  • 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!

18 Years Ago Today

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It’s hard to believe it all happened 18 years ago. I was a sophomore in high school and I rushed home, like always during the baseball season, to try to catch the last few innings of the Cubs game on WGN.

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By the time I had frightened off any younger siblings and changed the channel away from a Barney and Friends rerun it was only the 7th inning…and something amazing was happening. A rookie–a kid, really, not much older than I was–had 12 strikeouts coming into that 7th inning and I was spellbound. I sat in awe for the next 3 innings as Kerry Wood struck out 8 of the last 9 Astros he faced.

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This was not a weak hitting Astro team, either. Craig Biggio is in the Hall of Fame, largely for his hitting prowess and Jeff Bagwell should join him in Cooperstown soon. Derek Bell, Brad Ausmus and Moises Alou were above average with the bat also. Ironically, the only hit allowed by Wood was by light-hitting shortstop, Ricky Gutierrez on a ball deep to the 5.5 hole, between third base and shortstop.

It has been speculated, and I tend to agree, that allowing the hit helped take some of the pressure of a potential no-hitter away from Wood, pitching in only his 5th MLB game, and gave him the freedom to pitch the way that he wanted to.

The game took a mere 2 hours and 19 minutes to complete, and was played in front of less than 16,000 fans, in defiance of the legion of fans who now claim to have been in attendance.

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20 strikeouts in a single game set the National League record, which has since been tied by Randy Johnson and tied the MLB mark, set twice by Roger Clemens, but what needs to be noted, once again, is the fact that Wood was pitching in the major leagues for only the 5th time, whereas both Johnson and Clemens were well established veterans for their record-setting games.

According to Bill James it was the greatest game ever pitched and it set Wood on track for a 13-6 record and, eventually, the honor of the National League Rookie of the Year. While his career never quite blossomed into one of Hall of Fame caliber, he was a 2x All Star and has become one of the faces of the Chicago Cubs and a wonderful ambassador for the team.

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I always felt a connection to “Kid K,” likely due to the similarity in our ages, and he is one of my all time favorite Cubs, certainly of the late ’90s/early 2000s. Congratulations on your amazing game and thank you for giving me such a wonderful memory.

We Will Miss You, Big Man

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With the news today that Kyle Schwarber is out for the season with a torn ACL and LCL, I am at a loss for words. I saw him just a few days ago in Anaheim, hitting bombs in batting practice. He will be missed dramatically.

However, as someone who suffered serious leg injuries and knowing the kind of person Kyle is, I have absolutely no doubt that he is going to work his tail off and be back to 100% next season, proving wrong all the predictors of doom currently raging on the internet.

Thoughts, prayers and best wishes are with the big man from us here at Tripping Baseballs!

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Cubs on Pace for 162-0!

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Let me make this clear. The Angels are my second favorite team in baseball. Most years I will root for them to go 162-0. This year, however, I was pulling for a 158-4 record and the first two games of the season were two of my anticipated and hoped for losses. And they try to tell me that dreams don’t come true.

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We arrived to Angel Stadium shortly before the gates opened and parked literally right next to the home plate entrance. The stadium lot is only $10 this season, either due to more parking now that the Amtrak station moved down the road or the fact that the Angels were tired of getting undercut by nearby businesses renting out spaces in their parking facilities. I was prepared to pay up to $20 due to my lack of mobility and discomfort walking the half mile from the outlying parking options, so to see the price at half of the cost to park at Disneyland, I was elated.

The aforementioned lack of mobility discouraged me from heading to the first base side of the ballpark, where the Cubs dugout was, to seek autographs or baseballs and Lauren and I headed straight to our seats above the bullpens. I spent much of the pre-game as close to the field as I could get, watching the Cubs take batting and fielding practice, watching Jon Lester warm up and chatting with fellow Cub fans.

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The interesting thing about the pre-game activity was the fact that Manny Ramirez was hanging out in left field with Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber and even shagging a few baseballs himself. No one called to him for autographs or baseballs, and I wonder if no one recognized him, or if people just didn’t care. I tend to think it was the former.

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While I didn’t notice any of the Cubs signing autographs at all during the pre-game, I later heard that Jake Arrieta was shagging baseballs in the outfield, pulling a pen from his back pocket, signing the ball and tossing it into the stands, which I happen to love. Post-game I saw the bullpen guys throw at least a half-dozen baseballs into the crowd, so the early reports of the Cubs being not so fan friendly on the road seem to me to be a few jilted autograph dealers upset that maybe the players weren’t signing a dozen baseballs for every fan who asked.

