Tagged: photography

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.

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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.

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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!

Storming The All Stars

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In honor of the advanced Class A California League celebrating it’s 75th anniversary, the Lake Elsinore Storm hosted the annual California versus Carolina League All Star Game this past Tuesday, the 21, at the Diamond in Lake Elsinore and Lauren and I were fortunate enough to attend.

We had tried to get to the game last summer when it was hosted in Rancho Cucamonga, but my prolonged hospital stay following our horrific car accident endured that we missed it, despite having tickets. When I saw that the 2016 game was being held in Southern California for an unprecedented second straight year I marked the date on my calendar and bought tickets as soon as they went on sale.

Lauren and I took just over an hour to drive to Lake Elsinore and arrived shortly after the gates had opened for the pre-game FanFest. We had no idea what FanFest entailed, but thought it would be fun to try and get some autographs, especially since the Cubs were sending several members of their Advanced A team, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to the event.

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Most of the ballpark was open to fans and there was a “Fun Zone” available, but the main draw for the FanFest was the chance to meet and get autographs from some of baseball’s future stars. The players from the Carolina League had the first set of autograph sessions, meeting fans for an hour while the California League players took batting practice, and then the leagues switched roles.

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Upon first arriving, we were not entirely sure what was going on, so Lauren went ahead of me on a scouting mission, while I held my ground in what seemed to be the longest of the lines formed around the concourse of the ballpark. Our instincts were right, as it turned out, we were in line to meet 3 of the 4 Pelicans players, including top prospect, Ian Happ, and pitchers, Zach Hedges and Jake Stinnett. Despite the line looking fairly intimidating, we did not wait more than 30 minutes or so and the wait was amusing, with mascots from many of the teams represented at the game wandering the concourse and interacting with fans. I even got a kiss and a beard scratch from Thunder, the Storm’s fuzzy green dog mascot.

When we reached the table with the players they could not have been more gracious. They signed autographs with a smile and gave in for any specialized requests. I got a chance to talk very briefly to Hedges about the fact that we had gone to the same college and Stinnett complimented me on my Pelicans t-shirt (journalistic objectivity be damned.) My one regret for the whole interaction was the fact that for some reason I didn’t ask for a photo with them, which I’m sure they would have willing obliged.

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By the time we had finished collecting our things, the Carolina players were about to head down to batting practice, so Lauren and I headed to the team store to see if there was any specialty All Star game merchandise. We lasted only a few minutes in the jam-packed store and didn’t see anything that particularly struck our fancy so we headed down to our seats, a row behind the visitor’s dugout.

Lauren headed back up to the concourse for some snacks, since we still had about 2 hours until the pre-game festivities would begin and returned with some standard ballpark fare; some nachos, hot dogs and a cold lemonade, all of which were tasty, if unremarkable.

I always enjoy watching batting practice, though in retrospect, I should have sought out some of the California League All Stars for their meet and greet sessions, but the benefits of resting my legs and relaxing for a little bit cannot be overstated.

The pre-game festivities began with a local band doing some *interesting* covers of ’80s rock songs and that was followed up with a helicopter from the local hospital landing on the field and delivering Thunder to the game. The pre-game also featured the induction of the initial class of the California League Hall of Fame, with all of the inductees present to receive the honor in person, which meant fans got to see Jose Cruz, Jr., Storm hitting coach, Xavier Nady, 500 home run club member, Gary Sheffield and MLB Hall of Famer, Rickey Henderson.

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Following the Hall of Fame presentation was the introduction of the All Stars. All of the non-starters were driven to their respective baselines by a parade of classic cars. A Navy parachutist carrying the American flag landed on the field and the game was underway.

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A player for the Lynchburg Hillcats, an Indians farm team, and San Diego native, Greg Allen, got on base as the leadoff hitter and proceeded to steal 2 straight bases and come in to score. The Carolina League never looked back and the game felt like significantly more of a blowout than the score of 6-4 would indicate.

