Cubs Convention 2012: I Came, I Saw, I Squealed
Ever have a friend or family member come back from a trip, and then desperately try to interest you in all the pictures they took? Maybe you’re into it for the first handful, and that one really sweet one of the waterfall. But, after the sixth picture of your aunt Ida posing in front of New York State’s fourth oldest lightbulb factory, you’re pretty much ready to be done.
Well, the nice thing about our friendship is you can boot me at any time if my pictures and stories grow tiresome.
But, for those of you interested, here’s my recap of a weekend spent hanging with Cubs fans, squealing at executives, and being ignored by legends.
Away we go, remembering that I am Cubs fan first, and a dude who writes about the Cubs second …
The Wife got in to Chicago before I did (we took separate flights from Columbus, as her decision to go was a bit more last minute), which proved to be pretty handy for me – she waited in the obscenely long registration line at the hotel, snapped some “atmosphere” shots, and picked up our swag:
When I finally got in – mid-afternoon on Friday – I was grinning from ear to ear when I saw that this was what greeted me in the lobby, welcoming me to my first Cubs Convention:
Freaking awesome. The tone had been set. And it was a good, good tone.
From there, the Wife and I tooled around the hotel in advance of the Opening Ceremonies. There was an activity area for kids:
A huge number of vendors:
And a Cubs bus parked out front that I made the Wife pose next to, not unlike a lightbulb factory:
I also wanted to take a look at the empty autograph lines before the players arrived, just to see what kind of wait could be expected if we went in that direction. It was like the best ride at Six Flags:
So, after a couple hours of milling around (and running into a few Bleacher Nation readers – which officially satisfied whatever small ego I’d allowed myself to develop), it was time to head to the show. So we piled into the Grand Ballroom for the Opening Ceremonies:
And I did my best to act cool, suppressing the childish squeal that was building inside:
But, when Theo Epstein was announced, I – and everyone else in attendance – could no longer hold it in. I apologize for the weak, oblong video (why would the iPhone even let you take a video that was that stretched out?), but I’d say it captures the mood of the moment pretty well. The totally manly “woo” squeals that sound nearest by? Yup, that was me:
The Opening Ceremonies proved to be the high point of the weekend, which is not to say the rest of the weekend wasn’t great (it was). It’s just that it’s hard to top the kind of emotion you’ve got from that many Cubs fans jammed into one room, standing and squealing like kids at every Cubs player/coach/executive who strolled along the balcony.
Cubs players past:
(Including Ernie, Fergie, Billy, and the Hawk:)
Cubs players present:
Cubs players future:
And, then, as has been discussed, the Cubs announced the “surprise” signing of Kerry Wood. The place went nuts:
After that, the Cubs showed a video tribute to Ron Santo:
And then the video switched into a look back at 2011, with a little bit of “Go, Cubs, Go.” The players all watched attentively, but none danced. The Ricketts family danced, though, which was swell. The fans all screamed and sang, as you’d expect. It was great. With that, the Opening Ceremonies were at a close, save for one small thing …
Now, I’ve never caught anything at a sporting event in my life (in the stands, that is). I’d say it’s equal parts attributable to my modest stature and general timidity. So, when the players/coaches/etc. threw signed Cubs hats into the enormous crowd below, I was not optimistic that I’d be snatching one.
But I totally did.
Dale Sveum was – to my memory – the last one to throw his hat, and, as it curled down into our general area, I timed my jump perfectly. I grabbed a fistful of that hat, and, on the way down, the woman next to me also snagged a piece.
Now, I wasn’t going to fight her for the hat. And, had it been a kid, I simply would have let go. But, again, I’ve never caught anything like this. So, while I wasn’t going to fight, neither was I going to let go. And that’s what I did – I just didn’t let go. I didn’t stare the woman down, tug at the hat, or anything like that. I held on like a guy who has to keep his hand the longest on a car to win it, and, eventually, she let go. I feel no shame in this. You have to want that hat.
I am now an irrationally exuberant Dale Sveum fan:
From there, basking in the glow of my athletic prowess, the Wife and I headed to Kitty O’Shea’s, which is a bar there in the hotel:
I met so many awesome people that night – and throughout the weekend – that I’m reticent to start naming names, because I’ll omit a huge volume of them (a volume related to, and perhaps in direct proportion to, the volume of beer I had that night). I’ll do my best, and in no coherent order (this isn’t just that night): Jim, Danny, Matt, Jim, Jason, Mike, Matt, Jacob, Caleb, my buddy Steve and his swell lady Kristen, another friend named Mike, as well as Al from BleedCubbieBlue, Julie DiCaro from A League of Her Own, Bad Kermit from Hire Jim Essian, Tim/Aisle424 from Obstructed View, Jack from Rooftop View, and Rice Cube and Anno from World Series Dreaming. Seriously, all of these people were swell.
