Meta: The 2013 Cubs Convention – The Walking, the Talking, and the Allure of Cubs Geekdom

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I wore my feet out this weekend.

Airport travel necessarily involves a great deal of walking. And I generally prefer to take the L into the city, stop somewhere short of my destination, and then take a little walk to my final destination. It affords me the benefit of seeing things like this as I step off the train:

Of course, that picture doesn’t capture the early morning temperature, or hostile wind buffeting your face, but it’s still a welcomed sight for an Ohio guy coming into Chicago for the Cubs Convention.

The Convention, too, involves a great deal of walking, particularly if you’re trying to experience everything it has to offer. But we’ll get to that.

Thanks to some really genius personal travel scheduling, I arrived at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel just shy of 8am. Thinking it would be way too early for me to check in, I figured I would just drop off my bag before venturing out to find some food and Wi-Fi. But nay! The Sheraton quite courteously found me a room even at that early hour (and upgraded me to “preferred guest” status, an honor they reserve only for foreign dignitaries, stars of stage and screen, and also everyone else in the world with an email address – but, hey, it came with a nicer room and free Internet, so I wasn’t complaining).

With no agenda in mind, and to express my genuine pleasure at their helpfulness, I tweeted that the Sheraton was already doing well in my book thanks to the early check-in. After breakfast at Panera (ok … second breakfast) and a little writing, I returned to my room just in time to get a knock from room service. As I explained that I hadn’t ordered anything, the gentleman with the tray pointed to a card bearing my name.

“This is you, right?”

It was. Reading the card, it turns out that the folks at the Sheraton were as appreciative of my tweet as I was of their courtesy. So, while I hadn’t intended to purloin some swag, I ended up with it anyway. A couple beers, some bottled water, and a hanging pretzel:

Awesome. You know what else is awesome? Ferraris. I should tweet about that.

I rested for a spell with my belly full of soft pretzel – somehow they taste better when suspended from a hook – before heading back down into Convention areas of the hotel. The Opening Ceremonies weren’t until that evening, so I had some time to tool around and consider the Sheraton as a CubsCon venue, as contrasted with its long-time predecessor, the Hilton.

The Hilton, as an older hotel, is certainly more classically ornate, and I thought the Cubs-related decorating was more in-your-face at the last Convention (in a good way). This year, I had trouble even getting good shots of the Cubs decorations. This came from the other side of the lobby, back in a sitting area:

On the other hand, the Sheraton is much easier to navigate for a Convention novice. If you wanted to bounce from panel to panel, you weren’t walking to the other side of the hotel, up and down tucked-away escalators. All of the panels were on the same floor, in ballrooms right next to each other. And all the other Convention activities were on four floors, stacked on top of each other, connected by escalators. It was pretty simple.

The Convention space seems larger, too, even if the Cubs and the Sheraton will have to work in the future to utilize that space a little better – it seemed like there were huge, unused areas, contrasted with some far-too-crowded ballrooms. (Pro-tip for next year: don’t put the ‘Meet the Executives’ panel in the smallest ballroom. That’s a popular one.)

As I was saying, I strolled around the Convention space, checking out the vendor area (also crowded):

An area where the Cubs were displaying some historical artifacts they’ve collected (this is just one of many cases):

An activities area for the kids (OK, technically this space didn’t open until later in the weekend, but it fits in the narrative here – call it the writer’s prerogative):

There was also an area where fans could get pictures taken with the players, and I have to thank a hilarious and awesome group of BN’ers for passing along this treat, featuring Dave Sappelt holding a pink baseball like it was the treasure Indiana Jones had just taken off of that pillar:

And, as on the Titanic, at the Cubs Convention, the band plays on:

After my tour, and before the Opening Ceremonies, I met up with podcast-mate and BN contributor Sahadev Sharma for a late lunch. We hit up the Corner Bakery and, independently, each ordered the sliced meatball sandwich because, as we’ve established, he and I agree on everything. On our way back to the hotel, we were walking up to the lobby when we noticed a large group of people herding someone, involuntarily, into a small enclave where the hotel kept its baggage carts. Sahadev and I remarked to each other that it must be someone important, and we immediately felt a little bad for the guy.