The Carolina All Stars always seemed to have something cooking on offense, and when the pitching allowed men on base, they seemed to get out of it with little to no pressure, until the 9th inning when Potomac Nationals pitcher, Evan Phillips gave up 3 runs and left with men on base. Even then, Pelican starting pitcher, Trevor Clifton came in to slam the door on the attempted comeback and nail down a save.

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Clifton wasn’t the only Pelican to have a great showing at the game, however. While Happ was hitless, he had 2 good at-bats and looked good at second base, which is a relatively new position for him, as a converted outfielder. Both Hedges and Stinnett pitched hitless innings, and Hedges turned a particularly gorgeous double play. Speaking of Hedges, I mentioned earlier that he and I both attended the same college, located about an hour away from the Diamond, and the Zach Hedges fan club was in full force at the game. During his inning pitched, I think we heard the loudest and most enthusiastic cheers during the whole game, including any for local Storm players. It made for a fun environment…particularly for this Pelican fan.

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I’d be remiss not to mention some of the other stars of the game, including the previously mentioned Greg Allen, who in addition to his 2 stolen bases managed to score 3 times, his teammate in Lynchburg, Bobby Bradley, who hit a monster home run and game MVP, Andrew Stevenson from Potomac, who hit 2 triples in a ballpark that seems far too cozy to give up too many extra base hits. If you are looking for some Cal League players to keep your eyes out for, I’d suggest looking at High Desert 2nd baseman Travis Demeritte, who is second in all of the minor leagues in home runs and hit a loud double in the game, San Jose  shortstop CJ Hinojosa who had 2 RBI and his teammate, reliever Rodolfo Martinez who was lighting up the radar gun in the mid-90s.

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I love going to minor league games and seeing some of these talented players so early in their careers. It gives me a sense of pride, a “I saw them first” baseball hipster vibe, and attending the All Star game just heightened that feeling. The Cubs, Giants and Indians (Hillcats) seem to have quite a bit of talent coming up through their systems and it will be nice one day to be able to say “I saw them when…”

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Until next time (…and I promise it won’t be long!)

Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!

 

 

 

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!

Happy 100th Birthday, Weeghman Park! I Mean, Cubs Park! I Mean, Wrigley Field!

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Today was going to be an early start for us, not only because the game started at 1:20 and not only because we were trying to get to Wrigley as soon as it opened, in order to get our limited edition giveaway jerseys and birthday cupcakes, but because our time was 2 hours earlier than Chicago time. So much for sleeping in on vacation.

It was worth it for us, though. Not only would it be a beautiful, albeit frigid, day at the Friendly Confines, but today was to be the day that the Cubs were officially celebrating the 100th birthday of Weeghman Park/Cub Park/Wrigley Field, making it the 2nd oldest ballpark in the MLB, second only to Boston’s Fenway Park.

We decided to partake in the hotel’s free continental breakfast, which, for the most part, consisted of hard boiled eggs and min boxes of cereal, in order to get something in our bellies before hitting the ballpark. Given it’s convenient location and low price point, it seemed like most of the guests of the hotel were there for the big game, with Cubs jerseys abounding in the tiny dining room. The meager offerings and crowded room made this the one and only time that we partook of the breakfast on-site.

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We made our way the half mile to Wrigley and got there approximately an hour before the gates were to open. We were not the first ones there. Not by a long shot. The crowds filled the sidewalks around Wrigley, much to the chagrin of the local Chicago cops, who kept trying to move the lines our of the public walking areas, with limited success. This was particularly frustrating to Lauren and I, as our jobs require a great deal of crowd control, and we felt like we could have handled the daunting task, probably with much less effort than was being exhorted by the Fuzz.

The atmosphere was festive around the park, however and despite, the initial rush of the gates at opening, people were fairly courteous and I didn’t see anyone get trampled. Jerseys and cupcakes in hand, we found our way to the seats to relax and take obscene amounts of photos before the game and festivities were to begin.