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While I was watching the Cubs get ready, Lauren did a reconnaissance mission of our seating area so that we could plan our food for the evening. I like nothing better than a basic hot dog at the ballpark, but sometimes it’s nice to branch out. We opted for the burger bites, which are essentially White Castle sliders, minus the onions. They were topped with a sweet “thousand island-esque” sauce that was fine, but really, I could take it or leave it. They were served in a bucket with fries that were average ballpark fries. Overall, I’d get them again.

In the same vein, later in the game we shared a sticky sweet strawberry “rum-a-rita” in a lurid shade of red and the basic Angel dog. Both items will easily be repeated as the season goes on.

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The game was great, as Jon Lester was dealing against an anemic Angel offense and the Cubs bats must have brought some of the heat of Las Vegas with them when the came to Anaheim. Home runs by Matt Szczur, Dexter Fowler and one-half of the Bryzzo Souvenir Company as well as a pure hustle double by David “Grandpa” Ross highlighted the offensive onslaught.

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There was a very curious moment in the top of the second inning when Angel pitcher, Andrew Heaney threw one pitch to Anthony Rizzo, stepped off the mound and disappeared into the dugout. I wasn’t sure whether he had been caught doing something illegal to the baseball, but I never saw the umpire gesture that he had been tossed from the game, and immediately jumping on Twitter, learned that he was dealing with a nosebleed. I don’t know if there is any correlation at all, but the Angels placed him on the disabled list today with a muscle strain. Not a good thing for a franchise that is already very thin in the pitching department.

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Lester pitched 7 strong innings and only allowed 4 hits, which marks a significantly better start than his first Cub start last season. Later, Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood and Pedro Strop all made appearances out of the bullpen and all looked very sharp.

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As I said, we were seated right above the bullpens, in an area with a few fairly vocal groups of Cub fans, including a drunk man in a Cubs onesie and two of my favorite people from work, Shaun and Arvin. I really want the Cubs hockey-style sweatshirt that Arvin was showing off.

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We left the game with little to no hassle and as we sat in the parking lot of the Big A I plugged in my iPhone and played “Go Cubs, Go” since the Angels didn’t have the common courtesy to play it for us after the “W.”

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Thank you Angels for the 2-0 start. You can start winning now. At least until you head out to Wrigley later this summer! As usual, a gallery of game photos can be found right here.

Until next time,

Keep Tripping Baseballs!

Cubs Are Exhibitionists in Anaheim

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While I don’t fully understand the reasons that the Cubs would play an exhibition game on the day before they open the season against the team with whom they are going to play to start the aforementioned season I cannot complain too much. The fairly ill-conceived game provided me with two opportunities to see my Cubs in my town, since tickets to the actual opening day were selling for slightly more than I was willing, or able, to pay. Adding to that, the fact that the exhibition was taking place on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was sold on the idea.

The crowd for the game was significantly less than I had anticipated, possibly due to the fact that the two teams were playing “for real” the following day, and there was a healthy number of Cub fans in attendance, many located on the first base side close to the Cubs dugout.

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The thing that irritated me a bit was the fact that while Joe Maddon started the same lineup that will be starting on Opening Day, the Angels didn’t even bother with trotting out the regulars, even for a few innings. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols were both conspicuously MIA.

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The ballpark appears much the same as it has over the past few years with no real notable additions or subtractions, either aesthetically or in relation to food offerings, which is a bit of a shame.

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All of that being said, however, it was great to get back out to a baseball game, and while the end result of a Cubs loss is never a good thing, Kyle Hendricks pitched well and struck out more than a batter an inning and the Bryzzo boys crushed a pair of home runs adding to one from Addison Russell. Albert Almora showed his amazing defensive skills, as well.

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I will also be attending game two, featuring Jon Lester and hopefully seeing the Cubs head to Arizona with a 2-0 record!

As always, the full gallery of photos can be found here.

Until next time,

Keep Tripping’ Baseballs!

This Thing Still Exists?

Hey!

How’s it going?

The sun is shining. The swallows are returning to Capistrano and baseball is alive and well in Arizona and Florida.

It has now been well over a year since my last blog post and almost a full baseball season and a half since I have really contributed on anything even remotely looking like a regular basis. For that, I am sorry.

Last summer I was in a fairly horrific car accident and am only now getting back into the most remote imitation of “normal life.”

Suffice it to say that with a broken back and shattered leg, I only made it to two games the entire last season, both at Petco Park, and sadly, I was focusing more on making it all the way through the game rather than documenting either the ballpark or the games.

I also missed out on writing about the most exciting season that I have experienced in a long time…possibly ever. Luckily my convalescence allowed me to watch many, many Cubs games and just enjoy the heck out of the team.

See? There’s always a bright spot of some kind!

I will refrain from making any promises this season, because those don’t seem to work out well for me, but I will do my very best to post regularly here and share my love of baseball and its many facets with the internet. Whether the internet wants it or not!

Until next time,

Keep Tripping’ Baseballs!