Danny, Matt, and Steve (Danny has a beautiful shirt on, no?):
And there was Jim, aka The Legs:
Also, Ronnie Woo Woo was absolutely everywhere at CubsCon. Kitty O’Shea’s was no exception:
And, in addition to all those fine people above, I also met Gordon Wittenmyer:
And Paul Sullivan:
Each of Sullivan and Wittenmyer hung out with us for a while, discussing their craft, talking Cubs, and all that good stuff. Meeting people in person has an incredibly demystifying effect, and, all too often, you find that folks rarely live into the visions of them you’ve built on your head by reading them in print. Whatever preconceived notions you might have – as I did – it turns out: Gordon and Paul are great guys.
It didn’t hurt my impression of them that they were kinda, sorta aware of me and Bleacher Nation. (Ok, so there was more than one ego boost during the weekend. At least I’m honest.)
I also briefly met CSN’s Dave Kaplan (dude can cruise a room) and Patrick Mooney, both of whom – sensing a theme? – seemed like cool guys.
We also saw the Cubs’ new Scouting Chief Jason McLeod at the bar, but didn’t have a chance to say hello. I saw mostly only his back:
But that was all right. That wasn’t to be the only time I saw Jason …
I hung out at Kitty’s with various folks until they closed the doors, which is the latest I’ve been up since the 24-Hour Blogathon. I got up four hours later on Saturday morning to write and head down to see Len Kasper interview Theo Epstein. I mean, I wasn’t going to miss that for anything, but, like, I was … tired. Yes. Tired.
That must be why my picture was so shaky. Or maybe the zoom on my phone just sucks:
Theo was, as he always is, smart, funny, and very careful in his words. Among the new, interesting tidbits: (1) the best scouting report Theo ever offered was the one on himself (he quit baseball early in college, which gave him a head start on his management career); (2) one of the first things he noticed in Chicago was how “behind the times” the Cubs’ information management system was; (3) the farm system was much deeper than Theo originally thought (but, yes, lacks high impact, high level talent); and (4) while Theo says all the right things about “improved scouting,” and all that, you can tell he’s pissed about the new CBA limitations on free agent draft pick compensation and draft spending.
Saturday was mostly full of panels for me, which those of you who follow on Twitter probably gathered. There was the development panel, which featured (a) discussions on the upcoming facility in the Dominican Republic and (b) Jeff Samardzija being candid and funny (also Oneri Fleita, Welington Castillo, Crane Kenney, and the ghostly absence of Starlin Castro, who had originally been scheduled to participate, but, well, you know):
The DR facility, which sits on top of the largest tract of land owned by an MLB team in the DR, is expected to be completed in March 2013.
And there was the coaches panel, moderated by Bob Brenly (who got more love from the fans in attendance than the coaching staff), featuring Rudy Jaramillo, Dave McKay, Jamie Quirk, Dale Sveum, Chris Bosio, and Lester Strode being asked repeatedly about Alfonso Soriano’s effort:
And then the scouting panel, featuring Oneri Fleita (who was a very busy man), Joe Bohringer (who acquitted himself very well during the panel (he’s a good one, folks, even if he does disappear into the background in the picture)), Jason McLeod and Tim Wilken:
I had to duck out a bit early from the scouting panel, because …
Saturday was also the day I remembered to scratch off my autograph scratch card (everyone gets one, and it can win you the opportunity to get an autograph from a Cubs legend or Starlin Castro). And I was lucky I did – my atypical lucky streak continued – because I’d won an Ernie Banks autograph, which I needed to go get a couple hours later (the timing of which forced my early departure from the scouting panel). I was pleased:
While picking up my autograph ticket (the right to go wait in a “special” line to have something autographed by Ernie (I chose a ball)), the Wife and I saw Ian Stewart showing kids fielding and throwing drills (aw, I wanna play, too …):
And saw Reed Johnson receiving mad amounts of irrational love:
The line of “winners” waiting to meet Mr. Cub and get his autograph was not particularly long. I would later learn that I was 73rd in line … but still didn’t reach Ernie for over an hour and a half (which was a real bummer, because I thus missed the business operations panel, and the announcement of the new seating area/LED board at Wrigley).
So, as I waited, and waited, and the line moved ever so slowly, I could conclude only one thing: everyone ahead of me was being very selfish with their time with Ernie. Sure, I can understand it – it’s Mr. Freaking Cub, for crying out loud – but I figured the last thing Ernie wanted to do while he was doing this nice thing for the fans was sit around listening to someone drone on for 15 minutes about their kid turning his first double play.
But I was wrong.
The line wasn’t moving so slowly because everyone wanted to talk to Ernie. The line was moving so slowly because Ernie wanted to talk to everyone. I knew he was a nice guy, but, man, that label just doesn’t do it justice. By the time I got to the front of the line, I could see it wasn’t a case of everyone chewing Ernie’s ear, it was a case of Ernie being genuinely interested in seeing how folks were doing. Ernie really wanted to talk to everyone.
When I got up there, ready to tell him about my first double play, Ernie took my ball, signed it, returned it with the deftness of a Gold Glove shortstop, and I was on my way out after a handshake. He’s one of a kind in so many ways, and I’ll gladly take whatever interaction I can get.