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In case it isn’t blatantly obvious, I am a photography enthusiast and enjoy taking my camera to baseball games, in hopes of getting that perfect shot, or at least documenting my adventures.and, of course, I had my camera at the game. Since I was documenting the jerseys, the cupcakes and some of the more close-up details of the pre-game, I didn’t have my telephoto lens on my camera and in one of the more generous acts that I have witnessed, the older gentleman who was sharing our row offered to let me borrow his long lens to take some shots on my camera. It was a very sweet act, and once I had assured him that I was covered, he had me take some photos of him and his wife in the seats, in exchange for taking some of Lauren and me. It was a gesture that was truly appreciated.

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Before we knew it, it was time for the pre-game celebration to begin, which kicked off with the Northwestern marching band taking the field and performing, as would have been done at the original opening, as well as an introduction of representatives of the very few owners that the Cubs had endured in the 100 years of the ballpark, as well as Commissioner Bud Selig (who, I will note was soundly booed…at least by me) and the first pitch was thrown out by Sue Quigg, the great grandniece of Charles Weeghman, who built what we know as Wrigley Field.

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Following the first pitch was a parade of Wrigley Field dignitaries to take the field. The lineup began with former Chicago Bears, Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus, in memory of the Bears residence at Wrigley Field through the 1970 season. Next out, representing the Cubs were second baseman, Glenn Beckert (a personal favorite of mine) and pitcher, Milt Pappas. They were followed by catcher, Randy Hundley, outfielder, Gary “Sarge” Matthews and reliever, Lee Smith.

The next representative were the most heartbreaking for me, as 2 of Ron Santo’s grandchildren emerged from the dugout wearing #10 jerseys and took their grandfather’s place standing at 3rd base. Ron is one of my all-time favorite Cubs and human beings, for all that he did to support type-1 diabetes research and the kindness with which he once treated a geeky 11-year old kid at a Cubs Convention upon learning that the kid was a diabetic as well. I’d be lying if I were to say that the tears were’t starting to stream at this point.

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Next out was fan favorite, Ryan Dempster and then the Hall of Famers started to make their appearances. Andre Dawson came out in his #8 to thunderous applause and was followed immediately by Ferguson Jenkins. Billy Williams was next and last, but certainly not least, was Mr.Cub, the embodiment of Wrigley Field and the eternal optimism of Cub fans, Ernie Banks, as the ballpark absolutely exploded. The men held their positions for a few minutes for photos and shots from the TV crews as the National Anthem played and then exited through the dugout. It was a great tribute, despite missing a few names who should have been there. Pre-game literature stated that Kerry Wood was going to be in attendance and despite commitments to other teams, I would have loved to see my favorite Cub, Ryne Sandberg and newest Hall of Famer, Greg Maddux at the ceremony, as well.

Another glaring omission. and one that has been debated to death on the internet, was slugger Sammy Sosa. Sammy has been MIA from any Cub event since his disastrous departure at the end of the 2004 season. If baseball has accepted back both Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire into coaching and instructional roles, there is certainly room for Sammy to come back for appearances at Wrigley Field and the annual Cubs Convention. It’s been over a decade and most of the wounds have healed.

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For this historic game, the Cubs were wearing Chicago Federals jerseys and the Arizona Diamondbacks were wearing the uniforms of the Kansas City Packers, the ChiFeds first opponents. The jerseys looked great and even the PA announcements referred to the teams as the Federals and the Packers. It was a small, but nice, detail to add to the festivities.

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As the game was about to begin, we grabbed an Italian beef sandwich, the specialty cocktail a “1910s Weeghman Park Old-Fashioned” and our birthday cupcakes and settled in for what was sure to be a solid Cubs victory. Sidenote: the cupcakes were from a local grocery store called Jewel-Osco and they were delicious enough for us to actually find a Jewel-Osco the following day and purchase more.