It was Theo Epstein.

I guess his star is still shining brightly among Cubs fans when he can’t even get two feet from his car before being mobbed. Seemed like he was taking it in stride, though.

I took to the elevators to return to my room for a little break when I noticed Ian Stewart was waiting for the elevators as well. He was obviously in incognito mode, together with his wife and their new baby, so I mustered my most quiet and casual, “Congratulations, by the way,” nodding to the young one, and trying not to draw other folks’ attention to him (since, again, it was obvious he wasn’t quite looking for attention at that point). When half of us waiting for an elevator loaded onto one, and the Stewarts onto another, a gentleman turned to me to ask who that was. I explained that it was Ian Stewart, which is when the gentleman looked down at my Bleacher Nation shirt. *SLIGHT EXAGGERATION ALERT* He then recognized who I was, said that he was a reader, and – within the humorous context of us just having been standing next to Ian Stewart – said, “well I guess I should get your autograph.” It was funny. Maybe you had to be there. I was there. And it was funny.

After one of five showers on the weekend (love that hotel water pressure!), I headed to the Opening Ceremonies with a dubious sense of wonder. How exactly do you pump fans up coming off a 101-loss season and staring down another likely non-competitive season? Well, for one thing, you only rarely mention that 2012 season (check), you don’t talk about excitement for wins in 2013 (check), and you focus on the broader themes like the ballpark renovation, development in the farm system, and exciting prospects (check, check, check). And, in the case of the pump-up videos they showed, it was actually rather effective.

The ceremonies went largely as they usually do – the videos, and then introduce the players, old and new. The former Cubs were introduced on a stage on the far side of the ballroom, while the current Cubs were introduced via a runway the bisected the room. It was a nice, new idea after formerly having them up overhead on a balcony at the Hilton. That said, it did make seeing the players far more difficult for … eh hem … shorter folks like me:

They’re up there somewhere.

The coolest part of the ceremonies? The Cubs had workers rounding up kids in the lead-up to the event, asking them if they’d like to stand at the front row of the runway so they could high five the players as they entered. That leads me to two asides:

(1.) It’s probably because I now have a daughter of my own (with a son on the way in about a month), but the coolest part of the Convention this year was seeing how much the kids were enjoying it. Playing the games, meeting the players, asking questions at the panels … seeing their joy brings the rest of us joy.

(2.) Relatedly, I was consistently impressed by the way kids and, separately, fans with special needs were treated and accommodated at the Convention. It was clear that a great deal of planning went into making the experience great for both groups, and I think it really landed. You can tell a lot about an organization by the way it treats its wide range of fans, and I came away with a very good feeling about the Cubs in that regard.

After the ceremonies wound down, it was time to get together with folks at the bar in the hotel (which was closed to all but season ticket holders until later in the evening) and a bar across the street from the hotel called Lizzie McNeill’s. For reasons related to meeting people, crowding issues, eating issues, and general antsy-ness, the group I was with bounced back and forth between the two bars a bit, which of course made me lament the fact that I’d left my jacket up in my room. Well, I suppose I lamented it only for the first or second transition. By then the beer jacket had taken hold.

Friday night wound up being a blast, talking to BN’ers, other writers, Cubs folks, etc. Earlier in the day, I had started tracking names of people I’d met in an email chain that I kept sending to myself. By the early evening, I realized it had become a fruitless exercise, because there were simply too many people to keep up with – if I tried to list some, I’d leave out many, and I don’t want to do that. The same is true of BN’ers I met throughout the weekend. I’d intended to give you all individual shouts in this here post, but the volume simply made it impossible (#humblebrag). That part of the weekend – getting to meet so many of you who shared very kind words – was easily the highlight. I can’t tell you all how much I enjoyed meeting you, and how much I appreciated our conversations. You’re all awesome to the max.