Soon after, the Wife and I ran into Harry Caray – sort of. His impression was pretty impressive, which you, like, can’t “hear” in the picture:
Saturday night wrapped up with some music and dancing in one of the ball rooms. It had an official name, but I choose to call it Cubs Prom (tables, band, dance floor, dudes trying to get laid):
Cubs Prom had a roped off VIP area, which everyone kept trying to bait me into hating, but I had trouble. I mean, I get it – the big shots want to party, too, and that would be tough if you had guys coming up to you all the time asking to chat about scouting or their playing career, and wanting them to pose for pictures.
… which is exactly what we did when Bill Buckner left the VIP area (I don’t have a better picture because, when we pulled him aside to chat, my buddy Steve immediately commended Bill on his ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ appearance, which Bill, apparently, did not like. It was a completely honest compliment, but, from Bill’s reaction, it was the last thing he wanted to hear. Thus, Bill is the blurry, mustachioed man to the left):
We tried the same approach when Jason McLeod stepped out among the crowd for a bit, and he was more receptive to our effort. So, a group of us (me, Steve, Caleb, and Jacob) got to talk to Jason, who was all kinds of cool. Also, very tall:
Why, yes, I do give a thumbs up or a rock on hand in every picture. Thanks for asking.
After talking with us, Jason left to head back into the VIP area, saying, “I’m gonna see if I can get some of these clowns to come out here.” He meant it in a completely endearing, non-insulting (to us or them) way, which was awesome (even though, ultimately, no other “clowns” left the VIP area – to be fair, the only other folks we recognized in there were Todd Walker, Oneri Fleita, and every 20-something woman in a cocktail dress in the building).
I was already pretty sure I man-hearted Jason (in addition to Theo and Jed), but after that, I was certain. Thus, I immediately swooned:
The Wife wanted to dance all evening, but I’m one of those rhythmless dudes who’s entire repertoire of dance moves consists of bobbing gently up and down – off beat – while looking around to see if anyone is watching. I granted her one dance, though: when they played “Go, Cubs, Go.” I couldn’t help it. I love that song, and bobbing works just fine for it.
While we were dancing to the song, I couldn’t help but notice that there was one guy in the back corner of the VIP section, decked out in Cubs attire – his was the only Cubs attire in the entire VIP area – who looked on, wistfully, clearly wondering, “can I dance to this? I’d really like to be dancing to this. Why is no one else in this area dancing to this?”
After Saturday night’s fun, the Wife and I headed back to our room, which took us through the Grand Ballroom, where the biggest panels were held. Although it is was multi-thousand person room in a hotel full of people, there was absolutely no one in the room. So, what did I do?
I got up on stage:
No one on my imaginary panel – Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, Tom Ricketts, and Batman – would answer any of my questions. The Wife is a trooper.
Sunday is departure day at CubsCon, but there were two more panels in the morning. First up was a prospect panel, featuring Oneri Fleita, Tim Wilken and Jason McLeod, as well as six Cubs prospects:
The young men on the panel – Anthony Rizzo, Matt Szczur, Jeff Beliveau, Junior Lake, Brett Jackson, and Josh Vitters – were all so much fun to watch (and, yes, to dream about a lineup with all of them in it some day in the near-ish future). Jackson, as I’d heard he would be, was both well-spoken and funny. Also, he currently looks like Jesus.
At one point during the discussion, Tim Wilken wanted to offer lefty reliever Jeff Beliveau – who wasn’t getting much action – a compliment. After telling us that Jeff used to be a “soft body,” he deadpanned that Jeff now has 6.5% body fat. *Silence.* No one could tell if Tim was being light-hearted, or was really saying Jeff used to be a big fatty and is now a rock-hard muscle machine. When Oneri joked that Jeff should take off his shirt, the tension was broken, and the audience finally decided it was OK to laugh (to his credit, Wilken also offered a compliment on Beliveau’s dramatically improved control).
Let me offer you a compliment, Jeff: when Theo Epstein was asked that morning what less-touted young players might break out in 2012, yours was the first name he mentioned. I’d say you’ve got a spot in the 2012 bullpen waiting for you.
The last panel of the day was the father/son panel, featuring the Dunstons, the Lockharts and the Brenlys. There wasn’t a whole lot of juice there, but it was fun, nonetheless:
After the panel ended, it was time to check out and head home. The lobby haz a sad on Sunday:
I got home about midnight last night, and I’ve been scrambling to put together this 3200-word, 41-picture, 2-video behemoth together ever since (good thing I didn’t warn you up front about how massive this thing was, eh?).
That was my first Cubs Convention, in a nutshell. And, in the end, I had a blast – both as a fan and “professionally.”
I’m very thankful that the nature of my job is such that it’s probably better professionally if I just go to CubsCon and have a great time, rather than try to report every little tidbit as it happens. Lots of folks do that already, and they do a mighty fine job. But I’m a Chicago Cubs fan. Why wouldn’t I want to have fun at CubsCon?
I’m hopeful that, if you’ve made it this far, you feel like you have a sense of what it’s like at CubsCon for the fans, and maybe even feel a little vicarious joy.
And maybe I’ll see you there in 2013. I’ll wear those super flashy shoes again so you can recognize me.