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The game started well enough, with Jeff Samardzija once again pitching brilliantly, and the Cubs offense scoring 5 runs, which would normally be enough to seal the win, especially given that Samardzija only gave up 2 runs over 7.1 innings, but this was a Cubs celebration, and somehow, happily ever after, always seems to elude them. After Hector Rondon came in to finish the 7th with nary a mark on his record, Dick Butkus, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams and Dutchie Caray, the widow of Harry, sang the 7th inning stretch, and the wheels started to come off.

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Pedro Strop, who is normally a very consistent deliver managed to give up a total of 4 runs, including 3 that were unearned and James Russell gave up 1, to blow the save, there was a certain feeling in the ballpark air. A feeling of dread. Our fairy tale ending, of the Cubs winning on the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field was not to be had.

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I try to be the eternal Cubs optimist and never give up, but as this game spun out of control I was reminded of the old joke:

“An optimist says the glass is half full. A pessimist says it’s half empty. A Cubs fan looks at the glass and wonders when it’s going to tip over.” The 8th inning. The glass tipped over at the 100th anniversary game in the 8th inning. Given all of the hype and excitement over the festivities and celebration, this was basically the most Cub-like thing that the team could have done in memoria.

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The wind was out of our sails as we joined the multitude trudging out of the ballpark and found our way back to the hotel. We were optimistic, though. The Cubs and DBacks (no longer Packers and ChiFeds) had another glorious day game the following afternoon and we had very good seats. What can I say, I’m ever the foolish optimist.

After we rested at the hotel for a bit we found a local Scottish pub, the Duke of Perth, about a mile from our lodgings in the beautiful Lakeview neighborhood and enjoyed some of the most delicious pub food that we had ever tasted. We, then settled in to our room to warm our frigid little bodies and get ready for the adventures of the following day.

Once again, the full collection of today’s photos can be found here.

 

2014 Plans for Tripping Baseballs

March is almost over and spring has sprung. At least for most of the country. Here in Southern California we have not only been free of the Snowpocalypse that gripped the rest of the country, but have been suffering through abnormally high temperatures. I know, I know. Humble brag.

The onset of spring means only one thing…regular season baseball shall soon be upon us, and as this entry posts, the DBacks and Dodgers should have already kicked off the season with their first game “down under.” Crikey!

I have spent the past several weeks trying to plan out a pretty exciting year for me personally and, hopefully, for my readers as well. I’ll be taking you all to lots of new places and getting some great behind the scenes looks at things that not every baseball fan gets to see!

That all being said, here is what 2014 looks like for us here at “Tripping Baseballs.”

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Our first major trip occurs in late April and just so happens to be to Wrigley Field, my favorite ballpark in the majors and home of my beloved Chicago Cubs. Not only will this be my very first trip to the Friendly Confines, but it will coincide with the game celebrating Weeghman Park…err Wrigley Field’s 100th Anniversary. To say that I’m elated is like saying that Westboro Baptist is slightly xenophobic. In addition to a few games at Wrigley, I will be headed deep into enemy territory when I travel to Miller Park and US Cellular Field, probably the 2 most Cub-hostile parks I have visited thus far. I also plan on doing a behind the scenes tour of Wrigley and taking an absolutely obscene amount of photos.

The next bit, I am legitimately excited about as well. During the offseason I sent messages to every minor league team in the state of California, asking if they would like me to come and cover their team/ballpark/fan experience. I was fortunate enough to hear back from 5 of the teams, thus far, and have been offered press passes to all 5. It makes me feel so legitimate! The teams that I will definitely be covering are the Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres), Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Dodgers, Bakersfield Blaze (Reds), Stockton Ports (A’s) and High Desert Mavericks (Mariners). These are all teams in the High-A California League and I look forward to getting an early look at some of the game’s future stars. In that same line of thought, I am also planning on going to see the Lancaster Jet Hawks (Astros), in order to see one of baseball’s fastest rising stars, in shortstop, Carlos Correa. If I’m lucky, I might even get to see top draft pick, Mark Appel. No word on where he’ll be pitching, but Lancaster seems to be the natural next stop for him. I also have tentative plans to see the IE 66’ers (Angels), but that is about as far as the planning for that has gone.