I do have to share one personalized shout out, though, because it gives me a reason to post this picture:

Thanks to Tammy and Bob for bringing with them the greatest signing item in the history of this or any Convention. If that cat had been wearing pajamas, I probably would have fainted.

With Friday in the books, it was time to do the panel thing on Saturday. I covered most of that stuff in other posts and on Twitter – since it was, like, the actual Cubs-related substantive stuff for which you come to the site in the first place – but I do have one anecdote in particular to share.

The first panel of the day was the Ricketts Family panel, which inevitably turned into a Wrigley Field discussion (even though the Convention schedule clearly explained that there was a panel devoted specifically to Wrigley just a few hours later, but whateves). I was doing what I usually do during those panels, which is stare at my phone and tweet as much and as fast as I can (isn’t “the future” swell?), when I noticed the young man sitting next to me shifting in his seat a bit. I didn’t think much of it at the time – hey, kids shift – until one of the folks I’d been tweeting back and forth with sent me the message, “I think I’m sitting next to you.”

At first I thought, wha? No way. This person who was tweeting thoughtful comments about the Ricketts panel was surely a college student or at least a teenager. The young man sitting next to me couldn’t have been out of middle school. So I turned my phone to him, pointing to the message, and indicating him with my thumb. He smiled widely, and nodded, whispering, “I really like your site.” I shook his hand, thanked him, and sat up in my chair as tall as I could muster, inflated by the pride.

The next panel was with the executives and Dale Sveum. During the Q&A, I heard a young-sounding fan begin to speak at the microphone. With face nose-deep in my phone, I didn’t look up until he got into his question about the executives’ preferred advanced statistics, be they WAR or, as he clearly laid it out, “fielding independent pitching.” The crowd audibly swooned at the sight of such a young fan asking such an intelligent question.

Imagine my smile when I saw that it was the same young man who’d sat next to me at the panel just before. (Well done, Dylan.)

From there, I did the panel thing for the rest of the day, punctuated by the slowest lunch ever at the hotel with Sahadev and Baseball Prospectus writer Bradford Doolittle. (In all fairness, I should add that, although slow, my burger was actually quite tasty. Also, it cost $1 million.)

In the evening, I checked out the annual Sock Hop – or, as I’ve more appropriately named it, “Cubs Prom” – which was dominated by kids tearing up the dance floor

Had I even one iota of rhythm, I might have braved joining them. As it was, I observed for just long enough to say I was there, and headed back to my room to do some writing and crash. (One of these years, I’m going to get a big enough group together to go with me to Cubs Prom – tuxedos, boutonnieres and everything.)

Sunday is getaway day at the Convention, and it showed in the morning panels, which were sparsely attended. It’s a shame, because the panel with the farm system executives, and the one featuring Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies talking up advanced statistics, were quality. The former was chock full of salient info, and the latter was chock full of JD demonstrating that he’s going to be a treat this year on Cubs broadcasts. (Seriously: I think we’re really going to enjoy him pairing with Len.)

After the panels, I packed up my stuff and checked out (at 11:59am – waste not, want not). I was determined to go to Protein Bar for lunch on my way out of town – it was right next to my L stop – since it’s a healthy treat we don’t have in my neck of the woods. Unfortunately, after building it up in my head for three days, upon arrival, I found that they were closed for renovations through the MLK holiday weekend. Next time, I guess. So I hoofed it to the nearest random place I could find some food. More walking.

I hopped the Orange Line to Midway, watched some playoff football on a distant screen with poor reception, and got on my plane late in the evening. At long last, after a weekend of wearing out my feet, it was time to give them a rest. I took my seat on the plane, and settled in for a relaxing flight home.

Almost immediately, my seat began to shake in the way that is unmistakably associated with a young person smacking into it from behind you. A young girl was playing with the tray table – down, out, back, up, lock, down, out, back, up, lock – in a particularly aggressive manner. To tell you the truth, after enjoying all the kids having fun at the Convention all weekend, the seat thing really didn’t bother me.

What bothered me was her mother’s response.

“Grace, what are you doing?” I heard her mother admonish from across the aisle. “Other than driving that lady in front of you nuts.”

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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