I will also be making at least 1, if not 2, trips to see the Fresno Grizzlies this summer. The first potential trip would be in June, as the Iowa Cubs come to town and it will be the closest to me that they travel. I have a great desire to see the Cubs future, namely, Javy Baez, in person.

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The 2nd trip would be in early August and it would be to see the Grizzlies take on the Salt Lake Bees. This trip would not be to see any player in particular, but because the Grizzlies are hosting a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles night, with TMNT-themed jerseys. My 10 year old self would never forgive my 32 year old self if I missed it.

In addition, I plan to see the Cubs when they visit San Diego in late May and have a number of Angels games I plan to attend, as well. Sadly I didn’t get my mini-ticket plan this year, so there are no games set in stone, as far as that is concerned. There are also a few more tricks up my sleeve that I hope to be able to pull out in the upcoming weeks, just to keep things interesting in between my baseball adventures.

Hopefully this is exciting to you as it is to me, and you’ll join me throughout the 2014 season and beyond, as I continue tripping baseballs!

Retro Reviews: Padres, Toreros and Cubs, Oh My! (Originally published 2-12-2014)

I have been spoiled with the offseason offerings of my favorite baseball team. For as long as I’ve been aware, the Cubs have held the Cubs Convention in the middle of January in the frozen tundra of Chicago, providing a jolt of baseball excitement for the longest suffering fans in sports. The convention has always sold out, but I have been able to attend three times and the reminder that spring training is right around the corner is always welcome.

Within the past few years I have heard about several other teams hosting pre-season fan get-togethers, including the Padres. Reports the past few years have been that the FanFest was a professionally run and much enjoyed event, so I made a point to keep my eyes out for any information about the 2014 event.

Fortunately it fell on a weekend that I was able to get away and, after acquiring “early entry” passes from a friend of a friend, my brother, Chris, and I were standing in line outside of Petco Park far too early on a Saturday morning.

Having never been before, I wasn’t sure how the autograph sessions worked. All I knew was that there were vouchers for the various sessions and that you needed a voucher to get the autograph. I misunderstood what I was told by a Padres employee and thought that the earliest sessions would be available to the early entry guests and tickets for the others would be staggered throughout the day.

Chris and I grabbed our vouchers for the Yonder Alonso/Robbie Erlin session and headed over to the Padres Garage Sale. The sale is where the Padres sell all sorts of things left over from the previous season(s), including jerseys, bats, caps, and banners that hung around the ballpark.

There was a sizable crowd when we got there, but it wasn’t unmanageable and we managed to peruse all of the items without any issues. While flipping through the jerseys I happened across a 1984 Padres “throwback” jersey that had been worn and signed by Anthony Rizzo and I was sold immediately. The funny thing is that I had thought just that morning that had I gone to the FanFest the year prior, I could maybe have grabbed a Rizzo jersey since he had been with the club sporadically throughout the 2011 season.

I wound up spending a little more than I had planned to acquire the jersey, but it is now one of the prize pieces of my baseball memorabilia collection, and well worth the expense in my mind.

After finally checking out, which took a very long time due to Wi-Fi issues with the credit card readers, Chris and I looked at the time and saw that we still had over an hour before we could even start queueing up for our autograph session, so we decided to enjoy a walking tour of the Padres clubhouse and facilities.

I had already seen the clubhouse on my tour of Petco nearly a year before, but it was a good way to kill time and there were various areas open that had not been accessible on our tour. Plus, it’s always fun to see the “behind the scenes” areas of the ballpark.

After the clubhouse, we popped out into the Padres dugout and relaxed for a few minutes as we decided what to do next.

There were several tents set up in the outfield grass, so we decided to see what was happening out there. Sidenote:One of the benefits to going to a fan event for a team that plays in a warm climate is the ability to walk on the field, a perk that is not offered on any ballpark tour that I have experienced, or even read about.

While on our way out to left field, we ran into the Friar and had to get a photo with him. The tents seemed to be for local radio stations and all of the lines to reach them were quite prohibitive, so I leapt at the outfield walls a few times, like I was robbing a home run, completely disregarding the fact that I have no jumping skills whatsoever, and decided to head up to the Alonso/Erlin signing.

The best part about having the voucher for the session was that the queue was basically just sitting in the nice shaded seats and waiting for the players to show up. They arrived on time and were fairly quick with the signings, even though they were both very good about talking with the fans who came up.

I had Alonso sign a ball for me, but unfortunately I wasn’t paying close enough attention and he signed in blue sharpie before I could ask him to use my own pen. I told him that I thought this could definitely be an All Star year for him and he thanked me and said that he was feeling really good this offseason.

I had decided not to get Erlin on a baseball, so I didn’t have him sign anything, which I regret in retrospect.

At this point Chris and I headed back to where the vouchers had been distributed to try and get some for a later autograph session. As it happened, the vouchers were not staggered throughout the day, they were given out as soon as the previous session had run out of vouchers. So, rather than waiting until 10:00am to give our the 11:30am vouchers, they were given as soon as the 11:00am session had “booked out.”

The system makes sense and I don’t have a real issue with it, though I wish that there had been better communication with the fans and more of a premium given to the early entry (read:season ticket holders) attendees. For example, two of the more desired autograph sessions were Jedd Gyorko and Andrew Cashner, both of whom only had one autograph session in the late afternoon. I would have hoped that the Padres would have had them available early, as a premium for the early entry folks.

While bummed, Chris and I weren’t devastated, as we were trying to make it to USD for the USD alumni game featuring Cubs top prospect, Kris Bryant, and after getting out and throwing a few pitches in the Padres bullpen, that was just where we went.

After finally finding parking on campus, we made our way to Fowler Park, the brand new USD baseball facility. To say that it is a gem is to sell it short. This tiny, college ballpark is nicer than some major league spring training facilities that I have visited. (Maryvale, I’m looking at you!) and if I were a student, I think I would be wiling away far too many hours not studying, sitting in the grandstand.

When we arrived, Bryant had already been officially presented with his Golden Spikes Award, for the best college baseball player, and the game was in the bottom of the first inning. After sitting down I noticed a crowd of people in the stands by the third base bullpen not watching the game.

I made my way over, and sure enough, there was Kris Bryant, signing autographs for anybody who wanted one. I had him sign a ball for me and inscribe it “Go Cubs!” which he did with no hesitation. Bryant didn’t play in the game, presumably as part of the contract he signed with the Cubs, but there were a lot of other alumni who did, including Orioles starter, Brian Matusz.

One of the highlights for me was hearing the guys on both the current USD team and the alumni giving each other a hard time and I found myself cracking up after several exchanges.

As the game drew to a close, we made out way to the first base dugout where the alumni team was situated. In addition to Bryant, another Cubs prospect, Corey Black was there throwing a bullpen session and I was hoping to have him sign a ball for me as well, a goal which sadly ended in failure.

After the game I stood by the dugout with several other fans, hoping to grab a few more autographs. As Matusz walked into the dugout, two kids next to me asked him if he’d sign. He said, sure, with a big smile. The kids then asked him for a ball since they “didn’t have anything for [him].” Matusz then said he didn’t have one and disappeared into the dugout, ruining it for the rest of us.

While standing there, I heard rumblings about going to wait for Bryant by the clubhouse door after the game and thanks to my patient brothers, we were able to meet him again and get a photo. My brother, Jonathan, also had him sign a ball with a “Team USA” inscription.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend to welcome back baseball and a great boon to my Cub collection, despite both events being held in San Diego. Not long now and spring training games will start and then the regular season will be upon us. I can’t wait, as I have big plans this year!

Thanks for reading, and keep tripping baseballs!